Free Translation Software: Pros and Cons

93The introduction of translation software has contributed mightily to overcoming the language barriers induced by globalization. Even as English has become a universally recognized language in cross-border communication, international business affairs and global media, the importance of translation as means of reaching a wider audience is still essential.

News outlets, book publishers, film distributors and retailers expand their reach by introducing their products to foreign markets in multiple languages. Corporations are also expected to hire professional translators, both written and spoken, when dealing with their partners abroad. For small businesses and online publications with smaller budgets, translation software often proves as a viable alternative to costly translator services and expensive employees.

Individuals are just as eager to embrace these technological advantages in everyday communication. In an attempt to improve their web experience, Internet users often turn to automated online translators when viewing content on foreign websites. It gives them access to the information they could not read otherwise, and for people not fluent in English, this is an immense advantage.

However, the use of free translations has been widely criticized by educational institutions, web experts and concerned individuals. In their eyes, such services produce less-than-stellar results and provide a watered-down version of the source material, only proper to give a general impression of the translated content.

Google Translate is the most popular translation service online and the low quality of its automated translations is often cited as an example for criticism against free translators. The service is commonly faced with literal translation issues and the inability to identify proper terminology.

The quality of any translation relies heavily on the translator’s ability to recognize context and tone of the source material and any machine lacks this ability. Conventions, metaphors and idiomatic expressions are usually misinterpreted by computer software, even if the correct interpretations have been programmed by its developers. There is always room for context-related errors or sentences that will seem awkward to a human reader.

The disadvantages of free translation software substantially limit the range of its uses, but the advantages are also plentiful. Google Translate and its lookalikes do not require payment for their services. The uncontested speed and intuitive design of web-based translation applications allow an entire web page to be translated on the spot, giving the Internet user instant access to a foreign website’s content.

The common criticisms of free translation software stem largely from its incorrect uses and do not mean that it should not be used at all. Individuals who value speed and ease of use or do not wish to purchase costly software or translator services will be fully satisfied with the results provided by free translation software.

On the other hand, people who require a high quality service in their business or coursework should never use free software for that purpose. They will benefit more from manual or computer-assisted translation, which lets a competent individual control the process.

The most cost-effective approach, however, would be to combine these methods, and use the translation provided by the free software as a reference to a manual translator who is fluent in both languages.