“Free translation software provides free translations into German or English based on machine translation methods. A free translation cannot replace a professional translation.

Would you like a quote for professional translation into German or English? Feel free to contact me today.”

Links to Free Translation Services

SDL Free Translation Service Free Translation Service
SDL FreeTranslation.com is a provider of free translation services for text, websites, and documents. German language included.

Cambridge Dictionary
Free online translator enhanced by dictionary definitions, pronunciations, synonyms, examples and supporting the 19 languages most used on the web incl. German.

Google Translate
Google’s free service instantly translates words, phrases, and web pages between English and over 100 other languages incl. German.

Promt Online Translation
Free Translation for Spanish, French, English, German, Portuguese, Russian and Italian languages.

Systran Free Translation Tool
Translate short German texts with up to 3,000 characters with the SYSTRANet on line translator.

Leo Free German – English Dictionary
Highly recommended resource for translations into German and English

What Is Free Translation? When You Should Use It and When You Shouldn’t

We live in a globalised world where businesses operate across national boundaries and deal with customers, partners and suppliers who speak a variety of languages. In this global economy, is free translation the answer for companies who wish to communicate with customers whose first language is not English? A free translation service is generally understood to refer to machine translation. This involves the translation of a body of text from one language to another by means of a computer programme with no direct human input. Great advances have been made in machine translation since the first very basic systems were launched in the 1950s and software exists that can cover all major languages, to translate English to German for instance. But can machine translation ever be a substitute for using a professional translation service?

What is Machine Translation?

Machine translation (MT) uses a computer algorithm to translate text from one language to another by automatically substituting each word in one language with its equivalent in another. MT should not be confused with computer-assisted translation which refers to the software sometimes used by professional translators to speed up the translation process.

However, simply replacing one word for another does not produce a fluent, reliable translation that is easily readable. Recent machine translation systems have been developed to be more linguistically sophisticated and better able to replicate normal communication patterns and idioms. But there is still a clear gap between the quality of work produced by machine translation and that which can be achieved by a human translator.

The human translation process is one of de-coding and re-coding: the translator de-codes a given text in one language and re-codes it into another. This is a complex cognitive process that relies on the translator being able to quickly achieve an understanding of the meaning of the original text, not just the individual words that it contains. The challenge for those developing machine translation systems is to attempt to replicate this human process.

There are Several Basic Categories of Machine Translation Systems:

  • Rule-based MT – which includes transfer-based, dictionary-based and interlingual approaches;
  • Statistical MT – uses statistical data and was the approach Google switched to in 2007;
  • Example-based MT – makes use of examples from existing translations;
  • Hybrid MT – which makes use of both statistical and rule-based approaches; and
  • Neural MT – this relies on deep-learning systems and is the approach that Google has announced it intends to adopt next.

What is the Difference Between a Machine Translation and a Professional Translation?

Machine translation is a low-cost option and has the additional advantages of speed and a breathtakingly extensive vocabulary. The better systems are also constructed to have a sophisticated grasp of grammatical structure. What they lack, however, despite recent technological advances, is a feel for the ideas being expressed in a piece of text and the ability to translate and express them in a way which is both comprehensible and true to the original.

Even with the best machine translations the reader will almost instinctively recognise the lack of any human input into the text and the absence of all the little nuances of language that make it more clearly understood. It is this human element that the professional translator can add.

When Does It Make Sense to Use a Free Translation?

Despite the potential initial cost of investing in machine translation software, it is a substantially cheaper option in the long-term than paying a professional translator a per-page fee for every assignment. Some very basic machine translation systems are even available as a free language translator download. It is possible, for instance, to access free translation online for German and English.

There are a number of organisations offering free translation online. The major player in this field is Google. To use their online translation application one simply inputs one’s chosen text and it provides a literal, word-for-word translation. In this way one can, for example, translate German to English free of charge. The results will be far from fluent, but will still enable one to get a basic understanding of the translated piece.

