AI’s growing role in translation: how it will—and won’t—change the industry

As concerns mount over inflation and enthusiasm grows around artificial intelligence, it’s only natural for global brands to wonder whether AI has a role in translation.

Language service providers generally use two writers for translation: one translator paired with one editor, or one transcreator paired with one copyeditor for above-the-line copy. At the same time, we’re seeing a small but growing demand from clients for “good enough” translations, whether because of time pressure, financial considerations, or because the translation is for informational purposes only.

Brands can address these constraints while being judicious about knowing when to apply machine translation so that they can achieve efficiency as well as quality.

What exactly is machine translation, and is it the same as typing a phrase into a free online translator?

Current machine translation (MT) engines use deep learning methods to generate a translation, based on the likelihood of a sequence of words. Then, agencies typically assign a human editor to review and edit the machine-translated results.

MT performs best when it can draw from a large database of existing translations, which makes it well-suited for the legal, medical, and technical fields. As materials in the public domain become more and more copious, the larger the body of work that MT engines can draw from, which helps increase translation accuracy—to a point. At this time, unlike human translators, MT cannot understand original texts, sense context, perform research, or produce reliable translations in colloquial registers.

In Craft’s case, we maintain a paid subscription to our own, confidential machine translation engines, so that your brand’s data is siloed from that of other companies, rather than being shared back to the collective cloud. (For this reason, it’s always best to omit confidential information and client data when you’re getting a free online translation.)

The work of translators and transcreators

As humans, we all grow up with an upbringing in one or more cultures, and we maintain a connection to the trends, pop culture, and slang in these cultures.

Marketing and advertising content in particular needs to engage emotionally with the target audience to succeed, and this is true regardless of whether the campaign is a US-only campaign or it is a global campaign. While localization is often an afterthought for brands, those who don’t take a thoughtful approach to reaching global audiences are leaving money on the table, as fewer than 20% of the world’s internet users are native speakers of English.¹

How to ensure best-in-class transcreation

To be qualified, our 3,000+ professional translators and transcreators demonstrated subject matter expertise and experience adapting copy for global brands. Our project managers provide detailed project briefs to our writers on marketing content so that they understand its context, strategic objectives, style, and target audience. Project managers also break down wordplay, jokes, pop culture references, and slang in the original copy so that our writers, who are native speakers of the language they adapt to, fully understand their meaning and context.

Even between the US and the UK, beyond the well-known examples of “elevator” and “lift,” the two English dialects are “separated by a common language.” I have found my London colleagues tend to be more understated in their writing style compared to my colleagues here in New York, so you can imagine the many decisions our writers need to make when translating between two different languages, such as English and Chinese.

Meeting your audience where they are

Even as technological advancements and the pandemic have erased many borders over the last two years, effective marketing still means meeting the audience where they are. This entails listening to what target audiences have to say so that you can understand their lived experiences.

In our cultural consulting offering, our team works with creative teams to develop copywriting that is easily transferable and adaptable to different regions. We analyze creative concepts upstream so that we can alert brands to any wordplay or humor that is too closely tied to the original language or culture, and we present solutions that are more adaptation-friendly. Beyond simply translating documents, we will work with you as your partner so that we can advise you on how to reach a global audience.

Key takeaways

  • When you’re pressed on time or budget, consider machine translation post-editing, which is best for straightforward translation in the legal, medical, and technical fields, and pairs the efficiency of machine translation with the review of a human editor.
  • For marketing content, invest in translation and transcreation by human writers.
  • When working on global campaigns, invest in a cultural consultant early on, so that they can help you adapt the ad to its intended audience effectively. The right professional on time will make the campaign more appealing to the target audience, thereby increasing ROI.

At Craft, we have over 3,000 in-market writers who are all managed by dedicated localization project managers located all over the world. If you’re interested, drop us a message, and we will come back with solutions for your brand.

  1. Designing for new internet users¨ by John Yunker for Global by Design.

Having grown up in the US in a Japanese-speaking household, with studies in French, Spanish, and Mandarin, Lisa has been navigating languages and translation all her life. She is driven by a commitment to excellence, passion for learning, and collaboration through team-building. Lisa manages the language division for Craft North America, where she oversees a team of project managers who support brands in beauty, consumer goods, e-learning, life sciences, tech and beyond.