Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Probably because, usually, it is.
Well, let’s get one thing clear....... there are 2 types of
Automated, machine translation, i.e. using a free translator
on the web or purchased translation software.
Human translation, i.e. one translated for you by a qualified,
Now “free” must be the most overused word on the web.
Online, as offline, there is no such
thing as a free lunch. A language translator is offered for precisely 2
As a LEAD IN to selling professional translation services (you
realise the limited quality of your English translation and therefore you are
encouraged to purchase a human translation),
As a low cost ADD ON which is offered by internet service providers
who are addressing an international audience to offer some added value.
But don’t get me wrong - the internet is multilingual by nature, so a free
machine translator certainly has a role to play.
When to use a free online translator
When you need a “gist” translation –
i.e. a rough idea of what the German text is about. Then you can decide if it
is a text you need to have properly translated or not.
Emails or short notes.
Blocks of text on a German language website.
A few odd German words or phrases.
Translating a text for your personal use
- but not one you plan to publish or pass off as your own work (listen up,
TIP! Most free online translators only
let you translate a few lines of text at a time anyway. If your text is short -
a phrase or so - you might often find that a really good free
online German dictionary is all you need
You need a human translation when..
Your German translation will reflect on you or your organisation.
If the translation is bad, you will look incompetent. It will also be clear
that you don’t think highly enough of your audience/customers/business partners
etc. to bother providing them with a properly translated text.
Your German translation will be printed.
Money spent printing inadequate or incorrect English is simply money wasted.
Your German translation needs to be adapted for its English-speaking
audience. Certain German terms (organisations / institutions /customs
etc.)may need to be explained or paraphrased rather than simply translated
(often they shouldn’t be translated!). This is referred to as “localisation”
and is often offered as a translation service in itself.
Your German translation needs to be legally valid! Some translators are
officially certified by the courts (Gerichtlich beeidet – legally sworn)
and their English translations of German texts or documents are accepted as
official documents – frequently required for translations of passports, contracts,
Your German translation deals with a specialist topic (e.g. engineering,
IT, medicine or law) and will be read by a specialist audience (e.g. lawyers,
doctors). Not only will a free online translator be inadequate but your human
German translator should also be specialised in your particular field.
Don’t confuse machine translators with translation
software which is used by professional translators and
does a very different job - helping compile glossaries, matching up blocks of
translated text, and greatly improving the consistency involved in translating
large texts, or a series of similar texts.
OK, so you've worked out that a free online translator will be fine for your needs.
Try one of these free translators and see the results for yourself:
And now we test those free online translators.....
For fun, I’ve run a couple of paragraphs of Lewis
Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and Charles Dickens'
Christmas Carol through the free online translators above - and run the
authorized German translation through to see how closely it gets back to the
OK, you wouldn’t do this in everyday life, BUT it demonstrates that
translation is not a mechanical process in which words are simply “exchanged”
for one another!
And, I’ve repeated the process 5 years later, which is really
interesting…… Click on each of the free online
translator links above to see the results!
I’ve also put together a list of free translation websites offering free translations, so bearing in mind that they are
“free”, take your pick!
To conclude, there’s so much hype about machine translation these days. Billions are
being invested into automated communications as companies desperately try to
reach a global audience, streamline processes, and raise efficiency.
But while there is certainly an important role for machine translation, human
translation is also here to stay. And that's good news for professional German translators everywhere!
We use Google and Wikipedia every day – discover why they're also great free German English translation aids. Tips for helping with tricky German translations.
a German to English
translator living and working in Vienna, Austria. I turn German texts
into clear and accessible English, allowing clients to present their
stories, ideas and information to a completely new audience. My business
and marketing clients rely on me to get their message across clearly
and effectively. How can I help you today?
Got a question?
Something you want to ask about German translation? Check out the Q&As or Ask Me!