Admittedly, some of the latest AI translation tools are pretty good. If you compare them to just a few years ago, you get some usable texts, depending on the language. They are lovely if you go on vacation and want to interact with locals. They are great if you live in a foreign country and are about to learn a new language. AI translations are good enough to understand the meaning - usually.
But that's about it. In fact, Google Translate, for example, only shows 72% accuracy in grammar, spelling, and conversational phrases. On average, there are nearly three mistakes per 10 words. Is that enough for your professional web presence, business conversation, or documents? Honestly, it wouldn't be sufficient for me in a private letter!
Especially for a complex language like German, it's complicated. You can get okay results if the original text is written very well. But if you want professional, engaging content with emotion and meaning, you need a human for your translation. You might say, "Of course, you're saying that; it's your job!" Well, let me tell you in detail why you shouldn't go with an AI translation alone.
Of course, I also use AI for my translations. Every translator does, if they admit it or not. It makes our life much easier. But we don't use Google Translate or the free version of DeepL. We use professional CAT tools like Phrase or Smartcat, which are, by the way, not cheap. They make our work more effective, less error-prone, and simply easier. You, as a customer, benefit from it with more affordable rates. Time is money, right?
If you still think a professional translator shouldn't use AI for their work or an AI translation only is enough for you, read on.
Let's start with the pros and cons of AI translations in general, why professional translators use them, and why it's not only absolutely ok but even to your advantage.
Huge storage for terminology
One of the AI's advantages is the waste amount of terminology you get with it. Even though this is essential for translators, you cannot entirely rely on it. For example, I do English to German translations for professional art courses. The terminology of AI is most of the time incorrect. In that case, I must research a lot to get the specific vocabulary. This also applies to computer software if I, for example, translate how-tos. Only to name a few examples.
Faster process and less cost effective
Using a CAT tool means for you, the customer, I will be able to translate much faster. This has an impact on the price, of course. While an entirely human translation from an experienced translator is about 12 to 15 ct per word, I can do it from 8 ct per word. And this even includes SEO. Meaning the translation has all the keywords needed and is formatted in a way the search engines like.
Building up a glossary
I train the CAT tools I use. This means they are much better than the ones you would buy and use the first time. You will quickly understand some of the mistakes the tools make. As a professional translator using CAT tools, I can immediately see if a translation was done by AI only.
I'm working with customers in many different industries. Every niche has its unique terminology. Because I'm switching from one to another customer, and they all come back to me with more jobs, I can't remember the correct technical terms. But my tool can. This is not only very helpful but also ensures they are always consistent and accurate.
AI cannot read the context
AI translation concentrates on grammar and spelling, which means it's not processing subtext. Especially if there's a conversation between two people, the AI gets confused and the result is, let's say, interesting. It also can't get sarcasm, which can change the whole meaning. The same applies to puns, hints or any indirect communication. Therefore, quite often the translation doesn't make any sense and the words lose their meaning.
Emotions sell. If you work in marketing, you know everything about it. Machine translations tend to be dull, boring, and not very engaging. This means you won't be able to engage and keep your potential customers on your website or any other content. A machine is only that: mounted parts with no emotions. Only a human can provide you with the power of words in all their variety.
A word in one language can have many different meanings in another. Also, most of the time, one word in English has a minimum of three words in German, often way more. And even though they can mean the same thing, they often don't fit in the context. It's those tiny little differences that can change the whole dynamic of a text. Or the AI changes the meaning completely, just by picking the wrong - in general correct - word. To find the exact ones or phrases without changing the meaning to make it a better fit, only a human translator can do.
The same applies to cultural expressions and idioms. It's impossible to train an AI to get it all right. This is also why you should always pick a translator who lived, laughed, and loved in those countries where they learned the language. Otherwise, you won't get the phrases and idioms right.
Correct is not always fluent
Even though it might be the correct grammar, it's not always how you would say it as a native. An AI tool is programmed on grammar and spelling rules only. This doesn't mean a translator should use colloquial language (then the AI translation would be better, I guess). But you have to keep in mind how people actually speak to make a text engaging and sounding natural.
This brings us right away to the next disadvantage of AI translation tools. They only translate the words they are fed. As a translator, I can make the translation even better than the original – without changing the meaning, of course. Or often, it sounds great in English, but in German, it's just not translatable, so you have to find other ways to get the same feel of the original text. Not happening with AI.
Many repetitive words
Another weak point I don't like with AI translation is the countless repetitive words. It creates texts which aren't fluent and easy to read. Only a human can spot them (or one of my grammar tools) and use more suitable words. And not all synonyms work. Therefore, a human has to pick them.
Web content won't be SEO optimized
If you translate your web content in WordPress or any other tool, your content won't be SEO optimized. The translation tool only translates what it gets. And these might not be the words the market for the other language is searching for. In that case, your translation is useless. Only a human can add keywords naturally, without placing them, just to do so and destroy the whole text.
It's usually the same arguments I hear if someone asks me if I'm using AI tools. Here are top-notch counter-arguments, why you shouldn't be concerned about it. Actually, you should encourage it.
AI translation is cheaper.
