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Bad translations. We’ve all seen them. We’ve all laughed at them.

At their best, they’re quite funny. The more notorious examples have even spawned memes. There are even Tumblr blogs The Unofficial, Beginner's Guide to Tumblr The Unofficial, Beginner's Guide to Tumblr Tumblr's the number one social networking site for people under 25. Clearly it's important, but it's a bit mystifying. It's less a blog than it is an anti-blog. Read More that aggregate unfortunate, inaccurate and hilarious translation fails for all to see.

But at their worst, they paint a picture of unprofessionalism and laziness. Whether you’re planning to apply for a job or an apartment abroad, or are looking to translate your web page, you need to get things right first time round.

The problem is two-fold. Firstly, translations are being made by people who don’t have a perfect command on the target language. We’ve also became far too dependent on Google Translate 10 Uses Of Google Translate To Cross The Great Language Divide 10 Uses Of Google Translate To Cross The Great Language Divide Language is such a cultural totem that its translation doesn’t cover all the corners. When we talk of machine translation, the name without surprises that comes to mind is of Google Translate. Perhaps, most of... Read More which offers a questionable service at best.

Thankfully, there are services that offer affordable and accurate translations you can depend on. Here are three of the best, and three of the rest.

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UnBabel

Translation services usually require that you either compromise on cost, or on quality. UnBabel demands neither, and offers an expedient, accurate service for a fraction of the cost of its competitors. Like most translation services, it charges by the word But the biggest difference is in how it goes about translating the text.

It uses machine learning techniques — much like Google Translate does — to auto-translate, but then passes the computer-generated text to a human who proofreads and edits for accuracy and flow. I tried it out with a Rick Astley-flavored love letter. Your first translation (up to 150 words) is free, and no credit card is required.

translate-unbabel-text

Then select the original language, and the language you want to translate it to. Depending on the language the text is originally written in, you have a lot of choice here. I decided on Brazilian Portuguese.

translate-unbabel-languages

You can also select the tone of the text. This is important, as the translation service needs to know whether to use a more informal or business-like approach. You can also help the translator out by giving it an idea of the subject of the text. Given the somewhat amorous intent, I said “Sex and relationships”.

translate-unbabel-tone

Before you click “Submit Order”, you’ll see a breakdown of how much it’ll cost you.

translate-unbabel-cost

Then, give your email and a few minutes later you’ll be sent your translation.

translate-unbabel-results

If it adds up, click “approve”. I sent my translation to Eduardo, who informed me it was indeed accurate, and told me to never email him ever again.

Sorry, Eduardo.

/r/Translator

Reddit is one of the most altruistic online communities The Kindest Communities on Reddit The Kindest Communities on Reddit There are a lot of really great people on Reddit – here's where you can find them. Read More  around. Well, most of it, anyway. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there’s a subreddit offering translations.

Although, as always with Reddit, there’s a bit of online etiquette 6 Unwritten Rules For Posting Content On Reddit [Opinion] 6 Unwritten Rules For Posting Content On Reddit [Opinion] Every society and/or community has their own unwritten rules of proper etiquette, courtesy, and communication. Granted, I'm not going to say every set of rules is perfect, but I will say that they do exist.... Read More involved. Don’t, for instance, think someone will translate your entire essay or write your homework for free. Although, for larger jobs it’s perfectly acceptable to open your checkbook, but make sure you offer a reasonable amount of cash.

translate-reddit-money

But for jobs where a traditional translation service is overkill and you only need to translate a simple phrase, /r/translator is perfect.

translate-reddit-simple

Gengo

At the upper-end of this translation service rundown, you’ve got Gengo which is, in spirit, very much like UnBabel albeit with some key differences. You start off in the same way, by copying in the passage of text you wish to translate.

translate-gengo-test

Then you select the language you want to translate to. There’s an impressive amount of languages on offer, including Arabic, French, Russian, and more.

translate-gengo-options

For large localization jobs, you can translate to multiple other languages simultaneously. Be warned, though. This will exponentially increase the cost of your translation.

translate-gengo-addlanguage

Then, select the tone. Helpfully, Gengo suggests tones based upon where the text will be published. For example, if your translation is going to be used as website copy, it is best to use a more business-like tone. But if you’re planning on using it on social media, it might be best to use something a bit more informal.

translate-gengo-tones

Perhaps the biggest advantage of Gengo is that your text is going to an actual human being. Someone who understands the nuances of that particular language well enough to make your translation feel natural and organic.

Of course, there’s a downside. Namely, the cost of translation sharply increases from $0.03 per word with UnBabel, to around $0.12 per word with Gengo. Furthermore, since your translation is being done manually by a human being, you can expect to wait much longer.

My translation from UnBabel took 13 minutes to complete. With Gengo, you can expect a minimum wait of 5 hours, depending on the language and length of the text.

