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The risks of using your bilingual colleague for business translations

By Josian Phillips, 

Keen to keep costs down, it is tempting for managers to avoid outsourcing document translation to a professional translation service, and instead give that responsibility to an in-house, multilingual colleague. Why not if they already know the business and can speak the language?

A false economy

Well, first, think about the potential cost to the business of poorly translated documents such as technical documents, employee, supplier or customer contracts, product manuals, website translation or sales and marketing documents. At best, you risk diluting your brand. At worst, you could be looking at legal issues. These costs are ultimately greater to the business than involving a professional translation service from the outset.

The words of John Ruskin, a great visionary of the 19th century, still ring true today. He said: “It’s unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money – that’s all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do. The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot – it can’t be done.”

A non-professional translator is incapable of delivering successful business translations. To choose your bilingual colleague over a professional translation service is to ignore skill competencies, cultural sensitivities, brand consistencies and the length of time it could take your colleague to achieve a possibly passable translation standard.

Let’s explore these factors.

Skill competencies

Being able to speak a language doesn’t qualify a person to be a translator. A professional standard translator will be able to convey the original author’s intended meaning as fits the target market. This involves considerations of a particular culture within a specific field. This is particularly true when it comes to technical, legal and marketing translation, and takes years of training and experience. Professional translators also have the added advantage of specialised tools for terminology management – for example translation memory – and reference materials such as bilingual technical dictionaries. Check out this blog: How can I be sure of getting a good quality translation?

Lost in translation: transcreation and cultural sensitivities

An inexperienced translator is likely to veer towards literal translations. These are rarely accurate, as they ignore context and cultural nuances, so translators must use a degree of interpretation.

And there are different grammar rules from language to language. For example, the use of capital letters for proper nouns in English doesn’t exist in many other languages. Similarly, idioms don’t translate directly. The direct translation of the Japanese idiom “nodo karat te ga deru” for instance, is “my hand is coming out of my throat”, which makes little sense in English. In fact, it means that you really, really want something.

Particularly when translating marketing documents, a professional translator will know how to deliver the true essence of translation based on cultural sensitivities. This creative process is referred to as transcreation. You can find out more in this blog, Less is more: finding the body and soul of transcreation.

Knowledge of technical jargon

Technical jargon changes over the years, so a translator must be up to speed with the current lingo. In the IT world, for example, what they used to call an “application service provider” would now be called “Software as a Service (Saas)”. Today we talk about “cloud services” (services over the Internet) and “machine learning” (a form of AI based on algorithms and statistical models). For the marketing industry, a translator will need to be au fait with a lot of new digital terminology such as “bounce rate” as well as the more traditional “buyer persona”, for example.

So for successful translation, translators need specialised linguistic training on top of technical knowledge.  

Time is money

Finally, there is the time factor. Your inexperienced, bilingual colleague will take a heck of a lot longer to achieve a passable standard of business translation than a professional translation service will. In an age where speed-to-market is more critical than ever, growing businesses can’t afford to be slowed down by bad decisions and false economies.

On the other hand, an experienced translator will be able to tell you exactly what they require of you and when, work out how long the translation will take them, and then deliver quality work – on time. This means you can plan related campaigns or projects, knowing you can commit to your planned deliverables without slippage. Contact us today if you’d like some help or just a chat about your translation requirements.

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