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Can I not just use Google Translate?

Updated: Aug 10, 2019

Although computer translation tools are extremely advanced nowadays, no translation program will ever be able to take the place of human translators. This is because although computers may be able to translate word for word sentences, they will never be able to handle the complexities of a language, e.g. understanding the various meanings of the same word in a given context, translating idioms and phrases. If you tell somebody in France it is ‘raining cats and dogs’, you will get some very strange looks as in France ‘il pleut des cordes’ (it rains ropes). However, most machine translation tools will give you a literal translation of this phrase, not the cultural equivalent in your required language.

Another example is when Google Translate famously translated 'le président des Etats-Unis' (the president of the United States) as 'George W. Bush' months after President Obama was elected. The reason behind this was because 'George W. Bush' had been used online as a translation enough times for Google to think that this is an accurate translation. It is these kinds of context-based decisions which mean that human translators will always triumph.

Google offers tutorial videos to help people understand and improve their websites in Google Search and they themselves do not recommend auto-translating your website content. Machine translations are at the very most 75% accurate — meaning one in four words will be incorrectly translated and although they are useful when you want the gist of what something says in a foreign language, we advise not to use automatic translation services if you require an accurate translation.

It is an undeniable fact that improvements in machine translation have been impressive but is machine translation always appropriate for your translation requirements? Below we look at the advantages and disadvantages of machine translation:

Machine Translation vs Human Translation

For Machine Translation

It is instant

Machine translation allows you to instantly translate text into multiple languages which is ideal for simple blog articles, daily web updates and newsletters.  

Technology is constantly evolving

Machine translation has come a long way and its development is impressive.  It can now use translation memories and glossaries and software developers are now looking at ways to create instant back-and-forth conversation tools to translate spoken words as well as written text.

It's free

Machine translation has major cost advantages as compared to human translation. You can update your website instantly without having to incur the cost of paying a human translator to constantly update information which would become quite expensive.

Against Machine Translation


Machine translation never flows as well as human translation. Highly skilled and qualified translators have often lived in the countries where the respective languages are spoken, they are aware of cultural influences and linguistic nuances.  Machine translation lacks understanding in the natural language and cannot handle ambiguity presented in the text.  Take for example the French idiom "Se taper le cul par terre" which means to roll on the floor laughing.  According to Google Translate, it is translated literally as "Banging the ass on the floor ". This misunderstanding could prove to have disastrous consequences!

It cannot be used for certain texts

There will always be certain types of texts where human translators consistently out-perform machine translation.

For example, legal documents, medical reports etc. which cannot run the risk of being inadequately translated by a machine.  Human translators have experience working in certain industry sectors and carry out extensive research when translating technical texts.

Also, machine translation does not work efficiently on marketing material as it often produces a word for word translation and does not convey the creative and stylistic language of your text.

It can turn out to be costly

Using machine translation to cut costs could end up costing more in the long run as inaccuracies and mistranslations does not give a good representation of your company.  Using a machine translation tool to translate your website may give foreign customers a gist of what your company is about but it would give a much better impression if your website was adapted to make it relevant to the target market.

In conclusion, there are numerous pros and cons for both machine translation and human translation and ultimately, it comes down to your personal translation requirements.  The end use of your content, the target audience, technical nature of the text etc. are all determining factors in whether machine translation would be appropriate. Free machine translation can sometimes be useful however it is important to bear in mind that it can never be guaranteed to be 100% accurate and so is better to be used only when the “gist” translation is required.  When it comes to accurate translations, a professional, human translator wins every time.

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