Machine translation

Machine translation has become very popular. There are even commercials on television that depict it being used for face-to-face communication. However, there are some good reasons not to use it for your business.

Security

Google Translate may seem like a good solution for translating internal documents, but there are security issues to consider. For example, the Google Terms of Service state:

When you upload, submit, store, send or receive content to or through our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content. The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones. This license continues even if you stop using our Services (for example, for a business listing you have added to Google Maps).

This means that your confidential data is no longer confidential once you upload it to Google Translate. The terms of service state that you grant permission to use your content for various purposes. Even if the data is not confidential, there may be repercussions if it contains personal information.

Quality

There are also quality issues to consider. Machine translation may give you a general idea of what a text written in Spanish or French says. When it comes to Asian languages, though, you’ll find that machine translation is much less useful for such purposes. Google Translate is better than other machine translations in this regard, because it makes use of millions of human-edited translations. Certain sentences that you feed into it may come back with an accurate or even a perfect translation. These translations, however, have either been produced or edited by humans. If no similar sentence has been run through it previously, the results are usually no better than other machine translations. Take the following sentences from one of my friend’s Facebook pages, for example:

住まいのユニットバスが老朽化したので、交換しようと思い、ネットで業者から見積もりを取った。そうしたら、自分の住まいの地区の業者に依頼すると区の助成金が10万円位出ると言われた。

Google Translate yields this result:

Google Translate

It’s not perfect, but the first sentence is somewhat intelligible. The second, however, is not even close to accurate, because it mixes up the pronouns. This creates confusion, and if you don’t read Japanese, you probably have no idea what it means.

What about Bing Translator?

For comparison, Bing translates the sentences as follows:

Bing Translator

In this case, both sentences are unintelligible. It’s not even useful to get an idea of what’s going on, because it says “bus” instead of “bath” in the first sentence, and the subject is completely wrong in the second sentence.

For good measure

For good measure, here is a machine translation by SYSTRAN Translate:

It adds words that aren’t in the original and gets the subject wrong, too.

And then there’s Excite Translator:

This one is probably the worst, because it doesn’t even make sense.

A human (my) translation yields the following:

The prefabricated bath and shower unit at my place is worn out, so I decided to replace it. I got an estimate from an online dealer, and they told me that if I hire a contractor from the area where I live, the ward (city) will provide a subsidy of about 100,000 yen. 

Hopefully, you can see that a human translation is much better. If you just want to get the gist of a document and have no security concerns, Google Translate might suffice (probably not, but it’s free and worth a try). However, for confidential material or documents that will be read by investors or customers, there’s no substitute for a real translator. Feel free to contact me for a quote to translate your business materials from Japanese to English.