Guide for translation services buyers
Helping you understand the lingo and choose a provider
We have put together this guide for clients who have little or no experience working with translators or translation agencies and don’t know what to expect. From some of the most common terms in the industry to understanding quotations, we try to help you understand how it works and how to make the best of it. The following guidelines are general and may not apply to everyone, but they are meant to help you in choosing your language service provider, as well as during the translation process to make it as smooth as possible. Some of these tips may help you save money and time as well. If you are pressed for time, then you can quickly get a gist by reading the summary at the end.
I. Confusing terms in the translation industry
Translation vs. interpreting
Simply put, translation refers to the written work, while interpreting is oral.
Source language vs. target language
Source language is the language in which the original documents are written in. The target language is the language into which the documents will be translated.
Localisation is the complex process of adapting your materials (website, software, brochure etc.) to your intended market – linguistically (think American vs British English) and culturally (colours, images, dates, currency etc.) Read more about what this service entails on our website.
It is a term mainly used in the advertising industry when translation is not enough. More often than not, the messages used in marketing copies will involve wordplays, puns or expressions that only work in the source language. So, if you want to recreate the same feeling, tone and nuance, this is the service you need.
For more terms, you can have a look at the glossary we have put together.
II. How translation can help your business grow
A study from the European Commission has revealed that only 18% of people buy products online in a foreign language, while 90% of Internet surfers prefer to access websites in their own language. So, if your audience is online, then consider addressing them in their language by translating your website. Translation can still help even if you are not online. A restaurant with a multilingual menu can attract more tourists, a toy manufacturer will be able to target foreign markets by advertising in other languages, the opportunities are endless, or, if you want, the sky is the limit.
III. Things to consider before sending your documents for translation
Is the translation for information only or for publishing? If your translated materials are destined for publishing (website, brochures, press releases), we strongly recommend adding a second editing/revision stage where a second linguist will check for typos, omissions, misspellings to make sure everything is perfect.
Entirely or summary?
You have hundreds of pages related to your business. But do you really need all of them translated? Make sure that the content you choose to be translated is relevant to your intended market and audience. Be picky. Choose the essential. It will save on the cost.
Your current materials may be intended for the UK market and include cultural references that will mean nothing for your new audience. Before sending the documents for translation, think of adapting them to make them suitable. Certainly, a good translator may be able to adapt your text, but somehow it may not have the same impact. ‘It’s a Marmite thing’ – Marmite is very popular in the UK and people are said to either love it or hate it, but say this to a foreigner and they will have no clue what you are talking about.
You probably have allocated a budget for your translation or at least have an idea of how much you are willing to pay. Certainly, you’d like to save money as much as possible, but is going for the cheapest provider the best idea? Probably not. While the highest price does not guarantee the best quality, going for a really cheap provider means they will probably cut corners somewhere and that is quality in most cases. A poor translation done cheaply is bound to have a negative impact on your business image. Don’t waste too much time going through all the language service providers hoping to get the best deal, especially if you have a deadline in mind. Suppose you need your translation back in a week. If you spend the first 3 days looking for a provider, the chosen one will need to perform the translation in less time, which may incur an urgency fee.
Who will read the translation? Who is it for? How will it be used? A website is different from a brochure or catalogue or in-house memo. Having access to this information will help the translator provide you with a text that is perfectly adapted to your audience in terms of style, sentence length and choice of words. Also, what country is it for? You know you need a translation from English into Portuguese. But is the translated material going to be used in Portugal or Brazil? The two variants are quite different from each other and you should make sure you tell your language service provider which one you need.
IV. Understanding quotes
Word count vs. page vs. line
You may have seen or received quotes in which the cost of your project is calculated differently. We will try an explain why we chose to work with word count rather than considering the number of pages or lines and why we think using the source word count is fairer to you. The number of lines and pages in a document can vary depending on the font used (type, size), line spacing, headers, footers etc. Do the following experiment. Copy a Wikipedia article (or this guide, or whatever document you prefer) and play around with the font. Use Arial 12 single spacing, then Verdana 16 double spacing. Not the same, is it? However, the word count has not changed.
Target vs. source word count
As for source vs target word count, it is true that the word count can be higher when translating from English into French for example, but we prefer to use the source word count so you know in advance how much it would cost.
Turnaround (urgency fee)
A translator can have an output of 1,500-2,000 words, but sometimes more can be achieved. It all depends on the type of text, formatting etc. Is it highly technical? If yes, chances are it will take longer to translate. Are there a lot of repeat phrases? It may take less. Is there a lot of formatting to be reproduced? It will take longer.
Sometimes you may be charged a formatting fee. What is this for?, we hear you ask. Well, it’s quite simple. If you send us scanned handwritten documents (most medical records come like this), it will take more time to process than a plain Word document, so it will incur some extra fees.
V. Factors that impact the cost
We calculate the price of a translation project according to the number of words in the source document (on a per 1,000 words basis), which means you will know exactly how much it will cost before you start. However, small projects incur a minimum charge which also depends on the language combination (see below). Also, very large projects may be eligible for discounts.
