1. Don't Just Translate, Communicate:
Whether you are doing translation "in-house", or if you are using professional translation services, you will need to deeply understand the target audience demographics and the desired impact of the message.
If you do not really understand your target audience in their local context, it is easy to spend a lot of money on translations and not actually communicate well.
Your translation company should be asking questions such as :
• Which dialect(s)?
• What age groups?
• What educational levels? What word plays are culturally sensitive?
• Are there any concepts that are common in English but not in the target country?
• Which media types will this be used on?
Translation is not the same as Communication.
If you don't grasp the difference you will waste a lot of money.
2. Translation or Localization?
Don’t be fooled by terminology. Localization (or if you are really trendy “L8n”) is what they call translations that involve software or websites. It also means adapting the translation to meet local needs. In addition to basic cultural adaptations (see point 1) it also includes making sure things like addresses, currencies, etc. follow the local format correctly.
If you are targeting a foreign market then you will be localizing the content. Your goal is to communicate effectively. It doesn’t matter what you call the process as the end product should be the same.
3. Understand Translation Memory
If you are using a professional translation company, be sure to ask for a copy of your “Translation Memory” (TM). This is a file that contains a “memory” of phrases between two languages that have been translated. It is often generated by software called Trados but there are others and they are interchangeable.
Why does this matter? It matters because you actually should own the TM (although most translation companies will not tell you this) as it reduces the costs of future translations by “pre-populating” a translation by using previous translations. Sound confusing? Don’t worry. Just know that over time you can save 40-50% of your translation-costs.
Why pay twice to translate the same phrase? If you have the TM you can switch translation companies but if you don’t then you are stuck. You don’t need to understand the technical side (fuzzy matches, partial matches etc), just that you need to get your TM and insist that any price quotes take the TM in to consideration.
4.How to use Internal Reviewers
Who will decide if the translation is of good quality? If you don’t speak Chinese but an intern or a secretary does, then wouldn’t it make sense for them to decide? Not really.
At the end of the day there is a tremendous degree of subjectivity in a language. Do you prefer informal or formal? Do you like a looser interpretation or a more literal style? Do you have a technical glossary and industry jargon or know how?
Having internal reviewers is important but having a Style Guide and a Glossary of Terminology is critical. Otherwise your quality will bounce around as reviewers change.
Relying solely on internal reviewers can make translating a head-ache for the person managing it.
5. Understand Machine Translation
You will hear this a lot and it is critical not to get side-tracked. Machine Translation (like Google Translate or any other automated tool) is not the same as Translation Memory.
Machine Translation is a software that kicks out a full “translation” of a document using statistical or other models to “guess” what the text means. Super cheap. This is great for simple content but is not yet at the level where it can be used for broad commercial purposes.
If you have a limited amount of text in a narrow or uncomplicated field (for example hotel reviews) then it works well. For complex areas that are broader and that have more subtleties it is not a good option. All Machine Translation requires human post-editing and depending on the quality levels, it can end up costing more than a normal translation.
6.When to use Internal Translators
Most organizations run on a tight budget. As such they prefer to “save” money and have somebody in the office to do the translating if possible. Despite the initial “cost savings”, many of these organizations end up using a professional languages service even though it costs money. Why?
Firstly because of the time involved. Your staff already have a job and can only dedicate so much time. Deadlines are hard to predict. They may have time today but if tomorrow the core job is the priority then the translation will have to wait. Secondly, the individual will find that translation is tough. Being bi-lingual is not the same as being a linguist.
Linguists are trained and very dedicated to knowing their grammar, syntax rules, differences in dialects, accessing specialist dictionaries and being fastidious about quality and details. Whereas a typical linguist will do 2500 words a day, a novice will only do around 800-1000 a day and will feel exhausted! There will also be quality differences. Finally the employee will not understand Translation Memory nor have the software. As such there will be no TM file for your organization and no future savings possible.
7. Being aware of Multi-language Support
For many organizations translating starts with a website, marketing collateral and other market-focused content. Once that has been done there is the question “What happens if we get a query from China, what do we do? If they call who answers? We don’t have anybody here who speaks Chinese”.
Live support after the fact is one of the hidden costs that many organizations do not factor for. One option is provided by professional translation companies. For example, Compass Languages provides something called “OPI” or Over the Phone Interpreting.
This is a remote service that allows you to “patch in” an English-Chinese speaking linguist (or any of the other 200 languages) on the phone (24/7/365) to help with any non-English enquiries. The organization only pays per minute of actual use.
For many organizations putting their toes in the global waters, OPI is a great solution from an expense/overhead perspective as it avoids having to hire a bunch of bi-lingual people without knowing the real demand. Similar solutions exist for e-mail support too.
8. What about multi-media?
The use of audio and video is quickly replacing good old fashioned text. A picture can say a thousand words. Motion Graphics even more. When considering that your translation costs are normally driven by the number of words you translate, looking at how you structure your English content can be the biggest contributor to lowering translation costs.
Multi-media can replace a lot of words. Working with a translation service that is also able to produce multi-language versions of informational or marketing videos, presentations, audio-clips, and other multi-media content can be very effective and save you money.
The next time you are considering translation in order to reach an important international market, consider these 8 tips and recommendations to help make your project a communication, and a financial, success.
NOTE: For more information on translation services, feel free to contact Leo at:
Compass Languages : 147 Old Solomons Island Road, Suite 302 : Annapolis, MD 21401