We Translate Words into Business
The Dilemma of Document Translation
by Terralíngua      Posted in  July 6, 2016

The Dilemma of Document TranslationImagine this scenario: your product launch has a tight budget. One line item is preparing the multi-lingual documentation. You have a quote in hand from a professional company, but you are wondering about translation alternatives other than using a professional multi-lingual provider. These options have important considerations that may save you money up front, but in the long run have more cost not only to your bottom line but also to your reputation.

If someone in the office (or a distributor) does it…

It is often tempting to have someone in the office who speaks another language help with translation. Though he or she might be able to take phone calls or write an email, is this person adequately qualified to translate important documents? Undoubtedly less expensive than a professional service, the adage often rings true, “you get what you pay for”.

There are also many questions to consider. Is the person qualified to handle the material with the proper education, background and experience? Is there fluency not only in English but in the target language? Will this person know the native lingo or the industry specific preferential terms? How are the writing, grammar and spelling abilities of this person? Who will review their translation before going to print? Will this person be able to handle this responsibility along with other job duties? What if the person modifies or removes content? Can this person complete the formatting required to match the original? What if there are errors that cause a safety, liability or reputation issue, how will your company show due diligence? Will the individual have the tools to work with the file that a professional translator would have?

Sometimes this option has a happy ending. Unfortunately, though, unhappy endings are all too possible as demonstrated by the story of a company that asked a distributor to complete a translation project. The distributor had other job duties and by the time he completed the work, it was many months after the needed date. The company also discovered that content was missing from the final file as the distributor took it upon himself to “improve” the file and create his own version.

Though there may be drawbacks to using distributors or co-workers for a translated publication, their best contributions usually are found to be in developing a company glossary or performing technical reviewing of professional translations. The distributors or sales people using the documentation usually want an opportunity to provide their input before being asked to use newly translated content. Keeping this consideration in mind, select the most qualified for the task and ask for participation in advance based on schedule requirements.

The most important cost to consider is how the end product reflects your company’s reputation and demonstrates the client’s value by your investment in the right communication. A professional translator differs in many ways from someone who knows a language. Think about it: would you let a family member of your dentist treat you because he or she works as a hygienist and has seen the procedure a thousand times?

If an individual translator is used…

Using professional freelancers is an acceptable option as long you are dealing with someone with the right qualifications, experience and background. What education do they have? Are they native speakers? Or have they ever lived in the target country and know the proper dialect and preferential terms? Who will edit or check the work if they are working on their own? What is the quality assurance process? Will they have the proper tools to complete any desktop publishing or return in the proper formats? Can they provide a translation memory to ensure consistency if you have to use others in the future? If you need a translation into other target languages or for other geographic markets, do you have the time to coordinate with many different individual translators? Can your translator handle large volumes of words?

A professional translation company is often preferred over individuals when a company is thinking towards the future and business growth. Putting “all of your eggs in one basket” can be stressful if your individual translator has taken another job or cannot complete work due to capacity. Also an individual translator may not have the quality control protocol in place to have his or her work edited by another translator. A multi-lingual translation company versus an individual also makes life easier when you have many languages to complete. A one-stop shop is less hassle than organizing many providers.

Does your individual translator have the software and technical expertise necessary not only for this project but for the long term? One important question to ask is if the translator can create and maintain a translation memory. If so, will he or she provide a copy of the updated translation memory in case you have to use another provider? Does your translator have the desktop publishing software and ability to properly format your files and return print ready versions? Often DTP programs can be rather expensive for an individual to learn as well as to keep updated versions.

Another overlooked consideration is if the translator has professional errors and omissions insurance in place. Since humans are not infallible, it is an important safeguard not only for the translator but for your company as well.

Even well-known companies have made translation errors; some of them are rather comical. For example, in China Kentucky Fried Chicken decided to run with their English language phrase “finger-lickin’ good.” The trouble was when it was translated into Chinese it became, “We’ll eat your fingers off”, which was not quite appetizing.

However, an error can be catastrophic and lead to law suits. Take the case of a Berlin hospital’s instruction manual regarding knee prostheses. The translation was incorrect which caused a misunderstanding that cement was not needed, when in fact it was and a number of patients suffered with problems in knee prostheses.

The costs of quality control processes such as an edit by another qualified translator, proper software to complete the work and the right insurance coverage often are not factored into the “savings” of using an individual versus a professional company. The overhead associated with these items often is too much for an individual translator to bear.

It’s okay, if we use Google Translate…

There is no doubt that Google Translate has its place in the world, but should a company use it for important business documents reflecting its global reputation? Machine translation is a helpful tool to translate one word or a short sentence. It may be okay for an email, but it is not acceptable for professional publications. Though a company may not want to spend money on a professional translation until the business is established, there is never a second chance to make a first impression. Providing important information for the purpose of a business relationship should not be completed in a shoddy and confusing way. How you communicate your product to your customers speaks volumes about your company.

If a customer receives a manual or marketing material that is gobbledygook, it is unquestionably unprofessional and disrespectful. You could lose your global customers and ruin your reputation in minutes that took years to build. The translation was free but what was the overall cost?

Careful consideration of these questions will help to clarify the translation documentation dilemma and ensure that your company makes an informed decision. Translation, like all forms of communication, is more of an art than a science and should be crafted by professionals who are the right fit for your need.


Terralingua is an ISO-certified global company that provides translation and multi-lingual desktop publishing. If you would like to know more about translation and localization, visit Terralingua and contact them to discuss your translation and localization requirements.

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