Translation quality is not easy to define

Perceived Translation Quality Tells Only Little about the Actual Translation Quality

The grammatical correctness of a translation is undoubtedly important per se but its role in the buying, decision making and evaluating process is minor. The customer cares only about the perceived translation quality which is – at least partly – created in the buyer’s mind already before the actual transaction. Any buying process is more complex than we might think, and situations without any prior knowledge or attitudes are rare. Objectivity is not easy to achieve when you have to be an active subject.

Translator’s reputation is one important factor which tunes our opinions from the very beginning. In a buyer’s mind, the translator’s reputation can both build a trustworthy image and act as a guarantee or an insurance against flawed translation. Human mind tends to build causal relationships between different things. We think that a reputable translator is able to produce high-quality translations constantly because otherwise the reputation would be damaged. This kind of circular reasoning tells very little about the actual translation quality but it creates positive energy over the translator.

Professional translators can always build good reputations with their actions, but the situation is different with machine translators; they cannot speak for themselves. I would even argue that although a machine and a human being produce translations which reach the same quality level, we will probably think that the one made my human is better. A professional translator can utilize several kinds of secondary quality indicators which a machine translator cannot have.

The contradiction between the translator’s and client’s points of views leads to an absurd situation. When reading online discussions, it is clear that many translators are extremely concentrated on the grammatical issues. These translators are often very shocked when someone uses machine translation. However, the good enough translation quality combined with quick and easy access can result in perceived quality which is satisfactory enough. People know that machine translation is seldom flawless, but in certain cases it’s the best choice for them.

When machine translation is good enough for you?

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