Choice of translation services supplier is a key decision for many businesses looking to develop trade in international markets. Many companies require product information, legal documents, or marketing materials to be translated, this can include items such as marketing brochures, sales information, terms of business and website translation. So how do you choose a translation supplier?

Many companies will simply contact several translation companies, compare prices, and go with the lowest quote. The problem with this that “translation” isn’t a single product – you are buying the services of a number linguists, and the expertise of the translation company. As such, not all suppliers are of equal quality, to use a cliche “are you comparing apples with apples, or apples with pears”? Actually it could be worse than this. At the lower end of the market, you may not be paying for the services of a linguist at all, it may be Google or a similar machine translation product doing the translation. What’s the problem with this? Translation is a highly skilled process, and needs the expertise of specialist human translators. So what are the key questions to ask a translation company?

1) How do they ensure translation quality? For example do they have an approved ISO: 9001 Quality system?

2) How does the company select translators for an individual job? Usual convention is that translators should be native of the target language, there is a reason for this, however proficient you are in a second language, you always have better written proficiency in your native language, so for example for English to Arabic translation, a company would use an Arabic native, for Arabic to English translation, an English native. All reputable agencies will work the same way. Occasionally minor languages may break this basic rule, for example if a languages has only 200,000 speakers worldwide, there may be very few translators into or from that language.

3) Most translation is specialised. It is easy to think that your text is general, and could be translated by any translator, the reality is that there are differences of style, tone, required vocabulary, and even specialist translation methodology required for different types of translation. Specialised translation should normally not be more expensive, all good translators specialise, you are relying on your chosen translation company to select translators with the required expertise for a given specialist area. Unless a translation company is very large, or only works with a specific specialism, be very wary of a translation company which makes extensive use of in-house translators, and claims to offer a specialist service. The likelyhood with a small staff team, is that they will only have one or two translators per language, and will use the same translators for every job, irrespective of specialism.

4) You could ask for samples of previous work, for similar clients. This varies in usefulness, e.g. can you judge the quality of the sample? There is also the issue of confidentiality, unless a translation is in the public domain, such as a translated website, for example, it may not be possible for a translation company to offer samples due to confidentiality. Would you be happy for translations prepared for you to be shared with a direct competitor?

5) Does the translation company use CAT tools? CAT stands for “computer assisted translation”, unlike machine translation, where the computer does the translating, computer assisted translation is the process of the human translation team using specialist IT resources to help with terminology management. This gives benefits such as not needing to retranslate the same terminology a number of times, allowing repetition discounts in larger projects, it speeds up the translation process where there is a lot of repetition, for example many ecommerce websites have lots of duplicate content with very similar pages. The translator can concentrate on new content, and just has to proofread matching repeated content.

6) Price: we aren’t saying that price isn’t important, just that price is one of a number of important factors to consider, and remember translation can be too cheap, if someone offered you a car for £100, you might suspect its quality would not be the same as one for £27,000.

This is a brief introduction to a complex subject, we are happy to talk to you about your translation needs, contact better languages by phone on +44 115 9788980 or by email.