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Leverage machine translation with Phrase

Machine translation (MT) is a useful productivity tool for human translators. It also allows for a fast turnaround of urgently needed content with low-quality demands. Phrase integrates several MT engines at low or no additional cost.

Machine Translation (MT) has advanced significantly over the last few years. Once an abstract promise, then a concrete threat, it evolved into just another tool for people involved in translation. Most translators use some form of MT, and most localization platforms provide ways for integrating MT into the translation workflow. 

MT in Phrase

Phrase has accepted this new role of MT and offers it as a natural part of its services to all customers. Regardless of which package you choose, you have access to a machine translation volume of 1M characters per month.


To enable machine translation in your Phrase Project, go to the Advanced section of your Project settings and select enable machine translation.

Screenshot 2020-06-22 at 13.13.10

Once this is enabled you can already use machine translation for your translations. However, you can also choose your preferred machine translation provider for your entire account or for individual language pairs. 

Choose your preferred machine translation provider

Go to your Account Details in the dropdown by clicking on your company name on the top right. Navigate to the “Machine Translation”tab. 

You can choose one machine translation provider for the entire account in this section:

default mt providerAlternatively, you can define different machine translation providers for different language pairs. This can be done in the bottom section:

mt settings per language pair

Availability of MT

With an integrated MT engine, translations are always available to Phrase customers at a moment's notice. Just upload source content and you can immediately receive translations into any language supported by the selected engine. MT is fully integrated into Phrase's workflow, which means that translations are at your fingertips via

  • The Machine Translation tab in the context section of the editor (right-hand side): here, you will see a translation for the whole active phrase provided by your chosen machine translation service,
  • SmartSuggest in Phrase's online Translation Editor: as you type, Phrase uses Microsoft Translate to offer continuations of the sentence you are working on; this is sometimes referred to as "predictive typing" and does not count towards your machine translation quota,
  • Preliminary translations in Phrase's Autopilot (see below).

Benefits of MT

Machine translation is fast. You can push files through a translation workflow with a machine translation engine and you'll have your translated content back within minutes. Thus, you can get a quick idea of how your software might look like in another language. Besides next-to-nothing cost, speed is therefore the most obvious benefit of MT. 

MT instead of pseudotranslation

You may often want to test your software for valid internationalization before translators begin their work. Pseudotranslation would be the standard method, where your source content is replaced with gibberish that is similar to the target language.

A better way to achieve similar results is to use machine translation instead. Using Phrase's Autopilot feature, you can automatically generate translations for newly added source strings, if no user-generated translation is available. Although these autogenerated translations may not be at human quality, they still give you a much more realistic test case than pseudotranslations.

Like machine translations in the Machine Translation tab, Autopilot will draw from your quota when it accesses your machine translation service of choice. The Reports tab provides statistics on the source of your translations:

Quality of MT

While the benefits and uses of MT are apparent, so are the drawbacks. Even the best machine translation engines cannot match carefully prepared human translations. This is the case for well-researched language pairs (e.g. English to German), and this is more pronounced for more unusual pairings. Thus, when quality is a concern, human translators are still indispensable.

That said, MT can help improve human translations: when a suggestion comes from an MT engine, it rarely contains a spelling error. This means that MT can serve as a very fast linguistic research tool and save the translator lots of typing. It can also speed up the final proofreading process by nearly eliminating certain errors (to be fair: at the cost of introducing others). In the end, the translation team needs to evaluate whether the quality is sufficiently high to make MT a useful tool.

Confidentiality concerns

Most MT engines live in the cloud, and to receive translations, your content needs to be sent into the hands of third parties. The main MT vendors offer end-to-end encryption and guarantee the safeguarding of content. However, some applications demand that you maintain full control of your content and may specifically rule out such content processing.  

Overall, MT is likely to generate significant productivity gains for you. As long as you are aware that high-quality translations will require human intervention, Phrase will give you efficient access to several of the most powerful machine translation tools. Without additional costs in most cases.