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On hiring out professional translation
Quality – Cost
The cost and quality of a translation can vary. For professional products especially, you are advised to be wary of extremely low-cost translations, as professional translation is a service that takes time and effort, something a translator would charge for if they are in fact spending the necessary time and effort on it. When publishing a text with an otherwise large total project cost, it would be unwise to save a few dollars on translation and end up with an awkward text. Keep in mind that for the foreign market segments, the translator is just as crucial as your copy-writers. A translation will also need proof-reading and a final review. It is imperative that this be performed independently from the translation.
Professional translators will normally advise against translation into any language other than the translator's mother tongue. If you want something translated into German, you should ask a person whose native language is German. The same applies to French, Russian and English. To a certain extent this also applies to American, British and Australian. Large differences exist between Spanish spoken in Europe as opposed to Latin American Spanish, or between standard European French as opposed to the French spoken in Quebec. The unabridged version of this guide book can be found on tips about translation.
Finalize the text before starting the translation
No matter how tempting it might be to start the translation work parallel with the authoring, this will invariably turn out to be more expensive than providing a final text for translation. And even worse; it presents a greater risk that there will be errors in the completed product. Sometimes you might not have a choice; the deadlines are so short that the translating has to begin as soon as possible. In such a case, be sure to see to it that all versions of the originals are referenced by version numbers and dates, and that all changes to the text are clearly marked. Time is money, and the time needed to manage changes and correct translations because of errors in the original document will be expensive.
Because translators place your text under close scrutiny, you might try to make use of this opportunity to make sure your original text is comprehensible. Encourage the translator to ask questions, this may reveal any unclear sections and possibly enhance the quality of your text. Perhaps ask for comments back so you can revise it before sending it in for a translation, but this is a service not all translators will provide and will probably cost extra.
That said, take care to have realistic expectations concerning what a translator is able to do, or to fully communicate what you are asking of them. The translator will usually translate one sentence at a time. Re-working the text, considering the document as a whole, and to a certain degree, authoring a totally new and better text will invariably take more time than merely translating it, thus costing more.
Inform the translator of the purpose of your text
A speech is not the same as a web page. A marketing brochure is not the same as a user’s manual or a catalogue. A press release is not the same as an offer of shares for public subscription. You should also consider how the text will be read and interpreted. On one hand there are scientific papers in which each sentence will be thoroughly scrutinized and assessed by critical peers, while on the other hand there are magazine articles that are read only for entertainment, or web pages that are merely browsed for general content.
Everything; style, wording, and sentence construction will vary according to where the text will be presented and the purpose it is intended to serve. Paying attention to these issues will assure you maximal impact in terms of your message. This may have substantial influence on the price. A glossy brochure in which every word and sentence is “polished” may understandably be more expensive than a rough translation of an internal memo.
Provide enough time for the translator to perform her/his work. Today, no one can afford to sit around waiting for a job that will arrive "probably on Tuesday, maybe not until Wednesday". Most translators are freelancers, working late evenings as well as weekends. They will appreciate very much receiving early notification of when the job will arrive, so that they can plan their own schedule.
It is a well known fact that last minute changes, headings, abbreviations, line breaks or other changes to the words may ruin an otherwise perfect text. Always be careful about making changes over the telephone. This often results in misunderstandings.
Typographical conventions vary from country to country; the use of the apostrophe, quotation marks, numbers, and comma varies. Paper sizes also vary – in Europe the sheet is called A4 while other countries use Legal or Letter. These sizes are somewhat different, and thus they will not hold the same amount of text per page. A very common problem is that the space for text in text boxes and figure call-outs is too limited. In cases where everything is packed into a limited space, one has to use abbreviations, a practice that does not result in a clear text.
To avoid ambiguity, write dates using the ISO/ANSI standard yyyy-mm-dd, i.e. 2005-04-02 for April 2, 2005 (this format is also adopted by the UN). Also remember that eight o’clock might be AM or PM, so please use the twenty-four hour clock: 08:00 and 20:00. Why? If you write a date as 02-04-05 (02/04/05), it may mean April 2, 2005 or February 4, 2005, or April 5, 2002. Historically, it may also mean April 2, 1905.
Typography regarding numbers, such as 10,000.00 and 10.000,00 differ from country to country; not to mention the meanings of words regarding numbers, such as “billion”. One ”milliard” (1 000 000 000) in Norwegian means one billion in the US, whereas one ”billion” (1 000 000 000 000) in Norway means one trillion in the US.
Professional Translation and Computers
Large translation agencies will normally receive all kinds of formats, graphics, drawings, and faxes.
Please note that there is considerably more work required in translating single words spread over a graphic image than translating a free-flowing text in MS Word format. If it is possible to give the translator a clean text file for translation and then later place the text where it is supposed to be in the printed material, this will result in overall savings.
Special fonts or intricate formatting will also add to the translator’s work load. Do you really want the translator to spend time on graphic specialties that are routine tasks for the DTP specialist? If funded, you can save money / meet your needs better by using the appropriate 'craftsman' for the specific task to be done, and if you are working on a budget, your pockets will benefit if you save these minor, yet complex tasks for yourself after the translation.
Normally you will achieve the best and most cost-effective result by supplying your translator with Word-files. PDF-files have to be converted and formatted before translation, and they may, expectedly, charge you a fee for this.
