What’s the difference between cured ham and healed ham? To machine translation (MT), there is none, but to the Francophone markets, there is a distinct, yet amusing difference.

Businesses strive to reduce costs and MT can reduce your expenses. It can be used for general international information, such as the next business meeting or announcing a staff luncheon, but should it be used when you want to export your goods or services to your customers in a different language or culture?

Machines Make Translation Errors Because they Don’t Understand Intent

Language is emotional, but machines are not.  Machine translation converts language word for word and does not understand your company’s unique message, tone, cultural nuances or that some words have multiple meanings.

So, what’s the difference between cured ham and healed ham?  Let me tell you about The Case of the Sick Sausage, which illustrates when to use a machine and when to use a translator:

A photograph of a meat product has been circulating on Facebook which could result in the loss of sales.

A company was promoting its cured ham in a supermarket to French-speaking consumers.  The label was translated from English to French.  The product was cured ham, but what was translated for ‘cured’ in fact became ‘healed’ ham.

The Francophones posted their amused responses and asked if anyone knew whether the meat was sick.  Did the ‘healed ham’ need to see a doctor?  Would anyone want to eat ‘sick’ meat?

It looked as if no one proofed or reviewed the final translation before selling to the Francophone target market.

A translator would have known the difference between “cured” and “healed”, but the MT could not differentiate between the two descriptions.  The result was a stigma around the cured ham, and the effect could have resulted in loss of sales.

In other words, use machine translation for general announcements or when translated information will not be used by your target market; use a translator when you want to sell to your target audience since your business is too important to make unintended bloopers.