Human Translation vs. Machine Translation – Which Do You Choose?

Human Translation vs. Machine Translation – Which Do You Choose?

What are the benefits of human translators vs. machine translation? Which translator provides the most culturally-contextualized, tonally-adjusted, accurate translation?

The case for machine translation is strong. Proponents point out machine translation’s increased speed, efficiency, and direct translation accuracy as evidence of its superiority. If we don’t dive any deeper, it could seem machine translation is in a great position to wipe out the need for human translation entirely.

Hate to burst your bubble, but that just isn’t the case!

Even as machines learn more languages – Google Translate now supports 109 languages – there still exists several key factors dictating whether you should lean towards machine translation, human translation, or a blend of human translation and computer-assisted translation (CAT).

The choice between machine and human translation is anything but simple and depends entirely on the scope of your project. Tools like Google Translate serve us well when we need to quickly get the gist of something, but fail to provide culturally-contextualized and unique interpretations beyond direct word-to-word translations. If you’re looking for a highly-detailed, contextualized translation that requires extreme specificity in meaning? Machine translation might not be the choice for you.

It’s important to note that this article will be focusing on translation (not interpretation) in comparison to machine translation.

But enough chatting – let’s dive into the different types of translation so you can determine what’s right for you!

What is machine translation?

As any high school student could tell you, machine translation is a risky game. Good with direct word-to-word translations, tools like Google Translate are best suited for translating simple, common, and formulaic language that can’t be misconstrued. It’s also helpful to quickly get the gist of a document or conversation, as long as the phrasing isn’t niche or culture specific.

This is where machine translation falters. While there are many perks to translation at the tap of your fingertips, the widely proclaimed and ever-improving accuracy of machine translation fails to grasp the multidimensional layers of language, including idioms, slang, tonal differentiations, or niche-specific jargon.

Unfortunately, this major drawback means that beyond literal word-to-word translations, machine translation offers little for industries requiring a high degree of specificity in translation including medical services, legal work, and financial documents. Anything that requires in-person translation similarly benefits from human translators over machine translation, as applications commonly misinterpret subtle tonal differences, slang, idioms, and alternate translations for words with multiple meanings.

On the other hand, if you have large amounts of content and all you need is the overall gist, then machine translation could be the best fit. You can quickly translate online reviews, comments, and social media posts without worrying too much about missing the main point.

What is human translation?

Human translation relies on interpreters and translators who specialize in distinct languages and dialects, and offer both person-to-person and document-focused translation services. And while many proclaim machine translation is faster and cheaper, is it really faster and cheaper if you have to hire someone afterwards to comb through for misinterpreted phrases?

Human translators offer a higher degree of specificity in their translations, identifying the most appropriate translation based on a wide range of factors that computers have yet to understand. Beyond specificity in meaning, many translators specialize in unique dialects which can’t be provided by computers. Why?

Because these dialects require a nuanced understanding of the word’s context to determine the correct meaning. Idioms, cultural trends, and events often don’t have direct translations, and a human translator is faster at picking up these evolving trends and incorporating them into their work.

machine translation - computer aided translation (CAT)

What is computer-assisted translation (CAT)?

Featuring a unique blend of the best of both human and machine translation, computer-assisted translation relies on human translators coding unique phrases as they translate, which are then stored for future translations. As future projects arise, the translator’s software offers suggestions based on past translations.

This mix can increase efficiency by storing specific industry, dialect, and cultural interpretations for more accurate and faster translation without sacrificing the need for a human eye to contextualize the unique meanings of different words. Additionally, this helps when working with industry-specific jargon, as human-guided translation can help the software learn the industry-appropriate translations instead of offering the most common direct translation.

What’s the difference between machine translation and computer-assisted translation?

Machine translation is direct, word-for-word translation. No room for context, tone, or industry-specific jargon. All context-specific adjustments and edits must be done after the fact, often by a human translator. But computer-assisted translation is controlled by the translator. The human translator does the translation, then codes specific phrases for uniquely interpreted and more accurate translation. The computer adds these unique translations to its index and suggests it the next time for faster translation.

7 Reasons to Choose Human Translation over Computer Translation

1. Words with Different Contextualized Meanings

Many languages have words with different meanings that change depending on the context. In English, words like “rose,” “bark,” “crane,” and “fall” all have multiple meanings that change depending on the context. While a machine defaults to the most common use, human translators match the appropriate definition to the context.

2. No Direct Translation

Many languages have words without a direct translation. For instance, Google translates the German word “schadenfreude” to “malicious joy.” However, the more appropriate translation is, “a feeling of enjoyment that comes from seeing or hearing about the troubles of other people.” A lot gets lost in machine translation, but human translators understand the cultural backdrop of words and provide more accurate translations.

3. Dialect, Intonation, and Tone

In many languages and dialects there are subtle tonal differences and accents that influence a word’s meaning. Computers can’t source for context, emotional tone, or intonation. Not to mention the enormous amount of dialects that offer slightly different interpretations. Having a human translator is key to finding the correct translation to match the dialect, intonation, and tone.

4. Cultural Trends and Slang

Language evolves daily, with events and trends adding new phrases, idioms, and definitions to our language every day. Human translators stay up to date with evolving definitions and meanings in their designated languages, bypassing the clunky direct interpretations often made by computers.

5. Niched Expertise & Jargon

Industries like medicine or law require a high degree of accuracy, often with very specific phrases unfamiliar to those outside those industries. Industry jargon often includes familiar words but with different industry-specific meanings. While a machine doesn’t differentiate translations by industry, a technical translator with in-depth experience in your field can save time, energy, and money.

6. Editing for Errors

Unlike a machine, a human translator can source the original text for errors and typos, creating a more clear and accurate translation. A translator who works in their native language will have added depth of knowledge and context to understand the meaning beneath errors and can course correct for the most accurate translation.

7. Certifications

Many industries like medicine and law require documents to be verified for their accuracy. All documents must be proofed by a certified translator, and machines have yet to be certified. You can save time by having a certified translator do the entire translation without needing to add a step to your work.

So which translation style is right for you?

Well, it depends on your project needs. If you simply need to understand the gist of something, then Google Translate will serve you just fine.

But if you need to translate jargon-filled medical documents, or detail-minded legal documents – the subtle cultural differences in dialects, cultural meanings, and niched expertise of machine translation comes nowhere close to the proficiency, speed, and technical expertise of translators.

Looking for the right translator for your project? Instead of running through ads and pulling out your hair as you interview translators non-stop – call us!

We work with over 5,000 translators and interpreters around the world, spread across 200 different languages and unique dialects, all vetted by our team and ready to work with you.

So if you’re looking for a one-stop shop paired with professionally human, white-glove treatment to lift that burden off your shoulders – look no further. We at Arriva are ready to find the perfect translator for you.