Tag Archives: Machine translation

The elephant in the room


Machine translation (MT) is one of the most controversial topics in the translation industry today – the letters MT are whispered in hushed tones and dark corners.


Why? Because it represents different things to different people.


Machine translation has been slowly gaining in popularity since the 1980s. It has become a familiar part of our online life thanks to Google translate and the Facebook Translator, and is an attractive option to those who need large volumes of content to be translated quickly. According to recent figures, machine translation enables linguists to get through 66% more words per day than if they were translating from scratch, equating to roughly 6000 words per day.


Post editing of machine translation

Source- Nimdzi, 2017


The process of working with machine-translated content is called post-editing of machine translation (PEMT), and tasks the translator with checking accuracy, polishing style and making sure the machine has worked its ‘magic’ properly.


So, I hear you ask, what’s the problem?


At best, MT can be mostly accurate, with some polishing necessary to bring the quality up to the required standard. At worst, it can be incoherent – essentially nonsense – meaning the translator needs to start from scratch and translate as they would on a standard job, but with less time and probably lower pay. As you can imagine, the unpredictability of current MT quality causes fear and trepidation in the translation community, leading to resistance to working with any MT tools.


From a provider’s point of view, training an MT machine is a very time-consuming and resource-heavy activity. It also requires mountains of data, meaning it’s not an activity that can be taken on lightly. That said, if the above is available, having an in-house machine certainly has its merits.


Elephant in the room


The question now stands: where do we go from here?


Surrey Translation Bureau have been delving into the range of MT offerings out there and will be presenting our findings at the ITI Conference, taking place in Sheffield from 10 to 11 May. The conference is a national gathering of those working in the industry and will offer 36 talks over four tracks including technology and interpreting. It also provides an excellent opportunity to meet peers, clients and providers face-to-face. Come and say hi! We’d love to meet you.


If you can’t make it to Sheffield but would like to know whether PEMT is suitable for you, please give us a call on +44 (0) 1252 730014 or email hello@surreytranslation.co.uk to speak to one of our qualified professional linguists.


Written by Jessica Truelsen

Post Editing of Machine Translation


Surrey Translation Bureau is seeing increasingly more projects coming through that include the use of machine translation (MT).


As an agency with a linguist-driven mindset, STB have been looking into the range of MT offerings out there and the impact of PEMT (post-editing of machine translation) on the translation industry.


If you are curious about PEMT, don’t miss the presentation by STB’s Ashley and Jessica at the upcoming ITI Conference at Sheffield. 


In the meantime, here is a snippet from their findings that they will present in detail on the day.


Post editing of machine translation
Source- Nimdzi, 2017


Have a PEMT project? Get in touch with us at hello@surreytranslation.co.uk or call 01252 730 014. 


Infographic by Ashley Mikkola

The Risks of Free Translation

A laptop open to Google Translate - an inferior alternative for a UK Translation Service
Due to the cross-country nature of the internet and ever-increasing globalisation in most commercial markets, utilising a UK translation service has become essential to all kinds of businesses. This means that many small companies, often on restricted budgets, are now in need of reliable translations and frequently end up turning to free online translation software like Google Translate. Could this be creating additional problems for businesses rather than offering a cost-effective solution though?

In an earlier blog, we had discussed some of the “perils” that come with free machine translation, but its growing popularity demands a bit more discussion on the topic.


What’s so tempting about automated machine translation?

It’s easy to see why many businesses turn to software like Google Translate: not only is it easily accessible, but the process is straightforward (simply copy and paste!), the results instantaneous, and, best of all for the budget-conscious, it’s completely free! Who wouldn’t be clamouring to use something with benefits like those?


What could go wrong?

Unfortunately, the old adage “you get what you pay for” very much applies to automated machine translation and whilst the process may be simple and free, the translations themselves are generally quite poor and certainly not something you would want to use to represent your business.


Part of the problem lies with the fact that a machine simply cannot decipher contextual clues the same way that humans can, which results in far less nuanced translations at best, and complete gobbledegook at worst. Translation software is best used for single words and simple fragments to help someone understand the gist of things; longer pieces of prose or complicated text are something that free machine translation tools simply cannot handle right now.


The sum "1 + 1 = 3" on a blackboard


However, despite machine translation being best suited to casual use, even this can go awry, such as in the recent case of a Palestinian’s cheerful “good morning” Facebook post being incorrectly machine translated as “attack them”, which actually led to his arrest.



So what can be done? Well, if you want a timely, accurate translation suitable for using in a professional environment, then your best bet is to hire a bona fide UK translation service provider like Surrey Translation Bureau.

Instead of rolling the dice with free machine translations, using professional translation services means qualified linguists taking note of the tone of your document and its intended audience, and choosing the correct terminology and style to suit it, as well as collaborating with other experts and cross-referencing for accuracy and readability. It may take slightly longer than a free translation service, but where your business is concerned, a professional translation is worth the wait!


