All you need to know about buying translations

15 useful tips for assigning translations plus the
secret to becoming a satisfied client

Just like in the real universe, the Galaxy of Translation is also full of star clusters. We call them

Translation agencies

Translation agencies are companies that employ project managers, who assign projects to external translators and reviewers (in the vast majority of cases). No agency could hire enough permanent employees to cover all languages, so they assign projects to external contractors as needed. However, this largely frees them from liability for the quality of their work. For a quality guarantee, look for agencies that comply with ISO 17100:2015. It regulates the main resources, processes and requirements for high-quality translation services.

Assigning a translation to an agency is quite simple. Just put a few keywords into your search engine and out pops a list of agencies for you to choose from. Agencies are particularly appropriate for projects where you need localization into several languages at once. Large agencies are in contact with translators from practically any major language and can process high volumes of text. They can also fit the bill when you’re looking for speed. Splitting a large project among several translators can get the job done much more quickly than having one person do the whole thing. But here are a few reasons you should consider carefully before working with an agency, which of course agencies won’t tell you:

  • Translator quality – large agencies compete mainly on price, so they try to pay their translators as little as possible, which experienced translators find unacceptable. So who do you think works for those agencies? Often they are inexperienced students or “translators” without the ability and skills to establish themselves on the translation market, desperate enough to accept any job that comes along, however low the pay.
  • Translation quality – not all agencies test their translators properly, so they can easily assign a translation to someone with little to no experience in that topic, who may not be familiar with the specialized terminology involved or who may lack skill as a writer. Even though it may not have obvious errors from a linguistic point of view, the translation will be completely unsuitable for your purposes.
  • Consistency in the translation – if several translators each work on part of a large project, you always run the risk that the result will be uneven, because the entire project will not display the same level of quality. Quality control becomes even more important for bigger, more complicated projects. You will need outstanding project management to make it through unscathed – and not everyone who promises that can actually deliver, as we will discuss below. High-volume projects are often subject to tight deadlines, since each phase takes longer than anticipated, leaving little time for the translation itself. However, lack of time is one of the biggest enemies of translation quality – see the section on our galaxy’s laws of physics.
  • High staff turnover – project managers don’t last long at many agencies, moving from position to position and company to company at a dizzying speed. I once worked on a long-term project managed in turn by five different project managers in just one year. How do you think they felt about the customer’s brand? They barely knew what it was. They knew nothing about what had come before, so they were unable to ensure consistency and continuity – they just dove right in and tried to pick up everything along the way, but before they had half a chance they had moved on. This was detrimental to the quality of the translations and the reputation of the client’s brand.
  • Teamwork – this is never guaranteed, because it is incredibly difficult to organize. Translators often don’t even know about the others on the team, and even if they receive the same instructions, glossaries and style guides, communication and coordination are clunky and time-consuming, which always makes itself felt in the quality of the final product.

Consider carefully if you should entrust your text to an independent translator or if the scope and nature of the project are best handled by an agency. If you already work with a translator you trust, try discussing the project with them first. Despite the seemingly isolated nature of our work, translators do live in communities (virtual ones, of course) and can often outsource projects to each other to cover jobs they can’t accept themselves or to handle large volumes. They can often put together a team of specialists in a specific language combination and area of specialization with surprising speed. Your preferred translator may be able to provide you with services for high-volume projects like an agency, but with the guarantee of a stable business relationship and the high quality standards you expect.

Markéta’s Tip #4: Your text is your baby. Don’t leave it out in the cold! Babies need one primary caregiver, and so do translations. Neither babies nor translations do well under impersonal, institutional care. If you have no better option, then opt for a certified agency and check their work carefully.

Now moving on. As soon as the translation makes its way back to you, your job is to get it to the next star in the galaxy:

The reader / recipient

If all the stars have done their jobs right up to this point, then the latest star will be happy with the results. It will understand your message and respond in the way you expect: by shining brightly and dazzling you with the light of its goodwill. And that’s kind of the point, right?

Markéta’s Tip #5: Get feedback on what impression the translation makes on its audience, and if it doesn’t work as well as it should, ask a second translator for their opinion and have them rework it, if necessary.

And now we shift our attention from the stars, shining brightly or otherwise, to the other bodies in our Galaxy of Translation: the planets. Planetary orbits take them around the stars, and – unlike in the real galaxy – between them as well.

The planet closest to the Sun (the client – that’s you!) is

The original – the text as it appears in the original (source) language

This is the original text in the source language, which you need translated into the target language or localized for a different cultural environment at the best possible quality in a reasonable time frame and for a reasonable price. To make your translator’s job easier – which in turn will save you time and money – do your best to send the text for translation in digital, editable form, ideally in a word processing format like MS Word. The translator can then work in the original file so that the formatting and layout remains the same. Formats that do not allow working in the original file, such as PDF, image or printed materials, are much more difficult to work with, so you should expect that the translation will take longer. You may also pay a surcharge for non-editable formats.

Markéta’s Tip #6: Send your text for translation in an editable format with clear instructions and guidelines.

To be continued…

Do you like the article? My newsletter will let you know when a new post appears.

Subscribe for something to read with your morning coffee once a month!