For non-linguists, buying translation services can be a tricky ol' business. With that in mind, the Institute of Translating and Interpreting (ITI) has published an excellent guide to doing just that, entitled “Translation – getting it right”. The document can be viewed in full here. It’s definitely worth a read, but if you’d rather we just summed up the salient points, then please read on:
Talking ourselves out of work, perhaps, but could it be that only relevant sections of your documents actually require translating?
Why not cut down on the amount of text in your presentation? Maps and diagrams can be just as effective. Only use text when you have to.
International bright young thing
If you think international from the start, you'll avoid many pitfalls down the line - steer away from culture-bound clichés, and check early on with your foreign-language team (us, hopefully!) that adaptation is actually going to be possible.
Money, money, money
Translation costs vary greatly - while high prices do not necessarily guarantee high quality, it's clear that below a certain level you are unlikely to receive a text that does credit to your company and its products. Realism is key - how much time do you expect a translator to spend crafting the text that will promote your business? How much time did your team spend producing the original?
How important is style? Many (other!) translation companies often supply “for-information” translation as standard work, rather than a “rewrite” or “adaptation”. To avoid misunderstanding, clarify this up front.
To D.I.Y. or not to D.I.Y.
Resist the temptation to do it yourself. Even if you regularly negotiate successfully in French, German or Spanish, and spend lots of time in the countries where those languages are spoken, 99 times out of 100 your written command of a foreign language will be immediately recognisable as “foreign”. In many cultures, awkward or sloppy use of the local language – especially by a native English speaker – is not as amusing as old episodes of 'Allo 'Allo! would have us believe...
Finalise your text before starting the translation. Tempting as it may be to get your translation project rolling as quickly as possible, having translators work from a draft in progress will almost always be more time-consuming – hence more expensive (and probably more frustrating) – than waiting for the final text to be ready. Worse yet: the more versions you have, the more likely it is that errors will creep into the final version.
Rage against the machine
And what about machine translation? Certainly, if you're up against it and simply want to get the gist of something for your own use, it may be helpful. As a general rule of thumb, do not use raw machine translation for anything due to be made public without the express agreement of your clients. It is simply not suitable: you run the risk of looking inarticulate...and a bit silly.
What is it for?
A speech is not a web site. A sales brochure is not a catalogue entry. Style, word choice, phrasing and sentence length – all will vary, depending on where your text will appear and what you want it to achieve. Be sure to tell the translation company what your text is for, so that they can prepare a foreign-language version with maximum impact for that particular audience.
Professional translators work into their native language. If you want your catalogue translated into Arabic and Greek, the work will be done by a native Arabic speaker and a native Greek speaker. Native English-speakers translate from foreign languages into English. As a translation buyer, you may not be aware of this, but a translator or translation company who flouts this basic rule is likely to be ignorant of other important quality issues as well...
When it comes to choosing a translation provider, glossy brochures and earnest or hard-hitting sales pitches are one thing, but you must get an accurate idea of the work that they can do. Ask for samples of documents they have translated – not just client names, but specific texts they have produced and are pleased with. If a supplier is bidding on a foreign-language version of your web site, ask to see web sites they have already produced. Ditto brochures and speeches. Run samples past a trusted, language-sensitive native speaker (perhaps a foreign subsidiary or partner) for an opinion. Tell translation suppliers that their name will appear alongside photo and printer credits on the document they produce. Printing translator credits in your document costs nothing and encourages suppliers to deliver top-quality work.
Get your hands dirty
With translation, the fastest way to get caught out is to wash your hands of the whole process. If you do not invest time to brief your suppliers, there is little chance that you will get what you want or need. It may take only 10 minutes longer than telling your secretary to “get this translated”, but if the right person spends those 10 minutes chatting to the translator (or the project manager), you will probably save money and stress further down the line.
Phew! If after all that you feel we might be the one for you, please don't hesitate to drop us line at firstname.lastname@example.org with your requirements. We very much look forward to hearing from you.
Tel.: +44 (0) 131 208 4495 (Scotland) / +1 218 390 3284 (USA)