Top 10 Reasons Not To Use A Translations Agency

And Why They're All Wrong

Oh really, Snerdman? I've heard your Top 10 Reasons NOT to use a translation agency and I want to tell you, pardon my language, that's it's drivel, balderdash, and hooey.


Everyone Speaks English
Not quite. If you're talking about most of the US, Canada, and the Commonwealth that's almost true; even there you deal with individuals whose first language is Spanish, French, even German or Italian, not to mention Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, etc.

If you studied a foreign language in school, remember your first reaction to hearing it spoken by real natives in their own country with no teacher, textbook, or notes to fall back on? Even if you had all A's, the speed of the natives' speech and use of idiomatic phrases and current slang probably left you at a loss.

Abroad, English is understood conversantly by the few, not the many. For the most part, people who "speak English" are at a bread-and-butter level: they know how to order food, ask for directions, maybe even say how much they like American music. This is not English which is substantial enough to understand user manuals, conduct business, or choose your English-only product over one written in the native vernacular.


Our Product is so Specialized that the People Who Buy It Will Know English
This is an extension of No. 1 and it's probably easier to convince yourself it's true. But it misses two key points:

A) If you've got the only product on the market, then you have the ever-elusive, "captive audience." Most companies don't have such a situation (or don't have it long). When your specialist has a choice between your English-only product and one that does virtually the same thing written in his language, which product do you think he's going to buy and use and recommend to his peers?

B) We live in a time when few things remain the source of "specialists." An example: a generation ago, you'd have to have access to a film studio, recording studio, special-effects house, and a symphony orchestra to produce what a 14-year-old can now produce on her Mac or PC. And there are far more 14-year-old girls and boys then there are studio technicians, recording engineers, and unionized musicians. You're not really planning on ignoring the non-specialized market, are you?


We Don't Have Enough Market Share Abroad to Cover Translation Costs
This is a Catch-22: you're not building enough market share to cover translation costs, yet you're not translating your materials to attract more market share.

Play the overseas market like a war game. You wouldn't enter a foreign battle without up-to-the minute maps of the terrain; a way to communicate with your allies; intelligence on your enemies; fuel for your vehicles; food for your troops and ammo for your guns. You'd lose!

Enter a foreign market without the right strategies, intelligence, and resources and you lose there, too.

Don't try and enter too many markets at once! Just tackle one or two countries at a time, build market share and consumer loyalty, then move to the next. This makes the cost of translations easier on the budget.

And don't forget: the cost of translations should be figured into your marketing budget and pricing now, not right before going abroad. Translations are an investment, not a useless expense. Too often NOW Translations reads a foreign review of a product and one of the "cons" mentioned is that the manual was left in English (or was poorly translated). If your competitor's products don't suffer from such cons, he has the advantage.


We Don't Market Overseas Anyway
Why not? The world economy is not a level field. If things are going well in Japan or Germany, it doesn't mean they're going well here (and vice versa). Unfortunately, if you're not hawking your goods and services abroad, you can't benefit from their good times to offset your bad times at home.


Whenever We Have Something To Translate, We Use Our In- House People
And those in-house people were actually hired to do what besides translation? They're putting what usual assignment aside to do this?

Their qualifications to fluidly translate one language into another, no matter what the subject, is what? What other individual edits the work? Who proofs what they did? Who coordinates between the different languages being handled?

The first line of The American Translators Association's Translator's Code of Professional Conduct and Business Practices states, "As a translator, I stand between two languages and act as a bridge for the free passage of ideas from one side to the other. Because my knowledge, skill, and discretion are essential to intellectual commerce, I commit myself to the highest standards of performance, ethical behavior, and sound business practice." The people who adhere to these precepts are pros, not amateurs. Language is all that they do.

NOW Translations has received countless resumes from professional and would-be professional translators, editors, and proofers over the years. We use but a fraction of these people because, frankly, most don't meet our standards. And not one of the people we use also works as a secretary, engineer, accountant, or anything else. Each is a full-time language pro.

In-house people, if they're truly fluent in their own language and English (a rarity) can be a great source for reviewing the translations of an agency. It's not cost or time effective to pull them off their usual jobs, however, to try and accomplish something they're not trained for and do it to meet deadlines. We know. We've had to repair far too many examples of such in-house work.

