The biggest mistakes businesses make when getting texts translated

How to avoid some common pitfalls when buying translation services

For companies at the start of their journey into an overseas market, procuring translation services can be a complicated and confusing business. With so much of the translation industry now based online, finding a translation services provider that can meet your needs can be a tricky business, and there are plenty of pitfalls awaiting the unaware. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to the biggest mistakes businesses make when getting texts translated, and how you can avoid them.

False economies

It’s only natural that companies look to minimise costs throughout their business dealings, including the cost of translation. However, companies sometimes go to extremes in looking for the best deal, and end up with a damp squib. A classic example of this is when companies settle for machine translation (MT), which is extremely cheap because the translation is conducted by a computer program rather than a human. Like most things, if it sounds too good to be true that’s because it is. Machine translation is a very pale imitation of professional human translation. Computers simply aren’t able to deal in nuance, handle idiomatic language or distinguish contextually between two meanings of the same word in any consistent or reliable manner. At best, a machine translation will result in nonsense, and at worse, dangerous nonsense, and many companies end up coming to a professional translation agency asking them to fix the mess, paying twice over for the job. Until we reach the stage where machines’ thought processes are indistinguishable from our own, it’s best to avoid machine translation.

Cheap prices don’t always mean computers are at work, of course, as there are plenty of unskilled charlatans out there who are happy to offer extremely low prices in order to win your business, simply because that’s all they have to offer. Be extremely wary of very cheap rates, and make sure that your outsourcer has a consistent and coherent online presence. At the very least, any translation services vendor you work with should have a professional website written in clear, engaging language, with CVs, samples, testimonials and other supporting material for clients to view. Look for evidence that they are an established professional company and research them using a search engine. Ideally you should find the company connected with many other professionals on LinkedIn or other similar sites, discover that they are members of professional organisations, or see that staff members are contributing to publications elsewhere. Do they have an active blog with carefully written, in-depth articles? Are they engaged in Twitter discussions about the latest industry news? By doing just a small amount of research you can get a much better picture of your future partner.

One versus many

Many companies look to cut prices by hiring a cheaper freelance translator rather than a translation agency. While there are plenty of talented freelancers out there, choosing an agency means that you have access to a wider range of skills and knowledge. If you are an engineering company, you might find a freelancer with excellent engineering knowledge, but that same freelancer may be useless when it comes to marketing. With a well-organised team of translators there’s bound to be a marketing specialist on hand to check that the text is just right. A translation agency can also offer a range of other skills, including DTP, localisation, copywriting and SEO, so you don’t have to worry about finding individual outsourcers for all of these aspects of your text. And you needn’t pay through the nose for a high-quality agency. Look for a smaller translation company or a team of translators, ideally with offices somewhere other than large international cities like London or New York, where rents are expensive, or even run online to minimise overheads.

Qualifications matter

Another cost-cutting measure that often doesn’t pay off is asking a bilingual in-house staff member to translate texts. Simply put, translation is not just a matter of speaking two languages adequately, otherwise everybody would be doing it. Professional translators undergo years of training, honing their writing, editing and research skills, building up vast banks of linguistic resources and constantly improving their translation skills. Translation is both an art and a science, deeply technical and requiring tremendous sensitivity, and the very best translators have an incredibly subtle understanding of the differences between languages and cultures that informs everything they do. Alex in accounts might speak pretty good Russian, but does he keep up with the very latest developments in Russian business and commerce? Is his writing stylish and accurate? Does he have years of experience translating similar texts? Does he use the latest translation industry software for accuracy and efficiency? And is he really an Italian native speaker, or just very fluent? Choosing a professional, native-speaking translator means that your text will be professional and of native speaker standards, and if you want your business to succeed nothing else will do.

Once companies decide to look for a translation services provider, there’re still plenty of ways to go wrong. Find an agency or team that provides full management support, with translators working in a range of in-depth specialisms. Be very wary of any company broadly claiming to be experts in everything, and look for specifics. If a translation agency makes vague claims about their impressive engineering expertise, ask them what kind. Mechanical, materials, electrical, design? Can they cite specific past projects in your field? Do they have testimonials to back this up? Any professional translation company will offer proofreading and editing as standard, understanding that this is the only way to ensure the best quality texts, and many will be able to handle some of your other current or future needs, from copywriting to DTP. You should also make sure any translation team you choose works with CAT tools. These ‘computer assisted translation’ tools are now industry standard, and work by automating repetitive parts of the translation process. These are not to be confused with machine translators, as CAT tools are used by skilled human linguists to improve accuracy and efficiency, and pass on financial savings to the end client.

Once companies have chosen a translation services vendor, other hazards must still be avoided. Be careful to plan ahead with your projects, leaving adequate time for translation, as large texts just cannot be done overnight. Make sure that you prepare texts to the best of your ability, or find a translation vendor that can prepare them for you. Texts need to be in an accessible file format such as .doc or .docx, and should be free from errors and unnecessary repetition, so make sure you give them a good read-through before you send them off. Finally, make sure that you communicate exactly what you want to your translation services supplier. If your company is young, hip and trendy then make sure to say this, so that the translator can capture this identity in the translation. If you use lots of key terms, provide translators with a document listing these and explain what they are. If you use a style guide or can provide any other reference materials such as web resources, diagrams, or glossaries, make them available to the translators so that they can do the best job possible.

Translators Family is the ideal choice for anyone looking to avoid wasting time and money and move into the foreign markets smoothly and efficiently. We’re a boutique translation agency, with low taxes and office overheads, so our prices are competitive. We only use native-speaking translators with professional qualifications, who have many years of experience both within translation and within a range of other relevant industry sectors, and our project managers are all also translators, so fully understand the nature of the work. We offer excellent discounts for repetitive texts thanks to our use of CAT tools such as Trados, we offer discounts for long-term contracts or large volume jobs, and we can also provide DTP services, transcreation, localisation, copywriting and SEO. So if you’re looking for a partner you can rely on, why not get in touch today?

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