Published: Friday, 28th of February 2014
Choosing adequate translation services
Guide for translation shoppers
For a person not from the field, buying translation services often is a frustrating experience.
The advice from this brochure has the purpose of relieving you of these inherent worries.
Do we really have to translate everything?
Before launching yourselves into a full translation of documents that can exceed hundreds of pages, establish, together with your client or with the sales team, which information is really necessary. Usually, many filler passages can be cut out; for instance, self-eulogistic texts and lists with the company departments that contributed to the creation of a successful product. Clients or foreign partners do not know and are not even interested infinding out these details. Such fragments can even have a negative effect on your company if they have an arrogant and egocentric tone.
Recently, a financial institution from France managed to reduce a usage manual of 500 pages to 230 pages with the help of an experienced translator who identified the redundancies and the irrelevant fragments for foreign clients before beginning the translation proper.
A law firm from California, specializing in patents, regularly asks the help of a specialized translator who quickly scans the Japanese patent documents and orally summarizes them. Then, the lawyers, together with the translator, decide which documents need to be fully translated.
Translate only the relevant fragments of some existing documents or edit reduced versions and translate the latest ones.
An image is worth a thousand words
Give a helping hand to the words!
The judicious use of maps, icons and diagrams can be, for foreign readers, much more efficient than excessive descriptions. You will facilitate the task of the translator, and the risk that he/she will stumble over a technical term is reduced. Likewise, the cost of the translations will probably be lower.
Ikea, the huge Swedish furniture and household item producer, has 260 shops in over 30 countries, where 23 different foreign languages are spoken. . In its documentation, the company uses mainly diagrams for indicating to users the procedure for assembling the products. Images represent 80% of the instructions, and the remaining 20% is text regarding safety.
In 2001, at Heathrow airport in London, 60.4 million passengers from around the world orientated themselves in 4 terminals with the help of several universally recognized icons.
Use text only when it is needed or when it is the most efficient means to send a message.
What is the difference between a translator and an interpreter? The translator reproduces, in written form, a text from one language to another (translates), but the interpreter reproduces orally a speech from one language to another (interprets).
We do not recommend using the world translator. The correct name, used in professional environments and in legislation, is that of interpreter.
Adopt, from the very beginning, an international approach
Avoid typical Romanian clichés. References to local celebrities could be without effect. The same thing will happen with metaphors that refer to national culture or literature. Be careful, also, when referring to parts of the body that can have various connotations in other cultures.
Avoid or limit your opportunities for error in written documents by attaching images to a particular business description, which might denote different notions in other countries. These can oblige the translator to use intricate explanations and heavy phrases.
The well known wine producer Murfatlar launched a wine that was named Zaraza, probably wanting to exploit the passionate charm of this name sang by the lover, known by Romanians. Its marketing team launched an expensive advertising campaign without knowing that, in some Slavic languages, the word has a less romantic aura, meaning infection or pestilence.
You can keep some local color, but please consult with your translator and ensure that adaptation to another language is possible. In the written documents, do not forget to change the country prefix in front of phone and fax numbers.
How much will this cost?
Translation rates vary significantly. Although high rates do not always guarantee the best quality, it is certain that, under a certain rate level, it is unlikely that you will be offered a translation worthy of your company and products. For instance, if the hourly rate of a translator is not exceeding that of a plumber, it is unlikely that their work will contribute to the efficient promotion of your products on the market.
Be realistic. How many pages can be translated in one hour? How much time would you like the translator to spend editing the text via which you would like to promote your products or services? (How much time would you personally like to spend editing the original text?)
When you choose a translator, calculate how much time you invested in the elaboration of a product or a service that you would like to promote outside the country. If you cannot make allowance for hiring a professional translator, maybe you are still not ready for the international market.
High value services that a translation company can offer you (selection of translators, project coordination, quality control, files conversion, standardization of multilingual projects etc.) may come at a higher expense, but can exempt you from many work hours.
How important is the style?
Some translations are unreliable from the start:
"Your drier requires a way of the air current limited by the course of a lint to the target exiting from a wall.”
