Mayday? Or May Day?

Today is May 1st. Which may not mean much to some people. But in many countries May 1 is an official holiday which is commonly referred to as International Workers’ Day or May Day.  The list of countries in which May is a national holiday is very long and includes Germany, France, Russia, China, Spain, Italy and many more countries. If you are ordering translation services from GTS around May 1st, please bear in mind that slowdowns may result owing to the holiday.

Ironically, and even though May 1 is not celebrated in the United States, International Workers’ Day originated due to an event that took place in the USA: the Haymarket affair was a bombing in Chicago that interrupted a peaceful demonstration for worker’s rights. Despite this fact, the USA celebrates Labor Day on the first Monday in September. and May 1 is just another work day.

Much can be said for the United State’s way of celebrating Labor Day. Since it is always observed on a Monday, the disruption to the economy is minimized. And it can be said that the “long weekend” even stimulates productivity since people need a break now and then. But in countries that celebrate May 1st, the holiday is observed no matter what day of the week it falls on. In years like 2019, when May 1 falls in the middle of the week, productivity at workplaces is low in the first week of May.

If you are celebrating May Day this year, have a nice holiday. If you are not, then have a great day at work.

Will Machines Replace Professional Translators?

This debate has been going on for years. Will machine translation (MT) become good enough to replace human translators? Will professional translators need to find another line of work? If recent history is any proof, the answer is no. MT will not replace professional human translators in our lifetime. This notion is shared by many people in the industry. Here is a supporting quote from a recent (February 2019) Techcrunch article on MT:

The problem with machine translation, when you really get down to it, is that it’s bad. Sure, it won’t mistake “tomato” for “potato,” but it can’t be trusted to do anything beyond accurately translate the literal meaning of a series of words. In many cases that’s all you need — for instance, on a menu — but for a huge amount of content it simply isn’t good enough.

The simple fact is that as much progress as has been made in the last 10 years, MT is (a) not reliable enough to replace human translators and (b) it is unsuitable for 98% of the mission critical tasks needed by today’s customers.

Brief History of MT

First there was rule-based MT (RBMT), which was deemed as not ready for prime time. Then about 10 years ago, Google started the statistical MT (SMT) revolution which was supposed to bring MT to the next level. Which it did, but the promise did not come to fruition and the models did not deliver human quality translation. Then came neural MT (NMT) which was definitely the greatest MT technology ever invented. Now, companies are touting Deep NMT based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) which will surely replace professional translators.

The MT experts keep on telling us that MT will be ready really soon. But that ‘really soon’ has already stretched out into a long time with no real end in sight. And the demand for professional human translators seems to be growing steadily and outperforming other professions. According to a USA Department of Labor report in 2016, translation jobs are expected to grow by 18% in the next 10 years.

Employment of interpreters and translators is projected to grow 18 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. Globalization and large increases in the number of non-English-speaking people in the United States will drive employment growth. Job prospects should be best for those who have professional certification.

Drivers of MT

As it has been from the start, MT is a scientific endeavor which combines several advanced fields: computational linguistics, mathematics, computer models, statistics among others. MT technologists are geek scientists who speak in a language of their own. If you suffer from insomnia, go to a conference in MT and you will be put to sleep in no time.

Advances in MT are driven by one thing and one thing only: money. Companies are hoping to capitalize on advances in MT in order to make money.

The companies who are promoting MT as a business are either tech giants (like Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Facebook) or LSPs. The tech giants want to get their hands on cheap translation services since they have gigantic amounts of text that need to be translated. The tech giants also have the resources to train the MT systems to provide good translations for their own purposes. LSPs are using MT so that they can offer low cost translation services to customers with large translation budgets.

The tech giants have peripheral objectives as well. For example, both Google and Microsoft have been developing speech-to-speech translation systems for commercial use. Microsoft and especially Google are monetizing access to their MT APIs. And MT is helpful for search engines who want to gain market share.

What Can and Can’t be done with MT

As stated previously, MT can be improved by training the system with large corpora (plural of corpus) of aligned text. So if a company like Microsoft trains their MT to translate Microsoft’s knowledge base, then the system will yield good results. But since it takes huge resources both financially and technically, almost all companies can’t undertake this kind of work. Likewise, using an MT-savvy LSP for PEMT (post-edited MT) work is also tricky. Firstly, the LSP will need to make a huge investment in their MT which will be passed along to the client. And if you do not have huge amounts of texts then the price may be comparable or even higher than human translation. And even after all of that, a human translator is needed to post-edit the MT.

