The Cost of Translation Services
October 7, 2013
Most Requested Languages for Translation
November 20, 2013
Show all

Translation Software vs. Certified Translation Services

old computerWhen language translation software was introduced, many companies thought it was the solution to all their translation needs: it would be faster and cheaper.

At the same time, many translators thought their jobs would become obsolete.

But this prophecy never came true.

In fact, the demand for human translators has been steadily increasing…despite language translation software.

What is wrong with translation software? Why isn’t it the answer to our translation needs?

To understand why, let’s take a look at a true story.

An English speaking doctor was meeting with his Spanish speaking patient. The doctor had a basic understanding of Spanish. He wasn’t fluent, but thought he knew enough to understand his patients.

But what his patient said alarmed him.

Translated into English, his patient said, “Some mornings I wake up and I just want to blow my head off.”

Fearing he had a suicidal patient, the doctor called in an interpreter before continuing treatment with his patient.

When the interpreter arrived and spoke with the patient, he told the doctor, “Your patient isn’t suicidal. He just says he has a headache and feels like his head will explode.” (To read more about this case, click here).

What went wrong here is context.

When we listen to someone speaking in our language, we understand what they are saying not just because we know what each word means, but because we understand the context. Through experience, we have become accustomed to subtle nuances in the language which gives us a complete understanding.

The doctor knew the words that patient was using, but not the context.

The same is true with translation software.

It can figure out what each word means, but it is not able to understand the context.

Take the following sentence as an example:

“The coach for Manchester United states that his team will win.”

Software may not be able to distinguish that in this instance, “united states” is not the country. (To read more, click here to read more about machine translation issues).

For a real world example, a software translation program was put to the test to see what happens.

It started with the following English sentence:

“The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

It was translated into Russian, and then back into English, both times using translation software.

The following sentence was the end result:

“The vodka is good, but the steak is lousy.”

To read more about this Russian to English translation experiment, click here.

To better understand the importance of context and how it’s difficult to teach a computer context, take these three words:

mouse, server, windows.

In one context, the could mean a rodent, a waiter in a restaurant, and windows in a house.

But in the context of computers, they mean a computer mouse, networked computers, and a computer operating system. (click here to read more)

While computer translation software does have its pitfalls, it still is useful. Many translators will use it in a process called “gisting”, where they use a high end translation software to understand the overall meaning of a document before doing a thorough translation.

But translation software still has far to go. The CEO of Language Weaver, a translation software provider, said that translation software can’t replace a human translator…but it can be used as a tool. (


At Executive Linguist, we’ve seen firsthand how important a certified translator is.

In many fields, any error in translation can be catastrophic and therefore can’t be left to translation software.

To learn more about the translation services we offer, you can call us at 800-522-2320.

Or click here to request a free quote

Compute Image: LicenseAttribution Some rights reserved by malfet_

Comments are closed.