The problem with machine translation.

When we send out a quotation for some work to support our customers with their translation requirements, they often have objections as to why they can’t just do it themselves. Whilst we strongly advocate the use of professional translators for written translations, we are by no means dismissing the many benefits of an instant translation service you can carry round in your pocket.

Google translate, amongst others comes with none of the costs of utilising an experienced professional, and can have a completed translation ready in seconds. A human translator working on a document has absolutely no chance of keeping up with the speed of the algorithms of a piece of software.

As with all commercial exercises though, a greater long-term benefit comes from taking the time to ensure that a translated document, which represents your business, says exactly what you want it to. Our challenge is to demonstrate just how important it is to ensure we are the best option to maintain your company’s brand at all times, and that our professional services can be extremely good value for money.

The essence boils down to the fact that whilst the computer systems are efficient and often effective, they are still merely that, a computer’s interpretation of languages it has no way of truly understanding the human complexities. A professional interpreter would make every effort to avoid the pitfalls of using software to interpret an evolving, complex human language, especially in larger documents, which make the likelihood of errors more likely (as well as the fact that there is a character limit on the amount of text a web-based service will translate for you).

Using their own knowledge and often a lifetime of experience with the language for context (something else a piece of software would be unable to process), checking back with glossaries, dictionaries and having their work proof-read by another professional who speaks the same language, helps ensure that the translation communicates the desired message effectively.

One of the other benefits of using our translation service, as well as access to our pool of professional interpreters, is that we can provide an in house certificate validating the accuracy of our translations. This can be used to add authenticity to translated documents, which for previous clients it has been sent to the Home Office, or translated on behalf of the NHS, where the accuracy of the translations come under intense scrutiny, and has a direct impact on a person’s life.

Another factor to consider is that many electronic translation databases are built on previous translations, so more common languages, such as Spanish or English tend to be more accurate while translations for other languages that are not as available in the database are less likely to be accurate.

Using a professional service ensures you maintain the same high standards regardless of language you need translating. Moreover, any grammatical errors embedded in the Google database would be emphasised in any future translations, especially considering that many algorithms do not take into account grammatical rules.

With all this in mind, over the page is an example of an extract from Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis translated from German into English. Example 1 is Google’s translation of the text, and example 2 is the same text translated by one of our professional translators.

German (original text)

Er glitt wieder in seine frühere Lage zurück. ‘Dies frühzeitige Aufstehen’, dachte er, ‘macht einen ganz blödsinnig. Der Mensch muß seinen Schlaf haben. Andere Reisende leben wie Haremsfrauen.

Wenn ich zum Beispiel im Laufe des Vormittags ins Gasthaus zurückgehe, um die erlangten Aufträge zu überschreiben, sitzen diese Herren erst beim Frühstück. Das sollte ich bei meinem Chef versuchen; ich würde auf der Stelle hinausfliegen.

Wer weiß übrigens, ob das nicht sehr gut für mich wäre. Wenn ich mich nicht wegen meiner Eltern zurückhielte, ich hätte längst gekündigt, ich wäre vor den Chef hin getreten und hätte ihm meine Meinung von Grund des Herzens aus gesagt.

Vom Pult hätte er fallen müssen! Es ist auch eine sonderbare Art, sich auf das Pult zu setzen und von der Höhe herab mit dem Angestellten zu reden, der überdies wegen der Schwerhörigkeit des Chefs ganz nahe herantreten muß.

Nun, die Hoffnung ist noch nicht gänzlich aufgegeben; habe ich einmal das Geld beisammen, um die Schuld der Eltern an ihn abzuzahlen – es dürfte noch fünf bis sechs Jahre dauern – mache ich die Sache unbedingt. Dann wird der große Schnitt gemacht. Vorläufig allerdings muß ich aufstehen, denn mein Zug fährt um fünf.

Example (Google)

He slipped back to his former position. “Getting up early,” he thought, “makes you stupid. Man must have his sleep. Other travellers live like harem women. For example, if I go back to the inn during the morning to override the orders received, these gentlemen will not sit until breakfast.

I should try that with my boss; I would fly out on the spot. Who knows, by the way, if that would not be very good for me. If I did not hold back because of my parents, I would have quit long ago, I would have stepped in front of the boss and would have told him my opinion from the bottom of my heart.

He should have dropped from the desk! It is also a strange way of sitting down on the desk and talking down the stairs with the clerk, who, moreover, has to approach very close because of the boss’s deafness.

Well, hope has not yet completely given up; Once I have the money together to pay off the parents’ debt to him – it may take another five to six years – I will definitely do it. Then the big cut is made. For the present, though, I have to get up because my train leaves at five. ”

Example (Linguist)

He slid back again into his former position. ‘This getting up early’, he thought, ‘makes anyone a complete idiot. You need your sleep. Other travelling salesmen live like harem women.

For example, if I go back to the inn before lunch to write up the orders I’ve got, these gentlemen are just having breakfast. Imagine I tried that on with my boss, I’d be fired on the spot. But then again, that might be quite a good thing for me, who knows.

If I didn’t hold back for my parents’ sake, I would have quit long ago, I’d have marched up to the boss and given him a piece of my mind, from the bottom of my heart.

He would have fallen off his desk! And isn’t it strange, too, the way he sits on his desk and talks to the employees from up high, especially if they have to come quite close, because the boss is hard of hearing.

Well, there’s still hope, once I’ve saved up enough money to pay off my parents’ debt to him – that should take another five to six years – I will definitely do it. I’ll cut myself free then. For now, though, I’d better get up because my train leaves at five.’

As you can see from the bold text, there are several errors in Google’s interpretation of the text, and you can see the benefits of entrusting this document to a professional interpreter. For more information on how our service can provide you with the peace of mind that your reputation will remain intact and that you continue to provide excellent service to your international clients, contact our translations team at, or call us on 0800 731 7878.