• Rick White - Director of Client Services

Does a ‘Universal Translator’ For Market Research Exist?

Star Trek's Gene Roddenberry solved their language problem by inventing a Universal Translator. But can we use it now?


Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek's creator, invented a fictional device called a Universal Translator that solved the problem. Today, with neural machine translation (NMT), artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML), we are starting to see claims of something like this universal translator. But are these machine translation tools legitimate? And how does this affect international market research?


Market research translation is a natural target for automation


The reality is that language is a very challenging problem for automation because languages, especially when you get away from European languages, which have been commonly used for machine translation services. That's because you have colloquialisms, obscure cultural references, localized dialects, a wide variety of alphabets, and pronunciation issues, multiplied dozens of times by the sheer variety of languages.


As we’ve pointed out in a series of articles, cultural factors alone can derail market research survey results based on language use. In spite of this, for a variety of factors, translation automation can and is being applied to the market research industry. There are a number of things that make market research surveys a good candidate for automation. But first, it's important to understand what ‘automation’ actually means.


Linguists Are Still Involved


Machine automation in translation and localization does not actually mean a machine does everything. NMT can’t do localization, nor can it edit itself - and that's where humans come in. There are humans behind the curtain turning those machine translation services into understandable and culturally-relevant content. So this means that when it comes to machine translation tools, there must be people involved. The problems are simply too complex, especially when multiple languages are involved.


What machine translation can do for market research translation


So, what does automation in market research translation mean? The Decipher and Confirmit platforms are ready to connect with translation workflows via APIs built into these applications. The formats are standardized and the applications can export file formats like XML that can maintain formatting throughout the translation process. They are translated and reviewed by humans and then they flow back into the platform ready for delivery to respondents. The automation doesn’t remove the human element, it incorporates it for gains in speed and cost efficiency, without sacrificing the localization processes.



Machine translation can be extremely beneficial within the market research industry because it brings cost savings and a faster turnaround time. However, since localization is the process of taking cultural considerations of the content into account, important details can be missed when only using machine translation tools. So it is important to carefully balance your machine translation efforts with those of a professionally trained linguist - and we can help you! Let's chat machine translation and translation workflow. Get in touch with us!