Taco Bell’s return to Japan in 2015 was widely anticipated, but the company’s launch of its Japanese-language website spawned a media frenzy—not because of the food. With machine-translated menu items that turned “cheesy fries” into “low-quality fleece” and “Crunchwrap Supreme—Beef” into “Supreme Court beef,” the company had to rush to take down the site to mitigate the damage to its image.
Translating your materials professionally is a smart business move. It makes people more likely to buy your product or service, and support costs go down as people can access information in their own language. But where to begin?
Sure, professional translators will get you exactly what you want, but you’ve probably heard some buzz about machine translation (MT) and are wondering if it might save you money and time. Before you take the plunge, here are some things you should know about MT.
There’s no such thing as a free lunch
Free online translators are very popular—Google alone serves up more than a billion translations a day. It’s important though to understand what you get when you use any free machine translation service:
- They can only give you an idea of what the foreign text says: Since they have to translate everything from love letters to shopping catalogs, they are designed to generalize rather than specialize. They don’t “know” what your text is about, so they “guess.” Often they guess correctly. Sometimes they don’t.
- MT systems leverage big data and are programmed to give preference to the most popular words and phrases: Predictably, problems emerge. In some language combinations, “U.S. president” was translated as “Bush” well into the Obama administration.
- They store and use your data to learn: That’s fine for a public Web page of your family trip,
This content is available to IABC members only. To continue reading, log in below.