What is Machine Translation?

Machine Translation (MT) can be defined as Translation carried out by a computer. Google Translate is the most commonly used tool for Machine Translation and is freely available. Convenience and ease of usage of MT are the two key factors which has enabled increasing number of marketers globally to adopt MT as a fundamental tool for translating their marketing collateral into wide range of languages.

The challenges with MT

Unlike the complex processes involved in human brain while translating languages, the algorithm adopted by MT is not sophisticated enough to pick a string of words, understand the context and then translate it. For example, In an article published by Paul Rubens (BBC, 18 Nov 2014) The Malaysian Ministry of Defence unveiled its glossy new website, designed to show off its military prowess and high standards to the world. One section said that the Malaysian government had taken “drastic measures to increase the level of any national security threat” after the country's independence in 1957. Another page suggested women should not wear items that “poke out the eye”, an apparent translation of a rule that women should not wear revealing clothing.

That was an embarrassing mistake to commit in the marketing collateral moreover on their website! This translation error or mistranslation was on Ministry of Defence website for days before it was discovered.

Why is there this problem with MT?

The precise reason is “Disambiguation”. It is about MT finding a suitable translation when a word can have more than one meaning and connotation. In the example mentioned above, it is believed that the MT tool misjudged and misinterpreted the words used as part of a sentence in Malay language.

The solution

Translation of critical business documents and complex marketing collateral requires Human intervention. A language expert, such as a translator, understands the context the circumstance under which translation is required and is capable of undertaking accurate translation that aligns precisely with the cultural truth and sensitivities. Using a translator can enable businesses to not only localise their content but also identify culture specific SEO keywords and strings, which helps the businesses rank higher in the local search engines.


By Megh Shetty, Manager- Corporate Marketing & Communications at ONCALL Interpreters.

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