Machine translation services and software can be immensely useful for everyday tasks – whether you’re shopping online on foreign-languages websites, exchanging messages with an international circle of friends, or translating website content for research purposes.
Machine translation services enable us to use foreign languages with confidence and to communicate across borders. Translating texts online has become increasingly popular in recent years, and there is an extensive range of machine translation software and special tools available. Algorithms and artificial intelligence facilitate continuous improvement in machine translation and enable fast processing of large volumes of text. In some instances machine translation services can replace human translators and dictionaries, and provide translations immediately. However, for professional translations, complex texts, business communication or the translation of sensitive data, machine translation programs do not constitute a genuine or satisfactory alternative to qualified specialist translators.
Those who rely on machine translation despite the caveat are spoiled for choice. How do you choose the machine translation software that best meets your needs? What are the advantages and disadvantages of the various products? And what are the limitations of the machine translation services on the Internet? In other words, when should you consider a professional translation by a specialized service provider? There are numerous options and the choice is not an easy one.
Free machine translation services
So you want to use a machine translation service, but don’t want to spend a lot of money on it? No problem! Most online machine translation services are free of charge and can handle small translations for everyday use. However, you should always be aware that you are disclosing your information when you use these tools. Business or confidential information should never be translated with free machine translation services.
DeepL Translator is now a very popular machine translation service developed by a German start-up.
The DeepL user interface is easy to navigate, with a simple, attractive design. You can translate both directly entered texts as well as uploaded documents. The automatic language detection feature has problems from time to time, but the translations read well.
The developers of the online machine translation service note that it is backed by artificial intelligence and the neural networks, which are responsible for its accuracy. However, so far it cannot compare with the skills of professional translators, particularly when it comes to specialized, creative or complex texts, subtle nuances, or rare language combinations.
Cost: The basic browser version is free of charge. The Pro version is available as a subscription service starting at € 5.99 per month – an option of interest primarily to professionals, companies and developers.
The machine translation service offers the following languages:
DeepL offers 72 possible combinations in total.
Google Translate is the venerable giant among machine translation tools and still dominates the market. What it has to offer is practically unbeatable: the tool can be used for more than 100 different languages and is ubiquitous on the Internet.
However, the quality of Google Translate’s online results varies considerably. If the program does not recognize one of the terms entered, errors that distort the meaning can occur. Still, Google Translate has other useful features: in addition to direct text entry, it offers the option to upload documents in a wide range of formats and have them translated.
With the speech output feature, you can also listen to the translation.
You can translate up to 5,000 characters quickly and free of charge with Google Translate.
Cost: Google Translate is free.
PONS Online Translator
PONS is known for its popular dictionaries, and now offers an online machine translation tool as well; it uses the content of three well-known machine translation tools –DeepL, Promt and Lingenio – and provides acceptable quality. The application and design are attractive and user-friendly.
However, the PONS functionality is somewhat limited: only text entered in the text editor is translated. There is no speech output feature.
The tool can be used for the following languages:
Cost: The PONS Online Translator is free.
The automated translation software of the well-known machine translation company PROMT can be used both online and offline, and translates up to 3,000 characters free of charge. The tool features a virtual keyboard and an optional spell-checker. It also has its own dictionary, sample sentences and word forms (declension, conjugation, comparative forms, gendered forms, etc.).
The tool can be used for the following languages:
Cost: The PROMT Translator is free.
Translation tools for specific languages
There is a large range of possible language combinations, and the translation tools offer comprehensive functionality. However, the software has its limitations, particularly for unusual language combinations; in such cases, we recommend using a professional translation service instead.
There is a good selection of common language combinations:
German-English is still the most popular language pair when it comes to online and offline machine translations. All of the machine translation tools and software we tested offer translations from German to English and vice versa.
All of the machine translation tools listed here, including DeepL, Google Translate, PROMT and PONS, offer the common language pairs German-French, German-Italian and German-Spanish.
Other popular languages for translation: Polish, Czech and Turkish
In the meantime, Polish, Czech and Turkish are available in many machine translation tools. DeepL currently offers Polish, but Czech and Turkish are not yet available. In contrast, its competitor Google Translate offers a total of 103 languages, including Czech and Turkish. With PONS you can translate Polish, while PROMT offers Turkish.
Downloadable machine translation software
Internet access is not always available, and various offline programs are available for those who want to use their machine translation software while traveling or in remote areas. These work even without the Internet and can thus be used any time, anywhere:
The Free Language Translator works offline and offers fast assistance for smaller translations. The program offers up to 80 different languages as well as an integrated dictionary, and is easy to use. However, its quality could be improved upon. The tool uses content from Google Translate and can translate texts and documents of any length. The Free Language Translator is available for Windows.
With the Microsoft Translator app for Windows 10, you can translate texts in up to 60 languages both online and offline. The machine translation tool translates texts, conversations and even texts from photos and screenshots. In addition to written translation, an acoustic version of the tool is also available for several languages. Its users are very satisfied with Microsoft Translator and emphasize the high accuracy of the app. Microsoft Translator is available for Windows and Apple products.
