Is Auto-Translate a Good Idea for Translating Software?

04 Sep 2020

You and your team just added two new buttons to your software application. One says: “Last updated” and the other one “Update now”. The rest of your app has already been translated to multiple international locales, that’s why those two new phrases need to be translated too.

In a situation like this a very popular approach to get a translation is using an auto translation service online. The translation is ready instantly from one into plenty of languages. That’s super awesome, you might think. Think about it again:

Accuracy of auto translations

Sources say that Google Translate and DeepL, two of the most popular auto translation tools, have an accuracy of 75% to 85% for the language pair English to Spanish. This means that 15 to 25 percent of translations have mistakes. This is only for Spanish, but there are languages with much more complex alphabets, grammar or syntax. Mandarin / Chinese, Arabic, Russian, Korean or Japanese to name a few. The likelihood that auto translation outputs a correct translation for those is definitely even lower than for Spanish!


There might be cases where auto translation actually translates a certain phrase completely right. Accuracy 100%. But this doesn’t mean the translation actually is a right fit for where it is shown. The way we express ourselves when we talk is sometimes not the same when we write. The same applies to how we phrase Buttons, Menus or Dialogs for software. Depending on the target, we use different words, expressions, and tone, but auto translate doesn’t take this into account.

A simple English word like “update” might lead to awkward sounding translation with vocabulary that is actually rarely used. Potentially there is a much better translation using “update” or a variation of it as an anglicism in the local language.

Translations for user interfaces

Nobody likes users to be overwhelmed by the shown text, however this can happen when translating with auto-translate. A simple phrase might get transformed into a very complicated one even if there might be much simpler ways to express the same. Over the years each locale established its own standard phrases such as “Forgot password?” instead of “Did you forget your password?”. They are well known by the users already, and at the same time efficient in the sense that they don’t take away extra screen space.

Alternatives to Google Translate and DeepL

Auto translation is super awesome to get a quick translation, however it lacks accuracy. Those services might be a solution for quick translations, however always need to be proofread.

This is where phrasella steps in. It provides you existing translations of phrases used in software applications that have been translated already by others. Although there is no 100% guarantee about correctness, phrasella lists phrases only from sources that are well established and have a certain global track record.