When it comes to text translations, businesses now have a credible alternative to engaging a human translator: using machine translation software.
Machine translation software (known as MT software) is an artificial intelligence-based tool that provides automated translations of text between different languages, such as from English to Spanish or vice versa. Although machine translation software didn’t have the highest translation accuracy when it was first developed, technological improvements over the decades have meant that such software can now do a pretty accurate job.
As a result, this category of software is often integrated into computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools, and used by businesses involved in international projects. For example, international businesses intending to localize their web pages may tap on machine translation software to translate large amounts of text at scale.
However, MT software isn’t used only for translating websites. It can also translate contractual and other collateral documents required to maintain successful international business relationships. And the financial upside of investing in translation is clear: according to a survey by Common Sense Advisory (now known as CSA Research), Fortune 500 businesses that spent more on translation were 1.5 times more likely to report an increase in total revenue than their counterparts that didn’t.
Read on as we delve into how machine translation is shaping international business.
The evolution of machine translation into 2023 (and beyond)
Let’s be honest: when machine translation was first launched, it wasn’t the best.
The first machine translation software, which came about in the 1970s, used rules-based machine translation (RBMT). Such technology translated text word-for-word using a set of grammatical rules and the relevant language pair dictionary. However, this often resulted in stilted translations that weren’t always the most readable, let alone usable.
As a result, machine translation got a bad rep almost right off the bat. Unimpressed by the poor accuracy of machine-translated text, people began to dismiss machine translation as being inferior to “proper” (read: human) translators.
From rules-based machine translation to statistical machine translation
Fortunately for machine translation providers, machine translation began shedding its negative image as the technology evolved. After RBMT, came statistical machine translation (SMT), which translates text by analyzing existing human translations, known as bilingual text corpora, and then applies prediction algorithms to determine the best way to translate text in any given situation.
SMT was a major improvement over RBMT, but its accuracy was still lacking at times. However, development didn’t stop there. Today, the latest and greatest machine translation technology available is neural machine translation (NMT), which uses complex deep learning models to translate text.
Enter neural machine translation
NMT is capable of generating high-quality translations with the help of sophisticated language translation algorithms. These translations are not only more accurate but also sound more natural than the translations produced by RMBT and SMT technologies.
These days, the effectiveness of NMT has quelled most of the opposition towards machine translation. Even objections such as “but machine translation can’t pick up or translate text in images and PowerPoint slides!” have largely been silenced after the development of advanced machine translation tools that can do just that.
Should you use machine translation software for your business?
Machine translation has now achieved general acceptance in the market, being a lifesaver for international businesses that need to obtain consistently accurate translations in the most efficient way possible. Even professional translators adopt automated translation technology to streamline and accelerate the translation process!
But why? Here are some oft-cited benefits of machine translation software, which your business can also stand to enjoy:
- Easy to use: With machine translation software being so simple to operate, you won’t need a tech background to use it like a pro. Fire up the software or platform, copy/paste your source text into it, and set your target language, and you’ll get the translated text in real-time.
- Faster results: As mentioned in the previous point, machine translation software can translate text in seconds. On the other hand, human translation can take hours, or even days, depending on the volume of text that needs to be translated.
- Reliable: While the accuracy of translations produced by different machine translation software may vary, these translations are generally reliable. That’s because such software is typically vetted by expert translators and native speakers before being released.
- Great value for money: It’ll definitely cost a lot less to invest in machine translation software than to hire a professional translator – especially if you’re looking to translate uncommon language pairs, or need translations within a short turnaround time.
- Seamless operation: some machine translation software can integrate with other platforms for smooth translation workflows. No tedious copy/pasting of text between software and platform needed!
5 best machine translation software options in the market
At this time, there isn’t a single machine translation software that can perfectly cater to all needs and use cases. Each software has its pros and cons, and may be best suited for meeting certain language translation objectives, content formats, and target audiences over others.
Here are 5 of the best machine translation software options in the market, and how their technological features influence their translation quality:
1. Google Translate
Google Translate needs no introduction, being probably the most well-known machine translation software out there. Launched in 2006, the translation tool previously used SMT to churn out word-for-word translations. Since then, however, Google has abandoned SMT in favor of the more accurate NMT, resulting in ever-improving translation quality. Dubbed Google Neural Machine Translation (GNMT), Google’s proprietary machine translation technology uses recurrent neural networks to translate entire sentences while retaining their contexts as much as possible.
2. DeepL Translator
DeepL Translator is an NMT service developed by Linguee GmbH (now known as DeepL GmbH), a German business that focuses on developing machine translation technology through deep learning. DeepL Translator was launched in 2017 and extensively studies and learns the best translation options from reliable linguistic sources. Thanks to its use of artificial intelligence, DeepL Translator can deliver more precise and nuanced translations compared to its peers. It may truly live up to its own claim of being “the world’s most accurate translator.”
3. Bing Microsoft Translator
Bing Microsoft Translator is based on Microsoft’s proprietary machine translation system that relies on the latest NMT technology. Like most machine translation software developers, Microsoft has focused its research efforts on delivering smarter machine translations that match natural language use. For example, Bing Microsoft Translator employs an attention algorithm to analyze the order in which words should be translated for the most accurate translation results.
4. SYSTRAN Translate
SYSTRAN has a long history. It was founded in 1968 and is possibly the first-ever business to offer commercial machine translation services. And this pioneer in the field hasn’t rested on its laurels: this machine translation provider regularly updates its SYSTRAN Translate tool with cutting-edge machine translation technology and features. For example, SYSTRAN’s latest pure neural machine translation (PNMT) engine models the entire machine translation process through an artificial neural network for highly accurate translations.
5. Amazon Translate
For those in the know, Amazon isn’t merely a leading ecommerce marketplace: it also supplies machine translation through its Amazon Translate tool. According to the Amazon Translate website, this NMT service was created to provide fast, high-quality, and customizable language translations at an affordable price. Amazon constantly enhances its datasets to deliver the best-possible translations regardless of source text length. At the same time, Amazon Translate’s Active Custom Translation feature allows users to import their own translation data for customizing translations according to their preferences.
Leverage machine translation software for your localization projects today
With steady improvement in machine translation technology over time, MT software has become a strong option for businesses with translation needs. That said, the ideal, one-size-fits-all machine translation service doesn’t exist (not yet, anyway!) If you’re shopping around for a machine translation language service, the best approach would be to try a few different translation tools, and assess whether they meet your business’s specific needs, before making a financial commitment.
Also, keep in mind that MT software isn’t meant to completely replace human translation. After you’ve completed a first round of translation using MT, you may want to have a professional translator review and fine-tune the translation to ensure it is fit for purpose.
While the above machine translation software options can decently translate text, translating a website calls for a better and more elaborated approach. Using a dedicated website translation solution that combines the speed of machine translation with a direct integration with your website platform ensures accuracy and efficiency as you don’t have to spend time copying/pasting translated texts back and forth. And of course, a good website translation software will actually display the translated content of your website too.
Weglot is the perfect solution for providing a first layer of machine translation for website translation projects. It uses the best of leading machine translation software, such as DeepL Translator, Microsoft Translator, and Google Translate, to effortlessly translate your website with a high degree of accuracy thanks to post-editing features available within your Weglot Dashboard.
Weglot integrates with WordPress, Shopify, Webflow and all other popular website platforms (and custom-built websites) to translate your website content and display these translations on your website, giving you the full package when it comes to website translation.
It is also built for team collaboration among your teammates and professional translators, making it convenient for you to get expert eyes and edits on your translations before rolling them out.