Translation tips

What Human Translators Can do That Machine Translators Can Not

Carl Hill 22 May 2014
What Human Translators Can do That Machine Translators Can Not

Translations services are in no way cheap. Because of this, many people explore the option of using machine translation. While there are some instances where machine translation will work well, it’s not a good idea in the vast majority of cases. This is especially the case when a translation must be accurate and certifiable.

Below, we will outline some of the advantages of human translators. We’ll also explore potential machine translator problems.

old letters

Professional Human Translators And Language Quirks

Language is complex. Think about colors. Just in the English language if we refer to the colors red and blue, we can mean many different things. Red can refer to the hue. It can also refer to anger or embarrassment. Depending on context, red could even refer to republican. Then there’s blue. Blue is obviously a color. However, it’s also associated with sadness. Like red, there’s also an association between blue and democrat.

Words and phrases get varying meanings from history, pop culture, even movies and literature. Machine translation simply isn’t advanced enough to take these into consideration and provide an accurate creative translation services.

The Importance of Human Translators in Providing Great Customer Service

Machine translators can’t reassure frustrated customers. They can’t shuffle around work priorities to ensure that grounded passengers receive the translated documents they need in order to fly  home from  halfway around the world. Machines can’t answer a litany of questions from someone who is using a translation service for the first time. A machine translator can’t see a possible error in the original copy of a document and point that out to a client.

However, these are all things that human translators can do, and do each and every day. It takes a human’s eyes, ears, and ability to understand and relate to others to give the customer service experience that customers want.

Read also: Why is it important to hire employee handbook translation services with human translation?

Machine Translation Online Can Lead to Accuracy Issues

There’s an old story about a family who was taking in a foreign exchange student from Russia. They decided to welcome the student to America in grand style. So, they used an online translator to translate ‘Welcome to Our Home! Welcome to America!’ from English into Russian. They did this, and then printed the translation onto a huge banner that they hung in their front yard.

When the student stepped out of the taxi, he was greeted by his beaming host family along with gifts, and of course the sign. He smiled happy and introduced himself to everybody. Then he stopped, and looked at the banner quizzically. He turns around and asks his host family, “Why did you print a banner that says, ‘Translation Not Found’?”

Now, this may or may not be urban legend. However, the truth is that online translators can’t be relied upon for translations that must be accurate or certified. Yes, a story like the one above is entertaining. However, if that were a business contract or medical instructions, not so much.

Read also: Only USCIS certified translator can help you with the documents for immigration.

Human Translators Often Have Industry Knowledge in Addition to Language Skills

Translation is a complex thing.  It requires skills beyond knowing one or two languages. Instead, translators often need to have understanding of specific industries. This might include education, government, science, medicine, manufacturing, or engineering translations. In addition to this, translation assignments often require cultural understanding. That’s not something that can be delivered by a machine.

Useful information: Choose certified government translation services with human translators.


While machine translation may be okay for casual, personal use, it isn’t a good fit where understanding and accuracy matter. In those cases, it is always best to rely on a proven professional to do the job. 


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