What Are the Risks of Using MT for English to Chinese Translation Projects?


I’ve always been a fan of emerging technologies and platforms.

However, when it comes to the topics about language solutions, machine translation or (MT) is often publicized as the future of localization and translation.

Can MT replace human translators? While this question can probably be a lengthy debate between professional translators and advocates of emerging technologies, let’s find out what happens if we exclusively use MT in English to Chinese translation projects.

READ MORE >>> 4 Smart Ways to Get it Right on Chinese Translation Projects

As a multilingual writer, I found out that nothing beats the professional touch of a human translator when we work on business writing or web copywriting projects from English to other languages.

But of course, entrepreneurs are also concerned with the cost of translation. Others will prefer to use the Google Translate if they only need to check and translate an email from another language.

Being able to speak and understand both English and Chinese languages, and without fair judgment, I’d like to share the risks of using MT for your business.

English to Chinese translation projects services

1. English and Chinese have different linguistic and grammar rules.

I am a fan of translation apps and web platforms. I use them when checking emails in Chinese or whenever I came across a web page in Chinese and instead read it in English.

The thing is, though there are similarities in some grammar rules, once you use these for complicated or long sentences, they do not make sense when translated into Chinese.

Sentence structure, when translated from English to Chinese can vary, although, by default, a SUBJECT-VERB-OBJECT in a simple, short sentence will cause no harm in the context.

But marketing materials, even emails, and complex projects like website pages require the touch of professional, skilled and niche-focused Chinese translators.

2. Machines and computers miss the localization and context of phrases

Machine translation platforms and apps have stored data and phrases in Chinese.

Google itself has its crowdsourced-based project for its translation tool by inviting everyone to contribute, which is a fascinating way to improve the features and deliverables.

Baidu Translate, based on my experience, is more accurate than Google when translating phrases in Chinese. It’s not surprising because as a Chinese-homegrown company, the system has a massive database of Chinese phrases and sentences and words.

But one thing you can’t find, or MT can’t deliver is the localization part. And machine translators can only provide “information” or words but not the essence of the message that a company wants to communicate.

3. Lost in translation – that could be offensive, funny, or inappropriate

And last but not the least, using MTs can sometimes result in funny or at times, inappropriate texts for the target language.

I could cite many examples as I can, but the famous KFC’s tagline “Finger-Lickin’ Good” requires a touch of a translator and copywriter to make it more culturally relevant to the Chinese audience.

If you translate it to Google, “Shouzitianhao” literally means “Finger lick good”

Another example is this Starbucks phrase which I copied and paste from the current website. It tells you something that neither Google Translate or Baidu or any MT can’t have a touch of a personal or cultural aspect not until a copywriter/translator gives breath to it.

from Baidu Translate

From Google Translate

Now that you have seen the disadvantages of using MTs in Chinese translation projects, I hope that this will help you in your next step if you wish to invest in language solutions.

As mentioned, English and Chinese language have differences and grammar rules when it comes to complicated, long sentences. In the context of business, MTs miss the localization process where we add a cultural touch to the sentences. And in the long run, if we settle using MT tools for big projects, this may result in lost in translation or funny or inappropriate texts which the target market find it offensive or culturally unacceptable.

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