Why machine translation work is on the rise?

At Yay Translations, we never use machine translation. We believe it is an unethical way to overcharge and cheat clients. But how much do you know about machine translation? How prevalent is it used by today’s self-named ‘professional translators’? Jianjun, a NAETI certified Chinese translator who works on all your assignments explains.

Machine translation is not a new thing. Since a long time ago, big corporations like Microsoft have already used this technology to translate a huge amount of documents into many languages.

The purpose of these documents (mostly temporary) is to provide a rough idea of an issue users might want to know in a timely manner. If everything is translated by a human being, this would cost them a fortune in both time and monetary terms.

That said, the quality of these translations is raw. At times, they make no sense. Let’s have a look at the following screenshot randomly chosen at the time of this writing:

Windows faq bad example

This is a Microsoft FAQ page explaining issues regarding free Windows 10 upgrade.

The text within the red box reads in Chinese (back translation): This is a time spot in the scope of the world (context: the time limit to upgrade to free Windows 10). And it makes no sense to a Chinese reader.

Actually, the original English version is:  this is one worldwide point in time. In other words, this time limit applies to all users worldwide.

Bad examples of machine translations are abundant and around us. I took this screenshot only to help to illustrate the discussion.

How do I know this is machine translation? This is basically how Google Translate renders this sentence:

Windows faq bad example google

If large corporations use them internally to save time and money is understandable, it is absolutely unjustifiable for translators to use machine translations when their customers expect human work.

In the past, when individuals had limited access to machine translations, this issue was less prominent. In the last seven to eight years, however, things have gradually changed. Free access to web-based machine translation tools such as Baidu Translate and Google Translate gives rise to dirt cheap translators who use them to outcompete trained professionals.

Take the Chinese language as an example, to produce a high-quality translation, an experienced, trained translator usually takes 6-8 hours to work on 2,500 words, provided the text is not highly technical. According to a translator who uses machine translation, however, the output goes over to 10,000 words with some post-editing included.

He told me there was already a translation tool that integrated Google Translator developed by a Chinese user of proz.com and sold in its forums.

When I first heard this, I thought, it explained why I recently saw editing jobs were on the rise from certain agency clients and each time I had to explain to them it must be re-translated. Garbage in, garbage out.

At the same time, there is also no surprise that they could outbid any price a professional translator asks for.

Some people may wonder how come that the end clients don’t find it out. The truth is, most end users do not understand a word in the translated text. If they have the language resources, they wouldn’t have resorted to a translation agency or translator for the work. Traditionally, the professional integrity of translation service providers plays a very important role in quality assurance.

Further, many agencies on the market screen freelance translators by their price, not their background. The reason is simple. They also want to outbid other agencies and increase profits.

Some of these agencies know that certain low-rate translators provide a poor translation, but they hope other professionals to save them by the ‘QA job’.

In one instance, when I declined, the UK-based agency director personally suggested that it might be a good idea to delete me from their database. And I replied, ‘Go ahead.’

In addition, for agencies that do screen translators by their background, they could be cheated in a number of ways.

For example, a test translation can be outsourced to another translator. A Chinese degree can be easily forged because many foreign companies don’t even know how to verify them. A CV, of course, is the most unreliable piece of evidence.

This is the very reason why I encourage clients to visit my LinkedIn page to verify my identity as a professional translator. On that page, you will find recommendations from current and past clients.

In conclusion, due to the unregulated nature of the translation market and a rise of machine translation used by freelance translators. Finding a true professional translator that can be entrusted with your business or personal translation needs is getting ever more difficult.

What do you think of this issue? You are more than welcome to comment below.


Jianjun, who runs Yay Translations, is a professional Chinese translator with over 12 years of experience. You may re-use or re-post this article, please see licence details below:

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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