Is Google Translate good enough for email communications?
Here comes the dreaded answer, “It depends”. Actually, the answer is more accurately, “Probably not!”.
In an effort to save time and money, too many individuals and organisations are choosing this simple and cheap solution and then regret it. Unfortunately, deals have been lost and reputations irreparably damaged from this poor decision. By not initially contracting a professional translation or proofreading service provider, they end up spending significantly more money to rectify the resulting negative consequences.
When an email needs to go out, how do you decide if it needs to be professionally translated from scratch, machine translated and then proofread or if only a machine translation is good enough?
It is important to consider the expectations of the reader, the importance of the correspondence and the image you want to portray of yourself and your organisation.
- Reader Expectations
If the reader knows you have no competence in their language, they will probably not appreciate your efforts and tolerate poor quality.
At the same time, your relationship with the reader must be considered. Clearly, there is a power differential if you are sitting in the buyer’s seat, for example.
The length and formality of your relationship must also be considered. If you have shared drinks and laughs in person over the past 10 years with the reader, your communications may be more casual than if you have never met and this is just your second email.
Take the time to put yourself in the recipient’s shoes. Ask yourself these questions:
- Will they laugh with me or at me if I make an embarrassing mistake?
- Is respect and seniority a core tenet of their culture? Could an unintended reversed pronoun, incorrect honorific or verb tense insult my colleague?
- Will they be understanding and patient when sorting out a potential miscommunication, get hostile or go silent?
- Correspondence Importance, Complexity & Goal
Obviously, there is a tremendous difference between answering a “yes” or “no” question or confirming a Skype meeting time, versus negotiating contract terms. The higher the stakes are, the more important it is to rely on a highly skilled human professional translator.
Likewise, the more complex the content is (industry specific terminology, legal jargon or technical details), the more critical human skills become.
Your communication goals are also critical considerations. Think about the content of the correspondence and what you hope the reader will do with the information you’ve provided.
Before clicking “send”, make sure to ask yourself:
- Is this a one sentence email confirming your agreement with something that was already proposed? Is there any way my reply could be misinterpreted?
- What are the risks if this communication completely fails?
- How complicated are the words and concepts I’ve drafted?
- Is the reader familiar with my industry jargon or does it need to be simplified with culturally appropriate references to ease understanding?
- What am I asking them to do and how big of a request is it from their point of view?
- Image Standards
Personal and corporate brands are significant assets that must be protected. A damaged reputation or relationship are difficult, and sometimes impossible, to repair. Always keep in mind your desired goals for the email correspondence and the impact it could have on your image.
There are copious examples of large corporations that have mistranslated a simple slogan, resulting in embarrassment, and sometimes even offending their target audience. The costly ramifications can become nightmares for research, marketing, legal and executive teams attempting to establish relationships and global operations.
Machine Technology Competence
With 6,500 languages spoken in the world, along with additional dialects and cultural nuances, the need to ensure your intended message is received accurately is critical. Machines are fast, cheap and convenient tools, but their abilities and detailed accuracy are not that of the human brain. Still, machines are widely used for international communications, even within the language service providers (LSPs) industry. For example, Terminology Management (TM) software is a highly valuable tool for professional translation companies to create a customised database of project or industry-specific vocabulary.
Machine translation technology is improving rapidly, especially with the advances in artificial intelligence (AI). Google Translate is obviously the most well-known and a forerunner in the competitive landscape of online translation options. Microsoft Translator and several other online platforms, software programmes and apps are available free or at minimal price points.
Technology gurus will be able to explain the alphabet soup of this emerging industry. In short, the API’s (Application Programme Interface – the data functions and procedures behind the programme) can range in complexity. Some programmes translate word for word and others are more complex looking holistically at complete sentences and concepts. For example, NMT (Neural Machine Translation or Deep Neural Machine Translation) uses AI to predict entire sentence structures, through integrated modelling.
A time may come when machines are as proficient as humans, but when it comes to language translation…not yet.*
Therefore, carefully consider your communication goals, audience and content before typing your native language’s version into an automated translation programme, app or device. If you are not adept enough in the output language to proofread it, seeking a qualified professional second opinion is always a good idea.
Renaissance Translations offers proofreading, translation, transcreation and localisation services to ensure your written correspondence maintains its integrity and quality when translated. We look forward to discussing your correspondence projects with you.