Babylon NG is a free offline machine translation tool that has long been popular with users. The tool is very simply structured, extremely easy to use and has an extensive range of 76 languages. In addition to the actual translation, definitions of terms are also displayed. The new version of the tool now translates texts from images and PDF files as well. The software is available for Windows.
Fee-based downloadable machine translation tools
There is a wide range of fee-based machine translation tools available. Professional-quality machine translation software can cost several hundred euros. Fee-based machine translation tools usually offer significantly more comprehensive functionality, have larger terminologies and are more accurate, thanks to specific algorithms. There are also very good and professional-quality machine translation tools for users with smaller budgets.
PROMT Master 18 Jourist Verlag (from $199)
are popular, professional-quality programs that generally deliver better translations than most of the free alternatives. However, even a fee-based tool is no substitute for a qualified human translator. For professional/specialist translations, complex texts, business communication or the translation of sensitive data, finding a qualified human translator is crucial to achieving an optimal result.
Advantages and disadvantages of machine translation tools
Machine translation tools can be very useful for certain applications, but are not suitable for others.
Speed is the primary advantage: machine translation tools deliver results in a matter of seconds, and these can be easily copied or shared online. Commissioning a professional translator and manual translation can take considerably longer, depending on the length of the text.
Machine translation tools are available around the clock and can be used as often as required.
The quality of machine translations may be sufficient for certain uses, e.g. for private research or for communication with friends and acquaintances whose native languages are different from yours.
Machine translation tools are cheaper than engaging a professional translator. Most machine translation tools are available in a free online version.
Such tools can be quite practical for private use.
No machine translation tool is infallible, nor do any of them match the quality and reliability of a professional translator. Such programs cannot replace humans.
With regard to data security, online machine translation tools give cause for concern: essentially, when texts are entered in the browser, they are published. In particular, they should not be used for business documents or sensitive data.
Minor errors and incorrect orthography can have far-reaching consequences. Thus, machine translation tools are more suitable for private use, e.g. to facilitate understanding, than for professional communication.
Machine translation tools are frequently unfamiliar with regional or local idioms and cannot understand them or use them appropriately. Particularly in widely spoken languages such as English or Spanish, various terms are used to designate the same object, or different spellings are used depending on the region where the language is used
Machine translation tools generally cannot handle ambiguity, humor, irony, subtle nuances, idioms or figures of speech; translation of these is often literal, even though state-of-the-art machine translation tools are continuously improving thanks to artificial intelligence, so that appropriate translations are occasionally provided in such cases.
Moreover, cultural concepts, style or complex linguistic structures are often not recognized by machine translation tools.
Online tools do not recognize contextual logic and cannot replace professional translation by qualified human translators. Such tools are not suitable for use in translating texts that are not written by native speakers and thus may contain errors. Machine translation tools still have difficulties with specialized texts and corresponding terminology as well.
Most machine translation tools have a character limit, so their use for longer texts is not practical.
These tools are not suitable for the translation of sophisticated texts intended for publication.
Tips for using machine translation tools
Machine translation tools are very useful for everyday purposes and do their work fast, usually at an affordable price. There are several factors involved in ensuring that the translation is as accurate as possible.
Machine translation tools should be used only if the translation does not have to meet the criteria of a critical review, and if data security is not an issue (e.g. for private translations or translations of content researched online).
The grammar and punctuation of the source text should be impeccable.
Avoid long, complicated sentences with multiple subordinate clauses; use short sentences instead, as machine translation tools perform better under these conditions.
Do not use colloquialisms, dialect, or any kind of slang.
Avoid the use of abbreviations and acronyms.
If your language skills permit, check the translated text against the original and make sure that the translation makes sense.
Machine translation tools: choosing the right provider
It’s not possible to give a blanket recommendation for a particular machine translation tool, as its use depends primarily on the requirements and expectations of the user.
Among the online machine translation tools, DeepL performs particularly well with its fluid style and ease of use. However, it offers significantly fewer language options than its major competitor Google Translate.
There are also several offline machine translation tools that can be warmly recommended. Microsoft Translator users generally give this tool very good reviews, and it offers interesting features such as the translation of images or handwritten texts. Babylon NG has been a popular alternative for many years, and an improved version with new features was recently launched.
The bottom line: Are machine translation tools always the right choice?
The use of machine translation tools is not always a good idea. Users who value high quality or require professional translations should have their translations done in the classic manner by a professional translation services provider such as EHLION. Machine translation tools can be useful primarily in a private context, but their use in a business environment cannot be recommended.
In particular, translations for the B2B and B2C segment should be done by professional language services providers. Texts for which legal certainty is required, or which are complex or demanding for other reasons, should be placed in the competent hands of a language services provider. A professional service provider is the only option for certified translations.
A translation service provider is also the best choice for texts that are to be published, or for official documents. A professional translator is a necessity for texts in areas such as law, financial services or the various sciences.
A qualified translator provides not only error-free but stylistically appropriate translations. Certified translation services providers like EHLION offer professional translations of the highest quality in all fields.
An experienced service provider such as EHLION will give you optimal service and support as well as a flawless professional translation. As a language services provider certified in accordance with ISO 17100, EHLION uses the dual-control system to ensure the quality of its translations - i.e., the translations are reviewed by a second translator who is also a native speaker of the target language.
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