• Nikolaj Widenmann

Free Machine Translation Can Be A Costly Ride

Updated: Sep 12, 2018

Google Translate and similar free online machine translation (MT) tools cannot be trusted to produce accurate translations. Translation results tend to be inaccurate, and the information becomes searchable and available on the public domain.


Though MT can be useful for getting the general idea of the meaning of a text, its rendition tends to contain unnatural syntax, stilted language, and mistranslation of important terms.

The reason is that language is used in a variety of ways and for a variety of purposes. In addition, words often have different meanings. One example is the word “rider” in English. I once saw my local public transportation system translate this word into Spanish as jinete (“horse rider”, “jockey”) on signs posted at train stations. This seems as an odd choice for a text that discusses people who ride trains.


The reason is that MT relies on previously translated texts in the languages in question. MT does not think; it is a piece of software. A professional translator, however, would logically apply the correct translation of “rider” according to the context by using a term that means “passenger” in the other language.


When accuracy is important, a professional translator becomes crucial. Granted, professional translation is not free. But if you have spent time and money on an important document, you would not want to botch a business deal or a legal case, jeopardize your business image, disclose sensitive patent information, or put a patient’s life at risk just to save a few dollars. After all, those few dollars or euros pale when compared to litigation costs or the expenses from fixing a faulty translation and its aftermath.


Another issue is confidentiality. If your text is in any way confidential, free machine translation services is certainly not your best choice. The last thing you want is for anyone to be able to Google their way to the details of your newest invention, all because you used Google Translate to translate the patent claim. And if you don't understand the language of a document, then obviously you are not able to determine whether or not it is confidential.

If you have a voluminous amount of material and need to know what portions you actually need translated, another alternative would be to hire a translator or a translation agency, such as WTS Translations, to review the material for relevance and subsequently translate only those sections that are actually relevant.


That begs the next question: How do you find a reliable human translation service? If you want to hire the translator directly, a good place to start would be with your country’s translators association, such as the American Translators Association (ATA). Personally I am ATA-certified as a Danish-English and a Spanish-English translator.


If you have a large project or simply do not want to spend your time vetting individual translators, you can also request the services of a reputable translation agency, such as WTS Translations. We have access to numerous translators and are able to assign the text to a translator who specializes in the subject matter at hand. This also enables us to use multiple translators to meet deadlines that extend beyond the capacity of a single translator. In addition, your translation will undergo a thorough review by second translator to ensure accuracy.


Free online machine translation is suddenly not so free when you factor in the costs of fixing a corporate image, paying attorneys to resolve legal disputes arising from a faulty contract translation, or loss of income because the patent claim became available on Google and Bing. After all, there is no such thing as a free lunch – or as they say in Spanish, lo barato sale caro.

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