How To Buy Translating Services

Your Guide to Better Documents in Another Language

You may encounter a number of problems when trying to have your documents translated. These tips will help you decide what to look for when paying for translation services.

  1. Consider the price. The cost of a translation can vary a great deal. A high price does not necessarily guarantee high quality, however a low price will often result in a mediocre end product. It would be unwise to save a few dollars on translation and end up with an inaccurate text, maybe even with spelling errors. A translation will need proofreading. It is imperative that this be performed by another person. (The translator may become oblivious to his or her own mistakes.) The fee can be calculated by the number of characters, words, pages, hours, or by fixed project fees. A fee per word is common and usually the best. Be sure to identify whether the word count refers to the source or the target text. 
  2. Know the different document types. A press release is not the same as a web page. A marketing brochure is not the same as a user's manual. This may have substantial influence on the price. A glossy brochure in which every word and sentence is "polished" will be considerably more expensive than a rough translation of an internal memo. Some customers have non-realistic expectations concerning what a translator is actually able to do. The translator will usually translate one sentence at a time. Reworking the text, considering the document as a whole, and to a certain degree authoring a totally new and better text will invariably take more time than merely translating it, thus costing more. 
  3. Understand the technical issues. Typographical conventions vary from country to country; the use of apostrophes, quotation marks, numbers, and commas vary. Paper sizes also vary--in Europe the sheet is called A4 while other countries use Legal or Letter. These sizes are somewhat different, and thus they will not hold the same amount of text per page. A very common problem is that the space for text in text boxes and figure callouts is too limited. If you write a date as 02-04-08 (02/04/08), it may mean April 2, 2008 or February 4, 2008, or April 8, 2002. Historically, it may also mean April 2, 1908. To avoid ambiguity, use the ISO/ANSI standard yyyy-mm-dd, i.e. 2008-04-02 for April 2, 2008. (This format is also adopted by the UN.) 
  4. Supply the best file format. Please note that there is considerably more work required when translating single words spread over a graphic image than translating a free-flowing text in MS Word format. If it is possible to give the translator a clean text file for translation and later use DTP specialists to place the text where it is supposed to be in the printed material, this will result in overall savings. Normally you will achieve the best and most cost-effective result by supplying your translator with Word files. PDF files have to be converted and formatted before translation, typically adding 10 to 30 percent to the cost. 
  5. Decide if you want to use machine translation (Computer Assisted Translation). Some customers ask for software that can translate the text directly on their PC. In case you need to translate a segment of text solely for your own use, machine translation may be of some assistance. These are not suitable for serious translation--the result will make you appear to be inarticulate or just plain stupid. For an amusing trial run, you might try to have your PC translate some text from English into a foreign language, then to a third language, and then back into English. Having seen the result, I can guarantee that you will not want to use such text to address your customers. Careful editing of a machine-translated text by a skilled linguist is an alternative, but it will not save you any expense overall. Most linguists will tell you that a machine-translated text is so bad that it would be quicker and less expensive to do the job over again manually. Several companies have developed software to assist translation agencies and translators in their work. Such software can be valuable time-savers when translating repetitive texts. The greatest advantage though, is that the software makes it easier to ensure consistency throughout the translation, i.e. repeated terms or expressions will be translated the same way in all documents. This is called CAT (Computer Assisted Translation). 
  6. Think internationally from the start--localizing. Localizing means more than just translation; it also means that the text content will be adapted to the culture of the country in question. The translator will need to know how local telephone numbers and addresses should be treated. Should they be replaced by addresses in the target country or should country codes in addition to "the official name of the country" be added? What about given names and names of places used as examples in the text? Should, for example, "Knut Hansen" be replaced by "John Smith," and "Kongsberg" by "Detroit?" Consider if addresses linking to Web sites are the same for the English, Norwegian, and German editions. Inform the translator of how screen menu items are to be treated. Are they intended to remain in the original language on the screen, or should they be displayed in the target language? To facilitate localization, culture-specific phrases should be avoided as much as possible. References to national sports are often misinterpreted or not understood at all in a foreign language, and the same goes for literary and cultural phrases/sayings. Always exercise caution when referring to parts of the human body; these have widely different interpretations in different cultures. Also be careful when using humor, as it may backfire unintentionally. It would be wise to avoid metaphors or puns that are specific to your country or your language; these will force the translator to add elaborate explanations or paraphrases.

This guide is given to you by TransLogic.


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