Machine translation (MT) is just that—a machine (software) that translates content. For the most basic machine translation service, such as Google Translate, a human isn’t involved in the translation. Machine translation is good for some types of content such as non-critical internal content, getting the gist of something, and when you need a quick turnaround.
That being said, machine translation is not good for many things, including multilingual website content, critical content, externally facing documents, and more. Let’s take a look at an example using Google Translate, which operates as a plugin on many websites or as a browser extension to bridge the gap for audiences who don’t speak or read the source language. If you were to go to China’s top search engine, www.baidu.com, the content is in Chinese. It would be exceptionally difficult for an English speaker who doesn’t know the language to navigate the website. However, you can use Google Translate’s Chrome Extension to update the content to English automatically. This will get you the general gist of the content, but very quickly you’ll notice some content that clearly isn’t native English and problems that affect website navigation.
We’ll explain why machine translation isn’t a good solution for multilingual website content in particular and why you should follow a traditional human translation process in this scenario.
Challenges with Using Machine Translation for Multilingual Websites
While machine translation is good for some things, a multilingual website is not one of them. Although machine translation may be the cheapest and easiest solution in the short run, you may experience many downsides in the long run.
#1 Poor Quality
Your website is your most important sales tool. It’s your first impression to customers. If a multilingual audience reads it and sees mistakes, they’re not going to trust your brand. You want to make the best impression on potential customers, just as you do for English, and that involves giving your audience accurate and high-quality material. Keep in mind that on your website, you’re communicating about the important products and services that you provide—this isn’t the time to skimp on costs by using a machine translation process.
#2 Inaccurate Language Dialects
Did you know that Spanish has 10 major dialects around the world? And those are only the main dialects. Within regions, you can have multiple dialects. For example, although Spain is about 19 times smaller than the US, it has four major Spanish dialects and five co-official languages. As you can see, Spanish isn’t Spanish. So how do you know which language dialect you’re getting with machine translation?
Machine translation can only consider one language version—it doesn’t consider register and linguistic variations. Therefore, you can’t tailor it to a specific audience. So will an established, US-based Hmong community understand the Hmong dialect from China? If not, you could create an inaccurate customer experience, and therefore, lose potential customers.
#3 Mismatched Brand, Voice, and Terminology
If you’ve already translated some content, a machine translation may very well not match your company’s brand, voice, and terminology. While you can start “training” machine translation, Google Translate is general and won’t consider these things.
Best Practices for Multilingual Website Translation
So, how should you translate content for your multilingual website? Although we have many best practices, here are a few related to the process.
- Professional translators who have experience in your industry and first-hand knowledge of your target regions are the best people to translate website content.
- Run accessibility and functional tests to ensure that final content is accurate, accessible, functional, and complete.
- Have internal resources review the final pages before making them live. There’s only one chance for a first impression.
- Prioritize the pages for translation, so you make sure that the important content is translated first.
- For additional suggestions, read our blog on this subject.
How can you accomplish these things? Partner with a Language Service Provider (LSP) and follow a human website translation workflow.
Advantages of a Human Translation Workflow
Although a human translation process will be more expensive in the short term, you’ll realize many advantages in the long run.
#1 Save Money in the Long Run
LSPs use tools like a Terminology Management database to store and reuse approved terms in context. A database provides the translators with previously translated terms, so costs decrease, consistency increases, and turnaround time decreases in the long run.
With higher-quality translations, you can engage and gain new customers, not lose potential customers. Part of that higher quality is using the correct language dialect for the regions that you’re targeting, and an LSP can do this for you.
And finally, if customers complain about poor quality translations, you may have to retranslate assets, resulting in increased costs. You won’t have this issue with professional translators.
#2 Provide High-Quality Translations to Your Customers
In addition to tools like a Terminology Management database, human translations go through a multistep process, including QA, proofreading, and testing, to ensure high-quality translations and the final product’s integrity.
In addition, by working with an LSP, you’ll get additional insights, recommendations, and a dedicated project manager to oversee the process and manage all the steps.
#3 Proofreading: LSP and In-Country Reviewers
An LSP will have proofreaders to ensure that the content is culturally relevant, accurate, and complete. In addition, you can have in-country reviewers review and test the multilingual website content before it gets released to the public. This is the ultimate stamp of approval for quality.
While machine translation is good for some types of content, we don’t recommend using it for multilingual website content. There are too many risks with machine translation to produce high-quality content, and a website is too important to skimp on quality.
Website Translation Services at Avantpage
At Avantpage, we follow a multistep process with tools and a team to generate high-quality website content. Having worked on numerous websites, we understand what it takes to produce high-quality content. For more information, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or (530) 750-2040.