For a quality UK translation service you can trust, contact the team at Surrey Translation Bureau today – simply call our office on +44 (0)1252 733999 to speak to us directly, fill out the “How Can We Help?” pop-up on any of our website pages or email hello@surreytranslation.co.uk and we’ll get back to you with more detailed information as soon as we can.


Machine translation = Google Translate?


In a previous blog post, we had a look at the dangers of using Google Translate for your documentation, and you don’t need to look very far to see examples of why this isn’t necessarily a great idea. However, the field of machine translation is much wider than this, and that is what we’ll be looking at in this article.


Google translate
When we say ‘machine translation’, Google Translate is often the first thing that comes to mind. However, just like any commercial service, machine translation is no one-size-fits-all product. Its sophistication varies, and there are even translation companies out there with such faith in their MT engines that they will charge for the texts that their machines churn out.


The reason for this difference is that MT engines can ‘learn’ to specialise. While Google Translate has learned from a broad range of texts, an MT engine can be fed content produced in a specific field or even by a specific company, meaning it learns better which terms are used in which contexts. It can also learn to improve its work by being sent human corrections of its translations. However, millions of words in the specialist field and hundreds of thousands of words of corrections are necessary to make a noticeable difference in quality.


Another way of improving the content produced via MT is to have it reviewed by a human translator. This process is called ‘post editing’. The human translator will focus on making sure that the MT is understandable, terminologically sound and accurate; for example, MT sometimes misses crucial words, such as ‘not’.

This post editing service does have its place. Imagine, that you’ve just received hundreds of pages of documents for a big tender with a foreign government agency. You need it quickly, you want it as low-cost as possible, and really you just need to know what it says. This is where an MT and post-editing service comes into its own. You sacrifice quality and style; but if all you want is to understand the technical details of the tender, it’s a great fit.



How much cheaper is it?

Well, that depends on the quality of output. A specialised and carefully trained engine translating a well-written French text will need much less post editing than an untrained or ‘baseline’ engine translating from a Japanese text containing typos. Most translation companies prefer to look at the MT and provide a flat fee or per-word quote. Sometimes companies will estimate the number of hours needed for the work. If the output is good and your requirements are unexacting, you may be able to get the post-editing for as little as half the price of a full professional translation.

However, even with post-editing, today’s machine translation is still far below the quality you can expect from a professional translator. For many texts, especially material that customers will read, a professional, human translator will always be the gold standard. There’s a big difference between language you can understand and language that is also engaging, precise and persuasive.

If you would like advice on whether MT and post-editing might be a suitable service for you, we’ll be happy to put our experience at your disposal. Please email us today at hello@surreytranslation.co.uk or give us a call on +44 (0) 1252 733 999. We look forward to hearing from you!

The risks of free translation | An insight into Machine Translation

In the first part of this series about free translations, we discussed why it can be a bad business decision to ask your international distributors to look after your translations. In this part, we’ll focus on reasons why you should avoid using machine translation systems like Google Translate to translate business documents.


Part 2: Why Google Translate can be a bad idea for your business


With businesses aiming to reach a wider audience with their digital content or trying to expand their overseas client base, translation has become an essential commodity. However, a lot of people wonder why they should waste their time, energy – and most importantly money – finding good translators when they can do it for free with Google Translate.


It may sound like a good idea to use a machine translation service that is readily available and will cost you nothing. However, there is a major downside.


First, let’s consider how Google Translate actually works.


Google Translate, like other statistical machine translation (MT) services, uses a translation algorithm. This is based on matching language patterns. It involves analysing millions of online documents that human translators have previously translated. While scanning these documents, the computer programs look for patterns between the translated and original text.


Once patterns have been identified, these are used as a reference to translate similar text in the same way in future. For instance, ‘hello’ in English is most likely to be ‘Hallo’ in German based on existing patterns between the two languages.


Some languages don’t have much translated text available, so the database is smaller and there are therefore fewer patterns. This is why the accuracy of the translation will vary for each language, based on the size of the database.


So can we use it for our business?


As machine translation is based on probability, you can use it for smaller texts to understand a simple message. For example, you might receive an information request from a customer in their native language. You can use machine translation to quickly get the gist of what the customer wants.


However, there are some good reasons for avoiding MT services when translating more important documents:




For technical, marketing or legal documents, you need to ensure that the translated text is free of any ambiguities or inaccuracies. According to the British Medical Journal (BMJ)[1], the accuracy of Google Translate for translating medical text is less than 58%. The paper also highlights that some of these errors could be life-threatening. You really can’t afford to take that risk, whatever business you’re in!




Accuracy is not the only disadvantage of using an MT service for your business. Even with the most accurate translation, you have to be careful about how effectively it conveys your intended meaning. For instance, particularly with promotional materials, the translation should take into account the entire text and not just individual words. This is quite difficult to achieve through MT. However, a human translator will pay more attention to style and meaning.


