The dangers of machine translation

Many businesses think an automatic translation of their website is better than no translation at all. But, machine translation can be a real hindrance, especially for retailers and e-retailers. We explain why.


Dangers de la traduction automatique

Machine translation = mistranslations and misunderstandings

Over the last few years, machine translation tools have really improved. Even so, no machine can have the same understanding of a text as a human translator.

Language is a very exact science, and its subtleties can sometimes only be understood by a human brain.

Let’s take the example of idiomatic expressions. For instance, “a piece of cake”. Machine translation engines take this expression quite literally!

Exemple contre-sens Traduction automatique

Example of a mistranslation in an automatic translation

Technical translation is another example. Automatic translation engines offer a generic translation for each term, without taking into account the context or the industry in which the terms will be used.

For example, if you sell bikes and cycling equipment, machine translation could cause significant terminological problems. The technical term “fork” refers to a part of a bicycle. However, the first definition of the word is the piece of cutlery. The machine translation engine cannot understand the difference and would use the most obvious translation, which would be “fourchette” in French, as in “knife and fork”, instead of the correct term in this technical context, “fourche”.

Exemple mauvaise traduction automatique

Example of a bad automatic translation

The importance of cultural awareness and transcreation

If the content you wish to translate has any culturally specific aspects, machine translation engines will not be able to adapt it to the target culture.

For example, in a marketing context, advertising will have less of an impact, or might even be totally ineffective, if it is not adapted to the target culture.

Apart from this, your text might contain some local elements. A French to US English translation, for example, would need to change any mention of currency (euros to dollars) and units of measurement (inches to centimetres, pounds to kilograms).

Machine translation tools do not make these conversions, making the final translation incomprehensible for the target market.

The translator’s style is paramount

Machines are still a long way from being able to imitate the style of a human translator. Translation is not just about transferring words from one language into another. It takes a real creative effort and the translator needs to remain a certain distance away from the original text in order to produce a natural, fluent translation in the target language.

This is particularly important for e-commerce website translation. Most internet users only buy from websites that seem trustworthy; to create this trust, a flawless translation is essential. A native-speaker, professional translator will create a natural-sounding translation to make the visitor feel right at home.

In this case, machine translation can be dangerous and counter-productive for your business, as a poor translation will send your potential customers running and significantly affect your conversion rate.

Machine translation is not an option: call upon a professional translator to adapt the translation of your website so that your SEO improves and your conversion rate soars internationally.

Contact our translation teams

2018-03-20T10:57:04+01:006 October 2017|Our tips section|