It’s the 21st century, and technology has made the online translation of documents a breeze. We are blessed with a host of services offering seamless translation in a variety of file formats.

It should be straightforward to get these documents professionally translated. But somehow, it doesn’t always work out like that. In some ways, the overwhelming choice for supposed high-quality translation leaves us sifting through the offerings, attempting to find the best tools for our unique needs. We ask ourselves: Should we trust online machine translation services? Should we opt for the services of a professional translator? Or is there an opportunity to combine the two?

We shine a light on all of the available translation tools, helping you to decide which works best for your individual circumstances.

Machine translation: The rise of the machines

At first glance, machine translation appears to answer all of your prayers. If you believe the claims, you simply enter the text requiring translation and an automated system lurking somewhere in the depths of the internet will magically sling your documents back to you, translated and ready to go. Except that, it’s not always all it’s cracked up to be. While machine translation has improved greatly over the last few years, these automated services are still prone to mistranslations and inaccuracies. The subtleties and nuances within a language are so frequent and subtle that it is impossible to expect an automated translation to deliver perfect results, every time.

So, why bother with machine translation at all? As with most things in business, it comes down to two things: convenience and cost. Sure, machine translation might not be 100% accurate all of the time, but it’s pretty good, and pretty good might be all you’re after. It’s also incredibly cost-effective. Incurring little or no fee at all, the ability to translate vast quantities of content in an instant is certainly an appealing prospect, especially for those looking to expand internationally on a tight budget.

OK, I’m keen, what machine translation options are available to me?

Google Translate — Offering multiple functionality and free to use, Google’s web-based service instantly translates words, phrases and web pages between English and more than 100 other languages.

Bing Translator — This cloud-based translation service from Microsoft is free and simple to use, providing the opportunity to translate into hundreds of different languages quickly and efficiently.

Microsoft Translator — Uses the same technology as Bing Translator, but requires an app download to utilize the service.

Yandex Translate — Another web-based engine that doesn’t require a download or registration, Yandex is a free service that synchronizes translation for 97 languages and includes predictive typing, a dictionary with transcription, and pronunciation guides.

Amazon Translate — Amazon Translate is a neural machine translation service that delivers fast, high-quality translation.

Most of these tools use neural machine translation — a form of language translation automation that uses deep learning models to deliver more accurate and more natural-sounding translation than traditional translation algorithms. Sounds impressive, but we’ll let you be the judge of its actual accuracy.

Add a human touch — professional machine translation services

If you need more accuracy in your translation, then automated services are not the solution. To deliver a professional tone, you need a professional human involvement. As it currently stands, there is no substitute for deploying a native-speaking professional translator to scan a text for inconsistencies and inaccuracies. Fortunately, there are providers who facilitate this service, combining the ease of automated translation with the critical human element. These professional machine services take translation to the next level, allowing your text to appear written by a knowledgeable native speaker.

This could be what I’m after, where do I find these services?


“'s mission is to provide tools and opportunities that translators, translation companies, and others in the language industry can use to: network, expand their businesses, improve their work, and experience added enjoyment in their professional endeavors.”

Pros: ProZ brings with it a huge bank of translation professionals. They claim to have access to more than a million vendors, so you are sure to find an expert in your field however niche your industry or marketplace.

Cons: Unfortunately this bank of expertise comes at a cost. The method of interaction with the translators themselves has yet to be automated, resulting in a time-consuming and outdated chain of emails bouncing back between the client and the translator. This is possibly justifiable if the document is large, but for small translations requiring a quick and easy turnaround, the process takes too long. In addition, there is no easy way to track the status of the translation or pay the providers for their service.


“With 21,000+ certified translators working across all major time zones, we can comfortably keep pace with your content needs, no matter the volume.”

Pros: Gengo offers a quick turnaround on translation. Upload the necessary documents, make payment, and the translation is returned, usually on the same day. It is also possible to monitor the status of your order, although that is platform dependent.

