5 Myths about the Translation Industry

If you are looking to purchase translation services, the following article will give you important insight to help you make an informed decision when selecting an LSP (language service provider).

Before accepting a quote, you should first and foremost determine what you really need/want from this business transaction (quality/fast/cheap). Know that you can only pick two; so you want to choose wisely! And here’s why…

Myth #1: Being bilingual is enough to produce good translations and to proofread

Reducing costs is always a priority for companies (big or small). However, some choices could potentially bring about more problems. Your communication plan is critical to your image and sales. Chances are you spent a fair amount of time polishing your English communication (website, brochure, advert material, etc.). So why would you trust the critical mission of translating these strategic documents to someone who’s not a professional?

You have probably heard about the many translation blunders high-profile companies had to deal with in the past. For instance, in 2009 HSBC bank had to spend 10 million dollars on a campaign aimed at repairing the damage caused by the mistranslation of a catchphrase. In the 1990s, Body Shop launched a new product line that, when translated, actually contained vulgar terms in Puerto Rico slang. It tarnished the image of the company and ever since, it’s had difficulties entering this market.

The cost of these (avoidable) blunders was far greater than what it would have cost to actually hire a professional translator. So, my piece of advice would to be to consider the risks before accepting the cheapest quote.

Myth #2: Computer-generated translations are a safe choice to reduce cost

As it happens, some companies resort to a new strategy to reduce translation costs. They use automatic translation softwares such as Google Translate and the likes to get a “translation foundation” so that they only have to request a proofreading task (logically less expensive). I cannot stress this enough… but this is absolutely counter-productive. In 99,99% of the case, the text produced by these machines will be so bad and incomprehensible that translating from scratch is the only solution! For a mutually beneficial business relationship, all parties should be valued and respected for their work.

When applying this approach, you are setting yourself up for a massive disaster (see myth #1). To get attractive rates from serious, professional translators, I suggest that you implement the following changes in your source documents:

¤ Remove any obscure acronyms or jargon that only your company uses (Unless the translator is an in-house employee, he/she won’t be aware of any of them and you would have to spend time explaining them)

¤ Make sure the formatting is simple and doesn’t require any kind of DTP work.

¤ Only include the parts that really need translating. Review your files and only send the most important ones to the translator.

¤ Work with the same translator because he/she will be able to create a database of your past projects over time. And then, when similar projects come up, you could potentially get a discount on repetitive sections.

Myth #3: There can only be a “one size fits all” standard, so requesting a back translation is a safe quality control process

Let’s make something clear from the start: if you had your documents translated by 100 different translators, you would get 100 different versions! That’s a fact. And if you’re working with professional, reliable practitioners, all 100 versions would actually be accurate. Every translator has a different writing style and will make arbitrary decisions. One translator said “nice” when the other used the term “kind”. Different words/choices for the same result.

That’s why using another translator to perform a back translation is NOT a guarantee of quality. This new professional will not use the same words as the author of the source text. Most of all, he could implement mistakes in this new version and lead you to think that the translation is incorrect. You would have no way of knowing it. This process is so random that you should not consider this process as a safe quality control procedure. A third party proofreader/reviser remains the safest option.

Myth #4: Big agencies are more convenient than independent translators

It all depends on your needs. If you’re looking to have your documents translated in 15 different languages, you might prefer to centralise the process and use the services of an agency that’s in contact with a huge number of translators in a wide array of language pairs. However, agencies remain the middle man and they do not always hire translators as PMs. So, the project managers you deal with may not be completely familiar with everything that goes into translating, a major disadvantage when it comes to meeting your needs.

A small business or a one-person business (as is the case with the majority of independent translators) can offer a more personalised business relationship. The decision-making process is also much faster because there’s a limited number of people involved. You don’t need to go through a myriad of employees before getting in touch with the CFO for instance.

On the financial front, it is often more cost-effective because a small business doesn’t have the same overhead costs. So, by hiring an independent translator, you would save money, get bespoke services and communicate more easily. Indeed, an independent translator could get back to you outside of business hours if needed. And if you’re in a bind, he/she could also commit to work on weekends or bank holidays in order to meet your needs. It would naturally incur a higher fee, but only small businesses can offer such flexibility!

Myth #5: A translator asking questions about the source text must be incompetent (or lazy)

A rigourous translator may, at some point, ask you a couple of questions if the source text you sent includes some obscure terms (jargon, acronyms, etc.) or isn’t quite clear. It is actually very positive. It shows the translator is making sure the terminology applied is accurate.

But I understand this can be a nuisance, especially when you are yourself quite busy. To avoid  lengthy email exchanges that would be time-consuming for both parties, I suggest your make sure beforehand that the source text is clear, well-written and free of mistakes (you’d be surprised to see the number of source texts that are poorly written!). If you already have glossaries, style guides or reference documents, do send them to your translator along with the source text that needs to be translated.

I hope you found these pieces of advice useful and practical. For more information, feel free to contact me.

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