What can be done to improve the quality of machine translations?

Published on 01/12/2020

The more one uses online machine translations, the more one learns to distrust them, despite their increasing usefulness.

Machine translators are useful for personal use, but for a corporate translation that you can trust, it is better to take your time, follow some rules, or even rely on professionals if the stakes are high.

The ABC of on-line machine translation

The ABC of on-line machine translation

It is difficult to do without automatic translation when surfing the Internet. Especially when machine translation is needed in a language other than our own for native speakers of that language.

Make sure you use online machine translation with these basic principles in mind:

  • Check that the spelling is correct: misspelled words are not translated or may cause problems for the automatic translator
  • Simplify your sentences: write clearly the subject, verb and complement
  • Do not use abbreviations
  • Do not use popular expressions, slang or colloquial words
  • Avoid being too familiar
  • Pay attention to punctuation: a full stop or comma in the wrong place can completely change the meaning of the sentence

Frequent errors caused by machine translation

Frequent errors caused by machine translation

Gender issues are often a problem for the automatic translators we find on the Internet.

In English most names are epicene (non-generic) names. This poses a problem when translating into Spanish. The word "student", for example, refers to students of both sexes without distinction.

When translating into English, these epicene names will be a problem when we do the automatic translation. This article in Genbeta illustrates it well: "This is how Google is trying to overcome the difficulties of translating from Spanish to English without gender bias". But this is not the only problem that machine translators have to face.

On-line machine translation tools also have difficulties in dealing with first names. Basically because they are designed in English, the computer language par excellence, where the familiar register no longer exists.

Homonyms are another difficulty that pose almost insoluble problems for machine translators. It is necessary to understand the context of the sentence in order to correctly translate a word that is spelled the same as another word.

Machine Translation: not recommended for marketing!

Machine Translation

Corporate translation requires certain quality guarantees, something that free machine translation struggles to offer. Translating a brand or slogan in an automated way involves a high degree of risk.

To translate a slogan based on a play on words or a specific turn of phrase, for example, we will need to turn to a specialised translation company such as AbroadLink Translations.

Checking the quality of machine translations

Checking the quality of machine translations

If you are not fluent in the language you want to translate into, it can be difficult to check its quality. Your only recourse is to use back-translation, i.e. to translate the result of your translation back into the original language.

An even more effective check is to translate the same result into a third language that you are proficient in. This will help you identify those segments that need to be corrected.

As the World Economic Forum points out in an article on how translators work, technology is constantly advancing, but nothing can replace the human factor.

Therefore, hiring a reputable translation agency ensures that you get translations of the highest quality. On the other hand, if you need to cut costs, professional machine translation with human proofreading can be adapted to some of your projects. If you want to know more about this, you will find information on our blog: "Past, present and future of translation".

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Virginia Pacheco's picture
Virginia Pacheco

Blog writer and Community Manager interested in multiculturality and linguistic diversity. From her native Venuzuela, she has travelled and lived for many years in France, Germany, Cameroon and Spain, passing on her passion for writing and her intercultural experiences.

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