Free Translation Services

Is free translation a good idea?

Let's Speak.


Free Translation Services

Is free translation a good idea?

Let's Speak.


Free Translation

Free translation services are often offered by translation agencies on their homepages. So why doesn’t better languages offer a free translation tool on our homepage? What is our view of free translation?

How free translation works:

The way free translation tools work, is that they use a computer programme to “translate” a short piece of text. As this can be done instantly by a machine, they can offer the service for free. So what is the catch?

Human editing and authoring v machine translation:

All our translations use the most complex and amazing computer technology ever invented, in other words they are human authored and edited! Despite claims of 70% accuracy by the machine translation industry, all you have to do to prove how poor machine translation is, is to paste a short paragraph of text into one of these free translation programmes, then back translate the result into the original language and compare the two. Guaranteed result – rubbish.

Free translation trivialises a highly skilled and professional industry:

The problem however is that this trivialises a highly specialised and skilled industry, giving the impression that translation can be achieved instantly and at low/no cost. Typically a translator can translate between 2000 and 2500 words a day, depending on the nature and complexity of the text. Many professional translators have qualified through two parallel routes, as a professional translator, and as a professional in their given area of expertise. Many are educated to post-graduate level. Even the most advanced and complex computer programmes cannot master the complexities of language.

So why do some of the largest translation agencies persist in offering free translation?

The reason is simple, they want people to link to their free translation tools, thereby raising the profile of their websites, in other words it is “link-bait”. What they want is people to provide in-bound links to their free translation tools.

What is the potential harm of free translation?

If you don’t realise how poor the likely result is of a “free translation”, the danger is that you may use one of these tools to translate e-mails or letters, we have even heard of whole websites being translated in this way. The result is that it can seriously damage the credibility of the individual or organisation.

A further problem is that if the programme doesn’t identify a word, (for example if it doesn’t appear in its database), it is likely to leave the word in the source language, or not translate it at all, and simply omit it. Even at the level of positive and negative it can cause problems, for example Spanish makes a lot of use of double negative, whilst this hardly ever occurs in English, so translating either way, the programme won’t handle it correctly.

Where a word has several possible meanings, it’s likely to end in tears, as a machine won’t know which option to use. A human translator will “sense check” work, and query terminology which could be ambiguous, the programme will just churn out any old rubbish, here are some real life examples:

A UK police force wanted to liaise with a local force in Spain to share intelligence ahead of an international football match, they therefore wrote a nice letter on their headed paper, and sent the Spanish force a copy translated using a free translation tool. The programme had translated the English word “fan” as in “football fan” as “ventilator”, or “ventilator fan”. This is only one example, the whole letter was unreadable. The result was that the Spanish Force didn’t take the letter seriously, even if they had, they would have had no idea what the UK force wanted to communicate.

We were once asked to proofread a database of care label translations, the client had used a machine translation and had the phrase “turkey feathers” (a fibre composition to say what the product was filled with, i.e. feathers from the bird) translated into Spanish as “feathers from Turkey” (feathers from the country of Turkey). Print that on 5000 product labels, and you have a big problem, as you may have to re-label, or even withdraw the product from sale, especially if the phrase contradicts the real country of origin. For care label translations we always use professional label translators, who have textile label knowledge.

Is free translation really free?

The answer to this question is clearly that it depends. Free in the sense of no immediate cost, then yes free translation is really free. Free translation is however not free in the sense that the result will be extremely poor, could seriously damage corporate brand image, and may give rise to unforeseen costs in the sense of having to withdraw products from sale, or re-branding and re-packaging. The solution is to use a professional translation service to produce a professional translation.

Contact a professional translation service for a free translation quote.