Website translation

Human Translation vs. Machine Translation: Which Is Better?

Human Translation vs. Machine Translation: Which Is Better?
Elizabeth Pokorny
Written by
Elizabeth Pokorny
Elizabeth Pokorny
Written by
Elizabeth Pokorny
Elizabeth Pokorny
Reviewed by
Updated on
April 12, 2024

Translation has become a key tool for brands looking to enter new markets but so too are translation costs, turnaround times, and tedious workflows to ensure an efficient translation process. 

But, one such time-saving translation tool within the translation industry that can’t be ignored is machine translation. However, any self-respecting brand will be looking at translation accuracy when speaking to a new target audience.

Combining accuracy and speed can seem impossible, however, thanks to modern technology, machine translation and more specifically neural machine translation (NMT) is working effectively on big translation projects, including website translation. So should it be discounted entirely due to outdated translation industry resources that mark down its credibility? 

The answer is no. But ensuring a balance between accuracy and efficiency means we’ll need to dive into the pros and cons of machine translation vs. human translation to determine what’s the right translation method for your brand and how you can leverage not just one, but both of the options. 

The Differences Between Machine Translation and Human Translation

The most logical place to start is to define the differences between machine translation and human translation and how each of them works. 

How Human Translation Works 

As you’d imagine, human translation works by using a professional translator to translate your content. They take your source language and translate it into however many languages you require for your global expansion. 

You can carry out this work either by using professional translation services or a freelance translator. 



Undoubtedly, the biggest pro of using human translation is that if you find the right translation agency to carry out the work, the translation output should be completely accurate. 

Professional language services pretty much guarantee 100% accuracy and that’s because you’re using a native speaker to carry out the translation. 


Most professional translators would agree that there’s a certain level of creativity required in any translation job. What you get from human translation is the ability to use their own creativity to ensure that any idioms or cultural references are reflected in the translated text. This is particularly useful when there’s a phrase that just doesn’t literally translate into the target language.


Budget Intensive 

One of the biggest concerns for many marketing teams looking to go international is that the budget will be largely spent on professional translation, leading to many companies either dropping the project entirely or having to push it to phase 2 in the priority list. 

Human translation is costly, with an average of $0.08-$0.25 per word rate charged depending on the language pair, type of content being translated (e.g. what level of expertise is required), and so on. 

A starting point for most businesses will be website translation and the costs of doing that professionally can be high down to the large volume of words on most brand websites. 


Linked to high costs, is the amount of time it takes a human translator to translate large volumes of words. 

Again, this will depend on the source text, however finding a human translator that is available for immediate work can be complicated. 

This is likely to slow down your translation project and put a stop to any hopes of a quick market entry. Couple with that is the project management aspect you’ll need to handle internally and remember this will need to be repeated each time you launch a new page on your website or create a new marketing material.

How Machine Translation Works 

You won’t be able to read an article on machine translation without seeing the terms neural machine translation and artificial intelligence (AI) translation repeatedly appear. 

And that’s because the way machine translation engines work has completely changed since the days when you’d most likely get an alarming output from a simple text. 

NMT uses algorithms to “teach itself” how to recognize the most natural possible word and phrase combinations for each language pair that it’s fed, otherwise known as machine learning. The name “neural network” didn’t just appear from the air: NMT systems are built to replicate human brains—and the neurons that constitute them. 

They are literally programmed to constantly correct themselves and to improve based on human-fed examples.

Of course, you’ll want to take language pairs into account. There are certain language pairs where the neural machine translation output is going to be far stronger than others and there will naturally still be many instances where the incorrect translation is given. Added to that the source text matters too. The more nuanced the original text, the harder it is for NMT to give a high-quality translation back. 

Free download: marketer's guide to machine translation

But enough about how it actually works, let’s look at the pros and cons. 



You can’t beat the speed of machine translation, that’s because it’s instant. Try any machine translation technology for yourself and you’ll be given an output that’s instantaneous. 

Clearly, this level of speed can never be matched by human translators. 

Translates All Your Content 

There may be questions over the actual accuracy of translation, but one thing that cannot be overlooked is the lack of human error when it comes to detecting and translating all the content you require translated. 

Usually, when you use a machine translation provider it’s a simple copy-paste job, or if you’re using a translation software that links to a website, then it’s detecting and scanning and then translating the words for you. 

That means, no Excel files to send to human translators, no missed files for translation, or missed paragraphs.

Less Budget Intensive 

Along with speed, budget is another one of the big stand-out strengths of machine translation. We’ve seen above the average price point of using human translators, but machine translation is largely free. 

