AI translation vs human translation: the brief guide

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Artificial intelligence has transformed the translation and localization industry with unparalleled speed and efficiency, making it the go-to solution for high-volume content delivery. What’s more, it's increasingly adaptive, learning from each interaction and refining its output for greater levels of accuracy and linguistic finesse. 

Despite AI’s dizzying progress, the expertise of a professional human translator is still needed to verify its output and deliver that much-needed human touch. Dive into our latest blog and discover everything you need to know about AI vs human translation.

What is AI translation?

AI translation is a technology that employs advanced algorithms and machine learning to automatically convert text or spoken content from one language to another. Through vast exposure to language data, AI translation systems continually refine their language skills and become increasingly adept.

What is human translation?

Human translation involves converting written source content into a target language. Translators consider context, idiomatic expressions, and cultural nuances, tailoring the text for the intended audience. Many translators are experts in specific fields, ensuring the use of precise terminology for various industries or domains.

AI human workflows for maximized translation results

It doesn't have to be one or the other between AI and human translation. Rather, forward-thinking enterprises are leveraging AI human workflow translation solutions for unprecedented quality, consistency, and cost efficiency.

The basic process is that AI translates your content. The immediate benefits tend to be speed and lower cost. You can also increase translation consistency too though by using smart translation assets, like terminology glossaries and translation memories.

The primary human role is for review of the AI translation. This step typically sees an expert language reviewer check and edit the AI translation. Another key, optional, human role comes in the form of training AI engines to generate highly contextual translations that are hyper-personalized to your brand. AI engine training can really propel AI quality to exceptional levels, although for quality control, a human review stage is still advised.

AI human workflows represent the new benchmark standard in translation and localization lifecycle process and performance. 

AI vs human translation: the pros and cons

AI and humans both have their own set of advantages and disadvantages, which will allow you to understand the performance and capabilities that each is able to deliver in reality.

AI translation: the pros

AI translation comes with a set of advantages that companies are already harnessing today to handle large volumes of content in a cost-effective, adaptive way.

Speed and efficiency

AI translation takes seconds, making it an ideal choice for large-scale translation tasks with challenging deadlines. 


AI translation is more cost-effective for handling large-scale, repetitive translations. It uses translation memory to maximize terminology and phrasal consistency, save costs, and reduce turnaround time. According to Forbes, 44% of businesses plan to save time by using ChatGPT to write content in other languages.


AI translation is continually improving through machine learning across a growing number of languages. It eliminates human error and delivers a high level of accuracy. 

Multilingual capabilities

AI can handle a wide range of languages, including less common pairings, making it especially useful for global market localization. It can also transition between multiple languages within a single document.


AI translator tools can easily integrate into various platforms to improve workflow efficiency. Real-time translation and integrated analytics are both significant advantages delivered by AI.

Adopt AI translation everywhere your content lives

AI translation: the cons

The list of advantages is paired with some disadvantages, which companies need to be fully aware of in order to mitigate the risks of working with AI to produce multilingual content. It comes down to the fact that AI translation is not yet a perfect, 100% fail-proof solution, as described below.  

Linguistic nuances

AI may struggle with abstract language, such as humor, sarcasm, or cultural-specific idioms, leading to potentially inaccurate or inappropriate translations. 


For highly technical or specialized content, AI may misinterpret context, resulting in translations that lack precision or accuracy. For medical documents, as anfor example, this could be particularly hazardous.


Storing sensitive or confidential data in AI-powered translation tools may pose privacy and security risks, particularly if data is not properly protected. 

Did you know? According to a 2023 McKinsey survey, only 38% of companies questioned say that they mitigate cybersecurity risks, which is lower than the 51% from 2022. Overall, the respondents showed that most organizations are not addressing AI-related risks.

Loss of emotion

AI translation lacks the human touch in understanding emotions, empathy, and the deeper meanings of text, which can affect the quality, particularly for creative or emotional content. For instance, AI may literally translate an idiom such as “over the moon” leading to a misinterpretation of the intended emotion.

Moral implications

There are moral concerns connected to using machines to complete work previously handled by humans. 

Human translation: the pros

Human translations dates back to 200 BC! Human translation has helped bridge cultures and people from around the world for over 2,000 years.  And there are still many advantages that come with human translations.

Cultural awareness

Human translators understand cultural nuances, ensuring translations are sensitive to cultural norms, customs, and preferences. This can make the content more relatable and respectful to the target audience.


Real-life translators consider the wider context of a task, capturing idioms and context-specific meanings, leading to more contextually-accurate translations. 


Professional translators can tailor translations to match a project’s specific needs, such as for technical manuals. They can also offer specialized translation for specific fields, such as medical, financial or legal. Replacing human translators can have dire consequences – as reported in Rest of World, an automated translation tool jeopardized a refugee’s asylum by swapping the “I” pronouns in a woman’s statement to “we.”


Human translators can collaborate with clients and translate content based on feedback, ensuring the final product meets expectations. This iterative process allows clients to actively participate.

Quality control

Linguists practice quality control by proofreading and editing the translated text to avoid errors and inconsistencies. Many translators are certified professionals who stick to industry-specific standards.

Source AI best-matched vetted linguists in Smartcat Marketplace

Human translation: the cons

While translators can provide detailed and context-rich translations that can fully resonate with the audiences it targets, there are some pitfalls to using human translators alone.


