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Google Transcreate? Why machine translations should be taken with a pinch of salt

“Dear friends of Transreation! This month's article covers topics on how to get help and help in the process of creating loud sounds and influential local copies by jumping into the underground water of machine translation.”

…sound a bit strange to you? Well, I’m sure you’re not alone. While we are absolutely open to criticism, we’ll tell you straightaway that this introduction was not ours. That is, we wrote the original*, translated it into Korean with the “help” of an online tool and used the English back translation to introduce the tricky topic of machine translations.

Apart from committing the capital crime of misspelling the word “transcreation” itself, this online translator has apparently failed to understand what we wanted to say here and there. Classic. Still, people nowadays increasingly rely on these tools to translate important content.

Let’s be honest: computers are worth their weight in gold. They excel in calculating (no pun intended), help us stay on top of finances and admin, show us the quickest route to work, the best places to have lunch… In short: they make our lives a great deal easier.

Even in the field of translation, we can truly profit from technological progress. By using so-called “CAT tools” (computer-assisted translation tools), translators can work more quickly, more efficiently and ensure consistency when it comes to terminology and long-term stylistic decisions. If you know exactly how to prepare the target text and how to edit the translation, machine translations can sometimes help you achieve surprisingly good results nowadays.

But... Do you think a computer could have written War and Peace? Or Harry Potter? Or even an episode of Friends? If the answer is “No!”, then how come companies still entrust them with their precious marketing copy?

Lost in mistranslation

Transcreation is not a simple equation. On the contrary – it requires cultural sensitivity and insider knowledge, excellent language skills, intuition, wit, market insight, the willingness to stray from the path… That’s asking a lot from a machine.

Us humans, however, have a special superpower called “creativity”. It helps us invent, play with ideas, solve unsolvable problems and make sure that a line not only looks good on paper but also rings true in people’s heads and hearts. Translating can be a tightrope walk, we know that from experience. But if you pick the right people (yup, the emphasis is on people here), you won’t land yourself on a list of marketing fails.

We at WIT are known for our delicate touch. We’d never manhandle a beautiful slogan. Or ruffle up smooth body copy. Or even straighten out an edgy headline. We prefer to keep machines at arm’s length and put our brains to work 😉


*For anyone who’s interested, here’s our original introduction: Hello dear friends of transcreation! In this month’s article, let’s dive into the turbulent waters of machine translations and tackle the topical question of if and how they can lend us a helping hand in the process of crafting great sounding and impactful local copy.


By Kerstin Rupcic, WIT Project Manager


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