Translation Services On A Budget - Some Tips For Translation Buyers

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As most translation companies charge on word count (us included). As a general rule, the more text you need translated, the more it will cost. In tight financial times then, how do you buy translation on a budget and get best value?

Considerations when buying translation on a budget

1) Buying on price:

All translation is the same, right? So you just select the cheapest quote…. After all, you are buying translation on a budget. Hmm, the answer as to whether this is a good idea, is of course that it depends.

  • Firstly are you comparing reputable companies all using qualified and skilled translators?
  • Secondly is the basis of quote the same? The safest way to compare prices is to look at per word rates. Also, you should ideally supply the same text for pricing purposes.
  • Then there is the thorny issue of who the translators are. The usual convention is to use translators who are native of the target language. If a Chinese agency quotes less than half UK rates, you should be at least check their credentials. You need to know whether the translators are qualified and native of the target language.

2) Planning before translation:

Its easy to assume that we should translate your full 800 page UK website. Of course, we will be delighted to do the work! You may also decide on lots of target languages. Certainly search engines love content, so the more foreign language content you add the better. However, it is really important that it is well written and expertly translated.

Clients often want us to add foreign language page content, but forget about the SEO aspect. You should translate meta information, especially important things like page titles, descriptions and alt tags. In general I prefer to work with a smaller amount of content. The content needs to be well written and targeted. This is much better than a “scatter gun” approach. This is where you lob 800 pages into the Google index and hope for the best. Less content will be cheaper. However, better written content with appropriate SEO will also give best return on investment. We want you to win commercially. Our rationale is simple. If it works, you’ll be likely to come back for more. However, if it doesn’t – you probably won’t.

3) Culture and target market considerations:

it may seem obvious but cultural issues, and understanding your market are really important to get best return on investment. There are two possible risks with cultural influences, ignore them at your peril. Even something apparently obvious, can escape your attention.

One of our food clients recently ordered some back of pack translations for a range of chocolates. One of their best UK sellers, so a great choice to export. However, the target language was Arabic, and the chocolates included liqueurs. Not a good choice for an Islamic country, where the product would get stopped at port. This may seem a very simple and obvious error. However, if you have 800 SKUs needing translation against a tight deadline, its easy to miss the ones affected.

A good translation company will challenge these types of issues rather than just churn out anything you ask for.  The opposite is also true – it is possible to over emphasise the differentness of the target market and culture. The result being, that you are fearful to try anything. If your product is popular in one market, it is likely to also be popular in others.

4) Translation on a budget. Is there a role for machine translation?

tools like Google translate have become increasingly popular, and why wouldn’t they? For understanding general gist of a document they can be invaluable, but they have severe limitations. If a translation company uses machine translation, they are likely to offer lower rates. However, the quality of outcome will suffer.

Even with heavy post editing by a human translator, machine translation still reads very poorly. Often starting again with professional translation is likely to be quicker and easier. If you machine translate pack copy don’t expect it to be readable. Don’t expect it to be legally compliant in a target market. You are likely to have a nasty shock – especially to your bank balance. If you have product recalls and need to re-label, it will get very expensive very quickly.

5) Translation on a budget. Computer Assisted Translation:

No, this is not a play on words. This is quite different to machine translation. CAT tools were originally developed for working with html in the days of static websites. They offer many benefits to translator, translation company and end client. There are efficiency gains. This is because the translator commits phrases to memory as they work. You therefore don’t need the same text re-translated every time you need a new document.

This is better in some instances than others. For example, imagine a clinical trials manual of 10,000 words with only 2,000 new words. This will be substantially cheaper using a CAT tool with translation memory than if starting from scratch. We have just priced on translating a large number of product data sheets for a single client. However, there were very few memory matches, so not much to be gained with price discounts. The other major gain however is in consistent use of terminology. The translators can refer to same and similar terms, and ensure that they are translated consistently.

International Translation Services team

6) Client / company interface:

Don’t be surprised if we ask you questions. Some texts simply need collaboration between client and translators. We recently translated some Health and Safety procedures for a French client. Translating much of the information was straightforward for our lead translator – a health and safety specialist. However, these were internal company procedures. Some of the terminology was client specific, and even site specific. We needed to use not just correct terms, but the terms being used on-site by our client. The only way to be certain of this was through agreeing a glossary of approved terminology. We also “sense check” documents. If your product user guide doesn’t make sense to the translators, it probably won’t make sense to your end customers.

7) Translation on a budget, buying in volume:

Inevitably, the more you buy, the cheaper the likely unit price. However it is easy to overplay the discounts possible with large volumes. Beware for example the translation company that quotes a very low unit price, but then charges for lots of extras. Our per word price for example normally includes translation, QA checking and all co-ordination by the translation manager. However, some of our competitors will quote a low unit price. They then charge extra for proofreading, post editing and project management.

8) Translation capacity:

There are limits on translation capacity, even for the largest translation companies. Translators have a limit to the amount of work they can do effectively in a given time. Typically daily output for a professional translator is around 2500 words. More may be possible with lots of repetitions within a document. Nevertheless, there is essentially a physical limit. The service you are buying is the skill and professional knowledge of the translation team. This includes your translation company selecting  the right translators, and correct application of proofing and other QA checks.

We recently had to decline a job from a potential new blue chip client, why? They wanted over 60,000 words in a single language within 24 hours. It would have been possible for us to split the work between a number of translators. We use shared translation memory to help with consistency. However, the result would always have read like a document with multiple authors. Our company name would be linked to a sub-standard piece of work. And this would be remembered long after the ridiculous deadline had been forgotten.

Some conclusions:

These are a few general comments on the complex subject of buying translation on a budget. In general, the earlier we talk to you, the better. The better we understand your needs, the better the likely translation outcome. In turn, this will generate a better return on your investment. Looking to buy translation services? Contact us on +44 (0)115 9788980 to discuss any aspect of translation.