SimulTrans Localization Blog: SimulTips

When to use Machine Translation

[fa icon="calendar"] January 12, 2016 / by Margarita Núñez


When it comes to translating content with machine translation (MT) people in the industry tend to have very firm opinions one way or the other. Like with all technologies, there are good and bad experiences with the use of MT that can make translators very resistant to working with them again. Other translators, however, will swear by it, saying that MT is the best way to start translating content.

The truth is that sometimes a project simply does not require the use of MT to complete it quickly and accurately. Other times, using MT is the only way to finish translating content by the established deadline.

The best way to proceed is to have a set of criteria and a clear goal to help you answer the question - to MT or not to MT?


Size matters

For really short text it does not make sense to deploy MT technology. Translating content that is about the length of a brochure, a few web pages, or short software text is best left to a qualified translator. The initial set up and engine customization will take too long for the size of the project.For small projects it will take the translator as much time to post edit what the machine has translated as it would to have translated the text from scratch. It is best just to leave these kinds of projects in the hands of professional translators so that they are handled more efficiently and effectively.

Type is everything

Concise text tends to have nuances and can be loaded with meaning that a machine simply won’t understand. For websites, marketing, etc. MT is not the correct solution.Content that is "customer facing" or a "key message" for a company should always be translated by a professional translator. If you MT the wrong content, you will get nonsensical translations back, so you aren't saving time by using a machine because it will have to be re-translated.

You get what you pay for

Your expectations of what you will get if you decide to use MT need to be realistic. For instance, you cannot expect a machine to produce human quality. You will also have to invest in time and money gathering Translation Memories (TM), glossaries and corpora to "train" the engine before you start and more likely put money aside for post editing. So if the project is small or complex in nature you are better off using a professional translator.


When Machine Translation Makes All the Difference

How long is a piece of string?

For long and big projects, MT is certainly worth considering. If a project has vast amounts of content, using MT is likely the only way the project can be completed in time and on budget. Consider this: the average professional native translator can translate 2,000 words per day per language.  How long do you think it will take a team of translators to complete a project that has millions of words? A very long time is the answer!  

Fast & Furious

MT significantly streamlines the translation process because the translation team begins to translate text that has been MT'ed already; they are not staring at a blank screen. This makes them faster as they have to review the translated content, tweak it and change it to make it more understandable to the intended target audience. This allows for large projects to run faster. It is often the only way to complete vast amounts of text by a strict deadline.

In & Out

If the type of content you have to translate is going to be "consumed" fast, for instance, customer feedback, emails, FAQ, consumer generated reviews, etc. then you might consider using MT as the translations won't be "on the shelf" for too long. You do not need top quality for something that will be gone soon or will only be read once.

Money matters

If you have a budget, or worse still, if you do not, then MT might be the only solution available to you.
Think about translation as an investment that will lead to sales and generate revenue for your company. If you have to invest money in content that is not your main product/app/website, but more like your FAQ, or HELP system, then you should invest in a long term MT strategy with your preferred translation partner. The investment will be worth it.

The decision is yours

Ultimately, the decision to use a machine comes down to the length of the project, the type of content to be translated, the budget you have, and the final quality you are trying to achieve. For short pieces, you really are not saving time by using a machine because it will take just as long to review it as it would for a person to translate it.

For the best quality, use a professional translation agency. If, however, you have a project that is thousands or millions of words, you should seriously consider using MT for the initial translation. Machines are significantly faster and can get pretty close to the right meaning from the start if you invest in the set up and engine customization. Still unsure?


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Topics: Documentation Translation, Translation Services

Margarita Núñez

Written by Margarita Núñez

Margarita is SimulTrans' Director, Global Marketing. She spearheads SimulTrans' Digital Marketing Strategy by creating, managing, and publishing content for inbound and outbound campaigns across multiple channels. Margarita has more than 25 years of experience in sales and management for the localization industry. She has been involved in many localization organizations, currently also serving as a Program Director for Membership for Women in Localization, a non-profit global organization.