The following kind of translation work can’t be done with MT:

– Certified translation for official purposes. This kind of work requires a signed statement of accuracy by the translator, something that can’t be done by MT software.

– Books/Novels/Poems. In the 1970s and 80s my uncle, Ivan Sanders, had translated a number of Hungarian novels into English. I remember that these projects involved numerous face-to-face meetings with the author so that that translator (my Uncle) could gain an in-depth understanding behind some of the characters in the novel and to understand the author’s thought process on certain parts of the novel. These projects took about two years to complete. No way a machine can translate a novel at the same quality level.

– Scanned images on PDF files. At GTS, most of the orders for online translation services are for PDF files. Some of them are scanned documents which are not great quality. These kind of files require prep work and getting MT into the loop may not be efficient.

– Critical legal documents. If you were buying a house in France for $5 Million and needed to translate the contract, would you trust a machine translation?


Scientists and engineers funded by the private sector will continue to develop MT systems which will represent breakthroughs in science and technology. Quality will improve but only marginally. Demand for translators will increase due to the increase amount of content that needs to be translated.

Top Online Translation Companies

Buying professional translation services online has emerged as a viable solution for today’s customers. In the traditional, full-service model that prevailed in past years, customers would contact a translation agency by phone or by email. Ensuing communications between the client and the agency would also be done offline-sometimes even using postal mail to send in materials.

Today, customers can get instant price quotes, order translation services and complete payment online. This results in lower prices and faster delivery times. Now, you can get a professional translation services in a matter of hours.

Here is a comprehensive list of online companies, not listed in any specific order. In this list we only included companies that provide instant translation price quotes anonymously (without needed to enter your name and email address). If anyone comes across an online translation company that is not on this list, or if you have any reviews or comments about a company, please feel free to comment and we will update this list.

gengo is a Japanese company which was recently acquired by Lionbridge (one of the biggest translation companies in the world). Together with OHT (see next entry), Gengo pioneered the professional online translation space. Prices at gengo start at $0.06 but are much higher for reviewed translation. Up until recently, gengo only provided translation of business and general texts. Now they provide translation service in most subject matters.

One Hour Translation is an Israeli company that provides translation services in all subject matters. Prices start at around $0.14 for specialized text.

Based in San Francisco, Rev seems to have shifted their focus towards the video and entertainment industry. They offer services not related to translation, such as transcription and captioning services. They do provide certified translation of official documents and business translation services.

Stepes is a US-based company that provides professional document translation services. Self-billed as the “Uber of Translation Services,” Stepes has a nifty, easy to use user interface which can be used on mobile devices as well as computers.

Textmaster is a company based in France that provides professional document translation services. Specialized translation services start at 0.16 Euro per word.

Translated is an Italian company that has been in the translation business for 20 years. Their online interface is not very convenient. Prices for professional translated start at $0.10 per word. They offer buy-now-pay-later service for corporate clients. They also offer Post-Edited Machine Translation (PEMT) services in partnership with Google.

Based in the UK, Turbo Translations provides fast document translation services starting at $0.10 per word.

Tolingo is based in Germany. There prices seem to be high (around 0.20 Euro per word). Furthermore, they add 19% VAT to the price even if you are outside of Germany.

Mars Translation provides instant quotes but asks you to enter your name and email address. You can enter a fake name and email to get the instant quote. Prices start at $0.15 a word.

Smartlation’s user interface is cumbersome and it takes many clicks to get a price quote.  It is really an online marketplace of translators and you get several options from specific translators in their database. It is unclear what responsibility Smarlation assumes in the process. Furthermore, I am not sure I would want to order translation services from a company that has typos on their home page.

Nativy is an Austrian based company. They add VAT to all orders even if you are outside of Austria. There User Interface is not very convenient due to a wizard that constantly serves up popup windows.

Tomedes is an Israeli company. Prices start at $0.14 per word.


MyTranslation is a professional online translation agency based in France.  They only offer translation into German, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and Dutch. They offer two modes of service. They choose a translator for you with prices starting at $0.14. Or you get bids on your projects with prices starting at $0.11. They also add VAT to the translation price even if you are outside of France.

GTS Translation is the owner of this blog. Click here to get an instant online price quote for professional translation services.