Human Translation vs Machine Translation: Which One Comes Out on Top in 2023?
The business benefits of localization are clear. The more languages your business operates in, the more markets you can explore, and the more chances you have to grow your brand and revenue.
But when it comes to translating content and communications, you have a decision to make: human translation vs machine translation? They both achieve the same thing but in very different ways. One relies on good, old-fashioned human experience and knowledge, while the other revolves around cutting-edge technology and software.
How else are they different, and which one is right for you? Keep reading to find out.
Pro tip: Get the best of both worlds by combining machine translation with human translation. To this end, use Centus — a professional localization management platform. Learn more.
Human vs. Machine Translation — and the Winner Is…
Machine translation comes out victorious, but human translation puts up a good fight. Here’s a quick summary of how they match up.
Machine translation is significantly faster than human translation and enables businesses to translate multiple languages simultaneously.
Both human and machine translation can produce high-quality translations, but humans excel at understanding context and nuances.
Human translation is costly since it requires skilled workers, while machine translation is affordable and efficient.
Those are only the highlights. For a more detailed account of this battle, keep on reading!
How Does Machine Translation Actually Work?
Machine translation software, also known as MT translation software, automatically translates content from one language to another without human involvement. Simply upload source materials and the translation software will do the rest—whether it’s a PDF, a Word document, or copied and pasted text.
When businesses use machine translation to create localized software or websites, it helps them to build their brands and accelerate their growth.
There are a few main forms of machine translation:
Rules-based machine translation (RBMT): This method relies on sets of linguistic rules and dictionaries, grammatically analyzing texts to create a translation. While it can be customized for different industries and topics, dictionaries need to be constantly updated.
Statistical machine translation (SBMT): Instead of language rules, this method uses machine learning. Essentially, computers use algorithms to analyze large amounts of translation data and make guesses based on observed patterns.
Neural machine translation (NMT): Acting like the neural networks of the brain, neural MT uses artificial intelligence to learn languages, becoming more accurate the more it gets trained.
Hybrid machine translation (HMT): As the name suggests, hybrid MT is built on a combination of different machine translation methods.
Human translation refers to manual translation by people who speak multiple languages. You submit a text to a professional translation agency or a freelancer and they return it in your target language.
Advantages of Human Translation
It’s not for nothing that businesses continue using costly human translation instead of low-cost machine translations. Here are a few advantages of human translation.
Humans have humanity
Human translation is effective because it’s built on the experience and skills of people. And people aren’t just one-dimensional entities – they bring all their human experiences and instincts with them.
That allows human translators to understand nuances and context, which they bring into the translation to make sure it conveys the intended message.
Humans understand your goals
When a human translator looks at your content, they’re likely to understand what you’re trying to achieve. If, for example, you want a light-hearted and accessible copy to attract more prospects, give your requirements to a translator and they’ll make sure nothing gets lost in translation.
Humans can take the initiative
Life is messy, and things don’t always go according to plan. When there’s a problem, human translators can spot it and take action. That could be as simple as calling a manager to clarify facts in your copy or finding missing information.
Until machines can pick up a phone and have a conversation with you, humans will have an upper hand in the translation business.
Disadvantages of Human Translation
In the battle between human and machine translation, there are a few ways humans lag behind.
Humans are limited
Even the most talented human translator can only do so much. Unlike computers, humans can’t benefit from hardware upgrades. They have a finite amount of time and energy, and can’t possibly dedicate it all to your localization projects.
Plus, you may not be their only client, so you might need to pay extra for translator availability.
It’s likely that you'll have to work with several translators as well, to cover all the languages you need. Your English-to-French human translator, for example, won’t be able to help you translate from Swedish to German.
Humans cost more
Translation is a skilled and time-consuming job, so human translators don’t tend to come cheap. The cost of a single translation job can easily run into hundreds of dollars.
And, of course, the more languages you want to translate your content into, the more translators you’ll need to pay. Your costs can escalate quickly!
Advantages of Machine Translation
So what advantages does machine translation have compared to human translation? Let’s take a look.
Machines are faster
There’s a reason we use computers in so many areas of our lives—they process data much, much faster than any human ever could. In fact, machine translation services can translate a large copy file in an instant.
Machine translation also makes it easy to add more languages. That means you can localize your content for more countries and expand into new markets faster.
Machines don’t get tired
It doesn’t matter how much content you throw at a computer, it will keep on translating it without exhaustion. Machine translation doesn’t take sick days or take time off for medical appointments. You don’t need to wait until morning if you want a translation done in the middle of the night. It will just… keep… going.
That makes machine translation ideal for processing a lot of content in a short space of time.
Machines are cost-effective
Because machine translation works so quickly, across multiple languages, without the need to rest, it’s highly cost-effective. This has two key advantages for businesses.
Machine translation can benefit small businesses that can’t afford professional translators. Enterprises translating large volumes of materials into multiple languages also find machine translation increasingly worthwhile.
Machines are getting smarter
The machine translation industry isn’t sitting still. Artificial intelligence is improving all the time, thereby incentivizing investment and driving machine translation market growth.
That means machine translation will keep on getting better and better. For your business, that may mean even more time and cost savings.
Disadvantages of Machine Translation
As powerful as machine translation is, it does have some drawbacks too.
Machines don’t understand context as well as humans
As smart as machines may seem, they can’t match the human ability to understand the subtleties of language—which is vital in translation. For example, the same word can often have multiple meanings that can elude machine translation software.
Machines don’t get cultural sensitivities
Machines don’t understand emotions and cultural nuances. They also don’t know your target audience. Humans, on the other hand, have a cultural connection to the languages they translate, allowing them to avoid cultural mistakes.
This lack of cultural awareness makes it harder for machine translation software to get the right tone for international audiences.
How to combine human and machine translation
While it’s interesting to pitch machines against human translators, it isn’t actually necessary. Each has its own strengths, and professional localization platforms like Centus leverage both.
A human translator using Centus benefits from a range of features including:
Grammar and spelling checks
Translation memory to store frequently used translations
Glossary of words and terms
Quality assurance checks
And much more!
By combining human and machine translation, you get the best of both worlds. Your content is translated with the linguistic intuition and service quality of a human translation service but at the speed of a machine.
However you decide to translate content, it can deliver significant benefits, including increased market penetration, helping you to explore new geographical locations and scale up your business.
Ultimately, the translation method you use depends on your needs and budget. For high-priority, high-value content, you may choose to work with a professional translator, supporting their work with machine translation.
If you have high volumes of content to translate into different languages, you might choose to rely on machine translation. The time and cost savings from using automated translation could be substantial. If necessary, you can bring in professional translators later in the process, just to make sure your content is accurate and polished.
Machine translation vs human translation isn't a binary choice. They go hand in hand, and you can strike a balance between the two to suit your goals and projects.
Why is machine translation better than human translation?
It’s fast. Translation software can translate more copy than professional translators in a shorter space of time. On top of that, translation software doesn’t command high prices, making it a perfect solution for small companies.
Can machine translation solutions replace human translators?
Although software translation is getting better all the time, there’s still plenty of room for human translators. Machines are fast, but they don’t understand nuances and context like humans do. However, as artificial intelligence improves, this balance could shift.
Should machine translation and human translation be used together?
Teaming software with professional translators could be extremely effective. It gives you the best of both methods—the speed and scalability of a computer solution with the humanity and instincts of a real person.