The UK is the world’s second-largest market for language services, with £1.35 billion in revenue. But with the rise of AI and machine translation technology, has human translation had its day? Is translation itself even necessary anymore? We explore the available alternatives.
Your product is taking off – and so are your sales. Years of hard work and dedication are coming to fruition. Now, you’re ready to expand into new markets.
But you’ve never been a fan of the status quo. You like doing things differently, and look for disruptors in every industry. So it’s no surprise you want to explore the options for getting your global content out there. Can technology, AI and machine translation replace human translation? Better yet, could you do without translation altogether?
Here are three common alternatives to human translation – and why you shouldn’t do away with people power just yet.
1. MACHINE TRANSLATION
Machine translation is advancing at breakneck speed. Neural technology is producing better quality than ever before. And it’s used in 26% of UK translation projects. But it’s not perfect. Conveying emotion doesn’t compute. Neither do cultural idiosyncrasies.
Here are a few other machine translation myths you should know about.
1. IT’S FREE
Yes, you can put text in Google Translate for free. But the quality isn’t publication-ready. Readers may accept machine translation to get the gist of a text, such as for online product reviews. For any other kind of content, you’ll need a human editor to bring it up to scratch.
Free engines won’t learn from your editors’ changes either. Take Google as an example. Output quality depends on a variety of factors: the language combination, subject matter and source text. Not to mention changes made to the system by Google engineers. That’s why larger companies will usually invest in customized engines – which come with a hefty price tag.
2. GOODBYE, HUMANS
True artificial intelligence is still a way off. For now, publication-quality machine translations depend on human editors – plus human terminologists and engineers. And machine translation systems use human translation as their gold standard, i.e. the highest level of quality their engineers hope to reach.
3. IT’S ALL OR NOTHING
There are enthusiasts and opponents of machine translation. We advise a more nuanced approach.
Since the advent of the internet, the volume of published words has expanded beyond the capacity of human translators. And some types of text – user manuals, data sheets etc. – aren’t read very often. Get the most out of your budget by letting machines do the heavy lifting on the repetitive stuff. Then you’ll be able to invest a little more in human translation for high-visibility, persuasive content.
Want to know more? Check out our post on MT post-editing. (That’s the human editing stage of machine translation projects.)
2. STICK WITH ENGLISH
But research has shown that people around the world won’t buy what they can’t read. 59% of international consumers never or only rarely buy a product from an English website. Even in the Netherlands, the top e-commerce sites are domestic – Amazon lags behind in sixth place. So while an English site or app may be OK for launch, a Dutch version is advisable in the long term.
The same goes for other English-proficient markets too. And it’s not just the words. Cultural factors influence everything from colour association to image choice. As well as all the subtle points that make a reader feel like you’re speaking directly to them: form of address, humour, and so on.
Do your homework about the market you’re expanding to. Or get help from in-market experts. Otherwise, your big launch may fall flat.
Yes, you can absolutely hire local copywriters to write for you – we can even find them for you. They’ll create persuasive copy, take care of all the cultural nuances and wow your audience.
But of course, it’ll cost substantially more. The translation industry’s cost-per-word model isn’t perfect, but it does make costs predictable.
Plus, maintaining brand consistency can be tricky if each market is writing their own take. (You’d need a content toolkit to help you out there.)
With human translation, you can get the best of both worlds: predictable costs with consistent messaging and cultural adaptation.
Done right, translation is still the most efficient and effective route to reaching international audiences. Embrace technology, but not at the cost of quality – for creative or high-visibility content, human translation is still your best bet.
If we’ve whet your appetite and you’re raring to get started, watch out for our next post, where we’ll look at how to get started.
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