Why Online Translators Injure Companies Entering Foreign Markets

The translating world has been abuzz lately with the revelation of Google’s newest app, which can translate any foreign language phrase in real-time via the camera on your phone.  Many people are predicting this to be the end of translating as a human profession, yet that could not be farther from the truth.  If anything, the internet’s foray into translating only underscores how irreplaceable the human touch in translation really is.

translation_contentfullwidthPhoto by Asset Language Management

In fact, trusting your international relations to artificial intelligence can be the most hazardous thing a budding company can do, especially if you’re trying to cross barriers between languages from different families.  A sentence in English or a Romance language may not fit easily into the most obvious structure of a Slavic or Asian language.  Plus, computer translators fall into the trap of translating word for word, often presenting a skewed or even completely off the mark final product, where a human translator familiar with phrases, idioms, and both cultures will be able to see the bigger picture and convey more accurately what you’re trying to say.  One crucial aspect of a translator’s job, which a machine cannot factor into its algorithm, is understanding the subtle context of the content it’s translating, whether it be a marketing ad or a personal email to a colleague overseas.


Photo by Conrad

While it may be tempting, especially for a startup business, to save money and take the technological route, hiring a translator will show both your sophistication and your eagerness to connect with a foreign culture.  A translator will safely guide you around common pitfalls of slang and idioms (if you’re trying to warn a colleague that your CEO is “seeing red,” a computer translation of that familiar English phrase would needlessly confuse them) as well as help ease diplomacy between your company and your foreign market, thanks to their familiarity with cultural norms.

If you’ve ever tried playing around with Google Translate, perhaps you’ve noticed that if you translate a block of text to one language, and then translate it back again, you’re often left with something completely unrecognizable to the original message.  English’s wealth of synonyms, homonyms, and connotative language can be invisible to a computer that will translate solely at face value, whereas a human translator will be able to read between the lines.  Moreover, they will be able to advise you on whether your advertising strategies will catch on in an overseas market—take the example of the Nova, a General Motors car that sold poorly in Spanish-speaking countries and nobody could figure out why until it was pointed out that no va is Spanish for “doesn’t go.”

Opting for a computer translator, while it may help your business scratch by, will ultimately limit your growth.  Investing in a human translator will earn you more business overseas and stronger brand loyalty from customer, and will bring you greater success and profit in the long run.  Contact us for more information on how multilingualism can help boost your company’s net worth.