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 that aggregate unfortunate, inaccurate and hilarious translation fails for all to see.
— ITC Global (@ITCtranslations) August 12, 2013
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 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.
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.
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.
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”.
Before you click “Submit Order”, you’ll see a breakdown of how much it’ll cost you.
Then, give your email and a few minutes later you’ll be sent your translation.
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.
Although, as always with Reddit, there’s a bit of online etiquette 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.
But for jobs where a traditional translation service is overkill and you only need to translate a simple phrase, /r/translator is perfect.
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.
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.
For large localization jobs, you can translate to multiple other languages simultaneously. Be warned, though. This will exponentially increase the cost of your translation.
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.
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.
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.
- Duolingo is more than just a language learning service. It also allows you to leverage the power of the crowd to translate large bodies of text. For individuals, it’s free. Businesses, email them for a quote.
- 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? Do you work as a translator? I want to hear about it. Drop me a comment below, and we’ll chat.