There are paid versions of some of the leading machine translation providers as well as the option to use translation software that connects these machine translation tools, but undeniably the price point even then is significantly lower compared with human translation. 


Inaccurate Translation

We’ll keep this short because the next few points tackle why there are question marks surrounding its accuracy. Naturally translated content coming from machine translation will have its inaccuracy but it’s constantly learning and improving. 

We did our own machine translation research and report that looked into the accuracy of leading providers including Amazon Translate, DeepL, Google Translate, Microsoft Translator, and ModernMT. 

What we found was that contemporary NMT is considered highly usable for many marketing scenarios and in particular website translation. 

It Doesn’t Understand the Context

Context and emotions are generally harder for machine translation to understand. It means that they won’t pick up if something is a joke or whether the direct translation will remain culturally appropriate. 

It’s not really a question of machine translation vs. human translation as remember, professional human translators also require context when translating and proofreading. 

Context also extends to areas such as brand names. Take the brand Apple, put this into a machine translation provider and it’s likely a direct translation will be given in your target language, and you’ll lose the original meaning.  

It’s Not Creative 

This is where machine translation services can’t go above and beyond as a professional translator can. They won’t be able to diversify from the text and suggest a more sophisticated way of phrasing a translated sentence. 

This is something to bear in mind if your source content is full of puns and colloquial text. 

Will Neural Machine Translation Replace Human Translators?

The short answer is, no.

The long answer is…kind of. But not completely.

There may come a day when machine translators can pick up on idioms, but the variety of such expressions throughout the world’s 6,000-plus languages makes it unlikely that every single figure of speech will ever be machine-translatable into every single other language out there.

The most likely scenario, as envisioned by the pros at TextMaster, is that machine translation will make the human’s job infinitely easier—as machines generally do.

A really big translation job—such as an entire corporate website with thousands of pages—is probably best carried out, at least on the first go, by a machine.

Afterward, having a native speaker look over the details, in particular on your highest converting pages is never a poor idea. 

Why Combine Human and Machine Translation 

With the current state of machine translation, especially with the likes of DeepL and the ever-evolving Google Translate on the market, there are now cost-effective tools at your disposal that make it possible to save time and human resources on such massive jobs without sacrificing quality.

The combination of human and machine linguistic powers is exactly what makes website translation software like Weglot so appealing in today’s economy, where brands expect fast turnarounds without sacrificing quality. 

It’s clear there’s a big use case to say you can have the best of both worlds and utilize both machine and human translation strategically to give you accurate translations within budget and timeframe. 

What’s clear is that there will always be doubt over accuracy and machine translation, that’s not going to go away (at least for the next few years), but that’s exactly where machine translation post-editing comes in. 

And this is where we’ll introduce the term localization. Machine translation ensures all the content of your website (or marketing materials) is translated, a human translator can then fine-tune and improve the content further to ensure cultural sensitivities are taken into account, or that the context is fully understood. 

It might also be important for your brand to enlist professional translators specifically on top conversion pages where you’ll want to ensure the translation quality is highly accurate.

Localization allows you to cultural nuance to your text by enlisting human translation services, or a freelance translator to provide the type of translation quality that fits your brand guidelines. 

Learn more about how machine translation has become an indispensable tool for marketers.

Weglot: The Best of Both Machine Translation and Human Translation

Weglot homepage

Using a website translation solution gives you the ability to combine both machine and human translation. 

The plus point of using technology to carry out translation across your global communications is that you’ll benefit from speed and accuracy, and can choose the level of machine vs. human translation you’re brand is looking for. 

Weglot, our website translation software, carries out a global website translation project from start to finish and saves your business hundreds of hours of project management work and translation time. 

It works by detecting the content on your website, translating it using a first layer of neural machine translation (from leading machine translation providers DeepL, Google translate, and Microsoft), and then displaying these back on your site. 

The big difference here to just using machine translation is that you then get full editing control over your translations. Here you can decide the right balance between human and machine translation. Either work with professional translators within your Weglot translation project dashboard, add your own translation team, or leave certain pages completely machine-translated. 

This method allows you to combine the strengths and counteract the weaknesses of both translation methods that we mentioned above. 

The technical aspect of displaying your translated pages is also taken care of by Weglot. With automatically created subdirectories or subdomains, there’s no need to involve your IT or developer team, Weglot is an automatic technical website translation solution that takes care of the full translation process. 

What’s more, with Weglot your web pages are automatically optimized for international SEO with language subdirectories/subdomains, translated metadata, and hreflang tag implementation. No matter what different languages you decide to add to your site, your translated content will be optimized for international search engines. 

Try Weglot for free on your website with our no-commitment 10-day free trial. Or explore exactly how Weglot works through our interactive demo

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