Do You Think Your Automated Website Translation Tool is Awesome? Bad News: It’s Not

Posted on May 19, 2016 · Posted in Translation Quality

It’s good to feel proud. You’ve just implemented a new feature in your website, one that will save you significant resources and time. But what if that new feature does not achieve what you think it does? What if it actually hurts your business?

In that case, you may want to rethink your approach an invest in an alternative that may cost more initially, but will ultimately provide greater return. If you think your automated website translation tool is awesome, we have some bad news: it’s not.

Understanding Automated Translation Tools

You will find automated translation tools referred to under a number of ways, such as machine translation or translation engines. Generally, they seek to accomplish the same purpose: to take the human effort required for effective translations out of the equation. The simplest example is Google Translate: instead of paying a professional to convert your text into another language, why not simply plug it into the tool and save your money?

Of course, especially larger businesses recognize the dangers of using a simple tool like Google Translate for their complex texts. And yet, they continue to fall for seemingly more complex tools that ultimately have the same downfalls.

For example, Microsoft offers a widget that aims to translate your web content into more than 30 individual languages automatically and instantly, using browser language settings to find the right language. For businesses, it promises “instant in-place translation… free, and without having to go to a separate translation site.”

The Importance of Context

That sounds enticing. Of course, even a thorough reading of the above-linked widget brings up warning flags. As Microsoft notes on the very page it promotes its widget, “Machine translation may not currently be a substitute for a professional human translator.” The reason for that statement is the same reason you should shy away from automated website translation tools: the importance of context and nuance in translation.

Anyone who has ever been exposed to multiple languages knows that word-for-word translations are far from sufficient. For starters, the vocabulary of both languages is never the same; try finding an English word for the German Feierabend, describing the relaxing time of the evening after the end of a shift. Grammar rules are also different, as any English speaker who has tried to come to terms with gender-specific articles can attest.

Achieving Marketing Goals

But the importance of context goes beyond individual words or even sentence structures. Automated texts tend to be difficult to read and difficult to follow, and can as a result completely miss the purpose of your website.

Think about it from a marketing perspective. You likely need your website to explain your brand to first-time visitors, while simultaneously convincing return visitors to become customers. That can only be possible when the content on your site is structured in a concise and consistent way to specifically achieve these goals, with actionable language and calls to action throughout.

But an automated tool does not know that. It only sees individual words, and tries to find a reasonably accurate translation of that word. Context, and marketing goals, are foreign concepts that do not factor into the translation.

Human Involvement in Effective Translation

In addition, don’t ever underestimate the power of your audience to draw conclusions from your website. Especially native speakers of a foreign language will be able to tell the difference between text that is written by one of their peers, and an alternative that clearly originates from a machine. And when they discover the latter, they will not only be more difficult to convince about your brand – they will actively turn away from it.

That’s what makes human involvement so important when aiming for effective translations. An automated translation tool invites cognitive dissonance, a state in which your audience cannot reconcile conflicting messages about your brand and, as a result, begins to find it untrustworthy. Machine translation seems tempting, but can ultimately hurt your business. The only way to make your website as convincing in a foreign language as it is in its original language is to involve human experts in the process.

It may be more costly initially. But ultimately, engaging with professional translators rather than using automated website translation tools will be an investment that pays off significantly long-term. To learn more about the benefits of human translations and how they can positively impact your business, contact us.