article assumes that you have already completed the first
step in successful translation purchasing — identifying
a qualified translation vendor with whom you can develop a
good working relationship and a body of experience. Better
yet, you have more than one such translation vendor in a pool
of possibilities, from which you can make the best choice
for a particular project’s timeframe, size and content.
Now, how can you help the selected translation vendor provide
the best possible product that meets your needs for timeframe,
quality and cost?
you have control over the content of the document to be translated
(that is, it’s something you or your company are writing),
examine that content carefully for words and phrases that
won’t translate well, such as slang or colloquial expressions.
For example, on our Web site we refer to our general manager
as our head honcho — after all, we are in Texas! —
and our systems administrator as our number one computer guru.
But when we localized our Web site into multiple languages,
we reviewed the text and revised phrases such as these, realizing
they would present difficulties in word choice for the translator
and in meaning for the target audience. Be sure your text
is as clear, concise and complete as possible, even if you
have to hire a professional editor.
at all possible, be sure the text is finalized and all “tweaking”
is finished before you submit it for translation. Revisions
to source documents after the translation process has begun
require extra time to organize, coordinate and implement,
and increase the potential for misunderstanding and miscommunication
that cause errors. Time is money, and the time it takes to
manage even a single revision of a source document being translated
into multiple languages is substantial.
may be involved with translation projects over which you have
no content control. In this circumstance, keep in mind that
the translation will only be as good as the source, particularly
with technical documents. If the source is complex and poorly
written, the translation will reflect that reality. The translation
vendor will, of course, attempt to make the translation as
comprehensible and readable as possible, but producing a quality
localized product will be more challenging. Also, translators
must carefully balance providing a well-written translation
against adhering to the integrity of the source document.
and communicate to the translation vendor the target audience
for the translation. Are there government requirements to
be met? What is the reading and comprehension level of the
anticipated user? In what country will it be used? The target
audience most likely will not affect the quality, schedule
or cost of the translation, but its “fitness for use”
— a key concept in making one word choice over another
— may be greatly affected. When you write professionally,
you consider whom you’re writing to and for, and the
practice of translation is no different.
of a Well-Prepared Project
One of my favorite moments during the workday is when a project
manager oohs and aahs over an incoming project
that a client has carefully and thoughtfully organized. When
that happens, we know we can provide our very best product.
Following are some things you can do to ensure your vendor’s
delight, which means you will also be pleased with your translation.
and provide electronic source files, if they exist. You
should send only the electronic files you want to be translated,
no more and no less. If you send additional electronic files
as reference material, clearly indicate that’s what
they are. Name the source files something that will have meaning
for both you and the translation vendor. If you reference
the source files in your correspondence, use their exact file
names. This is also the ideal time to inform your vendor of
any special file-naming conventions you or your technical
personnel may have for target language files.
sure that any paper copy you send matches the corresponding
electronic file — exactly. With multiple source
files, post-it notes on the paper copies indicating their
correlating file names are helpful, save time and ensure against
reference material and/or a terminology list, if available.
If a terminology list is not readily available, the time taken
to develop even a brief one, especially a list of terms, acronyms
and abbreviations specific to your organization, is well worth
to the administrative details on your end in advance,
such as obtaining a purchase order or arranging for a confidentiality
agreement to be signed.
a complete “package” all at once —
written instructions, paper copy, electronic copy, reference
material, terminology list and contact information. Although
your vendor may know who you are and what you want from the
briefest of e-mail messages, complete information saves time
in the long run and ensures efficient order processing.
translation of graphics can be more complex and problematic
than text. Ask your vendor about this and expect to speak
with a project manager who will have very specific questions.
Are electronic files available? What software was used to
create them? In what format are they? Are they editable? Do
you need electronic target files? Fonts also need special
attention. If particular fonts are required for your document’s
layout, can you provide them, or is the translation vendor
to purchase them or substitute similar ones? Are they for
the Macintosh or the Windows operating system? If the target
translation is to be in a double-byte character language such
as Japanese or Chinese, or a bidirectional language such as
Arabic or Hebrew, do you have the fonts and software to correctly
display and print it? There are good and easy solutions to
most graphics and font situations, and translation vendors
will be knowledgeable about them. Just let them know the issues
that exist in your project.
Questions to Resolve
Most importantly, clearly and explicitly communicate your
expectations, requirements and instructions to the translation
vendor in writing. If you are unsure of the answers to the
following questions, they can help you decide what’s
best for your needs.
are the target languages?
what locale will each language be used?
is the deliverable? Paper copy? Electronic copy, and what
format — Microsoft Word, Excel, or PowerPoint, PDF,
Quark or something else?
you need an estimate? This should be provided in writing
from the translation vendor, and you should also confirm
acceptance of the estimate in writing.
is the delivery method? Overnight courier? Disk? CD? E-mail?
Fax? FTP? A combination of methods?
whom is the completed work to be delivered?
is the specific date or general timeframe for completion
of the translation? If it is a large project, do you want
it delivered in parts as they are finished or complete at
there any special formatting requirements or other instructions?
should the vendor contact with questions, and how and when
is that person best reached?
100-page technical manual that took four months and three
persons to write can be translated by one translator in two
Truth: Let’s assume that a 100-page
manual averages 250 words per page, for a total of 25,000
words to be translated. Let’s also assume that a full-time,
experienced translator can translate 3,000 words per day.
Simple math informs us that the project will take at least
eight days for translation, not including editing, proofreading
or formatting. And this formula can be adversely affected
by a large number of factors, such as the quality, complexity
and subject matter of the source document, the actual number
of words, the “popularity” of the source and target
languages, and the translator’s schedule and previous
commitments. The point is that good translation work takes
a reasonable amount of time.
is just replacing each word in the source language with the
same word in the target language.
Truth: Alaskan Indians have numerous words
for snow in their native languages; English has one (and in
is Spanish — all around the world.
Truth: The Spanish in Mexico is different
from the Spanish in Spain; the French in Canada is different
from the French in France; and the Portuguese in Brazil is
different from the Portuguese in Portugal.
“Quality” is a concern for many translation buyers.
If you can’t read the target language, how do you evaluate
the product? Ask the translation vendor what his or her quality
process is. Translations should always be translated and edited
by a native speaker of the target language. You may also want
to arrange for an in-country review by someone in your company
who lives and works in the target locale. This native speaker
of the target language will add value with his or her knowledge
of jargon and nuance particular to your industry, your company
and your market position. Ask the translation vendor if he
or she would be willing to coordinate this process for you,
among reviewers you select, by refereeing feedback and implementing
that a frequently requested, although usually ineffective,
method for testing translation quality is the “back
translation,” where a translation from language A to
language B is translated back to language A by a different
translator. However, most clients are confused and disappointed
by the result because the original wording is not the result.
Word choice can be both accurate and subjective, and often
there are no “right” or “wrong” answers.
summary, thorough up-front project organization and clear
and complete communication with the translation vendor about
the scope of work, including time frame and cost, are the
contributions you, the client, can make toward ensuring a
successful translation project. And having done your part,
you can relax and be comfortable with your right to expect
timely, high quality and as-specified execution by the translation
vendor. For more information, download Translation: Getting
It Right — A Guide to Buying Translations, produced
by the Institute of Translation & Interpreting and available
in PDF format at http://www.iti.org.uk/pdfs/trans/GIR_english.pdf