It’s one of the most common questions these days asked of a professional German English translation agency: “Why should I use your services rather than Google Translate?” Another question from those potential clients who are discovering they can make more money when they translate their marketing messages is “Do you use Google Translate?”
The answer, of course, is “No”, but it might be useful to explain clearly why this is the answer to any business or individual who is wondering what is the difference between a professional translator and a computer-generated translation tool like Google Translate.
The best way of explaining the difference is to say that computer-aided translation tools have no way of working out whether the translated text they produce actually makes sense. In some cases, it doesn’t really matter very much. For example, if you are on holiday in Germany and want to know what a sign says or ask for something when no one seems to understand English, then Google Translate and other tools like it are fine. Even then, you may get some strange looks if what you have translated for you doesn’t seem to elicit the response you expected!
For anything serious, though, you really ought to budget for a professional German translator. Professional translators have their feet firmly planted in societies and feel comfortable speaking, writing and reading both languages. Computer-aided translators generally work by translating word for word and don’t take into account cultural nuances, idioms and the fact that many words have different meanings depending on context and vice versa. That means that it is inevitable that they generate mistakes and the longer the text, the more errors are likely to be made. That just doesn’t happen with a human translator.
If you’re not convinced, try this little test. Take a paragraph in English, then use Google Translate and translate it into German. Immediately, unless you are fluent in German, you will realise that you are unable to know whether the translated text actually makes sense. Now, transpose the text and translate it back into English. Count the errors. There may be none if the paragraph is short and simple, but most likely there will be at least one, maybe more.
Now multiply the number of errors by the number of paragraphs you normally want to be translated and you get the picture. If you have anything technical in nature or it is a marketing message that has to be converted into idiomatic German (or vice versa), the possibility that those errors are serious increases – and of course, you will never know until it is too late, when the translated text is read by your intended readers.