Mastering Machine Translation: Write Smart, Save Big


In today’s content-saturated landscape, finding ways to keep translation costs down is essential. Factors such as the number of words, time constraints and localisation processes can all affect how much you pay for translation services.

Leveraging machine translation is a game-changer, especially for translating technical documents and e-commerce content like product descriptions, offering significant cost savings for your business.

To ensure translated text is precise, fluent, and readable, it’s crucial to craft content optimised for machine translation. In this guide, we provide key strategies to refine your text, guaranteeing top-notch translation outcomes.

Choose English as the source language

Selecting English as the source language for machine translation offers numerous advantages, especially when planning to translate into multiple languages. English, the international business language, has high-quality translation models thanks to its extensive study and development.

It also benefits from a large amount of bilingual and parallel training data, which greatly contributes to its value in training robust translation systems. Moreover, English serves as a bridge language for numerous language pairs, thus further improving translation accuracy and reliability.

Pay attention to formatting and segmentation

Adhere to conventional formatting and refrain from incorporating crucial information in images or non-text elements, as machine translation is currently unable to detect text embedded in such content. Excessive use of bolditalics, underlining, or other stylistic alterations to the text can confuse machine translation systems.

Punctuation is another area where consistency is vital. For instance, quotation marks should be applied uniformly. The human eye may be able to detect punctuation errors, but machine translation is heavily dependent on correct punctuation to determine sentence structure and meaning. For example, instead of manually creating bullet points, opt for using automatically generated ones.

Avoid line breaks in machine translation to maintain the integrity of the source text and ensure accurate translations. Line breaks can disrupt the sentence structure and context, leading to incorrect translations.

Avoid misspellings

This is a basic yet critical rule. In general, machine translation cannot accurately translate a misspelled word. So always proofread your text carefully before putting it through a translation engine.

Consider internationalisation

Internationalisation is the process of designing your content so that it is suitable for different cultures, languages and regions. When creating your text, keep a global audience in mind and avoid content that might be specific to a particular region or culture.

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Furthermore, consider using gender-neutral language. This can simplify translation and prevent potential misinterpretations. Also, be aware of the tone of your text, as many languages have both formal and informal tones.

Use controlled language

Controlled language is a writing methodology that uses a simplified version of a language, which includes restricted grammar and limited vocabulary. It’s an efficient tool for creating clear, concise content that machine translation engines can easily interpret.

This method is especially useful when crafting instructional content, where precision is paramount. Controlled language reduces ambiguity and prevents potential misinterpretations.

Moreover, it saves resources by streamlining the translation process, and also ensures that the content is accessible to individuals with cognitive disabilities or those who struggle with more complex language.

Keep in mind that the use of controlled language may not be suitable for all contexts. In creative fields such as literature, the arts, or marketing, a more flexible language approach that allows for idiomatic expressions and emotional resonance may be necessary.

Keep terms consistent and create a glossary

When writing content for machine translation, it’s important to use consistent terminology throughout. Machine translation relies on patterns and associations between words to generate translations, and using different synonyms or variations for the same term can disrupt this process, leading to inconsistent translations.

By establishing a clear and consistent set of terms for specific concepts and applying them in the same manner throughout the text, you can help improve the accuracy and coherence of the translated output.

Handle abbreviations and acronyms with care

Machine translation often has trouble processing abbreviations and acronyms. If an abbreviation has no official translation, it’s often best to leave it in its original form. Ideally, use the full name, or provide the full name followed by the abbreviation or acronym in brackets upon its first use. This can help the translation system to better understand the text.

Be mindful of sentence length

Machine translation can also have trouble understanding overly long or complex sentences. As a general rule, try to stick to one idea per sentence to prevent confusion. Excessive use of conjunctions and multiple clauses should also be avoided as much as possible. Conversely, machine translation may not be able to accurately translate very short sentences (around seven words or less), as there may be not sufficient context.

Avoid writing sentences in capital letters

When writing full sentences, follow the accepted rules regarding the use of lower and upper case letters. Do not write a sentence in all capital letters. Machine translation is less accurate when processing text in block capitals and can produce peculiar and unintended results. Therefore, it is essential to maintain the appropriate capitalisation to ensure optimal translation.

Use full words instead of special signs or symbols

Machine translation engines may also struggle to understand signs or symbols that are not common in the target language, therefore a word corresponding to the symbol should be used instead.

For example, the ampersand (&) may not be used in some target languages, so the conjunction ‘and’ should be used for more accurate translation results.

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Be clear with pronouns

Make sure that it’s clear what pronouns are referring to, as ambiguous references can cause confusion.

Use the active voice

The active voice reduces vagueness and ambiguity, both of which pose real challenges for machine translation. By using the active voice, you enhance the clarity and coherence of the source text, thus contributing to smoother and more reliable translations in the target language.

Avoid clichés, colloquial phrases and cultural references

Steer clear of clichés, colloquial phrases, and cultural references in your content, as overly idiomatic word usage can lead to mistranslations and/or confusion for international users.

By avoiding such language, you can ensure that your content remains culturally neutral and universally understandable, consequently facilitating effective communication.

React and adapt

Language constantly evolves, and so should your approach to machine translation. Regularly review and update your translation strategies as needed.

Bear in mind, machine translation might not capture the original text’s nuances fully. Thus, setting the right expectations is vital. With these guidelines, you’ll craft content that’s clearer, more readable, and universally understood.

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