It could happen with translations executed automatically by a computer, or as the result of the work of a translator who is not a native speaker of the language in which they translate -perhaps trying to finish the translation with a grammar book in one hand and with a dictionary in the other one. The only effect that you will obtain with such a text will be a comical one.
Other translations are exact from technical point of view, but the phrases of the text are formulated somewhat unnaturally. The topic and word choice can be excessively influenced by the original language. Such translations cannot be used as commercial texts, but rarely could be suitable for readers who know the subject and can/have time to read between the lines.
Many translators and many translation companies commonly offer ‘informative discounts’, and more rarely rewrites and adjustments. In order to avoid misunderstandings, established from the very beginning, in writing, what type of translations you wish.
Professionals call exact translations, but unedited from stylistic point of view, informative translations. Overall, these informative translations are conducted faster and cheaper than translations that are publishable. Still if you are trying to sell a product or to convince a client, and your image is important for you, probably such a translation will not be enough.
The resistance of temptation to make the translation Yourselves
Speaking and writing is not the same thing. Oral fluency does not guarantee the capacity to write with style. Even if you are used to negotiating successfully in English, French or German and you spend a lot of time in countries where these languages are spoken, you have a 99% chance that a text written by you will be recognized as being written by a foreigner.
This action could be important or not.
Maybe the translation could not be important: if your main commercial argument is price (clients attracted by price will ignore minor details, if they manage to understand the main points); or if you wish to highlight the fact that you are foreign (like Yves Mont and Maurice Chevalier when they were singing in English).
If you wish to project an international image, it is in your interest to give up the native touch. In many cultures, the clumsy or incorrect use of local language is not amusing, but insulting.
Finish the text before beginning the translation.
Although you might be tempted to begin the translation as fast as possible, if you ask the translators to work on a temporary text, you will have, in the end, longer delays, higher costs and, probably, additional frustration, than if you waited for the final version of the text. Moreover, the more versions you have, the more likely to have mistakes in the final document.
Nevertheless, you do not always have a choice. Sometimes, the deadline is so close, that the translation has to start before final editing of the source text. In this case, do not forget to note the date and hour of each version and to clearly mark the changes from one version to another, so that the translator can identify them easily.
What about automated translation?
There are computer programs that execute automated translations for certain language combinations. Some of them are even available online for free. The automated translation can seem a fast and economic solution, if you wish to get an idea about what a certain text is about, although the performance of such programs is very limited in comparison with that of a translator.
Basically, do not use automated, unprocessed translations for documents that will be made public, without the explicit agreement of the client. You risk seeming incoherent and ridiculous.
A solution would be the careful correction of automated translations by an experienced translator, but not all translators accept such projects. Many professional translators think that the texts generated by automatic translation programs are so inexact, that it is simpler to translat from scratch
I recently tested such program that translates in Romanian. The term bondholder (a shareowner) was translated suport de legătură (connection support). It is clear that the authors of these programs have a lot of work ahead of them.
Several years ago, the famous newspaper the Wall Street Journal published a review of two services of automatic translation, available for free online, with the following conclusion:
"These services are acceptable for tourists or for those that wish to translate a letter from a distant cousin. Most certainly I would not use them in business or in other purposes that require even the smallest level of accuracy."
(A Closer Look,10/00)
Tell the translator forwhat purpose will you use the translated text
There are significant differences between a speech and an internet page, a sales brochure and a technical description, between a table title and a traffic sign, a newspaper article and an auction document.
The style, ease of pronunciation, topic and length of phrases, all will vary depending on the destination of the text and the effect you want it to produce. An experienced translator will ask you for this information; assure yourself that you are able to offer them well thought out responses.
Several years ago, the French company Electricité de France spent not less than 150.000€ for advertising space in international mass-media for a campaign regarding the advantages of using electric energy in a certain industrial sector. The English translation was clumsy and in flagrant contradiction with the international image that the company wanted to promote. The translator, who did not receive instructions (and did not request them), was satisfied producing a "purely informative" translation, thinking that it was simply the meeting minutes of the company.
The translation invoice was only 100€.
Specify to the translator what usage you wish to give the text. Take into account the target audience and the communication channel, so that the translator can offer you a translation with maximum impact.
