By admin | October 3, 2016 | Categories:
Taking on the responsibility for translations in an organisation can be a daunting prospect, especially as the majority of translation buyers do not have any background in linguistics themselves. Outsourcing to an agency to manage translation requests on one’s behalf may seem like a great way of transferring the responsibility but buyers beware, as failure to work alongside your supplier will almost certainly cause you a multitude of headaches and will eventually turn the relationship sour.
As with most things in business and indeed life, it is important for all parties to set expectations accordingly throughout the course of the relationship. It is when there is a mismatch between the client’s expectations and those of the translation agency that a multitude of costly and time-consuming problems can arise.
Here we lay bare some vital information that will help inexperienced translation buyers to better understand how agencies work and more importantly, to equip them with the information they need to select appropriate suppliers and forge successful, long-lasting relationships with them. It is worth noting that we are using the word ‘partnership’ here, as viewing the relationship as a two-way obligation is the first step to making things work.
If translation were a commodity, the emphasis during the buying process would be on the price per unit as with other commodities such as printer cartridges and biros. Indeed, this is the first mistake that many organisations make if they lack an appreciation for the many variables that determine the translation unit cost. Fundamentally, professional translations are performed by real people and as such, there are many geographical and social factors that determine the cost of using those people’s services. When an agency commissions a freelancer to work on a project for them, the following factors will determine the unit price:
We all know that the cost of living varies greatly from one country to another so it is of course also the case that translators charge a rate that is appropriate for their region and enables them to earn a decent living. This is one of the main reasons why Nordic languages and Japanese, tend to be significantly more expensive than Polish, for example.
Rare languages tend to be more expensive even though the cost of living in the country where the language is spoken may be low compared to western standards. This is because there is a limited pool of linguists with adequate qualifications and as such, the market is less competitive than for languages which are spoken by a larger percentage of the global population.
To many, this point may seem a futile one as it is often incorrectly assumed that being bilingual means that one can also translate. This could not be further from the truth and we are living proof of that. Generally speaking, the better qualified the linguist, the higher the quality of the translation and the greater the daily volume a translator can produce.
This is perhaps the most crucial factor both; in terms of partnering the correct linguist with any given project and in determining the price. A general internal business communication, for instance, could be translated by a wider pool of linguists than a clinical trials registration document or a user manual for a wind turbine. To this end, we are again dealing with a limited pool of ‘experts’ with regards to the latter and as such, the cost of commissioning their services increases.
With the above in mind, new buyers should ensure that they provide potential partners with as much information about the type of content that will require translation as possible. You should also use this information to view very low unit price offers with some level of suspicion. If it seems too good to be true, it usually is.
Like art, translation can be a very subjective and emotive area of discussion. It is no different to dealing with any other form of copywriting in the sense that style, tone of voice, choice of terminology and even formatting can be a matter of personal preference or taste. With this in mind, you would not expect your copywriters to create copy for your organisation’s website or brochures without first briefing them on brand guidelines, banned terminology and so on. It is therefore not reasonable to expect a translation agency (or their translators) to second guess what your preferred style and terminology are; instead, you should ensure that you provide them with the following information wherever possible:
A style guide could either be your organisation’s general guide or your local, in-country offices may even have a localised version that they have adapted for their specific market. This is especially important if in-country teams will later review the translations provided by the agency. They won’t like them unless their local preferences have been considered which could lead to all kinds of problems for the buyer and the agency.
If you have documents that have been translated previously and were well received by the organisation, it is prudent to send such examples to your agency at the very beginning of the relationship. A good agency will take such reference material and will, in the absence of any other available style guide, create their own to assist translators in nailing your linguistic brand.
Many companies, and certainly larger enterprises, have some kind of repository for terminology that should and should not be used in publications. Again, this serves to strengthen brand identity in the case of marketing and where technical documentation is concerned, it serves to ensure that terminology is used consistently in all user manuals so that the operator is not left in a state of confusion.
Such glossaries are therefore also a vital component in the translation process and should be provided to the agency up-front who will then translate that terminology into your target languages before sending it to native speakers in your organisation for approval (dependent on the availability of such personnel). Alternatively, the agency will approve the terminology themselves; at least ensuring that terminology is translated consistently from that day forward.