Unusual language combinations


If you require a translation in a language combination without a large corpus, there is more room for error. The final text can end up sounding like gibberish to your customer/client, which is far from ideal!


Confused man


Data privacy issues


The last point, which is very important if you have proprietary content to translate, relates to MT services’ terms and conditions as regards data privacy. For Google Translate specifically, the following clause states that you are giving Google the right to use and share the content you translate using their service:


Google Translate terms


While it may seem free and simple, machine translation can be expensive because of inaccurate or badly written translations. You may end up spending more money, time & energy on complicated and drawn-out solutions.


Ultimately, the choice is yours!


Contact Surrey Translation Bureau if you are interested in high-quality translation as a simple and competitive alternative to MT! Call now on 01252 733999 to find out more.


[1] Patil, S., Use of Google Translate in medical communication: evaluation of accuracy, BMJ 2014

Busted: 6 common misconceptions about finding a translation agency





Finding a translation agency that can help you to take your business global can seem overwhelming: where in the world are people going to be reading my documents? What languages do they speak? How can I know that my message is being conveyed accurately? Will the translator be able to post me my documents in time? What time is it there? What time is it here?!




Whoah there! Step away from the search engine. It doesn’t have to be difficult to find a translation partner – it’s actually quite simple! The perceived difficulties come as a result of a few common misconceptions. Today, we’d like to debunk a few that we sometimes hear from first-time translation buyers here at STB:




1. I should work with a translation agency based in the same geographical location as my company




Once upon a time, this would have been the case, but thanks to email and the internet, this is simply no longer a prerequisite. Nowadays, you can focus on finding a partner who fits your requirements best, no matter where in the world they live.




At Surrey Translation Bureau, our team of project managers are just an email or phone call away, ready and raring to take care of your translation project. They are well-equipped to do this, with a Masters degree in translation and many years’ experience in managing a whole range of translation projects.




Email and phone calls are a fantastic way to communicate, but we love meeting our clients in person too, and are always keen to do so and to learn more about what they do! We’re only an hour away from London by train, and we regularly attend trade fairs, conferences and business events across the UK, Europe and sometimes even further afield. We would be delighted to arrange a meeting and put a face to a name!




2. I need to translate documents into Chinese. I have to use a translation agency in China, right?




Not necessarily! You don’t need to work with a translation agency in the country where they speak the language you are looking to translate. In fact, it’s best to just find a partner who you can communicate well with, and let them do the heavy lifting when it comes to communicating your project to the translators. That partner might be in the country of your target audience, but they could just as easily be in your country – or neither!




Here at STB, we have an extensive, carefully developed database of translators across the globe. We cater for almost every language combination and specialisation, from aerodynamics through to zoology, and pretty much everything in between.




Many of our freelance translators live in the country where the language they translate is spoken. This means you benefit from excellent communication and customer service, while our expert, native translators handle your translations. The perfect combination!




3. I’m not sure I could work with a translation agency based in a different time zone




You can! Time zones can be confusing, but you don’t need a wall covered in clocks like a newsroom from the 80’s. As a UK-based translation agency, we run on GMT, and as such overlap with most time zones. Essentially, this means that in a working day, we can communicate with clients and translators based in other parts of the world with different time zones.




This time zone map shows just how well placed the UK is for communication across the globe. Our working day shares hours with both China and the West coast of the USA. As you move further away from the Meridian Line, this overlap moves too, making quick communication trickier.




4. I will have to send hard copies of the document I want to translate and receive hard copies of the translation back. That’s going to take days!




Only rarely; the vast majority of the projects we handle are digital documents, such as Microsoft Word or InDesign files. In an instant, we can download the files via email to give a quote. Once completed, it only takes another instant to deliver them back to you. A far cry from the days of pen, paper and post!




Of course, when clients need hard copies of documents, we can arrange for couriers to take your files wherever they need to go.




5. My project is important. I should send it to a big translation company.




Not necessarily. A smaller translation company might be a better fit for you than a huge corporation. Large translation companies have a lot of resources such as sites and employees. However, they can’t always guarantee that you’ll get the personal attention and detail that smaller, boutique agencies can offer. You might find that the guidance and expertise offered to you by a smaller agency is exactly what you need.




6. Can’t I just use an online translation app?




At your own risk! While handy for getting the gist of a sentence, machine translation still falls a long way short of professional translation. Your customers will instantly be able to tell the difference between a text handled by a professional, highly-trained native speaker and the garbled, automated output of a computer. Just search for “Google Translate fails” to find the millions of funny –  and sometimes very expensive –mistakes made by other companies. That’s not a list you want to be on!




So, finding a translation partner isn’t as difficult as all that after all! Have a read of our guide for first-time translation buyers if you’d like to learn more about ordering your first translation project, or get in touch with STB to talk through it with one of our team.




No matter where you are based, contact hello@surreytranslation.co.uk or call 01252730014 to see if we could be your go-to translation partner.