The usefulness of machine translation varies depending on the situation when it’s used. In this document, we classify the different situations and discuss how useful machine translation is in each case. In many situations, it’s recommended to use machine translation with an automatic quality check. An automatic quality check estimates the quality by comparing the original text and the translation with each other and with its translation database. The automatic quality check can be the method for detecting most translation errors.

The following table describes how machine translation fits in different situations:

The situation determines if machine translation can and should be used.

Let’s go through these four different situations:

Case B1: Translating complicated text into a foreign language

In cell B1 (top right corner) is our view of how machine translation can be used to translate complicated text into a foreign language. The recommendation is simple: don’t do it. The risk of misunderstandings is too big. Either have a professional translator do the job or simplify the text, if possible. After the text has been simplified the case will essentially be B2.

Case B2: Translating simple text into a foreign language

In this case, machine translation can be used. However, it’s very important that the machine translation contains an automatic quality check. If the quality check indicates low quality, modify the text you want to translate. It’s also possible to translate sentence by sentence. Thus you will see exactly which part of the original text you will need to modify. Follow the guidelines for writing text that machines can translate.

Case A1: Translating difficult text into your own language

When translating to your own language you can most likely spot most translation mistakes. You can do this when you understand what the text means and if there are any inconsistencies in the meaning.

Also in this case it’s useful to use an automatic translation quality check although it’s not mandatory.

Case A2: Translating simple text to your own language

Machines can usually translate simple text surprisingly well. The quality of the automatically translated text is good, especially with mainstream languages, but increasingly with smaller languages (like Finnish and Swedish) too. In these cases, machine translation can give you significant savings in time and money. And when you can spot translation mistakes by understanding the meaning of the text it’s usually safe to use machine translation. Naturally automatic translation quality check will make it even safer.

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