Do you want new clients or do you want to be cheap?

The pitfalls of automated translation: Do you want new clients or do you want to be cheap?

There are probably thousands of reasons why translating documents or business correspondence with automated or web-based services is a very tricky endeavor.
Sure, dictionary websites like LEO do a terrific job. But they don’t give you context. Unless you know the other language, automated answers can often be misleading or confusing.

Most likely the worst thing you can do on a professional level is using services like Google Translate to pretend that your company’s website is multilingual. Case in point: the official website of Cleveland Utilities in Cleveland, Tennessee. Classic fail. You actually achieve the exact opposite of what you intended. Not respect, but ridicule will be the reaction of your foreign users.

The question here is: Do you want to reach and attract new clients? Or are you just plain cheap and think you can get away with it?

Susanne Evens of AAA Translation in St. Louis, MO has a good real life story about machine translation. I met Ms. Evens via Twitter, where she shares some of her knowledge. Below is one of her blog entries that I would encourage you to read.

Needless to say that I am available for translation services of any kind (German-English/Englisch-Deutsch). Find my contact details here.

Think twice before using a machine translator, unless you don’t need new clients!

My daughter began college in 2002, exactly 10 years after we moved to America from Germany – when she still spoke fluent German and had a summer to learn English before school started in the fall. 10 years, apparently, is enough time to completely forget almost every bit of German she learned at such an early age. I, not realizing just how much of her native tongue she didn’t know anymore, tried to pressure her to take another language in college so that she could gain valuable knowledge of other cultures and languages. After the following events unfolded I was more than happy that she had decided to not grant my wishes, and to stick with German – the language she no longer knew best.

I believe it was her second semester of her freshman year; I get a frantic phone call… “Mom”! I need your help! My final paper is due tomorrow for German and I don’t think it’s saying what I want it to be saying. Are you really busy? Can I e-mail it to you and can you take a look?” Of course I said yes. 5 minutes later her paper was in my inbox ready to be proofread. Again, little did I realize how much she had forgotten… I called my daughter back and I asked her one simple question, “Have you forgotten everything of your German?” To which, as not only a mother – but also as the President of a translation company, I receive from my baby girl’s mouth the words I was fearing the most, “Well I used an online translator for the words I didn’t know.” I went silent – my own flesh and blood… “Mom? Are you still there?” Oh I was there. I was there trying not to scream at her about how ridiculous it was to use an online translation service to turn in a final paper that determined her final grade in the class, which could’ve caused her to fail that German class. But I digress. I got my wits about me and in my professional, calm voice explained to her why using an online translation service that has no clue about native slang, innuendo, homonyms, heteronyms, etc. is an absolutely terrible idea. After a few minutes of my speech she cut me off and simply asked me to help her.

The story of my daughter’s near misfortune with a failing paper is often times the actual story of an unfortunate company not investing the time and money into quality translators that are chosen for their native ability, educational credentials, etc. The ‘machine translator’ – as it is so dubbed in the translators’ inner circle, is just purely that: a machine. It doesn’t understand common native sayings such as, “I love this!” If that were to be translated into German the literal translation is, “I love it!” Which looks the same, yes; however, Germans don’t use the words Love and It in the same sentence, ever. The word Love in German is really only used when talking about an actual being. A native speaker would know this and would quickly be able to distinguish between the English meaning and translate it into the German version of saying that same statement. This goes a long way when trying to take your company global. Successful, globalized companies spend a lot of their time ensuring that their message is being clearly and correctly stated. Because, again, what means one thing in English doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing in Mandarin Chinese. After all, who can forget JFK’s faux pas of saying, “Ich bin ein Berliner!” Which literally means, “I’m a jelly donut!” not I’m a citizen of the city of Berlin (quotation from a June 26, 1963 speech by U.S. President John F. Kennedy in West Berlin, Germany).
Copyright © 2009 AAA Translation®. All rights reserved.

One thought on “Do you want new clients or do you want to be cheap?

  1. I do German-English translation as well as some Chinese-English work. Almost as bad as what you mention is the tendency in China to use Chinese native speakers to translate into English because they work for less.

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