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Is That Online Translation Really Free?

The idea that using an online translation tool to translate materials for free has a certain appeal. It is no surprise that many are tempted to use these free tools to translate materials for their company; the idea of saving money on a service is attractive. However, while a free online translation might give you the basic idea of what a text says, the saying “you get what you pay for” is certainly true with regard to translation. A free translation is likely to contain errors. What’s more, if used in place of a professional translation service, using the free version could actually cost you money instead. You likely already know that large translation blunders are risky. If you were a hospital administrator, would you take a chance on free translation software at the risk of your patients? Even a mistake in the wording of instructions for taking medicine could make the difference between life and death in the most severe cases. A translation error like that could cause a major lawsuit, resulting in significant losses for your company or organization.

Even if your translation error is not likely to result in something so significant, it could end up costing you more in the long run. If your customers notice the, it could impact your company’s reputation of professionalism. At this point, you may hire a professional translation company to fix the error. It will also cost you more time than if you had translated it correctly the first time. In addition, if you have already printed the translation in a brochure or other material, you will end up with extra production and printing costs to replace the incorrectly translated versions, also costing you more in time and production in the long run.

If you are looking for ways to save on translation, keep the following in mind:

  • Plan ahead. Sending your project to a translation company with plenty of time before it is due will help you avoid rush fees.
  • Is there a large amount of text? Check with the translation company about bulk discounts, especially if there is a lot of repetition throughout.
  • Avoid very small projects to avoid minimum fees. Otherwise, you will pay extra to compensate for the time spent in managing the project. It is best to combine several small projects into one larger project for a better overall rate.

While there may be a cost up front to translate your materials if you opt to use a professional translation service instead of the free translation software, the aforementioned tips may help lower your overall cost, especially knowing that the “free” translation you received online may not actually be free for your company’s reputation and budget in the long run.

What Machine Translation Cannot Do

Machine translation (MT) can be a handy tool when used properly. The key is understanding when to use it, but also understanding its limitations. To know when to use MT, it is important to know what it is. In its simplest terms, MT occurs when a computer translates a text without a human translator’s involvement. Current translation software tools often have a form of MT embedded within them, so many translators do use this functionality to begin their translation work, however it is merely a tool and should not be treated as a solution.

MT can do various things. It has the ability to scan common grammatical rules and even specialized dictionaries related to the text type. Another type of MT utilizes corpora from numerous texts already translated and available. It basically pulls from these documents and tries to detect patterns associated with the various sentences in that particular text. Once it detects these patterns, it “guesses” what the most accurate translation should be.

You might ask, “If such an intelligent software exists, why hire a translator at all? Doesn’t the software do all the work?” Quite the opposite. Machine translation is a great starting point when used correctly. However, every language has its own nuances and can be ambiguous in nature at both a syntactic and lexical level. The use of MT increases the risk of missing the nuances and ambiguity. A human translator is fluent in both languages and therefore understands the importance of maintaining grammatical and lexical accuracy while still ensuring no meaning is lost during the translation. While MT can extremely helpful during the translation process, using it alone is not a solution and often results in a subpar translation, if not a complete mistranslation, at times.

One of the benefits of MT software is that when a translator uses MT in the translation process, it often leads to faster delivery. Since some of the segments not already translated by the translator’s translation memory (TM) can be pre-translated by the MT software, it allows the translator to review these segments and make changes as necessary, speeding up the process. The result is that your text can be delivered back to you quicker than if the translator were working without the additional tools, and you can rest assured that the translation is accurate and conveys the intended meaning of your text.

The automatic translation of a web page is a great example to use when displaying both the strengths and weaknesses of MT. If you’ve ever read an article online that was originally written in another language, your browser may have suggested that you translate it to English. Google Chrome, for example, uses Google Translate to do this. Google Translate uses a version of MT to automatically translate the web page to English so that you are able to read it. Most browsers have a similar function, though they may use different translation software to achieve the end product.

While some sentences may be surprisingly accurate, one can easily notice that web pages translated with these tools alone often display poor grammar and sentence structures. Machine translation can convey the main idea of an article, but it may not deliver it with precision. In a recent Chinese news article, for example, a translated sentence reads, “Xi Jinping run the test area for great concern, repeatedly giving directions and instructions.” Combining the sentence with the others around it, we are able to get the gist of its meaning through context and inference. However, we can also see where the translation contains poor grammar and word choice with “Xi Jinping run the test area for great concern.”

