Free Online Translation Services

Negative Reaction Caused By Misuse

In response to the launch of its free online translation services back in the 1990s, CompuServe received many angry emails and a lot of resumes from professional translators who were dissatisfied with the quality of those free translations and instead offered their own professional translation services.

Although years have past since then, many people still have a low opinion of free online machine translation services. Thus, in October 2000, the Wall Street Journal tested two translation portals that offered free online machine translations and concluded that the services were “passable for travelers or for those wanting to translate a letter from a distant cousin” and that they were unacceptable “for business or anything that remotely requires accuracy.”

Some data available in the literature show that the reaction of 25% of those who use free online automatic translation service for the first time is negative. They abandon the service after receiving the translation because they don’t like its poor quality or do not understand the output produced by the machine.

Such negative reaction against machine translation is caused by the unawareness of limitations of machines and the wrong use of them. The point is that not all documents are suitable for machine translation.

The machine definitely does not like the spoken language of “letters from a distant cousin” and long and complex sentences of legal texts. Nor is it delighted with poetry and novels. Theoretically, it could struggle through, say, Hemingway's lean prose characterized by short, clear and simple sentences, though it could never make anything of Pushkin’s fairy tales.

But give the machine a straightforward document of technical or scientific nature (e.g. a voluminous instruction manual) written in a plain or controlled language, and it will assiduously produce a serviceable output in a minute. Much quicker than a human translator.

Human translation is never perfect. Machine translation is even more so. When you use free online translation services or commercial machine translation software, you will inevitably receive a raw output that must be edited if you want to publish it.

When Free Online Translation Services Are Beneficial

In the environment of the growing linguistic diversity of Web content, Web users are facing an acute problem of language barriers. Due to the high cost of human translation, it is impossible to use it to overcome these barriers effectively. But free and instant machine translations, despite their imperfect quality, facilitate communication between people speaking different languages. As long as you can understand the meaning of a translated web page or a message sent to you, or abstracts and summaries, you will not care much about the quality of the translation, especially if it is provided for free.

Free online translation services help to translate in real time electronic texts of all kinds (from chat room conversations to e-mails to web pages). Furthermore, machines can cope with tasks that are beyond human translators because of time and budget constraints. For example, translation on a daily basis of news and data on large corporate websites; translation of multilingual highly dynamic websites or websites that are subject to rapid expansion.

Automatic translation systems gradually evolve. Each generation produces better translation output. However, freely available online systems still often produce imperfect, even absurd translations.

Why do they still underperform? The point is that such systems do not “like” spontaneous, unrestricted language, but they perform well on short and simple sentences with correct grammar and punctuation. The longer the sentence to be translated, the more likely that the machine will be led astray by complexities of the sentence. If you want to disseminate your content with the help of machine translation, write in a „machine-friendly" manner in order to reduce the number of mistakes and inaccuracies in the translation output.

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_____________________________________________________________________ Website owner: Irina Lychak, self-employed freelance linguist, Russian translator, Ukrainian translator, Kiev (Kyiv), Ukraine

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