Short-term AI translation is cheaper, that's right. But if you reach out to your potential customers or engage with an audience, you won't succeed with AI translations. In the long term, an AI translation combined with human writing- and language skills will save money.
Using a CAT tool (Computer Assisted Translation tool) usually means you get your translation cheaper than from someone who will translate everything by hand. And truth to be told – there's no translator out there anymore who doesn't use any kind of AI assistance. And if it's only to find more suitable words or synonyms to make the text more engaging. Also if you translate for a specific industry and you're unfamiliar with the technical terms.
I don't want an AI translation; that's why I hire a person.
Honestly, nowadays, you won't find a translator who's not using a CAT tool. As I said, it makes our life not only easier and therefore the price cheaper, it also makes sure to use the correct terminology throughout all translations. If I do it manually, it not only takes much more time and, therefore, it'll be more expensive, but it also won't be as accurate as with AI assistance.
I don't want to rely on a human.
As many advantages working with an actual person has, it can also be frustrating. You need your translation on a specific date to launch your website, for example; you need the translated blog articles as quickly as possible for the search engines to crawl them and start making money. This is why my key-focusse is meeting every deadline. You can entirely rely on me. Most of the time, doing a job on short notice is also possible.
My documents are confidential or private. I don't want to rely on someone's honesty.
Let me tell you one thing: There's no such thing as free lunch! If you're concerned about confidentiality and privacy, you should stay far away from Online-AI-Tools, especially the ones for free, like Google Translate. By using the tool, you lose all your rights to the text. Not many know this, and it might be a surprise for you, but there are, in fact, some free translation tools stealing your content.
One perfect example is the Norwegian oil giant Statoil. Some employees used the free translation tool translate.com to translate sensitive documents, which were then accessible online for everyone. Many companies block access to such tools – because of exactly that reason. You have to be aware, that once you put data into a free online translation tool, it remains there for life.
The tools I use only store the data locally on my computer, not in the cloud. They don't have access to it. The ISO27001 certification of the tools ensures this.
Yes, I also use AI translation, but professional and paid tools that won't store any of my work online or misuse it. If you want to make sure your documents to translate are safe and you have under control who sees them, you need to hire me.
Especially for companies who launch new products or start-ups, it's crucial to be able to trust the translator. You will sign a translation contract with me, which clearly states I don't have any rights to the translations. I'm also happy to sign an additional NDA provided by you. Trust and respect are essential in my professional and private life.
You might still think an AI-Human-combined translation isn't worth the money. It's done very quickly; you tried it yourself many times. Well, let me tell you step-by-step how I work:
Step 1: AI translates the text (in the CAT tool)
Step 2: Adjust the translation directly in the CAT tool. Because I'm bilingual in German and English, and because of my experience, I can spot right away if something isn't right. Nevertheless, every AI-Tool – and trust me, I tried many of them – sometimes shows quite some "creativity". You might not get it right away because it sounds plausible and fluent, but that's why I continue with step 3:
Step 3: Compare the original language with translated language, word by word. There you find all the wrong terminology, misplaced words, wrong words, mistakes (yes, AI-Tools make mistakes, but more to that in a later step), wrong meaning, etc. Especially the context needs to get right. This I can find in this step, usually the most time-consuming one.
Step 4: Optimize the text to make it more engaging, more fluent, with context and emotions. This is the more "creative" step to make it sound like a native wrote it. Even when steps 1-3 are done, it can still sound like a machine. My vast experience as a writer comes in handy here. But don't worry; this doesn't mean I will change the meaning. Of course, the story to be told, and the goal need to be exact the same what the original conciliates.
Step 5: Proofread the text. I check for mistakes and if the text sounds fluid and written like a native. Well, now it IS written by a native.
Step 6: Grammar- and spelling check. This is what most translators don't do. I invested in professional programs not only to assist me with grammar and spelling, but also to point out repetitive words or too-long sentences. This is especially important if you translate from English to German. German tends to use way more words, a lot more than English. This can be crucial for online content, like meta titles, meta descriptions, voiceover, or subtitles. There you are bound to a certain number of characters. No AI can shorten a translation, especially not without losing the meaning or making the content engaging and natural.
Step 7: Search Engine Optimization (if wanted). I ensure the provided keywords are used repeatedly throughout the text without unnatural placement. I organize all texts with H1, H2, etc., bullet points, listing, and short paragraphs and sentences for a good and easy reading experience.
I'm not against AI translation tools at all. I love them! I'm grateful for them! But I'm also not concerned about them because they will never replace a human, no matter what. Machines don't have emotions. Words are powerful. There's not only the meaning of single words but also all the works between the lines. You need a human if you want engaging, attractive, easy-to-read and easy, understand, entertaining, and moving texts with impact. And ideally, one, like me, who is also a writer.
Did I convince you that it's absolutely okay to use AI translations, but you still need a professional translator to reach your audience and boost your business? I'm a professional translator and writer in English and German.
You get high-quality work combined with a trustful and warm business relationship. I don't just do a job; it's a passion. I love to interact with people in a kind and respectful way.
25+ years of experience combined with a passion for writing result in localizations that are so much more than just a plain translation. Words are the most powerful tool we have. Chosen carefully and wisely, they are the best way to boost your brand and personality. Contact me here for more information.