How to market your translation services in the age of Google Translate
March 27, 2019
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Translation agencies often encounter statements like “thanks to Google Translate, there’s no need for human translators anymore.”
It’s true that Google Translate has many advantages. It’s easy to use, available to everyone with an internet connection, and translates more than a hundred languages. Oh, and it’s also free and is able to produce a finished translation within seconds.
But does that mean we don’t need human interpreters, translators, or translation agencies anymore?
Far from it.
Like all applications based on artificial intelligence (AI), Google Translate has some serious limitations.
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Problems with Google Translate
Thanks to its algorithm, Google Translate is able to translate whole sentences when working with several of its most popular languages. While this certainly ensures more accurate results than the usual word-for-word based AI translation method, it still has its limitations.
Human speech is complex and often interwoven with layers of deeper, half-hidden meanings. Context, a common understanding, references to pop culture or historic events, and sarcasm are just a few examples that can easily make their way into any text.
What can Google Translate do but translate “Eh.. What’s up, doc?” or “This is Sparta!” as regular parts of any given text (and most likely creating great confusion for readers). But as we humans all know, there’s nothing regular about these sentences.
However, without a thinking human present, the extra meaning of references like these will be Lost in Translation.
There are many terms that have no direct translation in another language. In this case, Google Translate usually repeats the original word in the translated text. But does that always make sense?
Sometimes words do migrate from one language to the next. This is especially true for technological terms in English. “Computer”, “internet”, and “app” are widely used in other languages as well. But more often than not, they’re spelled slightly different and their meaning may even differ somewhat from the original English term.
While this doesn’t seem to be a particularly big problem (or at least not something a little human proofreading wouldn’t resolve), no self-respecting brand can content itself with issuing faulty, ambiguous communications. Not unless they want to become a meme.
Compared to many others, English is a relatively informal language. German and French, for example, have a formal and an informal version for our “you”.
And while there’s a difference in tone whether we address our bosses or our best friends, it’s nothing compared to the many levels of respect some Asian languages like Korean or Japanese possess. Using the right level of respect makes all the difference in a business relationship.
The best way to an international faux-pas is to send business partners from another country a text translated by Google. (Oh, and here’s how to avoid international faux-pas.)
Last but not least, everybody should be aware that Google Translate doesn’t “know” all those languages. Or rather, it can’t translate directly from any Language A to Language B. More often than not, it needs an intermediary language between the two.
Imagine the amount of lost meaning, untranslatable terms, and wrong tone when a text in Urdu is first translated into English and then into Czech.
Marketing tricks for translators
Despite all that, it’s hard to compete with free, instant, and mostly acceptable quality. Hard, but not impossible.
There are several ways a translation agency can approach the reshaped battlefield of competitors that now includes Google Translate.
You can go on as if nothing has changed. Google Translate’s shortcomings are not exactly secret. It’s quite likely that prospective clients already know how sending out or publishing online material translated by the program can hurt them, which is why they’ll look for a proper translation agency.
If you go this route, you can simply turn to traditional marketing techniques and copy. You regard other agencies as your main competitors, and your marketing copy will reflect that.
The channels of marketing available to translation agencies are unchanged. Ads in business journals, social media campaigns, your website, trade shows in industries you’re targeting, and direct mail are all effective ways to reach out to your target market.
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While many prospective clients may be aware of Google Translate’s problems, the allure of a free and instant translation can sway them in the platform’s direction. After all, what harm can a little machine-translated text do?
A lot. But who else is going to tell them if not translation agencies?
Using marketing materials to explain the shortcomings of Google Translate (and all other AI translation platforms) can help convince prospective clients that it’s worth investing time and money into a professionally translated text.
Again, traditional marketing channels mentioned above provide excellent opportunities for translation agencies to set the record straight.
Make fun of it
Humor is one of the best ways to grab attention. And since Google Translate fails provide an endless pool of merriment, you can use a few funny mistranslations in your campaign to show prospective clients the real cost of free and instant automatic translation.
Being the laughingstock doesn’t come easily to anybody, especially not to business people who want to be taken seriously when communicating with international business partners. Let prospective clients know how you can help them build flourishing global trade relationships.
You don’t have to pick only one marketing approach when competing against Google Translate. In fact, choosing a combination of the three approaches can allow you to target your campaigns to the specific marketing platform you’re using.
For example, you may use humor to grab the attention of trade show attendees, while sending more formal messages to prospective clients via direct mail.
Google Translate is here to stay. But until those algorithms can incorporate and transmit all the subtle layers of human speech, the world will need translation agencies to help us communicate with other cultures and languages.