Which Translation API Should I Choose?

There are many different types of translation API options. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the basic types to help you find one that’s right for your needs.

Machine Translation APIs

This type of API is very limited to just one thing – enabling you to push content into an automatic translation tool, after which the translated content is pushed back to your target destination. This type of API is offered for Google Translate and Bing Translator.

The good thing about this kind of API is that it’s easy to access, widely used, and frequently updated. The bad thing about it is that it’s usefulness is very limited, because the quality of the output is usually so poor that it makes for a terrible user experience. Using machine translation is not only bad for human users. It’s harmful to SEO, because search engines view it as low-quality, computer-generated content.

So, think carefully before you show up with a “solution” to a translation problem that involves a machine translation API. You might be introducing more harm than good. However, if the content you’ll be translating won’t be published anywhere and is used for some other purpose (for example, getting a “gist” of a large amount of content), machine translation might be an option to consider.

Machine translation APIs are not appropriate for the majority of business translation needs. If they are used for corporate use cases, usually it’s in combination with a more robust enterprise translation platform API (see below). If you’re just doing a quick test or want to experiment, this might be an option. However, watch out for the SEO penalty, because it can harm traffic to your site even for your primary (source language) site.

Translation Agency APIs

If you’re planning to pay for professional translation, some agencies that provide translation and localization services have built APIs to allow you to push content into their systems so that they can push professionally translated content back to you. This is an option that is sometimes chosen by businesses who already have an established relationship with a translation agency.

The benefit of this type of translation API is that it allows you to continue using the same agency you are already using for translations. However, the bad thing is that if your business reaches that agency’s limits in terms of languages, scalability, or technical complexity, your hands will be tied, and it’s doubtful that the API will be properly supported and maintained, unless the agency in question has a significant development team, which is uncommon.

Perhaps a greater concern for most businesses is that if you use a translation agency API, you often do not receive your translation memory and terminology management files. As translators work on your content, they create translation databases that are stored in a file format (TMX). The same is true of terminology and glossary files that they create during the translation process, also in a special file format (TBX). Most of the translation agency APIs that exist will not allow you to obtain these files, which are important resources that can actually reduce your future translation costs by anywhere form 40% to 80%.

Also, these types of APIs often do not support certain types of content, such as websites or mobile apps, or can be rather limited in how they handle these types of files. In other words, while this type of solution might help you with short-term needs, it isn’t the best solution for ongoing business translation requests.

Language-Specific Translation APIs

There are also several translation APIs, usually free ones, that only support one language. This is probably the least useful type of API, unless you truly only want to go into just one language, and even so, most of these are not enterprise-grade. So, while they might be OK for experimenting or for single-language projects, they are not likely to be robust enough to support long-term business translation needs.

These APIs come in three main flavors – either they are actually a machine translation API (discussed above),  a translation agency API, or more commonly an API that really isn’t a pure “translation” API, but more of a “converter” that will render text from one language into a different character set, or that allows for certain functionality, such as an in-language search option, or a dictionary look-up tool.

Translation Project Management APIs

Another, less common type of translation API is one that basically enables you to connect into a translation project management tool, so that you can send content into the tool for human translation and push it back out. Consider it a project management tool, much like Basecamp, except purpose-built for translations. This type of tool is usually purchased as a SaaS offering, and the API is available to customers only, not for free. To access the API, you first need to purchase a SaaS license. From within the tool, you can manage projects in the cloud.

The advantage of this type of API is that it enables you to link your translation projects to your other business systems and processes. Some of these tools will also give you access to your TMX and TBX files, although you may have to ask specifically about this. However, this type of software is very limited in scope, and you cannot easily use it for web content unless you have already gone to the trouble of web internationalization. If you haven’t yet created a “localization-ready” site, you may find yourself stuck when it comes to using this kind of API for other web content.

Translation Platform APIs

A translation platform API is by far the most robust type of API available, for complex, enterprise use cases that require the utmost in security, support, and ongoing development.

As with a translation project management API, a translation platform API is usually combined with a SaaS license to the platform itself, but the underlying translation software platform offers much more than just translation project management.

When choosing a translation platform API, make sure to look for the following attributes:

  • REST-like. For scalable web services, you’ll want to ensure that the API you choose uses the best software architecture style. REST has become a de facto standard for translation platform APIs.
  • HTTPS/JSON. Look for a platform API that uses defined HTTPS requests to ensure data privacy not provided by HTTP, and structured JSON
  • Simple upload/download interface. Make sure the API allows you to simply upload source files with no other work involved on your part, so that you can just download the translated files whenever it makes sense (most likely during deployment).
  • Real-time status reporting. No matter which API you pick, make sure that you have full transparency and can always check the status of a file or get a list of files in translation.
  • SDKs. To make things as streamlined as possible, make sure you can access SDKs. This way, you won’t have to be bothered with low-level API details. For the best experience possible, a high-quality API will enable you to just download the artifacts and integrate the API in your build process.
  • Machine translation integration. Ideally, the platform itself should give you access to machine translation options, should your business require them.

Explore the Smartling API

The Smartling API is a translation platform API that has quickly become the favorite for modern tech-savvy companies. Development teams who want to avoid diverting attention from their core product development due to translation projects. The Smartling API enables companies to easily connect their systems to the Smartling platform. See below for more information of interest about the Smartling API, to help you with your translation API selection.