While MT can help provide you with an idea of what is being said, it’s important to remember what it cannot do for you:

  • MT cannot proofread the web page to make sure the translation is accurate.
  • It cannot always accurately choose between two meanings when the original word has a homonym.
  • It may not recognize set phrases and sayings, resulting in a translation that could be too literal.
  • It will not recognize many nuances of the original language, often losing some of the meaning in the process.

So, while reading through a translated web page, it would be best to fact check something that seems odd or out of place; it may be an inaccurately translated sentence. And if your company is looking to translate a text, we highly recommend hiring a professional translator or translation agency to ensure a correct and precise meaning is conveyed at all times. After all, your brand is on the line.

Translating Web Content for Spanish-speaking Consumers: First Steps

Translating your company's website into Spanish doesn't have to be daunting. Should you translate your website content? How do you choose a translation vendor? These are both valid questions when considering the translation of web content. And here are some possible answers that might work for you. Translation is an investment. It can grow your bottom line more than you thought imaginable. Why is that? Consider the ways that your clients reach your site and learn more about your business. Now, think about how many more people you can reach by having your site's content translated. According to the Pew Research Hispanic Center, approximately 78% of Latinos report that they use the Internet to send and receive e-mail. These same groups are searching key terms online (yes, Googling!) to find retailers, compare prices and seek information on products.

The number of Latinos using mobile devices to search online is slowly becoming more even with the number of non-Latino users in the past few years. In 2012 NBC Latino reported, "The digital divide, which can be defined as the disparities between those who have access to the resource of the internet, was much more pronounced in 2009. Then, the internet use rates of Latinos were 64 percent, compared to 80 percent for whites. Now the share of Hispanic adults who say they go online at least occasionally has increased to 78 percent. Comparatively, whites are only at 87 percent. This means the digital divide has been nearly halved in just three years." Many Latinos fall within certain income and age ranges that could very well match up with your current market demographics for native English-speaking clients. According to the Pew Hispanic Center survey, "High family income is correlated with using a mobile device for accessing the internet. About three-in-ten (29%) Hispanic internet users who use a mobile device to access the internet have annual family incomes of $50,000 or more."

In a recent Nielsen Report, it was found that Latino households earning $50,000 or more are projected to grow at a faster rate than other households in the United States. "Hispanics already account for an important share of consumer expenditures and given their youth, educational advances, and increasing spending capacity, Hispanics are fast becoming preeminent drivers of growth and likely trend setters in the marketplace. Marketers will need to understand the what, where, how and why of their role in tomorrow’s consumption space."

Why are so many companies focusing on Spanish in the United States? Besides the constantly growing Latino population, buying power among this group of consumers continues to soar. According to The National Journal, "With an estimated $1.5 trillion to spend, the Hispanic consumer market is expected to boost several economic sectors: housing, food, retail, education, financial services, transportation, entertainment, and media."

Although many may argue that Latinos are often able to read and write in English, creating content in Spanish can build trust and loyalty among Latino consumers. By translating and localizing web content for Spanish-speakers, your company will be able to stand out among your competitors by reaching out to Latino consumers on a personal level. In a survey we conducted at ATS in both Spanish and English with strategic partner Speak Our Language in 2012, we asked participants to rate the importance of a business communicating with them in Spanish. While most said that it was somewhat to extremely important, the majority answered that if a company chooses to communicate in Spanish with customers, poor translations and grammatical errors in their web content has a strong negative impact on their trust in that company.

Therefore, in building your brand among Latino consumers, selecting a vendor with a great track record in translation of marketing materials, as well as the industry in which your company operates (i.e. automotive, food, medical, pharmaceuticals, technical, etc.), is of vital importance. Inquire about the vendor's Quality Assurance process and make sure it's a process with which you feel comfortable. Ask questions and be clear about your expectations. When sending content for translation, it's important to make sure you send the final copy to your vendor and try not to make changes in the source content throughout the process, as this can be costly for the buyer. The vendor should also ask you questions about your target audience, deadline expectations, layout and terminology.

These are some first steps in translating your company's website into Spanish and can put you well on your way to marketing your brand successfully among Latino consumers. What other considerations are important in marketing to Latinos online?