Free Online Translator

Is a free online translator all I need to get a good German translation?

free online translator

OK, so you need to translate a German text into English. Use a free online translator and get a free German translation!

These are some of the most popular automatic translators you'll find on the web:

Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?

Probably because, usually, it is.


Well, let’s get one thing clear....... there are 2 types of translation.

  • Automated, machine translation, i.e. using a free translator on the web or purchased translation software.
  • Human translation, i.e. one translated for you by a qualified, human translator.

Now “free” must be the most overused word on the web.

Online, as offline, there is no such thing as a free lunch. A language translator is offered for precisely 2 reasons:

  1. As a LEAD IN to selling professional translation services (you realise the limited quality of your English translation and therefore you are encouraged to purchase a human translation),
  2. As a low cost ADD ON which is offered by internet service providers who are addressing an international audience to offer some added value.

But don’t get me wrong - the internet is multilingual by nature, so a free machine translator certainly has a role to play.

When to use a free online translator

When you need a “gist” translation – i.e. a rough idea of what the German text is about. Then you can decide if it is a text you need to have properly translated or not.

  • Emails or short notes.
  • Blocks of text on a German language website.
  • A few odd German words or phrases.
  • Translating a text for your personal use - but not one you plan to publish or pass off as your own work (listen up, students!).

TIP!  Most free online translators only let you translate a few lines of text at a time anyway. If your text is short - a phrase or so - you might often find that a really good free online German dictionary is all you need.

You need a human translation when..

  • Your German translation will reflect on you or your organisation. If the translation is bad, you will look incompetent. It will also be clear that you don’t think highly enough of your audience/customers/business partners etc. to bother providing them with a properly translated text.
  • Your German translation will be printed. Money spent printing inadequate or incorrect English is simply money wasted.
  • Your German translation needs to be adapted for its English-speaking audience. Certain German terms (organisations / institutions /customs etc.)may need to be explained or paraphrased rather than simply translated (often they shouldn’t be translated!). This is referred to as “localisation” and is often offered as a translation service in itself.
  • Your German translation needs to be legally valid! Some translators are officially certified by the courts (Gerichtlich beeidet – legally sworn) and their English translations of German texts or documents are accepted as official documents – frequently required for translations of passports, contracts, certificates etc.
  • Your German translation deals with a specialist topic (e.g. engineering, IT, medicine or law) and will be read by a specialist audience (e.g. lawyers, doctors). Not only will a free online translator be inadequate but your human German translator should also be specialised in your particular field.

Here are a few more thoughts on what makes a translation "good", and my guide to buying professional translation services.

TIP!  Don’t confuse machine translators with translation software (CAT tools) which is used by professional translators and does a very different job – helping compile glossaries, matching up blocks of translated text, and greatly improving the consistency involved in translating large texts, or a series of similar texts.

OK, so you've worked out that a free online translator will be fine for your needs.

Try one of these free translators and see the results for yourself:

And now we test those free online translators.....

For fun, I’ve run a couple of paragraphs of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and Charles Dickens' Christmas Carol through the free online translators above - and run the authorized German translation through to see how closely it gets back to the English original.

OK, you wouldn’t do this in everyday life, BUT it demonstrates that translation is not a mechanical process in which words are simply “exchanged” for one another!

And, I’ve repeated the process 5 years later, which is really interesting…… Click on each of the free online translator links above to see the results!

To conclude, there’s so much hype about machine translation these days. Billions are being invested into automated communications as companies desperately try to reach a global audience, streamline processes, and raise efficiency.

But while there is certainly an important role for machine translation, human translation is also here to stay. And that's good news for professional German translators everywhere!


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Joanna Scudamore-Trezek

I'm a German to English translator living and working in Vienna, Austria. I turn German texts into clear and accessible English, allowing clients to present their stories, ideas and information to a completely new audience. My business and marketing clients rely on me to get their message across clearly and effectively.  How can I help you today?

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