Adam Haynes – Professional Translation Services

MTPE or machine translation post editing – what is it and is it any good?

30 September 2021 by AdamWeave43

What is MTPE? When considering MTPE and whether it’s really as good as people say it is, two recent examples come to mind. Both were Dutch phrases that a paid-for machine translation tool had translated into English. That’s not a free Google Translate-type tool, but a subscription-based tool used by a client. The first was a variant of the Dutch ‘handschoenen dragen’ or ‘wear gloves’, where the machine translation tool had read the word ‘dragen’, which means to wear, to bear or to carry as the latter and had read the word ‘handschoenen’, which means ‘gloves’, as ‘hand shoes’, which is quite literally, what it is – but not in English! So we had ‘remember to carry your hand shoes’ rather than ‘don’t forget to wear your gloves’!

The second example was the Dutch phrase ‘het mes snijdt aan twee kanten’, literally ‘the knife cuts on two sides’ – translated by the MT as ‘it’s a double-edged sword’, when really it should have said something along the lines of ‘the benefits are two-fold’ or ‘it has a two-pronged effect’. Not quite the meaning of a ‘double-edged sword’! Those idioms!

Many businesses and professionals have begun to turn to machine translation and MTPE or machine translation post editing to get their content translated into different languages. But is it worth it? Let us explain what MTPE means before looking at the human translator versus machine translation debate.

What is MTPE (machine translation post editing)?

Machine translation (MT) involves using machine technology or artificial intelligence to convert text from one language to another. This is always pretty instant. But since pure machine translation rarely produces accurate and contextual results, most language service providers opt to combine machine translation with post editing.

In this case, a human linguist goes through the output of machine-translated content to improve its accuracy, refine the text, and boost its quality. While the outcome after human editing is always top-notch, there are concerns about the tedious work involved, the time taken for the entire process, and the related costs.

Machine translation continues to advance, and the results are considerably better. And while it is here to stay, it is nearly impossible to rely on it singlehandedly. Thus, as businesses, individual translators, language service providers and translation agencies integrated it more and more into the processes, the value of human touch on every document remains challenging to ignore.

The various types of machine translation technology available include adaptive, rule-based, neural, and statistical. Notably, adaptive and neural machine learning technologies are more advanced, accurate and widely used. But while these technologies remarkably bridge the gap between humans and artificial intelligence, it is still impossible to wish away professional human translators.

Human translation versus machine translation with post editing

Do not get it twisted! This comparison is not to discredit MTPE or human translation. Instead, we aim to establish which is more appropriate for you based on costs, accuracy, quality and time. Can you combine machine translation with post editing? Or, is a pure human translation service more beneficial?

Let’s find out!

Accuracy and text quality

Of all the comparison parameters, we believe that accuracy and quality are the most vital factors to look out for if you are looking to choose between human translation services and machine translation with post editing. How reliable is machine translation vis a vis human translation?

The results for machine translation largely depend on the kind of translation tool you choose, the complexity of the original text, and the original and target languages. Google Translate, Bing Translate, DeepL Translate, Microsoft Translate and Yandex Translate are among the most common AI translation services you can use.

The chances are that you have encountered awkward, funny and completely inaccurate Google Translate results. Of course, this happens mostly with free machine translation tools. The inaccuracies can create more problems. On the other hand, human translations use pure brainpower, and depending on the translator or agency you choose, the outcome is always exemplary.


If there is one aspect that is pretty debatable when it comes to human translation versus MTPE, it must be time. Many proponents of machine translation opine that it is faster. Indeed, using technology to translate a text is pretty instant and takes seconds or a few minutes. However, these documents can be ambiguous, less fluent or contain multiple mistranslations. So, it is still critical for a human translator to go through each word, sentence and paragraph and put the entire document into the proper context. Depending on the quality of the translation, the time taken to correct the mistakes made by AI can be consuming. The MT results are sometimes a mess, and some human translators often opt to translate the document afresh to avoid the nightmare of post editing the AI version.

The amount of time for MTPE will depend on the complexity of the document and the quality of the machine translation. While you will have a faster turnaround time for small, simple text documents when you opt for MTPE, the time could be longer if complex documents are involved.


How much does MTPE cost? The other talking point is the cost of professional translators versus the cost of MTPE. It’s a difficult one to call. MT is generally less labour intensive and considered less costly, but taking into account the time factor mentioned above, things can get a little more complicated if you have to use a professional translator to fine tune your content. If the machine translated document is too erroneous, a human translator would still charge you nearly the same amount they would have levied without an MT copy.

Should I use machine translation or human translation?

With current technological advancements, machine translation can produce favourable results. But, and it’s a big BUT, it is no use on its own. While it does come with a few advantages, the gamble is enormous, particularly when it comes to quality.

In addition, it is inappropriate to opt for machine translation for highly technical, professional documents or marketing content that requires the message to be changed or needs rewriting to make the content work for your new audience. You will still need that human touch through post editing, and this may become more costly and more time consuming than opting for pure human translation at the outset.

Most language experts will confide in you that 100% human translations produced by professional translators yield incredible results. Remember that it’s always important to opt for translators who have the right experience and expertise in your field. For a dedicated professional who can produce high-quality translations, get in touch for a discussion.