As a technical translation company, we at McElroy Translation take pride in the quality our translators and editors bring to our services. With machine translation becoming more and more accepted for global use (Survey Shows MT Consideration and Usage Increase, Global Watchtower April 2010), it’s important to acknowledge when it is and is not appropriate.
The key to making this decision is in understanding the purpose your translation will serve. Obviously consent forms, clinical trial protocols, intellectual property, and patents for foreign filing need human translation. But when it comes to translating your website, the choice may not be as clear-cut. After all, there are no regulatory requirements or potential legal issues here, right? If you are actively pursuing business in the Chinese market, studies show 95% of Chinese online consumers indicate greater comfort level with websites in their language (See Global Business Webinar, February 2010), and so it is important that you have a translated website to reach them. But for a content-intensive website, the costs involved in a full human translation may not be feasible. Our recommendation in that case would be to get a high-quality human translation for the pages of highest importance—the pages that directly relate to the information that consumers will need to make a purchasing decision—and then opt for a post-edited machine translation for all additional pages that could be referenced by the consumer. Being able to provide a fully localized website for the language and locale of your target prospect is best, but considering only 1% of US retailers offer sites specific to China, having something available in their native language is a good start. Just make sure you get a post-edit of anything you publish by an in-country linguist, as you could do considerable damage to your brand if you inadvertently offend your audience.
McElroy currently uses machine translation with clients for the purpose of discovery. In litigation cases involving large volumes of foreign language text, the time and costs involved in the human translation of these documents is unfeasible. Legal teams and e-Discovery companies depend on either retaining native-speaking reviewers to run searches through the corpus of foreign language documents or machine-translating them to run English searches. By applying glossaries to the machine translation, portions of text that contain a higher number of hits can be identified, and certified human translations can be provided for those portions.
So machine translation does have its uses. However, you must understand that if you take the machine-translation path, the quality will be extremely low, making post-translation editing vitally important. To test this for yourself, try taking your company’s profile, running it through Google translate into the language of your choice, and then translating the result back to English. This will give you a good idea of the type of quality a machine translation will provide.