Lost in (Machine) Translation


Last March, I shared a theory of mine that most Hispanics expect Spanish language websites to be poor quality and, as a result, use the English-language version of a site even if Spanish is their preferred language. Expectations tend to be low because often the Spanish-language version of a given website tends to be inferior to the English version.

With Google’s free machine translation software, Google Translate, showing up on an increasing number of websites, I’m afraid that Hispanic online expectations are at risk of declining even further.

Google Translate is Free. Or is it?

Many marketers and web managers looking to reach Spanish speakers online view Google Translate as the silver bullet. Copy and paste a little snippet of code into your website and presto, your website is now available in Spanish (or any other language). As a result, you can now find Google Translate on many websites including those of countless federal, state and local Governments.

What you will also find on these websites is a lengthy disclaimer that prominently states that content translated by Google may not be accurate, reliable or timely. These disclaimers also completely absolve the website owner of any and all liability that may arise because of inaccurate machine translation. I want to be very clear: website owners are consciously using a system to translate their websites and in the same breath, acknowledging the system may not provide accurate, reliable or timely results.

I believe the cost of potentially inaccurate, unreliable or dated content on any website is simply too high for my clients. Even the smallest translation mistake can destroy the credibility of a website and the organization behind it, severely impacting valuable goodwill.

So no, Google Translate is not free. In fact it can be very costly.

Effective Communication Requires a Human Voice

Eventually technology may be able to provide near perfect translations, but today professional communications experts are needed to produce accurate, reliable and timely translations. It is true that most professional translators leverage machine translation as part of their process. Once a machine provides a systematic conversion of text from one language to another, a human is needed to deconstruct the context of the original message and provide an appropriate and meaningful communication. There is no way to build valuable relationships with your customers without involving talented writers.

Clearly Google’s powerful brand, strong credibility, and free service have lured many marketers to use Google Translate.

I wonder if Google’s brand would be so powerful if it used only machine translation to write the copy on its sites.

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  1. Pingback: Machine translation not the silver bullet for medical translation challenges | VIA Blog

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