From learning a new language to accessing foreign news articles to connecting with family in another country over social media, Google Translate has undoubtedly enhanced the way we use the internet in our personal lives. It’s portable and the app doesn’t even require an internet connection, making it an excellent travel companion not just for ordering food or asking for directions, but it could prove to be crucial in an emergency if you’re in another country.
But is it advisable to use Google Translate in your professional life? In part one, we looked at what Google Translate can do, but now let’s explore its limitations so we can decide when to rely on it – and when not to.
Using Google Translate at work
Speed is one of Google Translate’s greatest strengths – apart from being free! This makes it great for finding out which foreign content is useful, like sorting through e-mails in a foreign language or kicking off a research project. While the accuracy of Google Translate is improving, it’s not 100% accurate so remember to be sceptical. With research especially, the Google Translate database isn’t specialised in all areas and can’t be relied on for expert knowledge. It might be a good way of judging what you’d like to get professionally translated, though.
Taking a gamble on the accuracy is one reason you may not wish to leave legal or technical texts to Google Translate. Something else to consider is whether your document is confidential. Google’s Terms of Service state that it (and its partners) can use your data worldwide, including text submitted for translation. Although it’s unlikely your text will be used, it’s always worth bearing in mind that, once you hit “Translate”, your text belongs to Google.
There is cause to be just as cautious when it comes to generating foreign-language content using Google Translate as when you’re translating it into English. Given its propensity to create clunky, unnatural-sounding text, websites that use Google translated marketing content can come across as lazy and unprofessional. Human translators are usually native speakers and they know how to make a text sound polished and how to adapt it for the target market (see our blog on localisation).
Surprisingly, translated content can also affect a website’s search engine ranking. Since content translated by Google Translate is technically computer-generated, Google can recognise it as spam, pushing it further down in search result lists.
Something else that baffles Google Translate is the formality of language. Unlike English, many languages distinguish between a formal ‘you’ and an informal ‘you’ and, along with thousands of British school children currently wrapping their heads around their ‘vous’s and ‘tu’s, Google Translate has a hard time working out which one is which. Bear this in mind if you’re considering using Google Translate to write to a customer or business contact as your e-mail might not create the desired impression…
How can you use Google Translate responsibly to generate content?
- Judge the situation. If being misunderstood or coming across as informal/unprofessional could have serious consequences, go to a professional.
- Keep the text simple. This includes correct spelling and grammar, so that Google Translate can process it more easily and the translation is more likely to be accurate.
- Avoid slang and idioms. Google Translate might translate these expressions literally or use an offensive slang term in the target language.
- Simplify technical language and acronyms. There’s no guarantee Google Translate will have come across the specific technical language you wish to use, so keep it to a minimum.
Hopefully, you now know how and when to use Google Translate – both at home and in the office! And for those times when Google Translate just won’t do, let AST manage your translations, and rest easy in the knowledge that your overseas audiences will receive the message you wanted to send.
With over 500 million users, Google Translate has a very important role to play in breaking down language barriers and helping us all to stay better connected – not to mention pioneering some truly astonishing tech along the way.
So, who better to turn to for facts, figures and advice about using Google Translate than a (surprisingly unbiased) bunch of translation professionals…? Join us over the next couple of weeks as we explore the technology, benefits and limitations of Google Translate.
How does it work?
The basic premise behind Google Translate is the same as most machine translation software: it has a database of translated documents in over 100 languages from organisations, books and websites that have already been translated by human translators. It breaks down these texts into small chunks (phrases), which it analyses and quickly recycles to make a tailor-made translation for the user. This is called phrase-based machine translation (PBMT).
It’s no longer just a web-based service, either. Google Translate allows you to scan words and signs via your phone’s camera and provides automatic translations, turns speech in one language directly into text in another and even translates handwriting. And for those of us who still use internet browsers, Google Chrome’s in-built function can translate web content almost instantly and is used to translate more than 150 million webpages every day!
In the past, this so-called PBMT method made for some pretty clunky, ‘building-block’ translation results, but last year, ten years after Google Translate was launched, Google announced an exciting new development. It now uses neural machine translation (Google’s Neural Machine Translation, or GNMT) technology for a growing number of language combinations. As the name implies, neural networks are modelled on a biological brain, meaning, among other things, that they can learn and get better as they go along.
Google has run with this self-teaching technology to create a translation service that analyses source sentences as a whole, not just in broken-down parts, just like human translators. The company claims that Google Translate is producing higher-quality, more accurate translations than before, with 55-85% fewer errors. Research has shown that GNMT is producing translations that are creeping up towards the kind of quality we would expect from a human translator.
So, have the Google wizards cracked machine translation?
Although it would seem the brilliant scientists and mathematicians over in California are biting at the heels of human translators, Google Translate is by no means a fail-safe, clunk-free translation solution yet. It still struggles with rare words and proper nouns and just can’t take context into account like a good old-fashioned person. In part two, we’ll be looking at how to get the most of this immensely useful tool and when to trust your translation needs to a more human-based service.
From Google Translate to machine translation software for businesses: letting a computer take care of your translation needs seems like the ultimate language solution – but is it too good to be true and will this new technology put us mere human translators out of a job?
What is machine translation (MT)?
An excellent example of MT is Google Translate, which most of us will have used at some point – whether for work, travel or sheer amusement. Text in language X goes in, text in language Y comes out. It may seem simple, but the technology behind these programs is actually pretty complex.
