top of page
  • Writer's pictureJack Caine

Machine Translation vs. Human Translation

“Oh, so you’re a translator! But can't you just use the internet or Google translate?"

If you're a fellow linguist and/or translator like me, you will have definitely heard this question at least once in your career, and the answer is no … but also yes. It’s complicated.

Today I want to explain what each type of translation is, the process it involves, and its pros and cons, all in an attempt to answer the following question:

“Should I translate my content using a translation engine (machine) or a human translator?”


The internet is a fantastic source of information, and when it comes to translation, it can be a huge asset. Machine Translation is the act of using artificial intelligence (AI) and computers to translate texts from one language to another. 

Common examples of machine translation software are:

1. Google Translate

2. Amazon Translate

3. DeepL

4. Microsoft Translator

In order to translate a document using the abovementioned machine translators, all you need to do is type out a text or copy and paste a document into the source text field. Next, you select your language combinations i.e. German > English, and then the computer does the rest.



1.    Speedy translations: most of the time, your translated text is returned to you virtually instantaneously.

2.     Cheaper alternative: 90% of the time, online machine translators are free. A human translator can charge anywhere between 0.04 and 0.15p per word when they translate a text. As you can imagine, the larger the document, the higher the price of the translation.

3.    Accessibility: Anyone with a laptop and an internet connection can get access to Google Translate, deepl. Once on the website, they are extremely user-friendly, too.

4.    Linguistic range: Since they are pieces of computer software, online machine translators often have an extremely wide range of language combinations. Most translators typically work into their native languages from two or three foreign languages.


On paper, machine translation sounds great! Getting a computer to do all the heavy lifting for you, ideal right? However, there are a lot of cons when it comes to machine translation.


1.    Cultural and linguistic challenges: Each language has its own grammar rules, vocabulary, and cultural nuances. Machine translation is unable to pick up on these differences and nuances, which often results in a translation that misinterprets the overall meaning of a phrase or, sometimes, the whole text.

2.    Lack of context: A human translator is able to read around the subject of a text, or even contact a client and ask for further information; a machine translator is unable to do this. As a result, certain words, phrases, and concepts may be mistranslated, resulting in an incoherent text.

3.    Text genre & register: Whilst AI and machine translation are improving every day, there are still a lot of issues when it comes to text genres and registers. Whilst the machine can translate the words used in a literary text, the overall genre and register of the text (in this case a novel) may not be the same.




 Human translation involves a trained and professional translator taking your documents and translating them from one language to another. These people usually have a degree in languages and/or their specialist field, and then a master’s degree in translation as well. These translators are not only fluent in a foreign language but also deeply aware of foreign cultures. As a result, they are able to take cultural differences, linguistic challenges & grammatical inequivalence into account when they translate.


Yes, using a human translator to translate your documents will be more expensive, however, they do much more than translate. When allocated a project, a translator researches the field or the particular specialisation, prepares the text for translation, translates the text, proofreads their translation, carries out any editing that may be required, and then returns the final translation to the client within the allocated time frame. Much more than you expected, right?


Apart from ‘just’ translating, human translators can perform additional duties too such as proofreading, transcription, and finally MTPE. MTPE stands for Machine Translation Post Editing, which refers to a human translator going through a text that has been previously put through machine translation software, and correcting any errors, mistakes, and mistranslations that may have occurred during the process.


MTPE is often a cheaper way for clients to get accurate translations as the computer has done the majority of the work, the translator is simply correcting the nuances that the computer was unable to pick up on. Consequently, translators often charge 40-50% less per word than they would charge for a standard translation.


So, what do you think?

Would you risk using a machine to translate your immigration documents or other important work documents?


Is it worth paying for a human translator to carry out the project for you?


Feel free to let me know what you think!


Until next time | hasta la próxima | alla prossima | bis zum nächsten Mal 👋🏻




Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page