These days, almost all documents are exchanged via e-mail. Be aware that one cannot count on E-mail messages reaching the addressee in every case. It may arrive tomorrow or a few days after. It may get tangled up with other e-mails, or it may disappear entirely. There have been instances where mail servers have lost thousands of e-mails without notifying either party. This is an unfortunate occurrence, but it does happen from time to time. One way to deal with this is to send follow up e-mails.
Machine translation – Computer Assisted Translation
Some people are looking for software that can translate the text directly on their PC. In case you need to translate a segment of text solely for your own use, machine translation may be of some assistance, though if you use it for presentational or communicative purposes of your own intent to others, it can make you seem to be expressing confidently something you didn't mean to say.
That said, if you do want to translate what others said, keeping in mind it may not be entirely accurate/understandable, it is quick and inexpensive; some services are even free of charge. Like
Again, these are usually not suitable for serious translation of a text you want to send someone else – the result will make you appear to be inarticulate or stupid. For an amusing trial run, you might try to have your PC translate some text from English into a foreign language and then back into English. Having seen the result, I can guarantee that you will not want to use that text for any sort of occupational purposes.
Careful editing of a machine translated text by a skilled translator is an alternative, but it will not save you any expenses overall. Most translators will tell you that a machine translated text is so bad that it would be quicker and less expensive to do the job over again manually.
Several software companies, of which Trados, Déjà Vu and WordFast, are the best known, have developed software to assist translation agencies and translators in their work. In addition, few companies, provide cheap translation solutions like CAT LanguageProz.
Such software can be valuable time-savers when translating repetitive texts. The greatest advantage though, is that the software makes it easier to ensure consistency throughout the translation, i.e. repeated terms or expressions will be translated the same way in all documents. CAT (Computer Assisted Translation)
Processes of professional translation
Does back translation work?
First, you translate from language A to language B. Then, as a measure to assess quality, you translate the text back to the original language A, which allows you to compare the result with the original. This seems like an attractive method for checking the translation, but actually the translator will have far too many synonyms from which to choose, so back translation will be a futile exercise in terms of quality assurance. People who have participated in such experiments, generally agree that it provides useful experience and some new knowledge for the translator; however, as a quality check it is of little value. In this respect, structured checks and proof-reading will prove to be more efficient and considerably less expensive.
Think internationally from the start - Localizing
Localizing means more than just translation; it also means that the text content will be adapted to the culture of the country/geography in question. The translator will need to know how local telephone numbers and addresses should be treated. Should they be replaced by addresses in the target country or should country codes in addition to ”the official name of the country” be added? What about given names and names of places used as examples in the text? Should, for example, ”Knut Hansen” be replaced by ”John Smith”, and ”Kongsberg” by ”Detroit”?
Regarding addresses linking to web sites, are these the same for the English, Norwegian, and German editions? For websites, inform the translator of how screen menu items are to be treated. Are they intended to remain in the original language on the screen, or are they to be displayed in the target language?
To facilitate localization, culture-specific phrases should be avoided as far as possible. References to national sports are often misinterpreted or not understood at all in a foreign language, and the same goes for literary and cultural phrases/sayings. Always exercise caution when referring to parts of the human body; these have widely different interpretations in different cultures. Also be careful when using humor, as it may backfire unintentionally. It would be wise to avoid metaphors or puns that are specific to your country or your language; these will force the translator to add elaborate explanations or paraphrases.
”…hook, line and sinker” may be found in English, but what about German and French? The same goes for ”The full Monty”, a phrase indicating nudity which will be totally incomprehensible to Japanese readers. ”Time-out” is a popular expression that will be meaningless to anyone unfamiliar with American sports. ”We’ll hit them for six” is an expression from the sport of cricket that will confuse everybody but the British (In American the expression will be “The whole nine yards”). ”A baker’s dozen” means thirteen. The expression ”Der ligger hunden begravet” (literally ”That’s where the dog is buried”) works fine in Norwegian, but how does one say this in Spanish? When Electrolux launched a sales campaign for a new vacuum cleaner in the USA, they used the slogan “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux”. The expression had another effect than intended. Ford Company failed to break into the Spanish-speaking market with their Nova car (in Spanish “no va” means “does not work”).
Careless and haphazard use of local idioms is rarely funny. Many people may even be offended. Local coloring may be retained if deemed necessary; however you might want to check with the translator as to what is possible and/or sensible. The translator may well be given free rein, but please keep in mind that if they do provide this service, it may be expensive, as you are asking a lot of thought, time, and creativity of them.
When you have hundreds of pages of text to be translated, take a moment to consider the situation. Is it actually necessary to translate all of the pages, or would it be possible to translate an abbreviated version? A quick consultation with your contributors (if you're not the author) to decide what information is indispensable is always a good idea.
A little effort at an early stage may save considerable expenses later on. Elaborate descriptions and bombastic statements on internal affairs can often improve a text by being deleted. Internal trade terminology should always be used sparingly unless you are 100% certain who your target readership is.
Last year a large technical company sent a 500-page user’s manual to a company named TransLogic, asking them to have it simplified and finalized. The result was a reduction of some 230 pages before the translating itself had started, and the outsourcer was surprised to find that the manual turned out to be an even better product following the trimming.