Machine Translation and Human Translation

The Differences Between Machine Translation and Human Translation

The Differences between Machine Translation and Human Translation

Written by Alexandru Tanase

When requesting translation services from one language to another to bring your business to new countries and generate growth, you may wonder: what is the difference between machine translation and human translation? With so many translation tools based on artificial intelligence out there, do you really need a human translator? The short answer is yes, human translation is always the best option, since machines are not able to replicate the knowledge, expertise, cultural competence, linguistic skills, and know-how of a human being.

Machine Translation and Human Translation


Despite all the undergoing research carried out to produce better machine translation results, machine translation does not have the capacity to take into account any specific or general context. Therefore, it often introduces inaccuracies and ambiguities that did not exist in the source language. You can end up with low-quality translations, which can really impact your credibility, reputation, and professionalism. A human translator understands the local culture, linguistic nuances, dialects, context, cultural, and local expressions. As a result, human professional translators can provide much more accurate and high-quality translation services.


Machine translation tends to be either free or inexpensive. However, due to its lack of accuracy, you will eventually end up paying much more than intended and hiring a human professional translator. The reality is that human translation quality is currently unmatched and the only possible way to bring value and quality to your documents, applications, or web pages. When it comes to making this one-time investment, in the end, you pay for the value that you get, and it can be a waste of time and money to invest in machine translation that ends up being incomprehensible or nonsensical for your target audience.

Tone and voice

Human translation can be adapted to the tone and voice of your audience. Machine translation cannot know or understand your audience, so it cannot adjust the formality, style, or technicality of a text. Machine translation cannot reflect the voice, brand, or personality of your organization or company in another language. Professional human translators are trained and equipped with the tools to understand your message, values and uniqueness, and convey them appropriately to your audiences.

Industry terminology

Machine translation tends to produce an incorrect and inconsistent use of terminology and expressions. For instance, Google Translate mixes formal and informal structures, changes the context, uses ungrammatical sentences, and creates confusing statements. That is because machines can only resort to a limited database of words to produce literal translations, without ever considering the context or the bigger picture: are we talking to a senior CEO or a child? Are we addressing men or women? A human translator knows all of this information, and is therefore able to deliver real translations for real people, while also using industry terminology correctly and sticking to the context at hand.


It is highly recommended to work with a human translator from the start instead of trying any type of machine translation services and then dealing with those consequences. The truth is that nothing compares to working with a human translator when it comes to content quality, ease of reading, and appropriateness in communication. AI-based translation is currently defective, and in the end, you will still need to invest in a professional translator to help you improve the quality of your translations. Human translation surpasses machine translation by a long shot and it is the best option to produce high-quality content in another language!

At Argentum Translations, we use a translation process with three different human professionals who will give you the best quality available. You can learn more about it in this article about our translation process or watch our video to see how we work. Contact us at today for a quote!

Wilderness Medicine

Translation Challenges: Wilderness Medicine in Spanish

Written by Paula Penovi
ATA-Certified Translator and Certified Medical Interpreter (CMI-Spanish)

At Argentum Translations, we are constantly on the lookout for opportunities to contribute to our community and give back. As part of our pro-bono translation services for nonprofits, we recently translated the Wilderness Medical Society Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Prevention and Treatment of Acute Altitude Illness (2019 Update).

All the diverse content we work with presents different challenges that require various approaches and translation strategies. In this series, we are shedding light on some peculiarities of technical and medical translation.

Today I would like to introduce some of the main challenges of translating wilderness medical content into Spanish for the US and Latin American populations.

Challenge 1: Translating “Wilderness Medicine” with Cultural Competence

What is the definition of “wilderness medicine”? What would be the best way to refer to the Wilderness Medical Society in Spanish?

One of the main challenges our team faced when researching the term “wilderness” was the lack of publicly available and professionally translated content about wilderness medicine. Most of the information published online appears to have been translated using machine translation tools, which leads to misleading and poorly translated Spanish versions. As an example, Google Translate’s default translation for “Wilderness Medical Society” is “Sociedad Médica del Desierto” (Desert Medical Society), which will cause most of this content to be ignored or discarded by Spanish-speaking clinicians, researchers, and patients looking for information that is not exclusively related to desert environments.

Another common mistranslation that we recommended against was “Sociedad Médica de la Naturaleza” (Nature Medical Society) since the Hispanic population tends to associate “medicina natural” or “medicina de la naturaleza” (natural medicine) with alternative/herbal medicine. The same goes for using the word “silvestre” when referring to the general concept of “wilderness medicine,” because it seems to have a connotation mainly associated with animal and veterinary medicine.

As surprising as it may sound, the definition of “wilderness medicine” is actually centered on the location and conditions under which medical services are provided. According to Wikipedia and the WMS, it is “the practice of medicine where definitive care is more than one hour away, and often days to weeks away” and it is defined by circumstances such as “difficult patient access, limited equipment, and environmental extremes; decision making, creative thinking and improvising.”

