Free Translation Services

2nd October 2015

Free translation and free translation services are the Holy Grail for many companies, as it allows them to communicate and market themselves to overseas clients and potential customers with no extra costs incurred through outsourcing to translation professionals. An article in the Canadian Metro News suggests that free translation, via machine translation tools, is on the rise within government offices. As stated – “The Federal Translation Bureau is defending its plan to make a new machine translation tool available to all government employees, amid concerns that it could lead to job losses.” but they stress that “It is preferable to use this tool to improve the understanding and translation of short, unofficial internal communications.”

Free translation, aka machine translation, of this sort does have its place, as stated above, for “short, unofficial internal communications”. However, as we’ve seen with many government departments, it’s not long before scope-creep starts to move in and various practises are re-purposed and begin to become the norm throughout any given department. Once staff are encouraged to use the free translation tools for internal memos, I doubt it will be very long until it is used for inter-departmental communication and even external correspondence.

While the use of free translation services looks very appealing to the accounts team, there is an increasing sentiment within various departmental groups that have no connection to foreign languages that machine translation is “good enough” and “it’ll do”. This worrying trend, along with an upturn in over-familiarisation brought on by social media, is at the core of eroding the meaning of languages and, more importantly, destroying the very essence of translation that professional translators are striving to achieve. Namely, the exact, nuanced conveyance of meaning from one language to another.

It’s not hard to imagine a scenario whereby internal documents for a project that have been machine translated, get passed around so many times that no-one questions the quality of the translation being used. If it’s a simple “staff picnic at 10am tomorrow”, then fine. But what if it’s the copy for a marketing campaign? As a relatively recent example from 2009 shows, HSBC bank had to spend $10 million in repairing the damage done to a campaign when its catchphrase “Assume Nothing” was mistranslated as “Do Nothing” in various countries. Without professional, human linguists involved, this type of costly mistake will happen more and more often.

While it may seem that free translation, or machine translation, is an effective way to keep down costs, bear in mind the dangers of what happens when things go wrong. ‘Free’ suddenly becomes very expensive. $10,000,000 more expensive in the case of HSBC!

So if you’re looking to have your marketing material, proposals or any documentation translated, contact us here at Foreign Tongues Translation for your free, no obligation, quote.


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