There are a few different types of MT systems out there ranging from dictionary- and grammar-based programs to more intuitive systems that learn as they work and are centred around a corpus of previous translation/source pairs. They are often highly customisable and can be adapted to include brand- or sector-specific vocabulary. However, this is usually a lengthy and expensive process that requires a linguistic technician.
How can MT benefit companies?
MT really comes into its own when a speedy translation is required for internal purposes, for example as part of a research project or for understanding correspondence in a foreign language. Aside from the excellent customisable features mentioned above, most MT providers offer a secure cloud service to store the masses of data needed to run such programs. Security is essential where sensitive material is involved and Google Translate might not be as secure as you think. (For more information on using Google Translate for business see our upcoming blog “Google Translate”).
Is MT set to replace human translators?
The main disadvantage with MT is the level of fluency and accuracy of the translations produced. This isn’t so much of a problem with low visibility texts intended for internal use, but for texts which require a highly-polished feel, like correspondence with clients or marketing brochures, MT just won’t cut it. We’ve all seen some of the stilted, odd-sounding translations that Google Translate comes up with, but one thing to bear in mind is that computers do not have the nuanced sense of register or politeness that we do and there’s a good chance your important e-mail won’t sound quite as you meant it.
Similarly, accuracy in technical or legal translations, such as a supply agreement, is paramount if all parties are to be adequately informed. There’s no guarantee a computer will understand the context or nuances of a text as well as a human translator. Professional translators aim to produce translations that read fluently, not like translations, and pay particular attention to ensuring the target text is accurate and loyal to the source.
Humans and machines – the future of translation?
Machine translation post-editing (MTPE) is becoming increasingly popular and involves a human reviewer checking a machine translation. This may seem like a match made in heaven but translation quality can often be so unreliable that proofreaders need to spend much more time checking than expected. Companies can find themselves paying more than they would have for a professional human translation.
This doesn’t mean that MT isn’t making its way into the translation company’s arsenal, however. Coupled with our already beloved computer aided translation (CAT) tools (see our blog on CAT tools “A peek inside a translator’s toolbox: CAT tools”, coming soon), MT can speed up human translator selection by clarifying the subject matter of source texts, particularly in more unusual languages. And its growing acceptance as a fast, inexpensive “gisting” tool across wide areas of international business, health care, technology and academia can only be good news for professional translation services when something rather more than just “the gist” is required.
So, I don’t think we’re about to see the dawn of a purely automated translation industry. MT has come on leaps and bounds in recent years and is sure to develop far beyond the realms of our imagination. It has undoubtedly made a home for itself in the world of business but, when it comes to the written word, there really is very often no substitute for the human touch. No, we’re here to stay!
Whether you’re a seasoned exporter or are investigating new export opportunities for your business, you’ll have a good idea of the huge investment in time, effort and resources which is required for export success.
Your priority will be to get your product or service to market, and it’s a fact of life that procurement of translation is often left to the last minute. In this article we’d like to demonstrate to you how building translation into the early planning stages of your export campaigns can pay dividends.
The internet, mobile connectivity and social media mean that now more than ever before customers, be they B2B or B2C, are buying goods and services within the context of a connected world. Buying decisions made in isolation of wider and constantly changing sector, economic or social contexts are a thing of the past. This means that increasingly any product or service offer has to be supported with professional technical, marketing or other contextual content.
As examples of this, exporters need their technical documentation to be easily assimilated, their marketing content to be compelling, and their website to be interesting and easy to read. Human resources departments on the other hand need sensitive localisation of policies & procedures in line with local legislation, corporate guidelines and house style. After all an international expansion strategy or company restructuring could easily be undermined by insensitive internal communication.
In non English-speaking markets, all of the above can be achieved by working with a reliable and professional translation partner. So how can really good translation help build your export success? Firstly, clear and accurate foreign-language branding and content will motivate foreign customers to buy from you, and overall brand integrity and reputation will also be enhanced. Secondly, consistent and harmonised messaging helps to convey and reinforce your company’s values and ethos. Finally, corporate and operational risk through poor quality communication and misunderstanding is eliminated.
The following components are key to a successful translation project, and show how AST can make the process of internationalising outward-facing and internal communications simpler, more professional and more cost-effective:
Rigorous selection of translators
AST’s ISO9001 certified and ISO17100 compliant processes mean that the company has approved sector-specialist translators whatever the language and deadline requirements, with experienced proofreaders to give the text precision and fluency to really focus the reader’s attention.
Translation memory technology
Client-facing materials often contain sections which stay the same and sections which need periodic updates. Similarly company websites and technical data or manuals can contain identical paragraphs and sections. Translation Memory technology is used in this situation to identify duplicate and legacy text. The duplicates are logged and reused – leading to reduced turnaround times and resulting cost savings – with company wordings for products, processes, titles & descriptions translated consistently.
The key words used to describe your company’s products, services and processes support your brand and identity. This is equally true in your foreign language communications. Unfortunately, once translated it is often easy to lose control of key terms, leading to uncertainty as to whether the translations are having the desired impact.
AST’s terminology management prevents this. Glossaries are maintained in multiple languages and client terminology is checked in each language by industry sector experts. As the glossary grows it can be reused with each new project, so client content is always on-message and brand integrity consistent.
So there’s really no need for you to leave the “softer” aspects of your export campaign to chance. Using a professional translation company like AST provides a guarantee that your international content will be clear, consistent and effective. Whatever the language.