David Lauman

Archive for the ‘Translation technology’ Category

The high price of free translation

In Translation technology on April 3, 2013 at 9:37 PM

By David L. Lauman

20/20 Translations, Inc.

Google Translate and other free online translation tools may seem like a convenient and pocketbook-friendly solution, but actually using them can be detrimental.  Such was the case of an individual from Russia facing assault charges, whose court summons was Google Translate[d] into Russian. The defendant did not appear in court because the translated summons said “‘you have to avoid being in court…’”[author’s emphasis][i]

This is a clear example of why free online translation tools should not be used to translate legal texts, or any other written communications that need to be clearly understood in another language.  Unless you have a high level of reading comprehension in both the language a document was originally written and the language into which it is translated, it is very hard to know whether a program like Babel Fish or Google Translate will get the message across clearly and correctly.

Confidentiality concerns

In my experience translating and interpreting for the legal, financial and medical industries, confidentiality is of utmost importance.  Unfortunately, free tools such as Google Translate can compromise confidential information, as pointed out by Jost Zetzsche, an authority on translation technology, who stated that

…on-line translation systems like Google should be ‘out of the question’ for legal material, especially if there are any confidentiality issues. While it’s true that transmission to and from Google is not secure, the biggest reason for concern is that any text you send to Google becomes Google’s property, whether you use their Translator Toolkit or their Language Tools, because Google is in the business of building databases of text in various languages.[ii] 

Obtaining quality human translation

The American Translators Association (ATA) has published a very brief and highly-informative guide entitled Translation: Getting it Right.   This guide can help you formulate questions for selecting a translation provider.

While I believe that it is important to translators to use advanced technology that help produce consistent, cost-effective translations, it is advisable to have a clear agreement with your provider to ensure confidentiality, should this be a concern.  However, regardless of any technologies used, it is wise to select professionally trained and culturally-savvy human translators who, in addition to being specialists in the field(s) they translate, demonstrate adherence to high ethical and professional standards.

Bio: David L. Lauman holds an M.A. in Translation and Interpretation and is a federal and state court certified interpreter.  He specializes in Spanish translation and interpretation for the legal, financial and medical industries and can be reached at david(at)2020translations.com or 303-667-6082.

©David L. Lauman, 2013


[i] 24 Oranges Blog. “Russian goes free thanks to Google translation error,” Blog entry by Orangemaster,  August 18, 2010.  http://www.24oranges.nl/2010/08/18/russian-goes-free-thanks-to-google-translation-error/

[ii] Alan Brooks, “Confidentiality and Google Translate,” eTera Consulting, accessed December 30, 2012, http://www.eteraconsulting.com/11/07/confidentiality-and-google-translate