The preferred terms for “wilderness medicine” in Latin America and Spain are “medicina en espacios naturales”, “medicina en zonas remotas”, “medicina en medios inhóspitos”, and “medicina en zonas agrestes”. The International Association of Medical Translators and Writers (Tremédica) recommends translating “wilderness medicine” as “medicina en zonas agrestes” (in which context, “agreste” is related to “falto de urbanidad”) or “medicina en zonas remotas”. We concluded that “medicina en áreas remotas” (“medicine in remote areas”) was the most neutral and understandable option considering the diversity of our target audience, and the fact that wilderness medicine environments include mountains, deserts, oceans, submarines, spaceships, and caves, among other austere or extreme settings. However, the name “Wilderness Medical Society” and its acronym are widely recognized by the international community and were preserved so as not to decrease its recognition and the support for its content.



Challenge 2: Translating Medication Brand Names or Active Ingredients

What´s the difference between medication brand names and active ingredients? Are they all translated and capitalized?

A common question raised by many translation students when working on scientific or medical papers is related to the “name of medications,” such as Acetazolamide, Diamox, Dexamethasone, Decadron, Ibuprofen, Advil, Nifedipine, Adalat, etc. Are there official versions in English AND Spanish?

The World Health Organization facilitates the identification of pharmaceutical substances or active ingredients by using International Nonproprietary Names (INN) with the objective of selecting a single name of worldwide acceptability for each pharmaceutical active substance. We call them “denominaciones comunes internacionales” or “DCI” in Spanish and, yes, there are rules that regulate their translation! These are the generic names of medications, usually a shorthand version of the drug’s chemical name, structure, or formula (acetazolamide, dexamethasone, ibuprofen, nifedipine). In Spanish, these names are written in lowercase; they must contain certain prefixes, roots and suffixes; and they have a masculine or feminine article.

In contrast, each pharmaceutical company that markets a drug gives them a brand name, which tends to be catchy and memorable. To avoid confusion, the WHO states that trademarks should never be derived from INNs or contain common stems used in these nonproprietary names. Commercial brand names are proper names and should therefore be capitalized and left untranslated (Diamox, Decadron, Advil, Adalat), without articles. We may also see these symbols next to the name: ® or ™. Most brand names vary depending on the country, and we may need to make a clarification if the US drug brand name is identical or similar to drug brand names used in other countries containing different active ingredients in order to avoid confusion or medication errors (for example, Advil’s active ingredient in the US is ibuprofen, while in the Philippines the same brand name’s active ingredient is mefenamic acid). It is important for us to always check the names of medications to make sure that our translations are correct, accurate, and do not introduce any ambiguity in our target text, especially when addressing the Hispanic population from the US and over 30 different countries.



Challenge 3: Researching and Finding Reliable Translation Sources: “Altura” vs. “Altitud”

In translation, research is everything. We are very lucky to have reliable guidelines for translation created by the Royal Academy of Medicine, Tremédica, and Cosnautas, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t need a second opinion. When translating about the prevention and treatment of acute altitude illness, the nuances between terms such as “altura” and “altitud” (height and altitude) become truly relevant.

Unfortunately, we discovered that two of our most reliable dictionaries, the DTM and DRAE, regard “altura” and “altitud” as synonyms, and they may fall short as our main sources of consultation. In this case, it’s important for us to note that “altura” refers to the extent of elevation above the surface of the Earth or the ground, while “altitude” refers to the vertical elevation above the sea level. In conclusion, in order to get these lexical choices right, it’s essential for us to reach out to experts and double-check lexical terms by resorting to specialized sources to produce the most accurate translations.

Stay tuned for more insights and tips when facing translation challenges!


Paula Penovi Certified Translator

Argentum Translations Certified Translator ATA Director Paula Penovi

Paula Penovi is a Certified Translator (CT) by the American Translator’s Association (ATA) and a Certified Medical Interpreter (CMI), and holds a master’s degree in Medical and Healthcare Translation. She has volunteered as a researcher/terminologist at the Research Institute of United States Spanish (RIUSS) and is an active member of the ATA’s Translation Company Division’s Leadership Council. She is one of the directors of Argentum Translations and has over a decade of experience in providing high-quality technical and scientific translation services in the medical and technology fields.





La traducción de los medicamentos“, Fernando A. Navarro. El Trujamán. Centro Virtual Cervantes.
“Identical or similar brand names used in different countries for medications with different active ingredients: a descriptive analysis”, Lubna Merchant, Randall Lutter, and Sherry Chang. National Library of Medicine.
“Altitud y altura”, Fundéu
Wilderness Medical Society’s website and Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Prevention and Treatment of Acute Altitude Illness (2019 Update)
Altura, Diccionario de términos médicos (DTM)
Altura, Diccionario de la Real Academia Española (DRAE)
“International Nonproprietary Names Programme and Classification of Medical Products”, World Health Organization
Panace@. Vol. XI, n.o 31., 2010. Tremédica.