Perils of machine translation

Today we have a guest post by David Ackermann of Romo Translations

When it comes to translating web copy, most people agree that sophisticated translation tools will never be able to accurately translate an entire website or web page into a foreign language. There is however an ongoing debate about whether or not shorter snippets of text can be accurately translated by using translation software. This post takes a look at this scenario and puts Google Translate to the test.

Why free translation tools are not ideal for translating your adwords campaign

Web translation has long been a topic of discussion amongst industry enthusiasts. Most people agree that when it comes to entire web site translations, the use of tools such as Google translate and other full translation “machines” out there simply won’t suffice. A slightly grey area however, arises when it comes to shorter snippets of text such as those used for Google Adwords campaigns. Let’s take a look at an example of a Google Adwords Translation and test whether Google Translate will do a good job for us:

For this scenario, let’s assume that you run a car insurance company and wish to extend your business from the UK to a French audience. You need to translate your Adwords text ads into French so you decide to make use of Google Translate. Your primary keyword which is “Car Insurance” receives over 9 million searches a month from Google in the UK. “Car insurance” typed into Google Translate returns the phrase “L’assurance automobile” – very snazzy! You decide to simply change the relevant words in your Adwords campaign and start targeting French internet users. That was quick, painless and more importantly – FREE! Web language translation at its best!

Now, although “L’assurance automobile” is a technically correct translation, it is just not a commonly used term to refer to car insurance in France. A quick check in Adwords shows that “L’assurance automobile” returns a hit list of “not enough data”. Weird huh? Not really. I call my (imaginary) friend, “Jean Paul” and ask him what he would enter in French if he was looking for car insurance? He replies saying that he would use the phrase “assurance auto” which is commonly used; otherwise he’d use “assurance voiture” which is a popular phrase used in his small community. Upon checking these searches I can see that there are now significantly more hits in Google Adwords.

This was me simply translating two words: “car insurance”. Imagine the inaccuracies that would occur should I translate an entire ad using web translation software. The risks could be even worse so for legal translations! For business purposes, you’ll be better off using a professional translation services agency. You need to chat to them, explain your business, define your target audience and supply them with information on the tone you want your copy to express. Yes, it takes more time, and costs money, but it doesn’t cost as much as you think. A Web translator will charge you per hour, per word or per project. Costs per hour start at about 5–10 Euros. If you have 10 Adwords ads you wish to translate, this could easily be done in an hour or two. 10 Euros for web translation to ensure your company’s image is protected and, better yet, promoted to an international audience, is a small cost with massive benefits.

This entry was posted in Language.

4 Responses to Perils of machine translation

  1. Sam says:

    Anyone who understands a decent amount of Spanish should have a look at ‘gomaespuminglish’ on youtube, a very good series of sketches from a few years ago by two Spanish comics. They are English lessons (or lechones, in Spanish, of course) play on the difficulties created by direct or literal translations and transliteration – very funny.

    (Sorry to cloud a serious post with such frivolity!)

  2. YakuYaku says:

    I’ve actually been pretty impressed by the progresses of translation tools, Google Toolkit in particular. Sure, you definitely need translators to make adjustments and translate the parts that are left untranslated, but translation machines are becoming fairly good CAT tools. That said, I would never rely only on machine translation for something serious and important.

  3. Ciaervo says:

    I use gtranslate to help me fill in the gaps in my vocabulary, but I find it always needs some correcting before it sounds natural.

    Mandarin strikes me as a relatively easier language for machine translation, since its grammatical constructions are so rigidly defined, in contrast to more loosely structured languages like Spanish.

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