Four Types of Translations for Businesses

Jul 06, 2017

Content four types of translations for businesses

Most translation providers offer four types of translation services for businesses. And if those business owners or executives are not familiar with these types, it can be confusing.

To clear up any confusion, each of these four types will be explained, along with the pros and cons of each. Hopefully, businesses will have a better idea of the type of translation services they should be ordering.

  • Type 1: Machine Translation

This is the type of translation that is wholly produced by a machine. No human is involved, either during the process or as a reviewer/proofreader afterward.

Basically a businessman can paste documents and other materials into the program, choose a language, and let the machine do its work.

If you have ever used Google or Bing translation, you understand how this works. These are free versions, of course, and there are other apps that are fee-based that will do a bit better job.

PROS: Machine translation is free or very low cost, and it is certainly fast.

CONS: The issue with machine translation is quality. Anyone who has used Google or Bing translate has seen this issue. Sentence structure and word usage errors are common and plentiful

BEST USES: for anyone who just wants a general idea of the content of a piece, machine translation is fine. But if it is to be used in situations where accuracy and good grammar are necessary, then a fee-based program must be used and the database of that program re-configured somewhat. This requires time, effort, and some cost and is still somewhat “iffy.”

In short: Full machine translation should not be used by businesses when accuracy and quality is important.

  • Type 2: Machine Translation with Human Editing

This type of translation can eliminate some of the downsides of machine translation, especially quality.

What happens is this: The initial translation is completed by machine. Once that is finished, a human takes over and compares the original document/text with the translated one.

In this instance, the client and the editor will need to have some conversations, to mutually agree upon what level of editing will occur and the level of accuracy the client needs.  Usually, the goal is to make the document/text fully understandable, but not to be concerned about the smaller details.

Generally, the editor will perform the following functions:

  • Fix glaring grammatical mistakes
  • Clean up wording/phrasing that may be confusing
  • Fix obvious translation mistakes

The editor will not go through the text and try to clean up all of the issues of flow, of awkwardness, etc. The real purpose of the editor is to make the text fully understandable, not to provide the high quality that fully human translation will provide. This type of editing is considered “light” and should never be used when detailed accuracy is necessary or when a recipient of the document/text will be negatively influenced by the quality – there will be awkward phrasing and bad flow.

Editors tend not to like these types of “light” translation checks. They are frustrated with trying to clean up just enough for understanding, and often end up re-writing a lot simply because they are committed to quality. It is a frustrating process, especially when some of the free machine translation tools are so poor.

If a business needs only to provide information, this may be an acceptable translation type. Quality will never be “professional.” Professional translation will require human translation from the start.

PROS: Machine translation with light human editing is cheaper than full human translation; it is also usually faster.

CONS: There will still be errors; there will be awkward phrasing and unnatural “sound” to the recipient.

BEST USES: This will be appropriate for translation that just need to get information to a recipient without any concern for quality of grammar, composition, and style.

  • Type 3: Human Translation

When businesses need high quality professional translations that are natural, they need human translators. Types 1 and 2 will never do for these tasks.

Human translators who do this for a living are experts in specific languages and generally in the fields of business for which they provide translations. This make them uniquely qualified to provide the quality businesses want.

The key to getting the desired quality is to find the right translator. It’s a question of doing some solid homework and finding a translator and/or translation agency that has a reputation in the field and in the native and target languages.

Get the right translator, and you will get the quality you want.

Balancing this former statement is also the truth that humans do make mistakes, but the chances of this are certainly far less than machine translation or machine with human editing.

Businesses that need high quality translations that are still not absolutely critical will find that this type of translation is totally appropriate and will give them what they want.

PROS: Generally, a business will get accurate and primarily mistake-free translations. The finished product will reflect solid grammar, composition, word usage, and natural-sounding flow.

CONS: There are certainly minor errors that will “crop up,” because the translators are human and not perfect.

BEST USES: This type of translation is appropriate for all purposes.

Is there something better? Yes, there is.

  • Type 4: Human Translation with Editing/Proofreading

Now we are the “Cadillac” of translation services – the one that provides the highest level of quality and is considered to be the “best practice” for businesses that need absolute accuracy in every detail.

 Here is how this type works: A fully qualified human translator completes the translation – someone with top expertise in both the target language and the business niche. Once that is completed, another equally as qualified professional translator provides a complete review and edit. This edit is for the purpose of identifying any small errors that the original translator may have made, as well as provide a final polish to the piece.

This type is recommended for such things as legal documents, contracts, and other content that cannot afford even a tiny error. It is also the most expensive type of translation, for obvious reasons. It also takes longer to do.

PROS: this will be the most accurate and most natural “sounding” translation possible

CONS: It is the most expensive type and it will be difficult to meet an extremely urgent deadline. Two humans will be involved and each will be steeped in detail.

BEST USES: This type is good for any translation needs but is certainly necessary for documents and content that requires absolute accuracy and professional “sound.”


There are three factors involved in comparison of the four options for translation services – quality, cost, and speed.

Generally, as levels of quality go up, so do cost and time.

  1. Machine Translation: Quality is low, errors are frequent, wording will be awkward. The time frame will be instant or very short, and the cost will be very low.
  2. Machine with Human Editor: Quality will be mediocre, there will be errors and wording may be unnatural, time frame will be relatively quick, and the cost will be at a medium level.
  3. Human Translation: Quality will be high, errors will be minimal but possible, time frame will expand, and the cost will be higher than with types one or two.
  4. Human Translation/Human Editing: Quality will be its highest with only a very rare error, the time frame will be long, and the cost will be the highest.


The best measure of what is suitable for any business needs is the level of quality that is demanded of the translation. While budgets certainly are a factor, and sometimes the need can be very urgent, it is the quality that should determine which type of translation services should be sought.

Here are some general guidelines:

  • Machine translation should be used when only the general idea of a piece is required.
  • Large organizations with major translation needs may want to purchase commercial machine translation capabilities if they have the IT expertise to customize databases of any software architecture they purchase. In fact, they may want to employ developers to create the tech stack for their needs.
  • Machine translation with light editing will be suitable when translations just need to be understandable and errors and unnatural “sound” are okay.
  • Human translation is suitable when high quality, professional translation with great accuracy is required.
  • Human translation with a second human review an edit should always be used when absolute accuracy and the highest quality is necessary. Legal documents, contracts, and technical/scientific publications will always need this level.

Individuals and businesses obviously have options. With enough information about what each type of translation will product, they can make the right decisions.