Certain translation agencies will also offer a free machine translation option as a means to obtain leads of potential customers for their wider range of services. This is one way to obtain free German translation, but again the results will be very limited when compared with a full professional translation.

Machine translation may also be appropriate in some security or commercially sensitive situations where confidentiality is an absolute and they wish to avoid involving third-parties. Any decent professional translator will counter, of course, that strict confidentiality is part and parcel of their role.

Machine translation software has been developed for applications where certain key phrases are used regularly and repeatedly. Weather forecasting falls into this category and machine translation has a role to play in such fields.

Where machine translation really does come into its own though is in those circumstances where a quick, rough translation is required. This may be when one, for instance, wishes to understand the gist of a document in another language or perhaps when browsing through foreign-language websites.

When Should You Not Turn to Free Translation?

In circumstances where you or your business will be judged by the quality of your written communication in another language a quick machine translation will fall a long way short of the mark when it comes to making the right impression. In other words, for business letters, reports, manuals and web pages aimed at customers or partners whose first language is not your own the services offered by a professional translation agency are essential if your company is to be taken seriously.

There are several industries which use their own specialist vocabulary and where that language is used in a particular way and has an exact meaning for those engaged in those fields. These include accountancy, law, engineering, medicine and telecommunications. Clear, unambiguous communication is vital in these fields and machine translation simply cannot provide that kind of clarity. Some professional translation agencies will often specialise in working with people in certain technical fields.

Looking at this another way, most businesses will take the time and effort needed to carefully craft their website or hard-copy content to achieve the best possible impact. Alternatively, they may choose to outsource this task to a professional copywriter. Either way, why would they then undermine all this effort and lose credibility in foreign markets by skimping on their translation costs and using machine translation rather than a professional?

One could, for example, take an evocative English phrase like: ‘the rain was coming down in stair-rods’. As English speakers, we all know that the phrase means heavy rain: it conjures up in our minds a powerful visual image of elongated droplets of rain hammering down from the sky. But if you were to use a free online translator for German to translate this phrase the resulting literal translation would be baffling, if not comic, for German readers. Were you to put this kind of free translation on one of your company’s documents or web pages it would undermine the credibility of your business in the eyes of potential German customers.

This works both ways. In other words, when your customer or partner organisation communicates with you in their own language, the kind of rough approximation of the meaning of that communication which is provided by machine translation will rarely be sufficient. Whatever one’s line of business, accuracy is extremely important. This is particularly relevant when it comes to orders, instructions, contracts and other critical documents.

Amusing Examples of Poor Machine Translation.

The following are taken from the Lingualinx blog :

  • Cocktail lounge, Norway: “Ladies are Requested Not to have Children in the Bar”
  • At a Budapest zoo: “PLEASE DO NOT FEED THE ANIMALS. If you have any suitable food, give it to the guard on duty”
  • Hotel in Acapulco: “The Manager has Personally Passed All the Water Served Here”
  • Car rental brochure, Tokyo: “When passenger of foot heave in sight, tootle the horn. Trumpet him melodiously at first, but if he still obstacles your passage then tootle him with vigour.”
  • On an Athi River highway, Kenya: “TAKE NOTICE: When this sign is under water, this road is impassable.”
  • Tokyo hotel’s rules and regulations: “Guests are requested NOT to smoke or do other disgusting behaviours in bed.”
  • In an East African newspaper: “A new swimming pool is rapidly taking shape since the contractors have thrown in the bulk of their workers.”
  • Hotel lobby, Bucharest: “The lift is being fixed for the next day. During that time we regret that you will be unbearable.”
  • In a Nairobi restaurant: “Customers who find our waitresses rude ought to see the manager.”

Naturally, we all find examples like these very entertaining, but is this really how you want customers to view your business? For your company to be taken seriously it is important to realise that, while there is a place for machine translation, most business communication needs the accuracy of meaning that comes from employing a professional German translation service.