The old saying “you get what you pay for” is just as relevant to translations as it is to any other goods and services that are on offer. The disadvantages of free translations are well understood, but can still seem very tempting when you consider just how much it might cost to use a professional translator or translation agency. The developers of online translation tools say that they are getting better all the time and that soon there may be a point when “free” translations are so accurate that they will replace human translators. But that time hasn’t arrived yet!
Are free translations worth it? That’s a bit of a rhetorical question because it all depends on what you want a translation for. Free translation tools may not be very accurate, especially when translating colloquial or idiomatic expressions or any language that is not part of a standard dialect. But they are certainly quick, almost instant, and may be all you need if your needs are simple. Take a few examples where a free translation tool may be useful. You are standing in an office and are staring at a form you have to fill in, in a language you don’t understand. Bring up the online translator and type in the instructions one at a time and it’s quite likely that you will get the gist of what the instruction is all about. Or let’s say that you have booked an apartment somewhere and don’t think that the manager or owner understands English. Type in your query or instruction, press the “Translate” button and you have a rough and ready translation which will probably get you a response, which you can translate back into English again.
For anything more serious or important, the disadvantages of free translations make them a bad choice. If you are making a visa application and have been asked to provide translations of personal documents in the language of the country you wish to visit or migrate to, then you will be expected to use a professional translator, as a poor translation would mean that your visa application would be rejected.
There are very many other examples where the number of mistakes that a free translation tool makes means that it should never be used. An obvious example, and there are many more that could be described if space permitted, is of a medical diagnosis and instructions for treatment, including prescribed medicine or drug dosages. The consequences of a mistake in translation could be fatal.