It may surprise you to know that 29.7% of Australia’s population was born overseas and more than one in five (21%) speak a language other than English at home.

So, does machine translation technology have a role to play for Australia’s diverse population in the middle of a pandemic?

Well the answer is yes, but maybe not how you’d expect.

Most people’s experience with machine translation is limited to adding a few sentences into Google Translate to get ‘the gist’ of something.

Problems arise when organisations make decisions to implement machine translation into their website without thinking too much about the user’s experience.

According to reports, the Virginia Department of Health’s website used Google Translate and incorrectly told Spanish speakers that the “vaccine is not necessary” instead of telling people that the “vaccine was not required” — that is, that it’s not mandatory.

That’s a doozy!

Even Google advises users who integrate machine translation on their website to include a disclaimer to say that “…no automated translation is perfect nor is it intended to replace human translators”.

Don’t get me wrong;  machine translation is incredible technology — but only when used correctly.

The idea that machine translation, without any human intervention is being used for public health communications in a pandemic is simply unacceptable.

Multicultural communities across Australia and the world deserve better — particularly when lives are at risk.

Instead, we have local councils proudly proclaiming that by integrating raw machine translation into their website, they are “supporting … CALD communities through digital innovation”.Does machine translation technology have a role to play for Australia’s diverse population in the middle of a pandemic? The answer is yes, not how you’d expect.


Of course, this council’s decision isn’t ill-intentioned — it’s just uninformed and naive.

The Victorian Government has got things right in their policies and standards, and “…currently advises against the use of automated interpreting and translating tools, which cannot at present be guaranteed to be accurate.”

So the question remains — how can organisations reap the benefits associated with machine translation?

How can organisations benefit from cost-savings and faster turnaround times?

Translation companies across the world are adapting — some faster than others — to this new world.

Our team at Ethnolink have been at the forefront of technological advancements within the translation and localization industry for ten years.

To put it simply, machine translation projects must be managed by professionals.

And machine translation output must always be reviewed and edited by experienced professional human translators.

In many cases, we can integrate machine translation into our translation workflows to improve speed and productivity — but it’s not that simple.

Source texts need to be analysed and prepared for use within a Computed-Assisted Translation (CAT) tool, an appropriate machine translation engine needs to be selected and potentially, linguistic assets need to be integrated to develop a custom machine translation engine for the client.

And we haven’t even started translating yet.

From here, translators need to be suitably skilled to post-edit the machine translation output, knowing when to edit to improve accuracy and fluency and when to leave things be.

Implementation of machine translation for important public health information, without human intervention, represents an unacceptable risk for Australia’s diverse population.

If you’re interested to hear more about how machine translation can be integrated as part of your next project, please get in touch.

Although lock-down might have you taking on more projects at home, translation isn’t something you can DIY with Google — especially for public health information.

Talk to professionals to work out the best solution for you.