What to consider when choosing a translation approach

You think you know how translation works: you take the words from one language and find their equivalents in another language, right? Sure, there are a few grammatical hurdles and idioms, but it seems like a fairly simple process.

Until you look into having content translated.

Then, all of a sudden, simple has left the building, and instead you’re faced with a very important decision to make: which translation approach to choose?

Wait, there’s more than one?

In this series on the three types of translation (human translation, machine translation, and post-edited machine translation), it’s our goal to give you all the information you need to make the best decision for your needs.

Human translation considerations

Quality v. cost

Human translation can be pricey, especially if you go to a boutique human-translation agency. You’ll get a completely tailored solution, which has its perks. For smaller projects, a boutique experience might be exactly what you need. But when you want high-quality human translation for a larger project, you’ll have to rein in that budget, which is where a crowd-platform approach may offer more value for the dollar. Crowd translation allows thousands of translators to work simultaneously on digital texts, which allows large projects to be done faster for less money.

Art v. science

Some translation agencies approach translation as an art, which works well for literary texts and poetry, and maybe even for your project. But we think that when it comes to business translations, the work should be carefully managed for speed, adherence to brand and style guides, quality and effectiveness in the marketplace. Both approaches are valid, but you’ll have to choose the one that works best for you.

Mix n’ match

It may be that for your large-scale project, you want a scalable translation solution that balances cost with quality. But, when it comes to the highest-value content, like your website, sales pages or high profile brand messaging, you might want to go to a high-end transcreation agency whose translators will spend time crafting each phrase (at a high cost per word). It’s okay to mix and match.

Machine translation considerations

Quality v. cost

The quality of MT is improving, and professional translation software is far superior to Google Translate. However, it’s still a long way from human-quality translation—but it’s also much less expensive. There are costs involved however. High-end MT providers often charge setup fees, hosting fees and on-site vs. cloud usage fees.

Type of project

Machine translation can be an ideal solution for technical texts, or texts in tightly defined subject areas. Why? Because machines can be programed (or “trained”) to translate by studying existing documents and mimicking the style, which is much easier to do when the vocabulary and usage are limited.


Some language pairs get better results using machine translation than others. For example, similar languages like Latin-based French and Italian are more likely to produce better machine translations than going from English to Mandarin.

Post-edited machine translation limitations

Source material problems

While PEMT might at first appear to be the best of both worlds, it still comes with some drawbacks. First of all, there’s the “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear” issue. If the machine translation is really bad, it will need to be completely rewritten, and post-editors usually aren’t paid enough to take their time doing it.


Once again, the viability of this translation method depends largely on the language pair, because the machine translation part of the process works better with similar languages.

Grammatical errors

Machines make grammar mistakes. Proofreaders can miss grammar mistakes. Together, it’s a recipe for trouble. It’s just easier for a knowledgeable translator to write the text correctly the first time (and easier almost always translates to cheaper).

What works best for your project?

Every translation method comes with a list of pros and cons, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find one that works perfectly to suit your needs. If you have a large-scale project that requires high-quality translation on a limited budget, the HT crowd solution may be the best one. If your project is smaller, or requires special handling, and you have a large budget, a boutique translation agency may be a good fit. And, if you have a technical manual that needs to be translated fast, machine translation might be the best way to go.  

Choosing the right solution and vendor can be complex and stressful. Download our free white paper, Making sense of translation services, to find out what you need to know to confidently reach a decision.

Lauren Van Mullem

The author

Lauren Van Mullem

Lauren assists in content production for Gengo's marketing team. As a former food and travel writer, she has experience communicating with all kinds of people from around the world and believes in celebrating different cultures through understanding them.

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