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Human vs. machine translation – what are the benefits?

That familiar feeling of dread when you’re on holiday, speaking to a local, and immediately forget the word for “bus” or “beer” – yep, we’ve all been there! Luckily, we’ve grown to rely on automatic machine translation systems to get us out of these sticky spots. Select your desired language, pop the word in in English, and you’re away.

Thanks to ever-evolving technology, platforms like Google Translate are easier to use than ever before, with a whole fountain of knowledge fuelling them. Machine translators no doubt have their benefits, but how do they match up to the work of human translators? And what about when it comes to translating content for your business – can we really rely on these automatic translations?

As an agency specialising in the translation of multilingual content, we thought we’d take a closer look at how the two compare. Could machine translation soon outshine human translators? We explore the benefits of each…

Machine translation

Machine translation is an easy-to-use, accessible service, and the clue is in the name, really – it’s carried out by a machine. Open up Google Translate or Microsoft Translator on your phone, tablet, or computer, and you’ll have an answer to your language-based question within a few seconds.

But how do they work? Artificial Intelligence (AI) plays a big role in keeping programmes like Google Translate ticking over. AI is used for over 100 of the tasks that are vital in keeping the service running. This includes things like reviewing and revising content, and deciding if content is acceptable and fit for purpose or not.

When you type in the word or phrase you’re having trouble with, Google Translate breaks down the text, finds the direct translation, and compiles it together again. But how does Google know what the direct translation is?

Well, we have human translators to thank for that, as the algorithms that power these systems learnt everything they know from work carried out by human translators. Millions of words translated by real people get powered into the engine and are used to train the algorithms that give us answers to our language woes so quickly and easily. For example, over the space of a decade, the translators at the European Parliament churn out a huge 1.37 billion words in 23 languages, which can be used to improve machine translation systems.

Impressive, right? But with over 7,000 languages spoken around the world, and only 109 offered to communicate in via Google Translate, you start to get an idea of the limitations of these kind of services.

Human translation

Let’s be honest, without human translators, we’d all be a little bit stuck. Thanks to these translators and the work they do, we’re able to communicate with people from around the world, despite the barrier of language.

Professional translators are the best at what they do. They will usually either be a native speaker of the language you desire or, at the very least, fluent in it. When it comes to projects that require that extra bit of care and focus, this aspect is critical.

Where machine translators look at a word or phrase objectively, breaking it down and offering a direct alternative, human translators are able to use their own interpretation and experience to give a more focused, contextualised translation.

It may be easy to overlook them, but human translators are essential in bringing people together. Take, for example, the Olympics – at Tokyo 2020, there were over 30,000 translators and interpreters on hand throughout the games to offer language assistance.

They’re also paramount when it comes to fostering understanding between countries – the UN has six official languages, and they prioritise precise translation of these languages to enable “clear communication on issues of global importance”. No pressure, right?

Getting a real person to translate reams of text may not be as quick as popping it all into Google Translate, but could the benefits of human translation outweigh those of the machine?

The benefits

So, we know the speed, the non-existent price tag, and the ease of use are massive plus points for machine translation. But as we briefly mentioned, the lack of context services like Google consider when offering their translations could begin to create problems.

That’s where human translators come in. Aside from helping to bridge language barriers, the skill of real life translators is also key in understanding the nuances of the languages they’re working with. Humans understand puns and metaphors, and can offer a carefully-thought out alternative, instead of a direct translation that most likely wouldn’t make sense in the target language.

As well as this, professional translators often specialise in a certain area or industry, meaning that they have detailed knowledge of specific sectors and the jargon associated with them. This knowledge allows human translators to interpret terms in a way machines cannot, and reassures clients that the translation will be accurate and precise.

Now, we’re definitely not downplaying the benefits of machine translation. Without these systems, how else would we be able to quickly solve a miscommunication caused by a language barrier, or simply navigate the basic terms needed when visiting a foreign country?

But, with more room for error when relying on Google Translate, you don’t want to take the risk when translating content for your business – and that’s where we can help.

Here at Matinée, we’ve been working in the translation industry for over 35 years, and work only with experienced in-country translation professionals. Whether you need an English set of subtitles translated into a range of other languages, or a voiceover script adapted for a global audience, we can help.

Our talented linguists work hard to maintain the integrity of your message, whilst also respecting the local culture and values so you can be confident that you’ll be engaging with your target audience in a respectable, authentic way.

With your choice of over 80 languages available, why not get in touch with us today to find out how we can help you with your translation needs?

Call us on +44 (0) 118 958 4934 Or email