Written on 26 August, 2016

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!

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:

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 730014 or email hello@surreytranslation.co.uk to find out more.

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