There’s nothing wrong with wanting to grow quickly or making the most of what you have. In fact, these are laudable qualities in a fledgling company. But I do wince a little every time I see free machine translation (MT) and some other shortcuts being listed as “translation hacks”. These may serve a company in its initial content creation and customer acquisition stages, but they simply won’t scale and could even upset customers.
At best, these translation “tricks” should be temporary until you can get professional services. So if you must employ hacks, you should at least know the risks you are taking.
Free MT — don’t touch it with a ten-foot pole
Free MT engines such as Google Translate and Bing Translator are the first tools people turn to when they encounter a foreign language, and with good reason. They’re fast, free, and give a rough idea of what’s being said. But that’s where their utility stops.
Recently, I saw a blog post from a customer support software company mentioning Google Translate as an option in responding to international customers. I had to shake my head in disbelief. Google Translate? Really? The unedited output from free MT is known to result in everything from mild irritation to huge embarrassment, depending on the enormity of the mistake—and there will be mistakes. If you’re using one of the more popular language combinations such as English>Spanish or English>French, you may be largely safe, but otherwise God help you.
If you must use free MT, then you must also state that very clearly to your customers, though this may still not save you from sticky situations. If I am a paying customer, I am well within my rights to ask why you’re using a free service to support me. Also, let’s step back a little. The fact that you have customers who don’t speak English most likely means that you’re selling to them through your translated website or a local presence in their country. In either case, it’s simply not fair to use free MT to support them.
In addition, remember that any text that you run through online MT tools is not confidential. So, you may be violating confidentiality clauses in your service agreement.
If you don’t have in-language support, you must make it clear at the time of sale. Of course, sometimes you might attract international visitors without intending to, or when you are not yet prepared to go global. In such cases, you could use MT but with a clear internal consensus that it will only be an interim arrangement.
Bilingual employees ≠ professional translators
Your employees have their own core responsibilities to fulfill. They may be able to firefight once in a while, but if you’re going to thrust translation on them regularly on top of their usual tasks, something has to give sooner or later. Also, they are not professional translators. Knowing two languages is not qualification enough to be a translator. And for all you know, they may not even enjoy doing translation, as that’s not what they signed up for.
While these hacks may seem like great cost-saving measures, they may actually cause you to lose money, as your company grows. Your content is bound to increase and will start living in unconnected silos. Multiple departments may adopt their own shortcuts or use different vendors, all of which result in repetitive translation, chaotic quality, and no use of translation memory or other technologies that optimize time and cost savings.
Think for the longer term. Make translation an enterprise process, no less.