AI Translation vs Human Translation Part 1

If your marketing materials are full of errors they won’t buy from you.

Strange feedback from visitors to their Chinese website – a client reached out to us to investigate if there was a language problem. We immediately saw they were using a google translate plug in; when you clicked the particular language required, google dished up the translation.  At a quick glance the Chinese translation was not well expressed, with grammatical and punctuation errors but you could ‘kind of’ make sense of it – well some of it.  A few clangers stood out though:

  • 30% off (7折优惠) was reflected as 70% off – might make a big difference to the bottom line.
  • Farm gate – imagine Chinese visitors admiring your front gate and then driving off!
  • Bookings had something which could mean  “what screw will you use” rather than “What’s On” (上什么). Talk about a screw loose!

Unless you were desperate for our client’s services, you would jump off that website and find another using more professional language. That is the risk of relying on machine translation without a critical eye.

Another way of thinking about it could be an employer receiving resumes from job applicants that are full of errors – you won’t shortlist them. If you are a customer perusing a website or brochure full of errors you won’t buy from them.

What is machine translation

Every time you click on a translate button – on a phone or computer – machines are delivering translation.

Machine translation is a form of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

The process when computer software translates a text from the source language into the target language without human intervention.

Globalization and Localization Association (GALA)

The ‘machine’ draws on data (previous translations) stored in the cloud and computer algorithms to generate translations. It uses different methods including statistics, grammar rules and prediction. Google Translate is something we are all familiar with and many of us have used. Google itself says that its translations are not intended to replace humans and offer no warranty as to accuracy reliability or correctness.

And just as well, because when Chinese President Xi visited Burma, Facebook rendered his name as “Mr Shithole” from Burmese to English (via google). I’m sure you’ve seen similar embarrassing stories going viral due to translation clangers.

Covid has put translation in the headlines for the wrong reasons

Marketing your business to a Chinese audience is one thing, but poor translations can put lives at risk. During Covid, there have been almost daily instances of google and other poor translations misinforming or worse …

In Burmese, the term used in pamphlets for ‘hand sanitiser’ actually referred to a substance with an alcoholic drink in it, while the term used for ‘face mask’ referred to the kind used in theatre productions to cover the whole face (Uni of Melbourne).

 “The vaccine is not required,” was mistranslated to “The vaccine is not necessary” in Spanish. 

How you can use Google Translate to help you

You all want translations faster and cheaper. The good news is, you can use Google Translate to help, but use it advisedly and for information purposes only.

For example:

  • you received a short communication from your business partners in Chinese – do you need to get it professionally translated or is it just a greeting?   Google can help (just make sure your reply is correct though).
  • You’re a solicitor with piles of documents for a case – which ones are critical and relevant and what needs to be prioritised.
  • How to put together that flat pack when the English instructions don’t make sense?  Maybe google will do a better job.
  • You want to get the gist of web or social texts.
  • You are travelling and allergic to fish – which menu items are safe.
  • You’re lost – what does that sign mean – google translate has an app to help.

There are also voice translators that translate speech.

How Chin can help you

Rest assured, you can enjoy the best of both worlds with our multilingual translation service. For example: you need an urgent Chinese translation but human reviewed; you need to triage documents to be translated properly; you need to be sure that terminology is consistent with previous works; you need advice.

Tools will save you time and money, but our in-house, master-degree qualified team of translators won’t rest until the final version is reviewed, proofed, correct and fit for purpose.

And some sorts of texts are just not suited to machines: creative writing, advertising or marketing texts, puns, humour and irony, slang, buzz words or culturally specific terms (boot / trunk, BYO, loose screws and LOL being examples).

The Chin team offers far more than translation services. We pick up errors in texts or logic and layout; we help you avoid cultural gaffes; identify the need to localise (or adapt the text to the market), and we ask questions. We can help with marketing and social media and graphic design to maximise the impact of your messages.

In 2009, HSBC bank had to implement a $10 million rebranding repair campaign when its slogan “Assume Nothing” was mistranslated as “Do Nothing” in various countries.

Find out more about how Chin can help you, reach out to us via email

Next time, a look at the global growth in translation services and some more marvellous translation bloopers. LOL!

Read part 2


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GPO Box 2231, Melbourne 3001

P. 1300 792 446
F. 03 9670 0766

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