MT or poor human translation. Which works better?


Roman Mironov

This is a guest post by Roman Mironov of Velior, a single-language vendor located in Russia. Velior specializes in Russian translations and has been in the field since 2005. You can contact Roman through his blog at Views expressed in this post are strictly those of the author and do not reflect an endorsement by GTS or any of its employees.

Are you considering using MT to save on translation costs, but not sure whether it can fit any of your translation needs?

Aside from all controversy around MT, it has one clear advantage. The level of quality it delivers is the same or even higher than that produced by unprofessional translators who compete on price rather than quality.


Whenever I see a subpar translation, I feel very sorry for the client who—usually unknowingly—paid a lot of money for something so  worthless. Just a few months ago a translation agency asked us to translate an update for a number of learning programs geared towards managers. Since this was an update, we were supposed to re-use the translations made by the previous vendor. And those translations turned out to be among the worst that I have ever seen. I felt sorry for the client and the agency, which both got ripped off by the previous vendor, and I couldn’t help wondering whether using MT would have made more sense for both of them. The client would have paid much less, while the agency’s margin would have likely remained the same.

My conclusion

As a result of seeing such examples and the quality of the translations that we receive from some freelance candidates, I now believe that translators who offer rock-bottom prices tend to produce quality that is as low as raw MT output. And why would someone want to pay for a human translation, when a machine translation is so much easier and cheaper to get? With the progress of machine translation, I don’t think buying low-quality human translations makes sense anymore.

What I suggest is this: Sometimes, a client has lower quality expectations due to a limited budget. For instance, a company is submitting documents to the authorities for legal reasons, but no one is really going to read them. The company realizes this and is okay with the low quality of translation. In this scenario, going with the machine translation might be a better choice than spending time looking for the cheapest translator and then paying this translator.

Both have their disadvantages

Both machine translator and low-quality human translator have the same drawback: They make errors:

  1. Both translate literally, producing translations that are difficult to comprehend.
  2. A machine doesn’t have a clue about what it’s translating. The same is often true for a human translator who doesn’t make an effort to understand the meaning properly.

So, if both make errors, neither is better from the quality standpoint.

MT has clear advantages

While the quality is probably comparable, MT also has its benefits:

  1. MT can follow a list of a client’s terminology better (as long as you use MT software that supports uploading terminology lists).
  2. MT doesn’t make the types of errors that an automated QA is designed to detect, such as misspelling or wrong numbers.
  3. MT is often much faster.
  4. MT is often much cheaper.
  5. Buying MT reduces a client’s expectations. When the client engages a human translator, even at a bargain-basement price, it’s natural for the client to expect something worthwhile in return. But when he gets poor quality, the client tends to get angry anyway, because frustration about being ripped off is only human. But with MT, the client’s expectations are usually so low that it doesn’t matter.


When price is the most important consideration and you’re fine with subpar quality, using MT may be a viable alternative to a cheap MT a cheap and low-quality human translator.

So, are you using MT to cut translation costs?

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Translation and Single Digital Market in the EU

European Union

European Union

Last month, I attended a LT-Innovate workshop in Brussels. In his presentation, Mr. Ruben Riestra gave an enlightening example of the status of the single digital market within European Union. In this article, I’d like to share this inspiring example with you.

Via the Internet, I can access digital content (e.g. web pages) in Spain in a fraction of a second. In contrast to digital products, the transportation of any physical products, like oranges, between any two EU countries will usually take several days. So, it is easier to sell digital content between the two countries than it is to sell an orange. Or is it?

Actually no, it is not. If I want to buy oranges from Spain, it is relatively easy to do so. An orange is an orange both in Finland and in Spain. There are plenty of sellers in Spain and it is easy to arrange the transportation too. Unfortunately, the same does not apply to digital content.

Between the most European countries there is a language barrier that prevents effective communication. In practice it means that I can’t use digital content in Spanish because I don’t speak that language.

For an effective single digital market, the following are required: common legislation, common currency and common language. We currently have the first two ones in EU. But we don’t and will not have a shared language within Europe. The only way to have a single digital market is to overcome the language barrier with translation, either by human translators or by machine translation. This makes language and translation technology crucial for Europe. Together they form the missing piece which will enable the European single digital market.