Cons: You pay for the privilege of a quick response, translations using Gengo are not cheap. One of the main drawbacks is the inability to select and screen translators. For general translations, this might not present an issue, but for industries requiring specialist knowledge, a base level of understanding is imperative. Those in the marketing, medical, technical and legal sectors, need to know that their translations will make sense to their target audience, and carefully choosing a translator with a solid reputation is a key part of making sure this happens. If you require the rapid translation of simple documents, then Gengo could fit the bill. If you’re looking for something with a little more depth, you might be better looking elsewhere.


“All-in-one platform connecting businesses and translators into a streamlined content delivery loop.”

Pros: Smartcat allows you to handpick a specific translator according to their area of specialization. The whole process is fully automated and allows documents to be easily passed between the client and the translator. Smartcat only adds a small percentage on top of the translators’ own rates, so you can find a professional to suit your needs and budget. Smartcat can translate a wide variety of file formats and the whole process is fully trackable.

Cons: The assignment of a specific translator to your task might add a little time to the mobilization of the project.

Sounds good, but will my method of translation change depending on the file format?

Just as different types of content require a variety of translation considerations, the source and destination file type should also feature in your deliberations. But how does the file type affect the translation process?

How should I translate Word documents?

Word documents are perhaps one of the simplest and most common types of files requiring translation. Ensure the document is free from internal comments — unless they also require translation — otherwise the translation will cost more than is necessary. In Smartcat, it is possible to opt for a translation with or without the document’s comments.

What about translating PDF documents?

PDF documents often represent a challenge. Their format is perfect for sharing with colleagues and clients but the content can be difficult to manipulate, edit, and, ultimately, translate. Any PDF document will require conversion into a different file format, which can cause issues, such as poorly recognized text and an inaccurately adapted layout. In Smartcat, you can convert documents from PDF into an editable format, checking the layout and accuracy of the conversion before passing onwards to translators.

What if I have content in another format?

If you are engaging with international marketplaces or communicating in different languages, the chances are you’ll have other streams of content that need a regular translation. It may appear tricky to translate text that is not in a traditional file format. In this case, a continuous localization process can ensure that apps, message threads, and online storefronts remain up-to-date and accurately translated.

What about documents that involve specialist language?

Inevitably, some content will require a more specialist approach to the translation process. Simple, straightforward documents can be tackled by general linguists, whilst others will demand a high level of subject-specific competency.

Translating marketing documents

On the surface, marketing documents appear easy to translate, but if tackled by the wrong person, the outcome can be uninspiring and dreary. Be sure to utilize translators that have experience in handling marketing content.

Legal documents can seem alien to a native speaker, so the importance of a specialized legal translator is without question. In Smartcat, a translator’s professional experience and suitability are represented in their online profile, giving you the power to assign a translator with the relevant experience required to successfully complete the task.

Translating medical documents

It doesn’t get more significant than the accurate translation of medical records. Lives are quite literally on the line, so attention to detail is everything. Be confident in the quality of your medical translation by choosing a translator with the correct professional background. Medical documents are often presented in a PDF file format, so optical character recognition (OCR) tools can be useful for aiding the speed and quality of the translation.

What if you need to translate documents into different language pairs?

Different language pairs place different demands on the translating professional.

If you translate to English…

Depending on your goal, you might decide that it is necessary to employ the services of a native English speaker. Many non-native translators wrongly assume they know English enough to produce text that reads as well as one written by a native speaker. But more often than not, they are mistaken.

If your requirements call for translations in the world’s most popular languages, for example, English, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, or German, then you will find a steady stream of professionals ready to competently undertake the task. But whilst this sector may present a healthy variety of translators, all willing to offer their services, it’s prudent to carefully scrutinize individual profiles to ensure you are employing the best person for the job.

If your translation project demands the use of a so-called “long-tail” language, you might find that you are presented with a smaller pool of translators to choose from. In this instance, it is important to maximize the field of talent, utilizing a service that gives maximum exposure to a wide range of vendors. Smartcat has 250,000+ translators, specializing in both long- and short-tail languages. Less popular languages don’t lend themselves particularly well to machine translation, so introducing a human element to the translation process is essential.

So, there it is, all you need to know about translating a document online in 2019.

For more information on how Smartcat can help with your translation requirements, visit our homepage. And to keep abreast of industry trends and developments, check out the Smartcat blog.