The more technical and specialised the text is, the more it will cost. It is one thing to translate a letter of complaint and a totally different matter to translate a biochemistry textbook.
A translation from English into Yoruba will certainly have a higher translation fee than a similar project from English into French.
While we can work with any format, we prefer editable documents in which our translators can easily replace the original text with the translated version, thus keeping the same style and layout as the original. If your document is a picture or a scanned .pdf, then extra time is needed to either convert the files into an editable format or to mimic the layout, therefore a surcharge may be applied, which also depends on the quality of the picture or scanned documents. But don’t worry, we would still let you know in advance how much that would cost, there will be no surprises at the end.
Rush jobs may incur surcharges, that’s why it is advisable to allow enough time for your translation. We normally calculate 1,500-2,000 words per day, but that doesn’t mean we cannot meet tight deadlines if necessary. But this may be charged extra, depending on the volume and deadline. Again, we would tell you how much the translation will cost before we start the project.
If your materials are destined for publishing, then we strongly recommend you opt for a second editing/revision stage of the translated documents (generally, people refer to it as proofreading, though they are separate services). While our translators proofread their own work, an extra pair of eyes can often spot details that may have been missed previously. Adding proofreading will increase the cost of the translation.
VI. Factors that impact quality
A tight deadline may mean several things:
- Not enough time to do a proper proofreading (the translator needs to leave the translation for a while before proofreading it)
- The need to split a project between several translators in order to meet a tight deadline; this affects consistency first of all (different translators may use different translations for the same term – this is where a glossary comes in handy)
Having your final translation proofread will ensure an error-free document, ready for publishing.
Information and reference materials
The more information you give the translator on the audience, the better they will understand your needs and will be able to come up with the most suitable translation. Also, having reference materials (previous translations, company style guide, glossaries) helps a lot.
VII. Factors that impact turnaround
If you give your language service provider as much information as possible from the outset of the project, there is a smaller chance of having to go back and forth and ask for information, as this in turn will only lead to a delay of the project.
While we can work with any format, if you send us a scan of a handwritten document or poor quality images, it will definitely take longer to process before they are ready for translation, therefore it will impact the turnaround.
An additional proofreading stage will also add to the turnaround (allow 5,000 words/day for proofreading).
VIII. How to choose your translation provider
You may know the target language. You may even be fluent in it. But that doesn’t mean you should do the translation yourself. However good you may be, a professional translator should still be your choice. Why? Because they have more than just language skills; they have experience and knowledge of translation techniques, they have research skills and experience that you may lack. Not to mention they are (or should be) native speakers of the target language. Being bilingual is not enough.
As above. Just because someone is bilingual or has studied languages is not enough. Sure, if all you need is to get the gist of a letter from a friend, then by all means this could be a perfectly good option. But if is for business purposes, your best bet is a professional translator.
Teachers and/or students of languages
Teaching and translating (albeit of the same language) require different sets of skills and having a teacher translate your materials that does not guarantee it wills save you money (if that was what you had in mind). A student may seem a cheaper option, but are you willing to risk your reputation?
Free, online machine translation
While certainly that would be your cheapest option (free, to be exact), it may not be your best bet. Surely, if you have received an informal email from a foreign business partner, running it through Google Translate may help you get the gist of what they are telling you. It may even help you reply. But when it comes to official documents, contracts, marketing materials, website, this choice may prove the most expensive one. Mistakes cost; and more often than not, the cost will imply more than money. A ruined image is hard to get back.
Freelancer or agency?
This depends. If you have a large multilingual project, you will probably want to outsource to an agency that can deal with the project management. Dealing with several translators for various language combinations is what agencies do. If you only work with one language combination, it may be worthwhile finding a freelancer for a long-term collaboration. You will have to do a bit of research and make sure you choose the right person for your needs. Take into consideration their native tongue, their education, experience and specialisation, as well as previous work for other clients. If this seems too much, then an agency will have already done that for you when recruiting their translators. While a freelance translator may cost less (generally), there are things you should consider: they may not be able to accommodate your project (especially if you have a tight deadline), they specialise in a handful of areas (and not necessarily in the one you need) and may not be able to take big projects.
- Word count in the source language ensures fair and upfront pricing
- Giving your translator or translation agency as much information as possible about the project (audience, type of text, reference materials) helps improve the quality of the translation
- Sometimes you may not need to translate everything. Choose the essential.
- Avoid cultural references. They don’t translate well. Very few people outside the UK will have heard of Marmite.
- Choose quality over price. Going for the cheapest option may cost you more than money: your image.
- Allow plenty of time if you want quality. The more time you allow, the more the translator can ‘perfect’ the final result. If the project has to be rushed and split between translators to meet a tight deadline, then quality will be affected
- Even if you know the target language, avoid the temptation to do the translation yourself. Being bilingual is not enough.
- Stay away from free automated translations. Google Translate can produce very inaccurate results.
- Don’t use teachers of foreign languages for your translation needs. Teaching and translating require different skills.