Professors: at your own risk
Many companies that deal with texts in foreign languages knock, first of all, at the door of foreign languages departments at schools or local universities. Although this method can sometimes offer satisfactory results in case of translations for internal usage (for instance, when you want to find out what the competition is up to), it is extremely risky in the case of promotional texts.
Teaching a foreign language is a hard-working activity that requires special skills. Seldom do these skills coincide with those necessary to produce a fluent and elegant translation. The risks are even higher if you ask the help of students, although they might seem a cheap and convenient solution.
Would you agree that a medical student should carry out minor surgeries to support themselves during their studies? (Do you consider your brochures, letters, annual reports, or speeches "minor" things?). Would you entrust the editing of your financial reports to an economics student, so that you could save some money?
Professional translators translate into their native language
If you wish to translate the product catalog into German and Russian, the translation needs to be done by a native German speaker and, respectively, by a native Russian speaker. Romanian native speakers translate from foreign languages into Romanian.
As a client, perhaps you are not aware of this, but it is very likely that a translator who does not respect this elementary principle will ignore other important aspects related to quality.
It is true that there are exceptions, but not a lot. In case the translator claims they represent an exception, ask them to show you a translation and run that example by your foreign partners. If the translation is correct and elegant and the translator guarantees the same quality for your text, why not? Sometimes a translator expert in a certain domain can effectively translate from ones’ native language to another one. In this case, before sending it to print, the translation has to be carefully revised - not only read by a native speaker with good linguistic skills.
It is said that translators living outside their home country loses touch with their native language. This can happen, for real, for amateur or inferior providers. For professional translators though, maintaining linguistic skills at the highest level, no matter where they are, is a constant preoccupation.
What language does the reader speak?
Spanish for Madrid clients or clients from Mexico City? British English or American English? Communicate with your foreign partners to determine the most suitable language.
Think what reaction you would have if a German company sent you a business offer translated in Romanian language as spoken in Romania.
The linguistic register is also important. Do you need a text in German for medical doctors and medical staff or for beneficiaries of medical services? Do you sell shoe cream in third world countries or investment funds in Luxembourg?
Speak to your readers “in their language”. Put yourself in their place and focus on the way your products and services can aswer their needs. Express yourself concisely and precisely. (The same thing is valid, obviously, in case of promotional materials in the source language).
The curiosity of the translator is a good sign.
Nobody reads your texts more attentively than the translator. While it is translated, this can bring to light fragments that require clarification. For you, these clarification efforts are an advantage, because it allows you to improve the quality of the original text.
The management of a European company specializing in video games realized that it did not have its own clear policy of options for buying actions until it paid for a translation into English, exposing problem: the translator asked a lot of questions and offered a more clear translation than the original text.
This is what the economic director of one of the biggest Paris banks stated:
"If we can, we wait until our texts are returning from translators, before we print them with the original in French. The reason is simple: translators closely know our specific issues, and their critical eye helps us to identify the weaknesses from the original text."
Ideally, the translator should dissociate from the structure of the source phrases the entire structure of the phrases from the source-text, before creating phrases in the target language. Good translators ask for clarifications while they translate.
For more specialized texts, you need an expert translator in the domain.
Five native speakers of any language, that have at their disposal the same information about a product and whom are asked to summarize a description a half page in length, will invariably produce five different texts from the point of view of clarity and accuracy. Judging all the probabilities, the individuals familiar with the given field will proofread a text better. The same thing happens with translators.
You obtain better results, if you cultivate a permanent cooperative relationship with a translator or a group of translators. The longer the relationship, the more the translators will understand your business philosophy, strategies, and products, producing more efficient texts.
As much as possible, try to know your translators - not only the contact person from the translators’ firm, but the translators themselves, the ones that produce the texts. Likewise, do so in such a way so they also know you.
Talk to your translators. They need to be already well acquainted with the domains of the texts they are translating. If they are not, you need to look for others. Translators should not learn the subject at your expense, except in the case when, for good reasons, this is part of your initial plan.
Last retouches, compulsory
Always require a correction of the final text. Even if you have a very well defined procedure and trustworthy translators that know your company like the back of their hand, additions made at the last minute (titles, legends, reformulations) by well intentioned individuals, that are not language professionals, can compromise an otherwise efficient document.