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Free Japanese translation is well...free -- The cost is right, but can you live with the quality?


Many translation companies and agencies offer Machine Translation (MT) as free online translations, free language translation, and simply free translation. 

Free online Japanese translation - machine translation

The Babel Fish Translation Service by Altavista, which was used for this experiment, is is powered by Systran (maker of machine translation software). Note that this service is no longer available at babelfish.yahoo.com; however, you can still access the service at https://www.babelfish.com/

Is machine translation right for your translation project, though?

Select a short sentence -2 at the most- and run it through the Babel Fish Translation:

  • Select the English to Japanese translation option from the dropdown box labeled Step 1.
  • Paste your source text into the input box labeled Step 2.
  • Click the button labeled Translate in Step 3.


You have a free Japanese translation!

But is this right for your translation project? Complete the exercise to find out:

  • Select and copy the translated Japanese text from the top output box.
  • This time, select the Japanese to English translation option from the dropdown box labeled Step 1.
  • Paste the translated text into the input box labeled Step 2.
  • Click the button labeled Translate in Step 3.


Essentially, what we've done here is simply reversed the translation back into English. Click here for a graphic illustration of this exercise

Accuracy estimates vary greatly depending on who is researching (30%) and who is selling (98%) machine translation software. Our research indicates 70% is a fair assessment for machine translation accuracy. And, this is another fact machine translation software vendors conveniently forget to mention:

Accuracy is defined by WORD translation (i.e. word recognition), not by sentence, or contextual, translation.


From a perspective of nearly 2 decades of professional Japanese translation experience, machine translation is efficient in looking up dictionary terms (meaning of words). In most cases, I find it is much more productive to simply do the translation myself.

I definitely would not use machine translation for business or anything remotely requiring accuracy.

Wall Street Journal (2002)


And, if it is not acceptable for business, you can bet the farm that it is not acceptable for translation where the quality requirements are much, much more stringent such as Certified Japanese Translation

Translation by its very nature represents everything that is human -- Thought! Translation is a uniquely human activity that requires enormous language skills and subject matter (i.e. finance, legal, medical etc) expertise with years of experience.

Machine translation offered free is most effective in the following situations:

  • Fields with highly limited ranges of vocabulary and very simple sentence structures.
  • For "gisting" or, to get the general meaning (gist) of a document.


Machine translation is useful for translation projects that have ALL the following project requirements:

  • Internal consumption.
  • Limited budget.
  • Short turn-around.
  • Quality is not important.


As you can see, while the cost may be right, machine translation is not a credible translation solution where translation quality, as measured by accuracy of sentence (context), is paramount -- Definitely NOT a substitute for professional translation.



About the Author
Ivan Vandermerwe is the CEO of SAECULII YK, the owner of Certified Japanese Translation Services Visit SAECULII for the latest professional case studies, articles and news on Japanese Translation Services

Copyright (C) SAECULII YK. All rights reserved. Reproduction of this article is permitted with inclusion of the "About the Author" reference as is (including text links, japan-translators.saeculii.com/english/services/japanese-certified-translations.cfm), and this copyright information. Articles may not be altered without written permission from SAECULII YK.

Tags: Certified Japanese Translation · Certified Translation Services Japan · Computer Assisted Translation (CAT) · Computer Translation · English Japanese Translation · Free Japanese Translation · Machine translation (MT) · Translation costs, price and rates · Translation guide · Translation quality · Translation Services Japan · Translation Services Tokyo







1 &DISCUSS response(s) so far ↓

  • 1 » Y.Kagami (2012-09-26)

    When reading a document translated into one's native language, it is pretty easy to see whether it's by machine or not. Considering quality, translation by native professionals would not be so costly.

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