The Pros and Cons of Free Online Translation

Posted on Jun 2 2015 - 2:43pm by Editor

When you’re traveling around a lot, it pays knowing how to speak another language, especially the official one the locals use. You may not sound like a homegrown townie, but at least you can converse with them freely and they’ll appreciate the time and effort it took for you to learn their language. It can also help you get discounts if you know how to negotiate.


If you can’t speak a word of Spanish or Chinese, your best bet would be to use an online translation service. The ones from Google and Microsoft (Bing) are two of the best free options out there and you really shouldn’t bother fiddling with the rest, unless you want disappointment or entertainment. Try translating a bunch of stuff online to see what I mean.

  • Bing Translator

For the source language, choose “Croatian”and translate “aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa” to French. The translation will surprise you and it’s a pretty serious oversight, considering all the tensions.

  • Google Translate

For the source language, choose English and type “Will Justin Bieber ever reach puberty”. Now translate it to Vietnamese and do a reverse translation. It seems Google has some inside info on the topic.

Free is free, and is good for the Basics

For the most part, using free online translation services such as Google and Bing are OK for basics like asking where the nearest restroom is or what time the bus arrives. But for bigger tasks like school papers or projects involving your job that pays the bills? It pays not to be a cheapskate.

Free is free for a reason, and although online translation has made huge strides in recent years, there’s still no substitute to a human doing it. Take the example of a good friend of mine who’s a technical consultant for a San Diego based software company.

Ron Burgundy and the meaning of San Diego

Her decision to hire a translation agency based in San Diego when she was working on a big project for a multinational company paid off. The agency was able to accurately translate a whole sheaf of technical documents that were needed for the project. At first, we were desperately trying to use a free online service for the project, but we weren’t happy with it. It all sounded like Ron Burgundy’s translation of what San Diego really means.

We had another friend who spoke the language look at it and said that most of the translations were all wrong and didn’t make any sense. So, instead of flying to South America with me to have the whole thing translated (and take a short vacation!), she looked for a local agency to do it instead. Time and money saved.

My Takeaway

Maybe someday, there will come a time when computers are just as good as humans when it comes to translation. But the thing is, only a small group of people can speak binary code (the language of computers) and even if you see it printed on a piece of paper, it’s all 1’s and 0’s anyway.

So, if computer lingo is next to impossible for humans to speak, are computers limited to what they can do when our language is broken down into binary code? Probably not. I mean, they’re getting better and better at it every new release. Google and Microsoft say that computer translators are close to cracking context and content. When that happens, I hope the service are still free.