Other Options

These services offer the best compromise between scalability, speed, and price. But that’s not to say that there aren’t any other compelling options available. Others you might want to consider include:

  • The Reddit /r/forhire subredit is a great place to find translators, and a great place for any polyglot to find work. Workers and potential clients also come with testimonials, making it easy to spot good clients, as well as bad hires.
  • Translate.com offers both machine-powered and human-powered translation through its website and portfolio of applications. You won’t have to open your checkbook to use it — it’s supported by advertising — but there’s no guarantee that a human actually will translate your text, and the machine-powered translator is no more accurate than Google Translate.

Over to You

Do you use an online translation service 5 Ways to Translate Text on Your iPhone or iPad 5 Ways to Translate Text on Your iPhone or iPad Until science fiction becomes reality, these are the best ways to translate text on your iPhone and iPad. Read More ? Do you work as a translator? I want to hear about it. Drop me a comment below, and we’ll chat.

  1. W
    October 20, 2016 at 2:48 pm

    Just tried to get my wife's CV translated. Unbabel says they don't provide that service.

  2. Konstantin K
    June 20, 2016 at 5:03 pm

    Hi Matthew,

    Nice article! We are launching the email translation app in Gmail. It is called Lingviny.com. Lingviny helps you send emails in virtually any language with the help of professional human translators. This is not exactly the type of translation you covered in this article but still I thought you might find it worth checking out)

    Thanks
    KK

  3. S0ldier
    May 15, 2016 at 4:16 pm

    Google Translate is very bad for translating longer phrases.
    Does that mean the site is useless? Not at all!
    It's really great for translating single words. It shows multiple meanings and related phrases right away, saving lot of time.

  4. isaquegc
    May 8, 2016 at 7:00 am

    Hi! I'm a Brazilian native speaker, have been working as a translator and proofreader for, say, ten years now. It was nice to know diffferent options of internet tools for my job. Actually, it was very nice. In the meantime, I have to say that, for Brazilian Portuguese variation, it'd be better said: "Nunca vou te desiludir | Nunca vou te trair e te magoar". Believe me! Anyways... great article and have a good mother's day!

  5. Business Translation Services
    March 3, 2016 at 5:18 am

    Hello there

    As we all know , translation is being popular day by day. we all need translation that make the things easy to

    understand.
    I love so much your blog.
    Thanks for sharing here.

  6. Andy Schultz
    August 13, 2015 at 10:03 pm

    I wanted to use to use the UnBabel and give a try to my girlfriend that's visiting family in Mexico for a month.
    But there weren't any free words haha.
    Was it a temporary thing they were doing?

  7. Phot's
    May 11, 2015 at 10:13 am

    What about linguee.fr?

  8. Andy Roberts
    April 16, 2015 at 9:26 am

    Call me old fashioned, but if you are applying for a job or contract or whatever and need to translate your application or letter of introduction to them, you might just have trouble working with or for them.

  9. Evelin
    April 14, 2015 at 11:26 am

    I use Google translate when I want to translate a text from one language to another and then edit the text until it is as good as I can get it...
    This because I have friends who don't speak Dutch or English or Portuguese and I am too lazy to do the complete translation myself. This saves me a lot of time but I still have to work a little on the results I get from Google, although it is getting better all the time...

  10. Abri
    April 14, 2015 at 9:27 am

    I am studying Portuguese. I use Google translate a lot! But even though it translates so that I can understand, it is not always grammatically correct. Google Translate is good for light everyday use, but for serious use, you need a human. Portuguese for example is very specific when it comes to verbs. Using a verb is different between, "I", "him/her", "they", "we" and even "you" in formal and informal talk.

    What this article is saying is not to try and sell a service where there is a free service, it is explaining a more accurate service. A computer translator does not pick up tone, so not good when you want to do a business proposal and the Google translates puts out informal verbs.

    Great article, thanks.

  11. vinny
    April 14, 2015 at 6:53 am

    If you want to be taken serious you have to do some work on your translations. Either you do it via Google that quite often is a bit of as it translated word for word and due to that often pick the wrong word if a word can be tanslated in more than one way. Or you go to a translator in some way. The list below is long from complete but gives some good alternatives.
    Next you always have to verify the translation in some way even those from official translators.

    Picking on this article is a sign of short-sight as you want to get you payment at the end of the month. So why not pay for a translator or take the risk of being taken for the fool you are when using only Google and trust it for 100%

  12. Roku
    April 14, 2015 at 6:17 am

    If you want a good quality translation, get a quote from qualified professional translators from e.g. proz.com and let them do the job.

  13. Pavel
    April 14, 2015 at 5:38 am

    smoking, as usual, for Romanian?!

  14. Bud
    April 13, 2015 at 10:36 pm

    Why pay for translation apps, when Google is free? Any misunderstandings ? Can simply ask the receiver or sender with a simple “ I don’t understand you, “ in their native language.

