Human, machine or hybrid: choosing the right translation method for your content

With the advances in machine translation and machine learning, we are experiencing a shift in the general perception about the need for human translation. With free translations so readily available at the touch of a button, why should we even consider paying for translation?

It’s a fair question and it’s easy to understand why some people are starting to believe that it’s only a matter of time before we won’t need human translation at all. However, if you are a stakeholder in a successful brand, and have worked extremely hard to define and build a brand personality and have perfected the way you communicate with your customers, then you will know, all too well, how important it is to correctly localise your messages for each of your target markets. And, for this, you need professional human translators with experience and a flair for communicating effectively in your particular market. It’s this experience and flair that will, arguably, always be out of reach for machine translation, regardless of AI capabilities or processing power.

Which translation method is right for you?

The role of the marketer is to constantly develop new and engaging ways to communicate their messages to captivate, educate and inspire their audiences, and in so doing the way they communicate is constantly changing. And as a consequence, language is constantly evolving too. Machines, over time, will identify these changes and adapt to them, however it’s unlikely they’ll be able to develop innovative, engaging, and most importantly, culturally accurate (and up-to-date) translations by themselves, anytime soon.

Certainly, in the world of creative marketing content, the role of the professional human translator is imperative. However, that’s not to say there is no role for machine translation. In fact, in some situations, it may be the best way to go. What’s important is knowing which situation requires which type of translation.

Machine translation

If your source content is non-marketing, simple in terms of grammatical structure, has short sentences and is literal, i.e. doesn’t contain idioms, clichés or colloquialisms, then machine translation may be ideal. Firstly, it will be free. And secondly, if the content is low value or has low visibility then if there are errors or inconsistencies, there will be little impact on the reader or the brand.

Hybrid translation (or post-edited machine translation)

You could also add a proofreading step to your machine translation. This process is referred to as post-editing machine translation; we simply call it hybrid translation as it involves both machine and human input. This proofreading step should be carried out by a professional human translator or linguist. It should result in error-free output similar to that of professional human translation, but it may not be idiomatic or ‘on brand’. This may be sufficient as a low-cost solution for low-value content that perhaps has slightly more visibility or may have more impact on the reader or the brand.

Professional human translation

However, if your content is creative, has personality and a well-crafted tone and voice, or is heavy in colloquialisms or metaphors, then you should use a professional human translator. Ideally, there should be a ‘learning period’ at the start of any localisation project where the content creators and the translators work together to define the brand personality for each market and build a style guide and glossary. There should also be an ongoing dialogue between the two parties to discuss specific translations as and when they arise. Just like a copywriter writing for a new brand, a translator needs time to understand the market, the brand and its persona. This will ultimately be more expensive than a machine or hybrid translation, but the output will be of a much higher quality, the meaning better conveyed and therefore more ‘on brand’.

If you decide that professional human translation is the right approach for your content, take a look of our translation and localisation services.