Translation can be a confusing subject for small business. As an SME ourselves, we understand the particular needs of small business. We work hard at customer service, and to understand client needs. The earlier you talk to us about a potential translation project the better. Here are our 10 top translation tips for small business:

1) Translation Services or Interpreting Services?

Translation is the process of converting a document from one language to another. By contrast, interpreting is that of expressing speech made in one language in another. The two skills are quite different. Some linguists do both, but many work only in one field and not the other.

2) Free translation

Despite claims to the contrary, Google can’t translate. Neither can the “free” tools offered by some translation agencies. The reason for this is that language is extremely complex, and a machine just can’t cope with it. Here some real examples:

Pharmacists in New York recently used free tools to “translate” drug labels. In at least one case a patient death occurred. The reason was that the word “once” as in “once a day” was rendered in Spanish as “once”. This is the Spanish word for 11, and has identical spelling to the English “once”. So the translation meant 11 times a day.

If you just want gist, then free tools have some merit. For example to understand whether an e-mail received in another language is spam, or a genuine enquiry. We have a detailed article on free translation explaining some of the dangers.

3) Is translation necessary?

We were recently approached by a large multi-national wanting us to translate their product packaging into 9 languages, including Hindi. What’s the problem with that? Well Hindi is just one of many Indian languages. If you provide only one Indian language, you will offend speakers of all the other Indian languages. It is better to provide English only. English is an official language of India. Otherwise, you are likely to need India specific packaging with at least 8 or 9 Indian languages.

4) “Less is more”:

It can be tempting to want to reach lots of international markets at once. However, for most SMEs it is difficult to service lots of markets at once. This can be especially true with translation. We would love to translate your website into 12 languages. However you should think about:

a) This will be 12 times the cost of translating into a single language.

b) How will you respond if you start getting enquiries in 12 languages?

5) Translation is a specialist field of work.

Resist the temptation of using an amateur! We use professional translators and proofreaders who are native of the target language, and of relevant specialism. The skill you get from a professional translation company is that of selecting the most appropriate translators and QA checking the work. Speaking two languages is not enough, many people claim to translate, check out their experience and credentials. Even using a qualified freelancer is not a great idea, how do you check their work? What do you do if they aren’t available? Do they have the necessary specialist knowledge?

6) Pre-translation:

The more work you do before ordering a translation the better the result. For example, is your document well written in English? In general, short sentences are better for translation, and avoid idiomatic expressions and jokes, they rarely translate.

7) Have clear objectives:

Last year we were asked to quote on an 800 page website in 5 languages. We would of course be delighted to get the job. However, why would you go from nothing to 800 pages in one go? Search engines like to be drip fed. Google is quite likely to view 800 pages added all at once as spam. It is better to build content over a period of time. I suggest you start with a few well chosen landing pages. This is also much less commercial risk, and you can spread your website translation cost over a period of time.

8) Specialist terminology:

Don’t be surprised if your chosen agency queries terminology, or cl;arifies ambiguity within a text. Even a simple word can cause problems. For example we translate fibre compositions for the fashion and textile sector. We were recently asked to translate the word “hood” into 9 languages for Mothercare. The problem was that in most languages there are several possible words. For example a buggy “hood” has one translation in French. Whilst a child’s “hood” on a coat or other clothing item is different. Solution, we needed to clarify the context in which the word would be used.

9) Deadlines:

We can sometimes do the impossible. For example, last year we translated 63,000 words for a major retailer into Polish in 5 working days. This was after they had been let down by another supplier. This is around 1.5 months work for a translator, without allowing for proofreading or QA checking. In this case we had a team of translators working together, but the work could easily be split.

Last week I had to reluctantly turn down a potential client. This was because they wanted a high volume job on a ridiculous deadline. The work wouldn’t easily split. The problem was that they would have had a bad piece of work. Worse it would have our name against it. This would have stayed long after the impossible deadline had been forgotten. On average translator will translate around 2000 to 2500 words a day. You should also remember that good translators are in demand. They aren’t just waiting for the phone to ring with your urgent job!

10) Pricing

Pricing is broadly based on word count, and required language combinations. Rare languages are likely to cost more. Some languages may have hidden extra costs. For example, most major design programmes can’t handle right to left languages like Arabic. You need Arabic artwork specially typeset. Even large multi-nationals normally need Right to left languages to be externally typeset. We provide outlined EPS Illustrator files set in the Middle Eastern version of the programme.

Are you using a small design house, or doing artwork internally? If so, you may not have the necessary fonts to handle a language like Greek or Simplified Chinese. Artwork should also be checked and signed off by the translation team. Any manipulation of text introduces a risk of error. You would probably notice a missing sentence in English, but would you spot it in Farsi or Arabic?

This concludes our 10 top translation tips. I have given a brief guide to a complex subject. The key thing with translation is to ask an expert. We are here to help!