Best Practices

The Hidden Costs of Free Document Translation Software

A free and straightforward service may seem like a great deal until you realize the quality produced will be inferior. That’s the inherent problem with free document translation software
Gabriel Fairman
2 min
Table of Contents

There’s an old fable about a shipbuilder that’s an excellent analogy for the value of experience.

There was a ship in a village that was broken for years. Everyone in the town tried to fix it, from experts to laymen, but they couldn’t make it float.

Eventually, a legendary shipbuilder showed up and he carried no tools but a single bottle. He smacked the boat with the bottle and suddenly, it floated!

When the townspeople asked how much it would cost, they were shocked to learn it was $10,000; after all, the only “tool” he used was a bottle.

That’s when the shipbuilder told them, “I charged you $1 for the bottle and $9,999 for the experience that taught me where to hit the boat.”The moral of the story is that expertise and quality cost money.

A free and straightforward service may seem like a great deal until you realize the quality produced will be inferior. That’s the inherent problem with free document translation software—the up-front price may be zero, but the cost to correct errors associated with the service will certainly add up.

3 Major Issues With Free Document Translation Software

Nothing is ever truly free—even if it doesn’t cost money. Think of all those free mobile games that you download on your phone; it may have been free to download and play, but you pay through the ads you watch, the data you share, or the paid-for add-ons you decide to purchase. The same can be said for document translation software—it may be monetarily free up-front, but it comes with three distinct costs that could affect your success in the long-run:

#1: Privacy

Popular free document translation software programs provide easy linguistic services…in exchange for your data. These programs can collect the data from your documents and use it in a way you never intended. Once you surrender those details, they’re no longer yours. That may not seem like a big problem when the information isn’t sensitive, but it could be used to make inferences about your company that you won’t like, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

#2: Accuracy

While the accuracy of many machine translation programs is getting better by the hour thanks to wider data access, it will rarely ever provide 100% accuracy. For the most part, machine translation is about 80% accurate. That sounds great at first glance, but that lost 20% could be the difference between messing up a business deal, damaging your brand’s reputation, or creating errors in essential contracts. When machine translation fails, it often fails on a large scale.We saw something like this happen with a Brazilian law firm. One of the partner’s names, loosely translated from Portuguese, meant “bridge.” When a major contract was pushed through machine translation software for a foreign partner, it changed every instance of that attorney’s name into the word “bridge,” creating a nonsensical, unenforceable legal document. In the long run, it was much more expensive to fix the mistake than it would have been to hire a professional legal translator from the beginning.

#3: Liability

A big problem with free document translation services is it places all liability for potential failures on the user. If you have a document where a necessary legal clause is missed that costs your company thousands of dollars, there’s no third party to hold accountable for that error. With a paid service, you can get some level of guarantee that the work will be accurate; with a free service, you are on your own.A lot of people view free document translation software as a “good enough” solution, but it’s not useful if it creates a poor impression of your brand and costs consumers’ trust. That’s not to say that machine translation can’t be a viable solution (provided it is used in the right way).

Using Machine Translation the Right Way

Machine translation is just one layer of a complete process that gets content to a professional-grade level.

A translation firm may use the software that Google or Microsoft offers for translation, but they use a paid-for service that gives them additional benefits. They enjoy access without sacrificing data integrity and can provide privacy for their client. They also can expand on those platforms and make them more targeted for their specific industry.

A firm could create a translation engine specific to the type of content needed. If they wanted to target auto dealerships in Germany, for example, they could build their translation off of that particular topic by using corporate lexicons and proprietary translation memories.

This ensures that the first pass with machine translation is as accurate as possible to that industry and specific brand.After, the translation firm will add in a layer of human oversight where linguists will review the content for flow, accuracy, and context. They can catch additional issues that the machine translation may have missed.

With an advanced localization management platform, those human-made changes are then incorporated into the translation memory for all subsequent work. This process grows more intelligent through use and helps machine translation reach its full potential.Free document translation software could cost you in the long run when you consider accuracy, liability, and privacy concerns.

Work with an experienced localization management company like Bureau Works to ensure you receive a professional-grade translation that is both cost-effective and efficient.

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Gabriel Fairman
Founder and CEO of Bureau Works, Gabriel Fairman is the father of three and a technologist at heart. Raised in a family that spoke three languages and having picked up another three over the course of his life, he has always been fascinated with the role language plays in identity and the creation of meaning. Gabriel loves to cook, play the guitar, tennis, soccer, and ski. As far as work goes, he enjoys being at the forefront of innovation and mobilizing people and teams together toward a mission. In recognition of his outstanding contributions, Gabriel was honored with the 2023 Innovator of the Year Award at LocWorld Silicon Valley.
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