So you read something about machine translation—right here on the Sajan blog, of course—and how it can save companies time and money on language translation. Naturally, you’re intrigued. Yet, while the ability to get more marketing content to your customers faster is a huge draw, you may be a little skeptical about the quality it can produce with your creative content.
Now, machine translation is no Picasso. It can’t whip out something totally new and inspired. Nor can it adapt that creative masterpiece for local cultures—we leave that up to the true artists, the professional linguists. That being said, you shouldn’t expect something robotic and free of personality from machine translation either.
There is definitely a place for this innovative technology in the global marketing space, but there is much to consider.
Why highly creative content is challenging—for translation in general
Think about the phrase “don’t sweat it.” For a fitness company touting a casual vibe in advertisements, this brilliant line acts as a pun. The idiom’s meaning, “don’t worry about it,” plays on the word “sweat.”
Translating phrases like this poses some difficulty. You see, it can be difficult to find that one perfect phrase in another language to encapsulate these exact intentions, because “don’t sweat it” will likely make zero sense in other cultures. Machine translation doesn’t have the creative smarts to pull off this type of work, but that doesn’t mean that it’s utterly useless for all marketing translation needs.
When machine translation and marketing content work well . . .
Marketing content ranges in creative complexity and purposes. Machine translation may be the perfect fit for one company’s copy, but it may be something to steer away from for another. It really depends on the way you author content and its intended use.
For the most part, copy that’s written very clearly and in a straightforward way is highly compatible with machine translation.
For example, it works well with product descriptions on e-commerce sites, some Web copy, sales documents, etc. Social media is a space that’s seeing more and more machine translation use—in fact, Sajan even has a foundation engine available for our clients that is designed specifically for translating social media content.
But that’s not to say that your brand voice and personality can’t shine through if you use this technology for creative copy. It’s all in the training process.
How engines capture your distinct style
Training machine translation engines for more creative content isn’t that much different than traditional engine training. However, it is even more crucial that you have the proper materials available to do the actual training if you want the machines to capture your content style right from the start.
That means that the more high-quality, previously translated content you have, the faster engines can be trained. Style guides and glossaries also play a big role in building in the tone and style you desire. These tools can help engines correctly process how your content should be translated.
We can also take additional steps, where human linguists take difficult slogans and any key phrases that machines don’t understand and translate them. Then we can use these translations to train the engines. Thanks to training of this kind, a phrase like “don’t sweat it” may not be an issue.
Tips to make it work for you
There are ways to help machine translation align better with your creative content:
Write with translation in mind
Avoid unnecessary slang, abbreviations and idioms in your copy. Keep your writing clear and concise, free of ambiguity. It’s always a good idea to think universally about how certain phrases might translate for those in other cultures.
Update style guides and glossaries
These tools should contain all your up-to-date brand terms—which are appropriate and standardized across your organization. Style guides should also be thorough and specific so you can get the translation quality levels you desire.
Always opt for a post-edit step
A solid post-editing step performed by native-speaking, in-country linguists with marketing and subject matter expertise can put the final polish on machine translation output to ensure your copy showcases your organization’s unique style and tone in other languages.
Machine translation may not be able to translate highly creative content without post-edit support, but it’s still something to consider when looking for localization solutions for marketing copy.
Want to learn how to ensure your brand style and message don’t get lost in another language? Check out our best practice brief Global marketing translations: 6 best practices for preserving your brand’s identity.
Now it’s your turn. What types of marketing content would you consider using machine translation for?