A Hybrid Approach to Website Translation: Tech & Humans

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By Judd Marcello, Smartling

Most technology innovations today are designed to replace the human element to ratchet up efficiency. But cloud-based translation management technology – which has disrupted translation and localization processes – stands out as one major exception.   

Research has proven that consumers consider in-language information more important than price when making purchasing decisions. Engaging multilingual consumers with high-quality native language content that fully reflects the way they live, act and speak is essential to competing in today’s global market. The same principle applies for companies only selling in the U.S. For example, there are 60 million people in this country whose native language is not English – 37 million of those individuals speak Spanish. Failure to engage the U.S. Hispanic community with native-language content can represent a major missed business opportunity. 

Whether it’s Spanish, or another language, engaging customers in their native language demonstrates that they are truly important to your company. It also enhances customer attraction, satisfaction and retention – and boosts the bottom line.  So, the question should no longer be if translation makes sense for your business, but rather how to make existing content accessible to multicultural customers in their native language as quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively as possible.

Using the Right Translation Technology

Delivering high-quality native-language content goes beyond translating words on a page. The content must be localized to reflect cultural nuances to ensure accurate context for each demographic. Because of this, machine translation tools like Google Translate, which translate words verbatim as they appear, generally cannot be trusted for accuracy. While machine-generated translations may give someone a general idea of what the content means, the results are often unnatural, inaccurate, error-prone and out of context. 

If you must use machine translation, try to reserve it for high-speed, high-volume translation projects for which lower-quality thresholds are acceptable (e.g., user generated content). Few companies use machine translation successfully in all cases, and it takes expertise to use it wisely and avoid quality pitfalls. 

Human translation is still the best way to generate quality global content, which is critical for search engine optimization (SEO), customer satisfaction and corporate image. But that doesn’t mean translation technology shouldn’t be used at all – you just need to know the right type of technology to leverage. Cloud-based translation management platforms enable companies to reap the benefits of human translation while removing complexity, cost and time from the translation process by automating the non-linguistic parts. 

Sophisticated translation management systems collect and store content in need of translation in a central repository that any translation provider can access anytime, anywhere, and effectively route all content to the appropriate workflows. Once the translations are complete, these systems then deliver the updated content to its designated endpoints. 

Using the dynamic combination of human translation and a translation management platform, companies can deliver the highest-quality websites, Web apps, mobile apps and other digital content. Most importantly, translation no longer has to be a time-consuming, expensive and burdensome process, so companies can focus on their growth strategy with peace of mind that their content is being accurately localized for the customers they wish to serve. 

A Hybrid Approach to Human Translation 

There are many human translation options for your business, each of which carries different benefits and risks. Here’s a quick snapshot of some of the most popular translation options. 

Professional Human Translators – Perhaps the most commonly chosen translation resource, professional human translators, such as agencies and language service providers, are hired to translate and localize source text. Costs are generally based on the target language and priced by the word, making them fairly predictable. 

For nearly all business needs, professional human translation is by far the best choice for ensuring quality, and it also represents the lowest risk. Because of this, it’s absolutely essential to use professional human translators for all specialized, technical and customer-facing content. 

Transcreation Specialists – It’s important to note that not all translation agencies and language service providers are adept at transcreation, which involves adapting and creating entirely new content for the right cultural fit. Transcreation is often done by marketing specialists and bilingual copywriters who work from a creative brief rather than source text. Transcreation specialists usually bill hourly rather than per word. Because transcreation can be expensive, it’s often reserved for content that reflects brand image or is viewed frequently, like taglines, in-language SEO keyword creation and creative content.

Bilingual Employees – Some companies tap in-house bilingual employees for translation since they know the brand, have subject matter expertise, and can help ensure the right tone and style. However, they typically lack training in translation, especially in how to use professional translation tools, and can often begrudge translation tasks because they fall outside of their job scope. Rather than asking bilingual employees to translate content, get them involved in the review process to ensure quality. 

Volunteer Communities – Most commonly used by non-profit organizations, volunteer communities consist of highly engaged stakeholders who choose content they feel is relevant to translate and then volunteer their time to make it happen. This option carries a risk of lower quality since the translators are not professionals, and it can end up costing more than professional human translation because organizations must support the volunteer community and motivate them. Additionally, organizations cannot easily use this option if they have specific deadlines for publication of translated content, as the volunteer community cannot be told what to do, or when.

Many companies use a hybrid approach, tapping different translation resources for different pieces of content depending on the quality, turnaround time, cost and scalability associated with the translation project. The most important thing to remember is that in order to leverage translation technology in combination with human translation, the management platform you select must be able to support all of these translation resources. 

Quality Multilingual Content Translates to Global Growth

Translation should be viewed as a means to a very powerful end – global growth. And leveraging human translation in conjunction with a translation management platform enables companies to go global faster, more efficiently and more cost-effectively than ever before. 

Judd Marcello is the VP of marketing at Smartling, a New York-based translation management platform company.

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RobD 05-22-2015 11:18 PM

About translation software: My native language is Dutch a bit an obscure language with a little over 20 million native speakers. I noticed that translation software can create reasonable translations from English to German or Spanish. but to smaller languages like Dutch it usually results in a translation that can not be used professionally! sometimes it is


EduardoM 05-25-2015 9:49 AM

Well, I'm a native spanish speaker and I lived in an area with a lot of hispanics and got to see a few websites translated by the Google Translate widget, and they were funny to read, a lot of things didn't make sense. I remember once working on advertising for a store that sold health care equipment and they sold "bath aids", you know, handles and that kind of things disabled and older people use in their bathrooms as help, anyways, went to Google Translate and was translated to spanish as "baƱo de SIDA" (in english: "bath of AIDS"), scary huh? LOL

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