Until recently in human history, human translation has been known as “translation.” The emergence of automated machine translation made it necessary to coin a phrase differentiating the two. Which is good, because it makes a huge difference when a person is translating vs. when a sequence of code is trying to do the same.
Human translation is the act of a bilingual person taking text in one language and then converting it to a different language as accurately as possible.
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Human Translation: The Best Practice for a Complex Job
Let’s say an author is attempting to convey that a character is sad. But why are they sad? A human translator can take narrative and context into consideration when making their decisions. Is the character despairing, heartbroken, mournful, melancholy, sorrowful, or wistful? Or are they just sad?
A machine, at best, might be able to discern the emotional difference between “sad” and “very sad.” You wouldn’t trust your translation to a 14-year-old first-year American Freshman studying Spanish for the first time. Yet that is the level of basic, barely functional comprehension machine translation currently offers.
Deeper Into the Woods: Where There Are No Words for Words
There are so many words in so many different languages that can’t be directly translated into English that this phenomenon has its own subreddit. It can take paragraphs to fully explore the nuances of an expression like the Russian ‘тоска’ (pronounced ‘toska’).
Famed ‘Lolita’ author Vladimir Nabakov is credited with the most thorough attempt:
“No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody or something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom.”
This is the level of analysis and perception you can expect from an experienced human translator fluent in two different languages.
Google Translate’s complete translation of ‘тоска’? One word. “Yearning.” Poor, reductionist translation can reduce a symphonic masterpiece like ‘War and Peace’ to one-note pulp fiction.
The More Complex Your Prose, the More You Need Human Translation
For translating anything beyond the most basic questions and commands, the detail and nuance of language become compromised by degrees. A high-level human translator is like a fine sculptor, able to round off rough edges and crude lines with a minimum of damage to the author/artist’s original intent.
Machine translation is nothing more than two side-by-side digital dictionaries matching up words. As a result, they are unable to adjust for context, idiom, or colloquialism.
Try asking a machine to translate American English idioms “Speak of the devil! I guess the cat’s out of the bag.” Without the benefit of a savvy human translator? Then the machine-translated result might resemble “Talk regarding the topic of satan! I suppose the feline has escaped the luggage.” What makes language personal, the most telling details that invisibly, effortlessly weave their way through native-language conversations, can be lost without human translation.
The More Important, the More Delicate, the More Personal
This essential problem becomes most obvious when writing deals with the most important text of all. The topics touching on sensitive subject matter — love, sex, death, criminal activity — tends to be the most complex and likely to be rife with euphemisms that computer translation will (at best) translate awkwardly.
A human being who has experienced comparable life situations can draw on their own reserve of life experiences to help you best express the finer points that will differentiate your writing from the rest. And remember: The people you are trying to reach are searching for things in their own day-to-day language. They are searching for this very shared knowledge you are trying to reach them with. A human translator is the bridge, the circuit connector, between you and your desired audience.
Beyond that initial connection, you will have established something more important. The sense, from your reader, that they have found a source of information that speaks their language. We spend so much of our time searching for the ineffable “connection” with other people that makes us feel less alone, more alive. When we stumble across it, especially unexpectedly, a switch flips in the back of our minds that lights us up in a way nothing else can.
In like fashion, nothing switches that light off faster than when we know something is off, just not quite right. Machine translation hits those false notes, triggering instinctual distrust of not only of the content we are reading, but the author who wrote it. One piece of poorly translated work can mean the difference between earning a customer for life versus a 10-second pageview and a closed browser tab.
When You’re Searching for That Last Word, or Staring at That Blinking Cursor
A human translator isn’t just your conduit to a second-language market, they are also your local guide, your learned hand guiding you to readers you never could have found on your own. When Anthony Bourdain would set up itineraries for Parts Unknown on CNN, one of his first steps would be to hire a “fixer”, or someone with especially longstanding and trusted ties to the local community, who had access to and knowledge of the most authentic elements of a given destination’s food, destinations, and relationships.
Bourdain knew that no matter how charming he was, no matter how charismatic, he would only be able to scratch the surface of a locale’s culture without the irreplaceable guidance and bone-deep understanding of someone truly fluent in its particular customs, priorities, and expected parameters for civil behavior.
Your Bunny Studio human translator is your linguistic fixer, your priceless partner in creating content that, above all, gets it right. They can tell you that a particular turn of phrase would never be used in a certain language, and suggest idioms and phrasing that will allow your writing to appeal to the broadest audience possible. They can even suggest additional subheadings and avenues of inquiry specifically suited to readers from different geographies.
Ready to hire the best in the translation business? Submit a project at Bunny Studio right now and hire a translator in minutes!
By using human translation, you tap into someone else’s expertise, creativity, and capacity for critical thinking. No machine translation can offer these valuable, ineffable traits that comprise so much of our shared experience in the world. Let a human translator help you build a strong, cohesive, eloquent bridge to an entirely new population of potential clients. Because the alternative is worse than never translating your content at all.
No-Assed Is Better Than Half-Assed
You have decided that your content is deserving a wider audience and that translating it into another language is how you are going to get it. Up to this point, potential clients who do not speak your primary language have no opinion of your content. They haven’t read it. Accordingly, they have no fundamental trust of distrust of the message you have attempted to convey.
But as soon as you translate what you have written into another language, you are making a more assertive statement than you may realize. By offering a translation, you are declaring “I have something to offer you, something of value, something unique enough that you cannot find it in your current native-language options. I understand your dilemma, and I’m here to help. Let me convince you this is true.”
Then you publish an awkward, stilted, machine translation. And just like that, you have alienated a large segment of your potential customer base.
It is the same mistake made by companies who fail to use copyeditors and proofreaders to review their final marketing content. The result, in the reader’s mind, is the same:
If this firm does such a mediocre and unimpressive job when they are actively trying to sell me on using them, why should I think they will do a better job for me as a client? Anyone, trying to forge any relationship, is going to present their absolute best selves at first. And this is the best they can do? No way. Hard pass.
Simply put, there is a significant likelihood you will do serious damage to your reputation by using machine translation. You have one chance to make a first impression as a trustworthy, savvy, and valuable resource. A machine translator neither understands this nor cares about the fallout you will be forced to navigate due its own hamfisted, uncomprehended mistakes.
There’s a Reason You Know the Phrase “Lost in Translation”
None of this is news to you, really. You already know that using machine translation is a nonstarter for anyone who takes their business’s reputation and brand seriously. Think about what is truly lost in machine translation: trust, connection, relationships…the very things you are attempting to create.
Fortunately, avoiding this entire nightmare scenario is simple, affordable, and readily available. A human translator will help you find the very things a machine translator will lose.
Let Bunny Studio be your guide to the magic of what can be found in translation.