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Comparison of Free MT Tools and How They Stack Up to a Professional Language Service Provider

submitted by Lisa Siciliani, Sales Support Services 


How do free online translation tools compare with each other?

Ever used a free online translator and wondered how the most popular online translation tools compare in quality?

If so, you’ll be interested in a recent survey of Google Translate, Bing (Microsoft) Translator, and Yahoo Babelfish. John Yunker’s May 17 article, Google, Bing and Babelfish: What’s the best translation engine? is a great summary of the results. One interesting find is that “brand” perceptions of the three machine translation (MT) tools significantly impacted quality ratings. Once those brands were masked, ratings for Bing improved by 21% compared to Google, and Babelfish rose by 136% against Google!

Ethan Shen of Gabble-On Translation Tools and Research has made the survey results of Phase 1 available for free (no registration required) at Public Comparison of Online Machine Translators. Visitors may also download a PDF of the full research survey.

Gabble-On is now conducting the second part of their survey Machine Translation Comparison - Phase 2 and invites you to participate. In Phase 2, engines from Systran, Babylon, and Promt will be added to the comparative survey.


So why work with a translation company when these sources are free?

As technology evolves, language service providers are producing an exponentially increasing amount of information, making it incredibly costly and time-consuming to obtain a quality human translation for each and every document, and so many translation companies offer a variety of services applying machine translation (MT). However, when seeking out an MT solution, one must consider the security issues involved in addition to the purpose of the target translation.

When a translation is created using a free online tool, such as Google, that information is kept in Google’s database indefinitely. If a user is trying to obtain knowledge about sensitive material on a free resource, this could put the company or its clients at risk of breaking confidentiality agreements. Understanding who owns the rights to the translation is imperative!

Translation companies often offer several MT solutions based on the varied purposes of the target translation. Options may include:


  • Raw MT – machine translation that has not been enhanced with terminology glossaries, editing, or review. Though a translation company may use an untrained engine that is only slightly better than the free online tools, you will gain project management expertise and security, for an extremely affordable price.
  • MT via a trained engine – a trained engine consists of machine translation that has been enhanced with technical human translation. There are various ways to achieve a trained machine translation: through applying a client’s preexisting glossaries, terminology, or translation memory, by requesting that the translation provider create terminology lists with the help of qualified linguists, or by the agency using an engine that has been pretrained. Though the overall results will still reflect the lower quality of automated translations, searchability, legibility, and technical accuracy of the documentation will be enhanced significantly.
  • Post-edited machine translation (PEMT) – the best value to be obtained from machine translation is via a post-edit. The post-editing option includes review by a highly qualified linguist with expertise in the document’s subject matter. This process is typically half the cost of a full human translation, and although it won’t be of the same quality, it will be legible and technically accurate.  An additional upside to PEMT is that the level of editing to be done to a document can be decided on once the machine translation has happened and areas of interest have been determined. Please note, PEMT documents cannot be certified, and for any document to be used in court, a human translation is recommended.




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