What’s the Difference Between Human and Machine Translation?

When deciding between human and machine translation, choosing the right fit for your business needs is crucial. Just take a look at the statistics below, and you’ll see how much is at stake. 

76% of online consumers buy from companies with content in their native language, according to a study conducted by CSA Research. 

64% of consumers said they’re willing to pay more if the brand offers a multilingual experience, according to a recent Multilingual CX Report. 

29% of businesses have lost customers because they didn’t provide multilingual support, as reported in a survey conducted by Intercom.

Let's look at the strengths and limitations of each option, so you can make a well-informed decision. The guide below answers your questions about machine translation versus human translation, such as: Which is the most economical choice? How do they compare in terms of quality? Is there a better translation option for your business?

Machine Translation vs. Human Translation

The debate on machine translation versus human translation will continue for the foreseeable future. So, you’re sure to come across fervent supporters of one side or the other. However, we recommend taking a more objective approach. 

Before picking a side, take the time to learn about machine translation and human translation. Determine which one fits into your workflow. Along the way, you may choose an alternative option that offers you the best of both worlds.

Human Translation: Quality, Empathy, & Cultural Awareness 

Human translation is the process of translating text from one language to another by a human translator. This type of translation is often seen as more accurate and practical than machine translation, as it considers the many complexities of language, including grammar, syntax, and context. 

Professional human translators bring empathy and cultural awareness that a machine can’t mimic.  As humans, they can relate with an audience better when it comes to marketing or creative material. Specialized industries, such as law and medicine, may require a certified legal translator to be admissible in court. 

However, the cost of human translation is higher than machine translation. You should also expect human translators to take longer. Unlike machines, humans must rest. 

Machine Translation: Speed, Scalability & Lower Costs

Machine translation is the process of translating text from one language to another using computer software. The two most common types of machine translation systems are statistical machine translation and neural translation

Some people are hesitant to trust the accuracy of machine translation. However, neural machine translation can accurately translate various texts, from technical documents to large volumes of user data. Machine translation software is much faster and more efficient than human translation, making it a popular choice for many businesses and organizations.

However, machines often miss the mark regarding emotional and creative content. Since machines don’t have actual experience with language, they also don’t understand figures of speech and slang. This can lead to comical errors in some cases. But in critical texts, one error can have devastating effects. 

How to Choose Between Human Translation vs Machine Translation

Choosing between human translation and machine translation depends on a variety of factors, including the language pairing, your budget, and the type of text to be translated, just to name a few. With some planning, you can make the process easier. We’ve listed some helpful tips below.

Language Pairing 

Machine translation is not well suited for certain language pairings. Whether a particular language pairing can be translated using neural machine translation depends on a number of things, like the availability of data and resources dedicated to developing the specific language pairing. 

Additionally, some languages may be more difficult to translate. 

As neural networks grow and evolve, machines will be able to translate languages with limited data. Google’s Zero-Shot Translation is a step in the right direction. But, as of now, human translation may be the best option for minority languages. 

Budget for the Project 

Determining your budget for translation helps narrow down your options and saves time. If you have a lot of content and a limited budget, machine translation can save you a lot of money. However, if accuracy is a top priority for you, human translation may be the best option. 

An alternative is a hybrid approach that combines machine translation and human post-editing to ensure accuracy and reduce overall translation costs. We’ll discuss this in more detail below. 

Timeline for the Project 

Take a look at your timeline. If you need a large volume of text translated within a small time frame, machine translation delivers your content quickly. However, if you’re more concerned with fluency and accuracy, you should consider human translation. 

Type of Text 

What type of text will be translated? For example, if you need legal translations for a contract, you’ll definitely want to enlist the help of a skilled human translator. If the text is simple and repetitive, then machine translation may be adequate.

Purpose of the Translation 

Think about the purpose of the translation. For example, human translation is often the best fit for medical records. Mission-critical translations require the expertise of a specialized translator to ensure the integrity of the original text. On the other hand, machine translation works for an electronics user guide. 

Additional Localization Services 

If you’re localizing, you may want to choose a full-service translation company to help bring your product or service to market faster. That way, you have your entire project in one place instead of five different companies handling your project. 

Work with a language service provider (LSP) that offers comprehensive services from machine and human translation to hybrid workflows. There are LSPs that also offer localization services such as targeted marketing, local SEO research, and even software testing. 

A Look Into the Future: Will Machine Translation Replace Human Translator?

No. Humans will have a place in the world of translation. However, you can expect machines to take on an increasingly important role in the future. So the role of human translators will shift. Let's take a look at the trends emerging in the human and machine translation industries. 

The Future of MT: Neural Translation 

The future of neural translation looks promising. More data and resources, invested in developing this technology, will allow neural machine translation to become increasingly effective and efficient. New techniques and approaches are constantly being developed that may improve the ability of neural machine translation to handle a more extensive range of language pairings.

The Future of Human Translation 

As neural networks improve, people have wondered what role is left for translators.

There’s no concrete answer to this in the middle of so much change. Some suggest that translators should learn the technology. Others say they should work side by side with machines. But it’s really left up to the translator to decide. 

Human translators can play a critical role in shaping machine translation. After all, they have already made a huge impact. At innovative language companies like Tomedes, Lionbridge, and memoQ, human translators are interacting with machine translators on a daily basis. 

Hybrid Workflows: The Combination of Human and Machine Translation

Hybrid translation workflows combine the speed of machine translation and the expertise of human translation to achieve consistent and natural-sounding results. This system allows for the efficient translation of specialized texts. With the empathy and experience of human translators, machine translation post-editing makes content and translated texts more relatable to consumers.  

Moving Forward 

Without a doubt, machine translation is very different from human translation. It is by no means perfect, but human translators are adapting and using it for good. Researchers at MIT are uncovering lost languages, and Google Zero-Shot Translation has added 24 underserved languages, giving 300 million people the chance to connect in their native language.

The progress is inspiring, and the possibilities are endless. A few years from now, you’ll have many more options to connect with audiences around the globe.  

Machine translation is a permanent fixture in the language sector. Businesses around the globe have embraced the opportunities made available by machines. Still, some people balk at the thought of trusting artificial intelligence, but that too will likely change.