Human translation services or translation agencies are a lot more expensive than AI translation, particularly for large-scale or ongoing translation projects, due to the need to pay linguists for their expertise and time. 

Turnaround time

Regular translation has a longer turnaround time, especially for extensive tasks or languages with limited translator availability, which can affect the translation process.


Translators may introduce some level of subjectivity, as their individual interpretations and writing styles can influence the translation, potentially leading to variations in the final output.

Human error

Human translation is susceptible to errors, such as typos, misinterpretations, or inconsistencies.This is particularly common in large-scale projects that may have conditions such as tight deadlines or especially complex language, which may generate strain for linguists.


For projects requiring rapid scalability or handling a high volume of content, it may be challenging to secure an adequate number of human translators in a short timeframe. According to a report on LinkedIn, a good average for a human translator for large projects is 2,500 words a day.

The evolving role of human linguists

The changing role of the linguist and translation service providers is evident. The language services industry is heading in a direction where human professionals must also look into how they can fully harness the capabilities of AI in order to stay relevant. 

Today, linguists need to understand the needs of the client and provide more than just translations – they need to be expert in their fields, fully understand the client’s target audience, and provide results that resonate and captivate. AI is a means to this end.

Multilingual content creators using AI 

According to Stefan Huyghe, Vice President Localization for Communicaid Language Solutions Inc and Localization Consultant for Nimdzy Insights:

 “the journey from traditional language service providers to AI-powered multilingual content providers hinges on the ability to effectively harness the power of language data. Gathering and managing language data effectively is a fundamental skill that multilingual content providers must hone if they want to thrive in their new role as AI-powered content creators.” 

Neural network trainer

Furthermore, linguists or language service providers can also learn to train machine translation (MT) neural networks to improve the quality of translations. This can be achieved via data curation whereby translators prepare high-quality texts in the source and target languages, as well as adjusting MT parameters and vocabulary to improve contextual translation quality. 

Post-editing AI translation

Linguists can also work with AI translation results in order to adjust the tone of voice, style and terminology. This symbiotic relationship between human linguists and AI translation will result in translations that are not only more accurate, but also more efficient. They can do so by: 

  • Proofreading – fundamental in quality assurance. Human proofreaders review the translated content in detail that was produced by AI translation. They need to compare it to the source text and check for errors. The focus is on grammar, syntax, punctuation, and spelling. 

  • Editing – Human editors verify the AI-translated content to improve clarity, consistency, and readability. They can also refine sentences, change the word choice, and make sure messaging is on-brand. Here, they also check cultural appropriateness and whether it speaks to the target audience in question.

AI is key for multilingual businesses in a fast-paced climate

With global businesses constantly generating marketing materials, e-commerce listings, software user interfaces, and more, speed is essential for staying competitive and reaching local audiences at the right time. In the face of this status quo, embracing AI-driven systems is essential to rapidly process vast quantities of content and ensure that information is made readily available. 

Crucially, AI translation also offers cost-effectiveness when dealing with high volumes of content with tough deadlines. Stanley Black and Decker, for example, were able to reduce translation costs by up to 70% by using Smartcat’s Consistent Language AI™.

To complement this fast and cost-effective output, human translators are needed to ensure that content is not just translated, but localized in a way that will resonate. The combination of AI translation for rapid content delivery and human translators for quality is a winning formula.

Case study: Smith+Nephew reduced their editing workload by 70% with AI translation

Smith+Nephew – a multinational medical equipment manufacturer – harnessed the power of Smartcat’s AI translation to transform their localization efforts. By transitioning their operations to the Smartcat platform, the company realizes substantial cost savings and achieves remarkable efficiency gains. 

Today, their editing workload is 70% lighter and the entire content process is streamlined. After previously grappling with an average turnaround time of 10 days, Smith+Nephew has now reduced it to two or three days, without compromising quality.

“Quality has markedly increased compared with agencies, corrections are much lower, the editing process is faster and less labor-intensive and edits never go to waste because they are saved in the multilingual content library.” - Barbara Fedorowicz, Translation Department Manager at Smith+Nephew

The adoption of Smartcat’s AI translation has also ushered in a more collaborative and centralized operational setup. Their teams now work seamlessly within a unified online workspace, enabling them to create, translate, and manage corporate learning courses more efficiently. Dive into the full case study to find out more.

Smartcat AI translation

Smartcat offers a comprehensive language AI and translation platform designed to meet the needs of today’s global companies. With an intuitive, DIY-user interface and a powerful combination of AI-driven translation and intelligent linguist sourcing, Smartcat delivers a multilingual platform that empowers businesses to stay ahead.

  • Smartcat's AI translation ensures swift results, transforming content within minutes, not weeks.

  • Adaptive AI technology remembers your brand's unique voice and terminology, maintaining a consistent tone and style across translations.

  • The ability to seamlessly scale translations with AI, complemented by human workflows, offers the resources needed to meet varying project demands.

AI or human translation? Strike a balance

Weighing up the pros and cons of AI translation vs human translation can be overwhelming, with so many options and variations out there. The key is to strike a balance, leveraging AI for efficiency and professional linguists for quality and that, still much-needed, human touch. By embracing both, you can keep up with the competition and connect with global audiences when, where and how you need to.

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