YOU’RE GENIUS, WHAT ARE YOU DOING Are you sure machine translation is what you need?

  • Greater than 3 minutes, my friend!

    That’s a strange title for a post, don’t you think? This is the back translation of a phrase I got after translating my site with the help of this service that uses machine translation. This is what Russian-speaking visitors of my website would see on the main page instead of ‘You are brilliant at what you do’.

    I consider myself to be someone who appreciates innovation. I’m not exactly geeky, but I do enjoy many things our highly technological world has to offer. I believe that we’re living at an exciting time.

    Remember the moment in Interstellar when Donald says to Cooper: “When I was a kid, it felt like they made something new everyday. Some gadget or idea. Like every day was Christmas”? Well, that’s how I feel and I think it’s amazing.

    However, there are some things that are still done the old school way. There are professions like lawyers, doctors, teachers and writers where humans still play the main part. And I strongly belive that translators also belong to this group.

    I have mixed feelings about all kinds of new translaiton services that appear today, like MT or people-powerd translation platforms. On the one hand, people standing behind such start-ups seem to have a good cause: they want to bring people closer and erase the barriers. This is surely something that our world needs.

    On the other hand there’s a question of quality. Even if we imagine that machine translation can deliver the meaning of the text (which unfortunately is rarely the case at least for the Russian language), is this enough? Is it the only component of communication that matters? I wouldn’t say so.

    People are emotional beings. This is why the emoji language is gaining so much popularity. We pay attention not only to what is being said, but also to how it’s being said. We pick up the tone, the mimic, the look, even the posture of the person we’re talking to.

    Internet strips our communication of all of this. Yes, we can interact with someone being thousands of kilometers away from us, but in a way it’s a crippled version of connection.

    A good writer can express his or her feelings with words. They have the skills that allow them to show, not tell. And a good translator can transfer the style and feel of the text into another language. But the only way to do it, is to feel these feelings first.

    When I’m translating a copy for a hotel website or a blog post about places of interest in some distant country, I know I’m doing a good job, if I get the feeling of wanderlust. I know, that if I feel it while typing away on my keyboard, the readers of this text will most probably feel it too.

    Do you know what I like most about companies like Buffer? It’s the way they communicate with their clients. I love getting emails from them, because of the warm feeling with which they have been written. I see lots of developers on Google Play trying to reply to users in the same friendly manner, but it’s completely lost because of the way Google Translate works.

    At the moment the common marketing trend is to be sincere and authentic. Tell your story, be youself, connect with users, build meaningful relationships — that’s what I read everywhere. I don’t see how using Google Translate or even human-powerd translation platforms to communicate with your audience fits into this concept of authenticity. I’m absolutely sure that a machine can not render the feelings that you put into your text and I doublt that a no-name person working for around $10 an hour will have the desire or the skills to do this.

    I might be a bit naive, but I do belive that you can either care about your users and strive to provide the best experience for them, or try to cut down on costs and use free/cheap translation services. At the moment it’s that simple. And since there seems to be a lot of companies, who think different, hiring a professional translator will give you a huge competitive advantage on the new market.


    Photo by Viktor Hanacek

    This post was originally published on my blog at


    Elena Tereshchenkova

    About Elena Tereshchenkova

    EN-RU translator. Make the world better one translation at a time & help companies connect with Russian speakers all around the world. Creator of I Love Mondays. Co-host of Blabbing Translators.

    4 thoughts on “YOU’RE GENIUS, WHAT ARE YOU DOING

      1. Thank you, Enrico!

        Well, the emotional aspect is important in marketing translations. After all, the decision to make a purchase is made in the limbic system of the brain that ‘speaks’ the language of emotions. This is why it’s important the the marketing texts and their translations speak directly to that system.

    1. Oh everything you wrote is so damn true! I regularly translate newsletters and marketing material and what I try to do is right what you described: all I want is the text to sound natural and sympathetic, but often at the expense of lenght! Any suggestions ?

      1. Hi Francesca, thank you for the comment!

        If I got you correctly, you worry that the length of the source text differs from the length of the translation. This is often the case with the translations from English into Russian. The Russian text is usually longer. I don’t think it’s a problem, because different languages have different structures. It can become a problem when there are some character limitations in place. In that case the only solution is often to cut out some parts of the text. Hope this helps. 🙂

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