Machine translation vs human translation

Machine translation vs human translation

As the realms of artificial intelligence continue to evolve, machine translation has made significant strides, promising speed and cost-effectiveness. However, human translation, with its depth of understanding, cultural sensitivity, and linguistic expertise, remains irreplaceable in certain contexts.

This article delves into the critical comparison of these two approaches, shedding light on their respective strengths and limitations.

About machine translation

Machine translation (MT) is a subfield of artificial intelligence (AI) and computational linguistics that focuses on using computer algorithms to automatically translate text or speech from one language to another. Instead of relying on human translators, machine translation systems aim to perform the translation task quickly and efficiently.

We can distinguish three types of machine translation:

  • Rule-Based Machine Translation (RBMT), that rely on predefined linguistic rules and dictionaries to translate text. They often require significant manual input and are less flexible.
  • Statistical Machine Translation (SMT), that learn from large parallel corpora of text in multiple languages. They use statistical models to identify patterns and make translations. This approach was dominant in the early 2000s.
  • Neural Machine Translation (NMT), the most recent advancement in machine translation and the norm today. It uses deep learning techniques, particularly neural networks, to provide more context-aware and fluent translations.

Benefits of machine translation

Machine translation systems can translate large volumes of text quickly and efficiently, saving time and resources compared to manual translation. They can also be easily scaled to handle high volumes of content, making it suitable for businesses with growing translation needs.

Businesses can integrate machine translation into automated workflows, such as chatbots and customer support, enhancing user experiences. They can be used for real-time translation in various applications, such as instant messaging, video conferencing, and travel assistance. It is often more cost-effective than hiring professional human translators, especially for simple or repetitive translation tasks.

Given that machine translation systems handle a wide range of languages, they allow organizations to communicate with a global audience without the need for language expertise. At the same time, they can be used to support human translators by automating repetitive or labor-intensive tasks, allowing human translators to focus on higher-value activities.

About human translation

Human translation, also known as professional or manual translation, is the process of translating text or speech from one language to another by a skilled and experienced human translator. This approach involves linguistic experts who understand the nuances, cultural context, and idiomatic expressions of both the source and target languages.

We can distinguish several types of human translation, among which:

  • general translation, that involves the translation of everyday, non-specialized content, such as personal correspondence, general literature, casual conversations, or common website content. It requires linguistic proficiency but may not demand specialized subject matter expertise.
  • specialized or technical translation, that requires deep knowledge in a specific field or industry, such as legal, medical, technical, or scientific translation. Translators in this category have expertise in both the subject matter and language.
  • legal translation, that deals with legal documents, contracts, court transcripts, and other legal materials. It requires translators who are well-versed in the legal systems of both the source and target languages to maintain the accuracy and legality of the content.
  • literary translation, which is the translation of literary works, including novels, poems, plays, and other creative writing. Translators in this category need to be not only proficient in both languages but also skilled in preserving the literary style, tone, and artistic nuances of the original text.
  • localization, which involves adapting content, such as websites, software, and applications, to a specific target market, including language, cultural, and regional adjustments. It goes beyond mere translation and encompasses user interface design, date and currency formats, and more.

Benefits of human translation

Human translators are highly trained language experts who have a deep understanding of grammar, syntax, vocabulary, idiomatic expressions, and cultural nuances in both the source and target languages. They can can grasp the broader context of a text, taking into account the subject matter, tone, style, and intended audience.

Professional human translators often specialize in particular fields or industries, such as legal, medical, technical, or literary translation. This expertise ensures accurate and domain-specific translations. The translation then goes through a rigorous quality assurance process, including proofreading and editing, to ensure accuracy and coherence in the final translation.

Human translators can adapt to the specific needs of a project, whether it’s a legal document, a marketing campaign, a technical manual, or creative writing. This also means adhering to strict ethical and confidentiality standards, making them a preferred choice for sensitive or confidential content.

Machine translation vs human translation

Machine translation is rapid and can process large volumes of content quickly, making it ideal for time-sensitive projects. Human translation is more time-consuming, as it relies on human translators, but it does offer high accuracy and contextual understanding.

While it’s true that machine translation can be cost-effective, particularly for high-volume content, and human translation can be more expensive, the latter delivers higher quality, especially for specialized or nuanced content.

Machine translation provides acceptable translations for common, straightforward content but may falter with specialized or nuanced material. Human translation guarantees high accuracy, linguistic appropriateness, and cultural sensitivity, especially for complex or industry-specific content.

As mentioned before, machine translation can be employed for real-time translation in applications like instant messaging, although it may not capture context and nuance as effectively as human interpreters. For real-time interactions, such as business negotiations, human interpreters excel in capturing context and cultural nuances.

Try both with POEditor

POEditor, the popular online translation management platform that allows businesses to manage their translation projects efficiently, offers a versatile environment for experimenting with both machine and human translation methods.

After creating a project in POEditor and uploading the content that needs to be translated, users can choose to:

POEditor offers collaboration features such as comments, History module, Translation Memory, and QA Checks, allowing businesses to communicate with translators, provide context, and track changes. Businesses can monitor the progress of their translation projects through the dashboard and access statistics to understand translator performance.

By using POEditor, businesses have the flexibility to experiment with both machine and human translation methods, allowing them to make informed decisions about the most suitable approach for their specific content and requirements. This flexibility helps businesses efficiently manage their translation projects while ensuring high-quality, contextually accurate translations.


The decision between using machine translation vs human translation can significantly impact the quality and accuracy of multilingual content. However, the choice between machine translation and human translation depends on the specific project, its requirements, and the desired level of quality.

Machine translation is suitable for quick and cost-effective translation of standard content, while human translation excels in delivering accuracy, contextual understanding, and cultural sensitivity, particularly for specialized, nuanced, or critical content. In some cases, a combination of both approaches, with human post-editing of machine-generated translations, can offer a practical solution.

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