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Machine vs human translation: the pros, cons and when to use each


The long-running debate of machine vs human translation refuses to go away. This is partly because technology improves every year and the quality of translation it offers is constantly rising.

Now seems like a good time to update our view on the machine vs human translation debate. Today we’ll be looking at the pros and cons of both, as they stand in 2016, as well as in which types of situation you might choose to use each of them.

Machine translation: the pros and cons

The advantages of machine translation generally come down to two factors: it’s faster and cheaper. The downside to this is the standard of translation can be anywhere from inaccurate, to incomprehensible, and potentially dangerous (more on that shortly).

The advantages of machine translation

The disadvantages of machine translation

The most important thing to consider with any kind of translation is the cost of potential mistakes. Translating instructions for medical equipment, aviation manuals, legal documents and many other kinds of content require 100% accuracy. In such cases, mistakes can cost lives, huge amounts of money and irreparable damage to your company’s image. So choose carefully!

Human translation: the pros and cons

Human translation essentially switches the table in terms of pros and cons. A higher standard of accuracy comes at the price of longer turnaround times and higher costs. What you have to decide is whether that initial investment outweighs the potential cost of mistakes. Alternatively, whether mistakes simply aren’t an option, like the cases we looked at in the previous section.

The advantages of human translation

The disadvantages of human translation

Simply put, human translation is your best option when accuracy is even remotely important. Other considerations to make are the complexity of your source material and the two languages you’re translating between – both of which can render machines pretty useless.

When to use machine and human translation

The truth is, the debate over machine vs human translation is an unnecessary distraction. What we should really be talking about is when to use these two different types of translation services, because they both serve a very valid purpose.

Examples of when to use machine translation

Examples of when to use human translation

Hopefully we’ve offered a balanced look at both machine and human translation in this article. Above all, we want to make it clear that both means of translation deserve their place in the industry, even if they play very different roles. So let’s forget about the machine vs human translation debate and focus instead on choosing the right service for each given product.

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