You'd be surprised at how many people think translation is synonymous with typing or rewriting. It's not. Translation is a complicated, mentally challenging job and only the best excel at it. They are entrepreneurs who work at their crafts full time, have extensive reference libraries, and are up-to-date on their home country's culture, arts, technologies, and current events. They're also subject specialists, concentrating in fields from medicine to mainframes, agriculture to advertising.


Our Overseas Office Does It
Overseas offices, even when staffed by in-country natives, still face the same drawbacks as using "in-house" personnel (see No. 5 above). The only difference is actually a debit, not a benefit: you have no direct control of the quality of the translation work; it's overseas and out of your hands.

Remember, speaking a language does not make someone qualified to translate it, even if the person speaks fluently. Think about it - not every native speaker of English is capable of writing novels, user guides, box copy, or display ads.


We hire individual translators whenever we need them
How are these translators qualified? What is their background? Specialty? Education? What are their references? Are you also hiring an editor to work with the translator? We do, and the same questions are asked when engaging an editor as when considering a translator.

Can this local person do desktop publishing? It's uncommon to find a translator who knows Quark XPress, FrameMaker, InDesign, graphics formats, fonts, output resolutions, coordinating with service bureaus, etc.

Chances are you'll end up trying to do the DTP in- house. Foreign languages do not lay out the same as English (they are, after all, foreign). We've seen perfectly good German, Spanish, French (etc.) translations marred by mistakes because a foreign- language DTPer wasn't used. Such errors make the best language work look amateurish and these bungles are printed and distributed and seen by everyone you're trying to impress.

Finally, what does this local person charge? An agency knows the going rate of language pros for any subject and in any language. If someone charges too much or too little, it's a warning sign to us.


Our Distributors Are Doing It
Having a distributor (or ad agency, or publicity firm, or print house) do translations is like asking a translation agency to do your distribution.

NOW Translations has done numerous projects for companies and those companies have no idea who we are. Why? Because the work was done through distributors and other second-party firms. The client relies on these parties to have the work done professionally by qualified experts (see Nos. 5 - 7 above) and have the work meet deadlines, product specifications, and in-country expectations. Fortunately, if the second-party firm hired a full-service agency (NOW Translations, for example), then everything's fine. Too often, they don't (see 5 & 7 for how it's usually done).

Distributors fall into three categories:

a) they want nothing to do with translations (not even to review an agency's work for you);

b) they are happy to work with your agency to ensure the best work;

c) they want to handle all translations themselves.

For the last category, there are two sub- categories; the distributor is genuinely concerned about the translation work and will handle it properly, ultimately hiring a qualified agency; or two, the distributor is really only in it for the money.

Hint, if a distributor says he'll do the translations for "free," take the next plane, train, or car home.

If you already have contracts in place for a second party to handle the translations, make sure you hire an agency to do quality assurance for you. And let the second party know about it. This ensures that someone is qualifying the work before costly mistakes are made. This is peace-of-mind that comes at a very reasonable price (call us to find out how reasonable!).


We Use Translation Software
Translation software just doesn't work. NOW Translations doesn't use it for just that reason. Find out more here.


We tried using an agency once and it didn't work out
A translation agency is only as good as its best people and experience. You'll find just as many mediocre-to-bad ones as you'll find in virtually any other field. But many agencies have the experience and professionalism to make you look good in any market and save you time and money.

So, don't give up after one bad experience (after all, 1-9 would be your only other options); search out the best and you'll be rewarded.

Keep your eyes and ears open to what the agency offers you. You're putting your company in an agency's hands so you should be asking them how they can save you money. A good agency will have ideas, from source-text editing to multilingual layouts.

Get bids from three or four agencies across the country. All of the proposals should be fairly close. If one agency comes in much lower than everyone else, it either didn't understand what you wanted or doesn't offer full-service (you do want a project coordinator and an editor on your projects, don't you?). The old, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is," fits here, too. Also, if one agency comes in far higher than the others, they may also not have understood what you wanted.

Finally, we recommend that you have at least two agencies you can rely on. This is insurance in case one agency stops delivering the quality you expect, starts missing deadlines, or closes its doors. If NOW Translations wasn't in the translation business, but had to rely on language agencies, we would definitely have at least two in our database.

Oh Rodney, why didn't you listen to NOW Translations?