Human and Machine Translation: Is One Better than the Other?

Human and Machine Translation: Is One Better than the Other?

Most businesses understand the importance of translation when entering new markets. Often, the question is not why they need translation but how to go about getting their content translated. Do they reach out to human translators, or should they use translation tools?

The human vs. machine translation is an ongoing debate. Love it or hate it, machine translation is here to stay. Technology advances every year, and so does the quality of translation it offers. But pragmatists are determined that this doesn’t mean technology should replace human action altogether. After all, we have yet to see a machine translation service offering 100% accurate subtitle translations.

So, maybe we’re looking at it all wrong. Perhaps we shouldn’t compare. Why choose one over the other when there are pros and cons at play? And no one service is truly more advantageous than the other.

Let’s dive into these pros and cons to find out:

Machine Translation: Pros and Cons

Machine translation fares better for two reasons: low cost and fast turnaround time. The problem is, the results can be inaccurate, incoherent, and at worst, dangerous.


  1. You have many free tools at your disposal, including Google Translate.
  2. It’s faster.
  3. It’s cheaper.
  4. With one tool, you can translate between multiple languages.
  5. The technology used is constantly evolving and improving.


  1. You can’t trust the level of accuracy.
  2. The accuracy can vary depending on the language.
  3. You can translate words, but not context or idiomatic expressions.
  4. Any mistakes made can cost you your business.

The biggest factor that you should be looking at is what and how much the mistakes are going to cost you. If you’re working with legal documents, medical equipment manuals, and aviation instructions, you need 100% accuracy. Any potential mistakes can ruin your company’s image, result in revenue loss, and cost lives. In other words, tread carefully.

Human translation: pros and cons

Naturally, a higher level of accuracy means higher costs and longer turnaround times. If you’re in an industry where making mistakes can cost lives, the investment is non-negotiable.

On the other hand, if accuracy isn’t a matter of life and death, and you’re working with massive amounts of content, then you’re better off with machine translation.


  1. Humans don’t just translate words. They interpret context and evoke the same meaning.
  2. Human translators know when something can’t be translated literally or directly, so they can find the nearest alternative.
  3. Humans understand and use creative language. They can interpret metaphors, wordplay, slogans, etc.
  4. The level of accuracy is high.
  5. Humans can review their translation, improve their work, and generate a quality assurance process.
  6. Human translators recognize the dialectal differences between the languages.


  1. It takes longer.
  2. The services are more expensive and rarely free.

Choose human translation when accuracy is a higher priority than speed. Also, consider the complexity of your source material and the two (or more) languages you’re translating between. In some cases, machine translation isn’t an option.

In conclusion, the argument between human and machine translation is moot. It distracts us from what’s important: that each approach is better for specific scenarios. Because as you can see, both serve a valid purpose.

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