This is a guest blog by Niko Papula, Managing Director of Multilizer. Multilizer develops translation and localization technologies. Its latest innovation is award-winning machine translation quality estimation technology called MT-Qualifier.


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New GTS Translation Plugin version 1.2.2

We released today a new version of our GTS WordPress translation plugin. The new version 1.2.2 now supports translation of WordPress widget texts. It also fixes a problem that afflicted users with WordPress version 3.4 and up.

Since it’s release almost two years ago, the GTS Translation plugin has been downloaded about 17,000 times and has been installed in over 1,000 websites and blogs.

The GTS Translation plugin is a highly cost effective way of translating WordPress websites. It supports professional human translation through post-editing of machine translated text and crowdsourcing.

Is Google Translate finished? Latest Google blog post focuses on past, not future

The Google Official blog featured a post last week entitled: Breaking down the language barrier—six years in. This blog post was a ‘State of the Union’ address about Google Translate, written by the head of the Google Translate team Franz Och.

But where is Google Translate headed? I found nothing exciting in the blog post, nothing to indicate any kind of breakthrough or imminent product announcement. Why did Mr. Och write that post? To tell everyone what a great job they had done in the PAST? It is the FUTURE we are interested in. Everyone knows that Google revolutionized the field of machine translation. And half the world uses it. But why write a blog post about it?

We want to knock down the language barrier wherever it trips people up, and we can’t wait to see what the next six years will bring (from the blog post).

A lofty goal indeed. Everyone would like to see that. But how does Google get there? Can you provide some concrete milestones which you plan to achieve in your ambitious journey? Doing so would make your statements more believable. As it stands, these statements sound like campaign promises in an election year.

When Larry Page took over as Google CEO, he cut spending on R&D programs which were not part of Google’s core activities and that included machine translation. I think that the blog post by Franz Och reinforces the fact that there is a budget freeze in his department. In the year since Google announced that it was shutting down the Translate API, no significant product announcements were made by the Google Translate team. Reading the blog post, it appears that nothing significant will happen in the next year either. Which raises a question: what will Franz Och be doing at Google? Arguably one of the top people in the world in MT research, Mr. Och should be getting back to the future.

MT-in-a-cloud startup LetsMT! to hold workshop in Monaco

I received an email from LetsMT about an upcoming workshop for people who want to try their system. I blogged about this Latvian-based company a few times after having met the CEO in Pisa last year. I also started to test out the system a few months ago after getting an early invitation. The system holds a promising, MT-in-a-cloud concept. And Monaco? Nice place. Just that the last time I was there I got wiped out at the blackjack table. Anyway, this sounds like a  worthwhile event.  Please let me know if you plan to go and would be interested in writing a guest post on this blog.

Customized Machine Translation – Platform, Tools and Application
LetsMT! cloud platform and ACCURAT tools

Sunday, 25 March 2012, 09:00-12:00
Le Méridien Beach Plaza, Zephyr Ballroom, 4th Floor

Presenters: Andrejs Vasiļjevs (Tilde), Indra Sāmīte (Tilde), Marko Tadić (University of Zagreb), Raivis Skadiņš (Tilde), Gregor Thurmair (Linguatec), representative of DG Translation, European Commission

This free workshop is for localization industry practitioners who want to stay on top of developments in the machine translation (MT) field. Learn how to make MT work for you and increase your translation productivity, provide faster service to your customers, and give your company a competitive edge.

You will see innovative technologies focused on empowering MT users and enabling MT for less-resourced languages. These are the results of two large-scale pan-European university and industry collaboration projects LetsMT! and ACCURAT, supported by EU R&D FP7 and ICT-PSP Programmes.

Come and learn how to benefit from the self-service “MT factory” in the cloud at where you can build customized MT systems. ACCURAT tools will help you to obtain so-needed parallel data by collecting it from the multilingual web. We will also present specific applications for custom MT, such as sentiment analysis of multilingual newsfeeds, use of SMT systems for authoring tools, enhancing rule-based MT systems with data from comparable corpora, and use of MT in real‑world localization processes, with a particular focus on smaller languages.

You will have the opportunity to meet and learn from top European MT researchers, as well as business practitioners who use MT in translation on a daily basis. More info at the workshop webpage.


You can register for this event when registering for GALA 2012. If you have already registered for the conference, you can simply return to the online store and add this free session to your registration. For assistance, please contact Allison Ferch.