Four ways NOT to handle business translation

Four ways NOT to handle business translation

We’ve seen organizations take a variety of approaches to business translation. Some of these might be OK for companies with small, infrequent translation requirements. However, we’ve run into four methods that hang on long after some businesses’ translation needs have become regular and extensive. Using these tactics may seem cheap, but in the long run they can end up costing much more than they save.

One: Ask bilingual employees to translate

Some businesses believe they don’t have translation needs because their bilingual employees can speak with the occasional Spanish-speaking customer or translate emails. But sometimes even leaders of large companies rely on their employees for extensive translation jobs such as marketing materials, websites, and manuals. This practice might save money up front, but they’ll still pay down the line. How?

Opportunity costs: Employees have other responsibilities. When they spend time on translation they can’t do their main job. Using employees may seem to cut costs, but distracting highly skilled, well-paid professionals from their primary jobs represents an opportunity cost. Professional translation might cost less than the value of the work lost by using employees.

Delays: Because employees have other priorities, translation projects take forever. I spoke with one international marketing professional who had been trying to translate his company’s website into Spanish – his first language – for a number of years. He could neither finish the translation nor convince the company leaders to pay the relatively modest costs of hiring professionals.

Poor quality: If you wouldn’t ask non-professionals to write marketing and customer support materials, how can you hand these materials over to just any bilingual employee for translation? A good translator has specialized writing skills and knows both the source and the target language extremely well. We require a minimum of 5 years of translation experience, subject matter expertise, and references before we work with a translator. As a rule of thumb, translators should only translate into their native language. If an employee’s only qualification as a translator is the ability to speak a second language, asking them to translate invites quality problems.

Two: Use Google Translate

Neural machine translation has arrived, and Google’s free tool has improved. Google translations read more fluently than they used to. However, the fluidity of the translation can be its downfall. Mis-translations and omissions still occur, but they become harder to catch. Even if a bilingual employee is carefully comparing source and output, errors can still slip by. Alternatively, a full bilingual check of the output from machine translation can be about as labor-intensive as actually creating a translation from scratch. On websites, Google’s own algorithms flag unedited Google Translate output as a type of “automatically generated” content. Finally, if you use Google Translate, your data does not remain private. Google Translate provides no security for sensitive information and does not guarantee the accuracy of its output.

If you need a “good enough,” translation, there are better options, for example, automated translation with engines that have been trained for specific language pairs. Your language partner can help you find affordable automated translation solutions. But when accuracy is crucial — for example in translations of medical, industrial, and legal documents — automated translation output can fail to meet the basic quality standards.

Three: “Throw it over the wall”

Purchasing business translation is a learning process between partners. Occasionally, a buyer calls to “find out how much it will cost” but doesn’t have any details about the content, such as how it will be used, the level of specialization required, the turnaround time, or where it will be published. At the very least, we need to know:

  • What region do you need? If the document will be translated into Spanish, for example, will it be for Spain, Argentina, or the US?
  • Who is the audience? For example, if you need medical information translated, is it for an audience of specialists or patients?
  • If the source includes graphics, can you provide the native design files? 

We need the information to quote the project at the lowest competitive price, according to the client’s needs.

Another problem comes when a business’s localization program is not centralized. Instead, each office or department purchases translation services on an as-needed basis. This wastes time as buyers duplicate each other’s work. It also leads to inconsistent quality and unpredictable costs. Sharing information within an organization ensures that the buyers will develop the knowledge to ask the right questions of their internal corporate clients and can work efficiently with their language partner. In particular, a language partner will maintain a company-specific translation memory.  A translation memory helps a client avoid paying full price for re-translating updates. It also increases quality and consistency.

Four: Fail to plan for translation

If you know you’ll need to reach multilingual audiences, plan for translation from the beginning of the content development process. We can offer many suggestions for creating content that will smooth the translation process later, saving time and money.

At a minimum, make sure that the English version of the material is clearly written and that the material is thoroughly proofread before it is sent out for translation. Changes made to the source during the translation process will increase costs and delays. Also try to submit all of the materials that you want translated at the same time. This may result in volume discounts and avoid minimum charges for small documents and will improve consistency across materials.

Business translation is an investment. Working with a language service partner maximizes the ROI of translation by controlling costs without sacrificing quality. The team at Scriptis can help your company develop a workflow that complements your processes as smoothly and cost-effectively as possible.