    I can't believe how much so-called great stuff is promoted here. So-called medicine for one is rat poison for another.

  15. Anonymous
    April 13, 2015 at 9:48 pm

    I could sure use a more accurate and reliable translator, but not if I have to keep paying. Like someone mentioned, good stuff ain't free.. yet!

  16. Martin Smith
    April 13, 2015 at 3:03 pm

    Why not just have the courage to try and learn the language you want to communicate in? Once the words are someone else's you might be in deep trouble. Google Translate is quite good and getting better all the time, and is a great starting point for a student of languages. I use it on an everyday basis for anything up to half a dozen languages while learning Georgian and Russian. It does Russian well, and allows you to learn the word stress by means of the pronunciation icon. Georgian is not too hard to pronounce once you know the basic sounds and forms and has no stress situations which might lead to ambiguity. The great thing with my pro-active, semi-partner approach is that you are hereby learning and moulding your linguistic brain all the time! Farming work out to others does not have this advantage!

  17. Steve
    April 13, 2015 at 11:40 am

    This is fine for professionals who are in need of the best translation possible, but for those of us who simply want to convey a message from English to another language, Google Translation works fine. The key to using any automated translator properly when translating between English and another language is to remember English is a very colorful and powerful written language, and when only trying to convey a message, you need to make it brief and accurate, omitting unneeded words. Since so many words have multiple meanings, you must also read what you have written, and try to figure out if any of the words can be taken out of a context other than that of the message, replacing them with better choices. I belong to several Yahoo numismatic groups, some of which are based in Spain. When I use Google Translate, I know to not try and impress people with "My incredible vocabulary" by emulating William F. Buckley! I just get my message across, and have had no problems.

  18. Martin
    April 13, 2015 at 8:54 am

    We usually rely on https://www.transxpro.com for translations. They seem to use human translators, not machines and expect to get paid. But you get free quotes if you have your text as word files. I might need to mention, that I use the translations for our business, and I am therefore able to spend some money on them. It seems that good quality is not for free (yet) :-(

  19. Kent Slaughter
    April 13, 2015 at 6:44 am

    Yes, I often 'check' the translation by running it in reverse and substituting words until I can get close to the original from the translation.

  20. Dels
    April 13, 2015 at 6:20 am

    The ability to quickly translate website for FREE in google translate is simply best, especially content from those chinese and japanese website

    • that guy you know
      April 14, 2015 at 8:32 am

      yeah but this will get it right. Google translate in work from year 1 to year 5. this will work forever, but it does cost money.

  21. TJ
    April 12, 2015 at 10:37 pm

    no maltese - no thanks

  22. adam
    April 12, 2015 at 10:32 pm

    this thing not only seems to take longer to translate, but costs money unlike google translate. no thanks, my google translate app is quick and free. only noobs fall for this type of scam lmao

    • Jeff
      May 10, 2015 at 6:27 am

      Google translate = Wrong most of the time.

  23. Emily
    April 12, 2015 at 4:37 pm

    I felt uncomfortable with what this show me. because for international student we tried to search more vocabulary and learned more about them, and for some people they don't like to spend money on this, honesty, it's like Google translate is free, you can search whenever you want, it's more convenience, i'm sorry for saying this but this is what i felt.

  24. Sheila Gomes
    April 12, 2015 at 11:38 am

    The real reason these services charge less is how little they pay the people working for them as translators, who usually are bilingual people with no graduation in the area, or beginners with little experience. Professional translators charge more not only to guarantee the delivery of the best service possible, which comes from investment in study, tools, CPD, afiliation and participation in professional associations, just to mention a few points. We also dedicate ourselves to delivering work that takes into account the objectives and image the client needs. And that goes further than just "nuance" (a very vague word), but also cultural aspects, and even transcreation (rewriting the text in the target language), something that demands a solid linguistic knowledge and professional experience. These services are the Walmart of translation. May work for some purposes, but a big risk for those who need the translation of important or sensitive texts.

  25. Sam Sati
    April 12, 2015 at 10:47 am

    Vasco, I went to your website on UnBabel and I couldn't find the way to subscribe to your translators' community although I pressed on the 'For Translators' button, but no active buttons exist there!!

  26. Vasco Pedro
    April 11, 2015 at 4:43 pm

    I am co-founder and CEO of Unbabel. Thank you for the article. I just want to clarify that in Unbabel you text is also sent to humans, in fact every word in any text is always seen by at least two human translators. They are focused on making sure that your nuance and context are there, just like any other professional service. The reason we are able to charge much less is because we use technology to optimize a lot of the steps.

  27. Maarten
    April 11, 2015 at 3:57 pm

    But most importantly, let native speaker check if the translation makes sense. Since you are using one, it seems that you don't master the language. So if it's an official e-mail you're sending, or drawing up a contract, some human help is just what you need.

    Nice article!

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