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A buyer’s guide to translation services

By Neil Gauld, 

If you’re buying translation services for the first time, or need a new translation services provider for any reason, it’s fair to say that the choices before you can be a little overwhelming. What service do you need? How much should you pay? And what kind of translation provider is best for your requirements?

This buyer’s guide is intended to answer a few of these early questions, helping you make an informed decision when it comes to your translation. Whether you need a simple document translated or are planning a full-blown relaunch in a new country, we’ve outlined everything you need to consider. 

Purpose 

The very first factor to consider is what the translation is for. This might sound obvious, but a quick internal memo will almost certainly require a different level of translation than a marketing campaign to a new target audience. Being clear about the kind of translation you require will enable you to understand the service(s) that you might need. Some of the most common translation services include:

Localisation and transcreation

These services are the process of making your copy sound and feel right to the new target audience. Localisation requires a detailed knowledge of the nuances of the target culture and the connotations of the language, and transcreation involves ensuring that the message of your brand is effectively translated to a new audience. Both are commonly used for marketing materials such as websites, advertisements and brochures, to really make sure that the personality of a brand comes through as intended in the new market. It’s something we at Brightlines pride ourselves on – the ability to translate the essence of your brand as well as the words on the page. Find out more about localisation and transcreation here. 

Specialist or technical translation

Specialist or technical fields, such as finance or engineering, come with particular terminology that is almost a language unto itself. For this, you need an expert translator that is not only fluent in both languages, but has a detailed knowledge of your industry as well. For a more comprehensive list of common industries and associated costs, click here. 

Machine translation

You may well have used this before – perhaps to help understand a document or email sent in a foreign language – but there’s more to machine translation than simply copying and pasting text into Google Translate.

Translation technology is improving all the time, but there’s still a long way to go before we can rely on it to provide the kind of nuanced interpretation you may require. You can read more about the difference between machine and human translation here

Make no mistake that machine translation certainly has its uses, and it can be an extremely useful tool when used alongside professional translation. It can often streamline the entire process of translation which, in the long run, saves both time and money. 

Post-Edited Machine Translation

Post-Edited Machine Translation (PEMT) simply means getting a professional translator to review the text that has been translated by translation software for inaccuracies. It’s worth bearing in mind that the more technical or specialist a document becomes, the more inaccuracies there are likely to be, so a professional translator is always a good investment. At a certain point, it may be worth simply using a human translator from the start, but if your document is fairly simple and there are no cultural nuances or clever plays on words you need to convey, this is a viable option. You can read more about it in our ultimate guide to technical translation

Costing

One you have an idea of the service(s) you require, it’s useful to have an understanding of how they might be priced, and what you can do to help keep the price down.

Different types of pricing

Different translators or agencies will charge in different ways for their services. Some will charge per word, others may charge per page, per line, or even by project. 

The most common quote is to charge is per word. If this is the case, be sure to ask whether this means words in the source language, or the target language – you’d be surprised at how much of a difference this can make! Translations into French or Spanish, for example, can contain around 20% more words than English. So if you’re comparing quotes based on the number of words, asking for a price based on source language will ensure the most accurate comparison. 

While some agencies or translators charge by page or by line, be aware that font size and formatting can have an effect on this. Again, if comparing quotes, we’d always recommend asking for a word-count quote, based on the source material.  

If a translator quotes per project rather than per word, it might be because the project necessitates creative work as well. A website might not have that many words, but transcreating it to make sure that the colours have the same cultural meaning, the word play works and the messaging gets through can be complicated work. You can always ask for a breakdown of the work if you need to understand more. 

Be aware also that rarer, or more complicated languages (including character based languages) often incur greater costs than more common languages such as French or German. 

Keeping costs down

Two things that will quickly ramp up the cost of any translation project: sending in a document to be translated in just a few days’ time, and making last minute adjustments to the source material. Translation takes time, and while jobs can be rushed by sharing the task between translators, this risks compromising quality. Two translators might use a different word for a key term, for example, and if there isn’t time for a proofread, these errors can slip through the cracks. In short, get the documents to your translator in plenty of time, and be certain about the content you want translated. 

A few other key pointers include: 

Formatting – editable documents are easier to work with than ‘locked’ files such as PDFs or photos. If you can provide copy in a word processing software, you’ll help avoid formatting costs. Find out more about preparing documents for translation here. 

Translation memory – translators have software that will help them keep a glossary of your key terms. This can help make future projects cheaper, as the time for working out this essential vocabulary is cut down. 

Finally, remember that the cheapest price does not always equal the best value. There can be brand damage if a translation is done poorly, and it’s worth taking ongoing value into consideration as well. For example, is a proofread included as standard, and will the translator keep a glossary of your key terms for future use? At Brightlines, we ensure the quality of our work is of the highest standard, no matter the job. For more on ensuring value for money with your translation services, click here. 

Which translator?

Translation services come in many different guises, and it’s important to be aware of this when looking for the right translator for your project. 

At one end of the scale, there’s Paula in the office who speaks French, or your friend who works as a language teacher. If the documents to be translated contain no specialist material, and you don’t require the end product to be a perfect replica of the original, then great. This will certainly help keep costs down. Do be aware though that translators have different skills to language teachers, or even fluent speakers of foreign languages. If you really need to make sure that the nuance and/or the precise detail of your material comes through, then you should probably look outside your immediate contacts. 

A good translation agency will have a comprehensive range of translators covering all specialist areas, so there’s no need for you to shop around. Likewise, if you need different types of translation at different stages, the work can be easily given to the translator with the most relevant expertise, without losing all the background knowledge (such as a glossary of your key terms) that the previous translator amassed. What’s more, choosing a translation agency can be a way of guaranteeing a certain quality; any reputable agency should have accreditation from quality service bodies, such as an ISO 9001 number. In short, by choosing a trusted translation partner such as Brightlines to work on your translation projects, you may well be saving time and money in the long run, while guaranteeing translation services of impeccable quality. 

Get in touch

We hope that the above has given you some useful pointers for buying translation services. And of course, we hope you’ll consider us for your next translation project: there’s a reason that so many brands, big and small trust us to deliver their translation projects. To find out more, or get a quote, contact us here. 

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