Auto translation tools have been introduced on YouTube to allow its users to reach a larger audience.

We don’t know about you, but here at Transcription Global we love nothing more than browsing YouTube for new and funny videos. Some of our favourites have come from thousands of miles away, like PSY’s Gangnam Style or Charlie Schmidt’s Keyboard Cat. However, when you run a business, videos play a much more critical role than just making people laugh.

Since Google’s Panda update, increased value has been placed on quality website content. To have a hope of being near the top of the search engine results page, websites need to be easy to navigate, informative and packed full of content users want, rather than being a glorified advert for the business. Content now valued highly by the search engine algorithms includes news, photos, blogs and videos – with the latter proving just how much accessibility can influence a website’s success.

The power of pictures

It would seem the old saying “a picture speaks a thousand words” has never been truer, particularly when businesses are attempting to reach an international audience. The Institute of Translation and Interpreting notes that Ikea – a brand known around the world – is famous for its instruction kits that feature pictures in place of text to guide readers through the assembly process. Then there’s the staggering success of Gangnam Style over the past few weeks, which demonstrates people don’t necessarily have to understand what you’re saying to enjoy what you’re doing.

However, while there are some great examples where you don’t need to know what’s being said in the video, there are many more where the audio is just as important as the visual, which is why anyone uploading a video on YouTube has the option of adding captions. These provide a transcription the viewer can read to follow what’s going on, which is particularly useful for the hard of hearing.

Translation choices

This still doesn’t solve the dilemma of how to get your message across to international viewers. However, it would seem YouTube has come up with a solution. It is now possible for you to translate your video captions into as many as 300 different languages, including everything from French to Fijian.

Users have two options; either they can invite YouTube community members to help translate, or they can opt for the automated caption translator using the Google Translator Toolkit editor, which is the speediest option.

Of course, the choice you make will depend on the video you’re uploading. If you have a fun video of your cat on a piano you are posting to your personal YouTube site and that you don’t expect anyone other than friends and family to take a peek at, you’ll probably be quite happy to rely on the machine translation. However, if this is an important corporate video you have been developing on behalf of your employer or a client, you should take a little more care.

Auto-translation: understanding the risks

Machine translations are notoriously hit-and-miss and it’s entirely possible a viewer watching overseas still won’t be able to understand what is going on, even if the captions are in their mother tongue. The alternative option of sourcing your translation from the YouTube community also comes with its risks – particularly if you don’t speak the target language and have no way of checking that the text you receive from another member is correct.

Rick Burgess, writing for Tech Spot, says: “Given how bad some of YouTube’s same-language, machine-generated captions have proven to be, one can only imagine the kinds of funny results we’ll see by making poor translations of bad transcriptions.”

When there is a lot riding on your online video, it is worth hiring a professional translator to produce the captions you need. This means that not only will your video be accessible to a wider audience, but people will also get the message you want them to get.

Alternatively, you could just come up with a fun PSY-style dance routine to get your message across!