DeepL: A Modern-day David and Goliath Story

In only six months, DeepL has become an indispensable tool for aspiring translators and is now teaching machine translation giants, such as Google Translate, a few lessons.

It must be said that there are few online machine translation tools that are both free and powerful at the same time. So, as soon as a potential player enters the online translation market, sceptical observers are quick to scrutinize its performance. For the purposes of this article, the newcomer is DeepL, a machine translation company located in Cologne, Germany, that is managed by a team of no more than twenty employees.

DeepL interface

The online translation community

DeepL is a free translation tool made available by the German company DeepL GmbH, which is also at the helm of the well-known multilingual dictionary, Linguee. The real strength of DeepL is, therefore to a certain extent, Linguee. First of all, thanks to millions of texts and translations posted on Linguee, DeepL’s Artificial Intelligence has tons of data to learn from, and appropriately, DeepL stands for Deep Learning.

You might be forgiven for believing that Google’s AI is more adept at learning, especially when considering that the keyword “Google translate” is searched for 45 500 000 times a month. However, even though DeepL and Google Translate run on neural networks, DeepL’s AI often trumps Google’s.

How does DeepL manage to do more with the same technology? The answer is simple: the performance of any neural network depends on the quality of its training material, not just quantity. DeepL’s neural networks train on billions of high-quality translation segments from the Linguee search engine. Its main contributors are reliable sources such as the European Parliament, Unesco patents, and literary works.

15 times fewer languages but 3 times more efficient than Google translate

Google Translate is a leader in machine translation, whereas DeepL only translates into 7 languages, Google Translate can translate into 103. Although DeepL’s technical director, Jaroslaw Kutylowski, stated in August his willingness to go further in a few months’ time, months later, nothing has changed.

To live up to its ambitions, the company, largely financed by advertising, has built one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers in Iceland. Why Iceland? Because the country relies heavily on renewable energies, which would allow DeepL to manage its neural networks in a sustainable manner. Moreover, the supercomputer is in fact the 23rd most powerful supercomputer in the world, capable of performing more than 5 100 000 000 000 000 floating point operations per second. Basically, it can translate 1 million words in less than a second.

Therefore, with the breath-taking power of its supercomputer, combined with the quality and quantity of its AI learning materials, DeepL is the most efficient machine translation service in the market.

The most significant thing the European newcomer proves is that its translation service can obtain results 3 times higher than those of Google Translate during the BLEU test. BLUE stands for Bilingual Evaluation Understudy, and it is a standard quality evaluation test in the field of machine translation. It compares texts translated by computer with those of human translators. During a blind test conducted by the company, DeepL translations were preferred much more often by real translators than those done by its competitors.

These results are good for the brand, yet one wonders how long the company will remain independent. Google’s desire to acquire strategic technologies, especially ones relating to AI, is well-known. With an average of 14 buybacks per year over the last 10 years, DeepL is likely to be in the firing line, and Google can be very persuasive.

For more on machine translation and AI, have a look at Artificial Intelligence: A Revolution in Machine Translation and Word Vectors: The Foundation of Natural Language Processing (NLP).


Translated by Willem Beckmann (with the aid of DeepL)

Leave a Reply

Bouton retour vers haut de page