What Human Translators Know that Machine Translators Don’t

With Google launching Google Neutral Machine Translation (GNMT), you might wonder if humans who do translation will soon become extinct. Well, that will never be the case. Machine translation isn’t new — it’s been around for many years. You would think that companies that need translation done would just fire all their localization vendors and save themselves lots of money, right? Wrong! 

Per the Centre for Next Generation Localisation,the Localization Industry is the 4th fastest-growing industry in the U.S. Why? Because even though machine translation is convenient and can maybe help you write a few words to impress your foreign friends, it can never replace translation done by humans because it’s just doesn’t know what humans know. So, what do human know that machines don’t? Let’s look at a few examples.

Human translators know how to translate correctly

And if they don’t understand the content, they will probably do some research to understand it before translating. Using machine translation is like using the thesaurus. Let me give you an example: have you seen that Friends episode where Joey uses a thesaurus to help him look smart? What he tried to say was, “They are warm, nice, people with big hearts.” By using a thesaurus, however, it turned into, ”They are human prepossessing homo sapiens with full sized theoretic pumps.” It may not be that extreme when you use a machine translator, but you get the point. Machines just don’t really know how to translate correctly. You really need that human touch to fully understand the content. Not to mention that human translators review their work, and machine translation just tells you, “good luck,” after it has given you its version of translated content.

Human translators know who you are

In some languages, there’s gender usage – male voice or female voice. For example, in Thai, the word “I” can be translated in at least 10 different ways, depending on who you are, who you are talking to, and what gender you are. When looking at the content, human translators will know how to translate it correctly. But if you use machine translation, you can do “Eenie Meenie Minie Mo,” and hope and pray that you pick the right word choice for it. Not only do you lose credibility in the eyes of your clients, but it can also be disrespectful to the native speakers of that language. The mistake could be costly!

Human translators know Slang

For me, one of the hardest parts of learning another language is learning idioms. A lot of English content contains slang; especially in movies. Machine translation won’t pick up on slang. For example, if a human translator sees, “oh wow, your brand new car is sick!” the human translator will probably translate something like, “oh wow, your brand new car is super cool.” Want to take a guess at what a machine’s translation would look like? Something close to, “oh wow, your brand new car is not feeling well.”? Machine translation just doesn’t know slang.

Still considering using machine translation? Machine translation can be your acquaintance, but it shouldn’t be your friend. If you want to keep your credibility, stick with human translators.

Need to Find a Human to Help?

How Quality Translation Can Help You Connect With Customers

If you have your website or online content available in other languages, the quality of translation directly affects how many customers you’ll connect with and how your company will be viewed. Let’s say that you’re in the market for a charger and when comparing different models you stumbled upon this description:

 Admittedly, it is a pretty extreme (and entertaining) example of translation gone wrong, but unless your goal is to elicit chuckles and smirks you should spend some time and effort towards quality translations.

When potential customers read poorly translated content two things happen:

  • They project the language quality onto the products/services and ultimately company image. Going back to our example, if the manufacturer didn’t spend enough time on quality translations, in what other areas might insufficiencies be expected? Product development? Safety procedures?
  • They look elsewhere for a similar product/service.

Once a customer forms a negative opinion about your offer he will stay clear of your company. How can you make sure that it doesn’t happen to you? Here are 5 steps:

Critically evaluate your source text

If the quality isn’t great in your language, it won’t be great in other languages. It’s not the translator’s responsibility, either, to improve poorly written content.

Avoid machine translations.

While these tools might be helpful in getting basic understanding of what it is that you offer they are far from delivering exceptional results. These programs lack contextual knowledge, cultural nuances and syntax command (if you’re really tempted, read the charger description again).

Choose the right translator for your line of business.

If you offer medical equipment, you may want to choose a vendor that specializes in medical terminology. Additionally, there are certain certifications that may help you zero down on the right translating service.

Be clear about your target audience and your goals.

Translators will choose appropriate words depending on who they are destined for.

Work closely with your vendor and be clear about your expectations.

Pass on any information that may be helpful in understanding your company culture. Monitor progress and find out if there are any questions or difficulties they face.


Affordable Translation in 5 Steps


One of the biggest competitors for translators is google translate. I get it. When you need affordable translation, especially for small to mid-size businesses, non-profits, or government agencies with limited funds, it is hard to resist a free tool that will allow users to get the “gist” of the message. Adding a google translate widget to your site allows users to access information in 100 different langauges. However, it might create content that is good for a laugh. But what if you don’t need 100 different languages? And you definitely don’t need anyone laughing at your website! What if you could create quality translations in an affordable way for the markets you want to reach? Well, you can! I’m going to give you a 5 step strategy that will help you keep your expenses down while providing human-sounding translation for your global markets.


Most translators charge by the word, so keeping translations affordable is simply a matter of keeping your word count low. Here are some ways you can do that in order to focus on creating understandable content for your target markets.

1. Identify your global markets

If you are on the web, you are global. Most likely you have people all over the world looking at your website. But, of those people, which ones are looking for your product or service and would be more likely to convert if they had access to information in their language? To find out, you can use google’s Global Market Finder. You can enter your keywords and it will tell you which locales are looking for those terms. Then you can narrow down which languages your translated content would be most effective for converting new clients. Start with one or two languages instead of 100!

2. Create a list of important terms, keywords, glossary items

Before you send your whole site to a translator, identify common terms, keywords, and industry words to build a glossary. You might even find glossaries that exist already for your industry! Building a glossary is a simple process.

  • Create a spreadsheet in google drive or excel.
  • Create headers per language
  • List the English terms to translate
  • Have linguists help fill in blanks. You may pay the linguists per word for this step. However, this is a reusable investment.

Once you build a glossary for frequently used terms, you won’t have to translate them every time. They’re already done.


3. Find qualified translators

Another key to keeping translation affordable is using qualified and professional linguists who are able to capture your tone and voice in the translation. Browse a linguist directory like linguistlink.net. Ideally, you would select two linguists per language for your project: one to translate and one to edit. 

4. Get a Quote

Once you’ve identified who will do the translation, ask for a quote before they start the project. You will send them the content files plus your glossary. Most translators have access to tools that will incorporate the glossary and create a quote that will take into account the terms that are already translated. When you receive the quote, make sure you review it carefully to ensure they do not charge for glossary terms (100% match) and they should provide discounts for words that are repeated throughout your texts (also called “fuzzy matches”). 

5. Build your memory

Once you’ve accepted the quote, the translation team will do their thing. However, make sure you ask them to provide a copy of the “Translation Memory” at the end of the project. This file will allow you to build your glossary and to save on the next time you need to update a page.



Don’t rely on clumsy tools like google translate to convert your text into languages of your target markets. By pinpointing the markets and working smart, you can provide quality human-sounding documents for your clients that will create loyalty and conversions!