Translator's Blog

A stark warning for all businesses that use machine translation

by OFER TIROSH 2017-10-18 07:30:56

If your business uses machine translation, it’s time to take a long, hard look at the potential damage that this could be causing to your company’s reputation. 

Machine translation has been embraced by all manner of businesses in recent years. It’s fast, convenient and cheaper than using human translation services. However, it’s fair to say that you get what you pay for… 

WeChat’s translation controversy 

China’s largest messaging app, WeChat, is the latest high profile company to suffer as a result of using machine translation. The company has been developing its own neural network to manage translation. While users seem prepared to live with the system’s propensity for grammatical mistakes, they were far less happy to find that it was translating ‘hei laowai’ (literal meaning: ‘black foreigner’) into the n-word when combined with negative words such as ‘late.’

While WeChat worked quickly to rectify the mistake, the company nevertheless hit the headlines around the world as a result. 

Using machine translation

Most businesses don’t develop their own neural networks for translation – they rely on machine translation offerings from companies such as Google. However, the risks remain the same. Google’s translation has been found to contain sexist assumptions – a gender-neutral description of a doctor in Turkish turns into a male description in English, while a gender-neutral sentence about a nurse becomes a female description. 

These are the perils of using machines that have been programmed based on a feeding them texts written by humans. It seems that the machines are starting to pick up on some of the biases that humans include in their writing. Machine learning is open to learning the prejudices that we show through our use of language. 

Machine translation is also well known for its grammatical mistakes. Relying on a machine for accurate translation is not a good idea. Even the most sophisticated machine translation services can’t yet come close to the abilities of a professional human translator. As such, using machines leaves businesses with poorly worded copy that will do their reputations no good whatsoever. At best, customers will be amused by the company’s inability to write correctly. At worst, they will shy away from a company that uses offensive of inappropriate language. 

The value of professional translation services

Using a professional translation service does cost more than machine translation – but that’s because you get a better service. Professional translation provides your business with the ability to present itself professionally in any language, without inadvertently offending local readers. Most companies would agree that that’s money well spent!

Has your business suffered as a result of machine translation? If so, let Tomedes help to repair the damage – feel free to contact us for further details. 

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