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  • Writer's pictureCathy Castling

What’s the difference between a human translation and a machine translation?

Updated: Nov 21, 2022

There's one particular question I've seen crop up a lot online over the past couple of years: "Will machine translation replace human translation?"

I'll admit that machine translation tools, like Google Translate, can be helpful if you're on holiday and need to figure out what's on the menu. However, if you're a brand looking to expand into international markets, then you might want to steer clear of these types of tools!

Myself, and my translation colleagues, have hundreds of examples of where things have gone badly wrong when machine translation tools have been used. In this blog post, I'm going to share an example of the differences between a human translation and a machine translation.

I've worked for this particular client for a long time translating their e-commerce website.

The client

A Rostock-based company that makes affordable leather bike accessories.

The task

Translating a headline for their new range of panniers.

The challenge

German original: königlich unterwegs durch die Stadt

Free online translation tool: royally on the road through the city

My solution: Rule the road

How I got there

It seems like I moved quite far away from the original text here, but I can explain why!

I first decided to leave out "durch die Stadt" in my translation. The product description talked a lot about cycling through the city. I felt that repeating the idea of cycling through the city in the headline was a little superfluous, so I cut it.

"Royally on the road" sounds awkward no matter how you say it. "Royally" is not a word we often use in English. The combination of an adverb followed by a preposition feels clunky when you say it. The other thing to note about the word "royal" is that it's typically associated with the British Royal Family. Especially if you're from the UK.

This brand prides itself on selling affordable bags and accessories. Not a word that you think of when you think about the Royal Family. This subconscious association could impact how British customers view and think of the brand.

"Rule the road" was the perfect solution. It's reminiscent of the idiom: rule the roost, which means to be in complete control. It's short (3 words), so it rolls off the tongue. It uses the "r" alliteration. This creates a feeling of rolling, of movement, of being on the go. This imagery matches the product description that follows. "Rule" isn't a direct translation of "königlich" (royal, regal, etc.). However, it nods at the idea, if you think of royalty you think about someone who rules a geographical area.


Moving away from the original German text allowed me to create a clear and concise translation. One that conveys the same idea and feeling as the original. You get a feeling of empowerment, of freedom, of joy.

I enjoy working on projects for this client; their website is fun, youthful, and creative. Translating their website and product descriptions gives me the chance to flex my creative muscles. So that I can push the boundaries with my translations.


Hi, I'm Cathy, language nerd, lake-swimmer, long-time rower 🚣

I’m here to help you communicate in English with authenticity and accuracy.

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