Translation Do's and Don'ts

Good Advice

Good Advice

Translation Do's and Don'ts

Laughing? No. Never. After I recommended NOW Translations you went with what company again?
And they did what to your big project? And you're trying to blame it on who?



Realize that quality translations are a source of revenue. Quality translations tell foreign customers you have a serious presence in their country, a commitment to creating products for them that can be used, relied on, and understood.

This puts you ahead of competitors who haven't bothered to do the same - even competitors native to the market (it's not uncommon to find they haven't bothered to produce the best written and designed materials).


Know that diversifying your products overseas helps stave off the uncertainties of the home market.


Remember that the foreign press will be reviewing your products. Reviewers are used to seeing poor or non-existent translations. Quality manuals, marketing, and packaging often gets cited in product reviews - an excellent promotional endorsement - the kind money can't buy!


Understand that translation costs and times are calculated by the word, not the page (a page can have any number of words, from a few to over a thousand).


Seek an agency that understands your industry, your technology, and the global competition your firm faces.


Hire an agency that's willing to work with you to help with marketing, help you create a translation budget, and team with your in-house writers and graphics people from project inception to completion.

A good agency not only helps keep costs down and deadlines under control, it should be able to lower the cost of your own native publications in the bargain.


Make sure the agency uses translation "specialists," not "generalists." Agencies with in-house staff must maintain personnel who are good at general subjects, not proficient in specialties like hardware / software, multimedia, medical, chemical, promotional, etc.

In-house people are "on the clock" and are often given specialized documents for which they have no expertise (but of course, one can't have them sitting around doing nothing, so. . .).


Ensure that each project you hire for has a project coordinator and complete Language Team.

The project coordinator handles all communications between you, your technical support contact (a liaison who can answer technical questions for the agency), the Language Teams, and if necessary, service bureaus.

The Coordinator is also in charge of project trafficking: ensuring that each member of a Language Team receives his assignment in time to meet deadlines; page layout is executed with the right software and fonts; and communication methods (Internet, overnight mail, etc.) are available to meet your deadline.

A Language Team consists of two or more pros to translate, edit, and proof a document. Many agencies hire only a single person to do a translation; she can't be expected to do a reasonable editing and proofing job, too. U.S. News, Forbes, The Wallstreet Journal, and every other publication has editors and proofers (often several) to help ensure that material is accurate as possible (and they're writing in their native English). Your marketing and technical materials deserve the same quality control.


Ask how the agency pays its freelancers. The best freelancers are always busy and don't waste time working for agencies that pay late or not at all.

Building up a loyal and reliable freelance staff allows the agency to provide you with the best talent available.


Find out what technical capabilities the agency has. The agency should possess:

Macintosh and PC compatible computers.

All major word processing, graphics, and page layout programs (and people who know how to use them; and, as importantly, how to use them for foreign language output).

CD and DVD drives and the same removable drives virtually all service bureaus use.

Access to you via electronic mail.

Studio facilities with Dolby SR and digital recording capabilities; professional equipment for sound and video; expertise in foreign and native language voice over, music scoring, and sound effect creation (especially localizing these for the foreign market).


Begin a long-term relationship with both a primary and a secondary language agency. These agencies will become familiar with your products and your terminology and be able to provide consistency for all the materials you publish, from manuals to web pages.


Make sure both agencies share the same reference materials, terminology, and glossaries. Also provide contacts at each agency so they can communicate and help each other out.



Use an agency that relies on language translation software or use this software yourself. Even the better packages claim "Up to 90% accuracy," which should be viewed as 10% incorrect (at best). Your own business wouldn't last long if your products and services were only reliable 90% of the time.


Allow distributors to handle your translations without your direct involvement. Distribution, like translations is, after all, a full-time job. If you already have deals with distributors to handle translations, ask the following:


Where does the distributor and his personnel find the time to translate? What are their qualifications and training for doing translations (past projects, formal schooling in the subject, accreditation)?

Remind the distributor that you have an agency hired state-side to handle QC.

If the distributor doesn't plan on doing the job in-house, but plans to farm the translations out, what agency is he planning to hire? Does the agency have references and can you see samples of the agency's work? Remember, if an agency isn't going to be hired, will the project still be handled by a team instead of an individual?

Remind the distributor that you have an agency hired state-side to handle QC. This is not something the distributor should balk at.


Allow ad agencies to handle your translations. Ad agencies are just as busy as distributors and are not trained or experienced in translations. And while they usually have a stable of talented graphics personnel, this doesn't qualify them to handle the page layout of foreign texts. It's not enough to be able to desktop publish; the person must be able to desktop publish the language.


Pay a distributor a per-unit percentage to cover translations. This is equal to paying a high interest rate.

Example: even a small per-unit percentage on a $100 product quickly becomes a painful expense compounded over the product's life and the sale of thousands of units. Paying an agency up front for the same (and invariably better) service will virtually always be more cost effective.


Allow translations to be based on poorly written materials. It's extremely difficult to produce a good translation from an overly wordy or confusingly written original. It costs more, too (remember, translations are figured by the word).

It's more economical to hire the agency to edit your original (make sure they're qualified first) so it's clear and concise (it may do more than cut the word count, it may cut the page count, which reduces printing costs). The editing charge will be nominal and you'll find that every language the text is translated into is more economical and user friendly.


Hire an agency just because they're close by. Modern agencies are equipped with modems, faxes, on-line services (including Internet): in other words, they're as close as your telephone. The agency that's near you may or may not be as good or full-serviced as one that's out of town or even out of state.

Did your company, division, or office use the wrong agency? Look for these tell-tales signs.
Bad translations
CAN happen to good people. Don't be a victim.

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