Machine translation is the use of automated software to convert text from one language to
another. Perhaps the most common is the use of Google Translate by the general public to
translate simple words and phrases when they encounter them in their daily lives. In this post,
we’re going to examine machine translation, and its uses in business.
Understanding machine translation
There are three approaches to machine translation available, all of which face the biggest
challenge in translation: the complexity of human language. Each approach relies on a different
set of rules and applications, and vary in the levels of complexity they can manage.
Rule-based machine translation
The simplest means of translating is to rely on the grammar and syntax of a language. This has
limits, of course: the ways in which people communicate varies wildly from country to country,
even when speaking the same language. People are also prone to writing differently to how they
speak, presenting challenges in what they mean before translating a word or phrase.
Pattern matching and statistics are a step-up from the rule-based approach, but statistical
systems suffer from a lack of grammar and other rules of language to follow. Rather, statistical
systems choose the most likely words to be suitable.
Neural machine translation
Designed to learn a language, neural machine translation is a costly but effective approach.
Neural machine translation is used to teach software other languages, at the cost of computing
power. As a continually developing method, neural machine translation offers the most potential
in the future, with the capacity to learn – and teach – languages in increasing complexity over
When not to use machine translation
There are two cases when you should avoid machine translation, and both rely on intention and
meaning: legal and medical documents, and text used in branding.
With the risk of mistakes still possible with machine translation, it is recommended that when a
person’s health and/or well-being is at risk that human translators are used. This is to avoid the
accidental misinterpretation of an instruction, medical condition, or legal clause, for example,
that could have drastic consequences.
At the same time, efforts to ensure branding is consistent should be married with distrust of
machine translation in changing a slogan or marketing post from English into another language.
What is machine translation for?
Machine translation still has many uses. Volume work – for example, reviews on a website – can
be completed with more ease when utilizing machine translation instead of human translators.
Simple text, and text with a low priority, can be translated using machine translation, while
reserving more important stories for human translators.
Advice going forward
The primary advice that can be offered when it comes to using machine translation is to
combine it with translation services provided by companies and individuals. The prioritization of
tasks and texts means choosing the solution that is best for your company; while machine
translation may be faster, the potential for a mistake to be made is too high for many
By combining human and machine translation, you have a second set of eyes – physical or
digital – on your most important documents. The use of neural machine translation in particular
is useful to developing text that requires fewer amendments as it is exposed to more writings.
How to choose
As you contemplate the utility of machine translation, remember to consider the creative
capacity of human translators in interpreting text accurately. Combined with the specific costs
tied to each method of translation, and a deadline, making a translation decision can be difficult.
Get in touch and allow us to help you navigate the process.