All you need to know about buying translations

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

But if you want to navigate your way around this galaxy with confidence, you need to understand a few of the laws of physics that govern it.

You get what you pay for

Every service comes with three options – FAST, CHEAP and GOOD – but you can only have two at a time. The third one automatically disappears. If you want your translation fast and cheap, then you have to accept that it will not be very good, because quality takes time. If you want your translation fast and good, that certainly does not come cheap. Your translator will have to reschedule or refuse other projects, or work extra hours, to accommodate your project – and that will cost you. And if you want a good translation for cheap, you’ll have to look hard for a translator willing to take it on, and you’ll need to accept that it will take a while to finish.

There are of course some projects where you only need a quick rundown of the main points in the text and the details are less important, or where you can accept a less than perfect result as long as it keeps costs low. If you are planning to use the translation to promote your company, products or services, or in a customer-facing or prestige-conscious capacity, then please be generous in your budget and allow plenty of time for translating and adapting your text. If you do not, you may achieve a passing sense of satisfaction at having saved time or money, but you run the risk of damaging your brand’s reputation. And no one wants that.

Not everyone who speaks a foreign language can translate

Many people (including some trying to make a living as translators) fail to realize that a good translator needs to know more than how to speak a foreign language. Translators must have an excellent command of their native language above all else. They should be able to communicate effectively when speaking, but even more critically, they must be highly skilled writers capable of producing persuasive, compelling prose free of errors in grammar or spelling. They need to be fully conversant with the culture and context of their foreign language. They need a good understanding and working knowledge of their areas of specialization. If someone tells you they can translate any kind of text on any topic, they’re either a liar or a hobbyist. In either case you’d do well to steer clear. Translators have to work with computers and other technology, and should keep up with the times: new dictionaries, sources of information, specialized software and even social media. Being a good translator means never standing still – always striving to improve, always learning new things.

Good translators translate into their native language only

Unless a translator was raised in a bilingual family or has been living in a foreign country for many years, it would be unprofessional for them to translate into anything but their native language. Your native language is the only one where you have the subtlety and precision to convey subtle differences in meaning, where you can draw on a broad base of proverbs and cultural references, and produce a natural-sounding and idiomatic translation.

Never tell a translator how much their work should cost

When you go to the dentist, car repair shop or beauty salon, you ask about their prices and decide whether to accept or shop around for a less expensive option. And yet in service professions potential clients often announce, “This is what I need and this is how much I can pay.” Then when they find out they’ll need to increase their budget or lower their expectations, they pull out arguments like:

  • It’ll be great exposure / experience / something for your portfolio
  • If you do this job, I’ll send you more in the future
  • This is a big project, so you’ll have plenty of work for a long time
  • I’ll write you a great recommendation
  • But my (or my client’s) budget is limited and I have to make a living, too

As translators we hear this kind of thing all the time. Some among us are inexperienced, less skilled or just plain tired enough to say yes. But ask yourself this. Would you really trust them with the most valuable asset you have – your brand?

Don’t try to tell translators what they can charge for their work. One disadvantage of translation is that you can’t see how much work went into it. Look for translators who do excellent work at rates they set themselves, and look at the money spent on translation as an investment that will pay off many times over.

Markéta’s Tip #15: Don’t try to cut corners on translation. Consider it an investment. The better the translation, the greater the rewards in the end.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

Translation is all about helping people communicate across language and cultural barriers. Translators build the bridges for them to cross. Translators are ready and willing to advise, explain and help however they can. Don’t hesitate to ask about anything you don’t understand and share your concerns or preferences about the translation. After all, it’s your text, your ideas and your business. Be prepared for the translator to ask questions, too. Their work for you will improve dramatically the more you help them to understand your product, service or brand.

Those translators thou hast, and their adoption tried, Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel.

This paraphrase of Polonius’ advice in Hamlet perfectly captures the final – and perhaps most important – law of physics in the Galaxy of Translation. When you find a translator you’re happy with, never let them go! This has plenty of advantages for you:

  • You will become a valued client – your translator will always be happy to hear from you and make time for your projects
  • Your translator will become thoroughly familiar with your brand, products, services and company, so their translations will be perfectly adapted to meet your needs
  • Your translator will work on all your projects from beginning to end, guaranteeing the same excellent quality and consistency across all translated materials
  • Your translator will be familiar with the terminology you prefer, saving time on research before each project – which in turns saves you time and money
  • Your brand voice will be consistent across the board, whether communicating with customers or business partners. This will enhance your credibility and prestige in that language
  • You will win your translator’s loyalty. They will become an advocate for your brand and will have a personal stake in making sure their work for you is as good as possible

And here is the secret of success: Find a great translator and stick with them – put them in charge of all your projects. They will know your brand, products and services inside and out, meaning their translations for you will build your prestige and credibility with customers and partners.

And so our journey comes to an end. If you’re still reading, then you know what to expect in the Galaxy of Translation and can start exploring on your own. I hope you have only positive experiences along the way!

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