As previously mentioned, a human translator can only translate a finite number of words in any given working day (usually between 2,000 and 3,000 words per day). This metric should be taken into account when setting expectations with internal stakeholders as to how quickly they should expect a document to be turned around for them. While this metric is a useful point of reference, there are many additional factors that can also affect how quickly a translator can process a translation. These include but are not limited to:
A poorly drafted source document (or one drafted by a non-native speaker) will be difficult to translate to a high standard. You may wish to consider having the source text professionally edited prior to translation which a service that some agencies offer.
A highly complex document will take longer to translate than a straightforward text as translators may need to conduct some research to ensure that they fully understand the nature of the copy and they will need to check their own work more thoroughly.
As previously discussed, providing as much in the way of style guides, glossaries and other reference material up-front will not only help translators to translate to a higher standard but will also speed up the process as the translator will conduct less research and have fewer questions on which they are awaiting a response from the agency.
So what happens if a very large document needs to be translated in a very short time-frame? This is not uncommon and while most of the time such urgency can be attributed to inadequate planning, sometimes commercial factors drive this requirement and cannot be mitigated. The Common Sense Advisory (CSA) recently published a report that surprisingly highlighted that to some of the largest users of translation services, turnaround time matters more than cost or even the quality of the final product. This is because, for some organisations, time to market is a key consideration if they want to stay ahead of their competitors.
The good news is that larger agencies are absolutely capable of delivering high volumes at little notice and within the required time-frame, however, one should acknowledge that there is a trade-off here. For example, if an agency is asked to translate 60,000 words in 3 days (bearing in mind the standard metric of 2,500 words per day), they would need to employ at least 8 translators to work on the job simultaneously.
This means that 8 people translating the same document will use different terminology and may have varying styles and as such, it is to be expected that the quality of the final product will be of a lesser standard than if only one linguist had worked on the project. Most companies accept these terms in their hour of need but it never ceases to amaze me how many then do come back and complain that the document is inconsistent. Of course it is!
We felt that this topic was also a very important one to cover for those who have absolutely no experience of how technology is used in modern translation processes. Before we go any further, we want to reiterate that ‘Technology’ does not necessarily mean machine translation (although this also has its application). When we refer to technology in this context we mean tools such as:
A database of previously translated content for any given client that delivers quality advantages as well as cost and turnaround reduction over time
Internal and/or client facing project management platforms that incorporate other CAT technologies to allow for greater process automation
Customer or even industry specific, multilingual terminology repositories
Automate quality checking according to pre-defined parameters
From a buyers’ perspective, you should be aware of the existence of these technologies and understand that working with partners using these tools (usually larger agencies) can save you a lot of time and money. Translation Memory software, in particular, can render significant cost savings over time while at the same time reducing turnaround times and improving quality. Likewise, an agency with a Translation Management System (TMS) will be able to automate processes, improving speed, efficiency and mitigating the risk of human error. Spending a short time on the internet researching the above will prove to be invaluable when you are deciding on an agency to partner with.
Depending on where you are in the World, may determine how local agencies price their services. By far the most common unit is a rate either; per word or sometimes per 1,000 words which obviously amounts to the same thing. Although this approach is widely considered best-practice, there are still many agencies (usually smaller local suppliers) who charge either per page or per line (usually 55 characters including spaces). You don’t have to be an expert to see that the latter leaves a lot more scope for interpretation, for instance, how many words should we assume are on a page and does a competing agency use the same metric? This is why the rate per word is the most reliable and widely used.
Where proofreading is concerned, there is a lot more variation and this can be extremely confusing for new and experienced translation buyers alike. Some agencies charge by the hour, some per word, others add on a percentage and some even include the proofreading rate in the translation rate per word. This is a point at which great caution should be exercised. For the majority of agencies, their standard rate for translation will only include a thorough proofread that is performed by the original translator.
This is not the same as having the document proofread by a second linguist and alarm bells should start ringing if you get a quote that includes proofreading by a second linguist but the price is similar to that provided by other agencies. The reality is that there simply is not enough margin in it for agencies to include this and for the price to remain the same so you should be deeply suspicious of such offers.
As you can see, there is a lot more to it than simply emailing a file to an agency and getting the perfect translation back the following day. Our industry is quite unique in the sense that we do deal with so many variables, individual requirements and complexities that there really can be no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution. The most important thing is that you and your partner work together to achieve the best results as doing it any other way will lead to disappointment for all parties concerned.