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Choosing the right translation provider

Åsa Ralpher, Xplanation Language Services - 28 Jun-13
Åsa Ralpher from Xplanation Language Services offers tips on how to use professional translators when expanding your operations to the international market.
There are a large number of translation agencies, as well as freelance professional translators and an unknown number of informal amateurs out there. Who should you use to get your message out correctly and in good time? Who can you rely on?

Why use professionals?
To tackle the basic question first - why use a professional translation agency at all? The main reason is that you will almost certainly get translators who do a good job. Poor translations in the best case merely elicit a wry smile from the reader. In the worst case, they can result in a loss of credibility, a loss of business or even legal consequences.

Professional translators have several years of training behind them and are specialists in the topic areas for which they are hired. An agency has a particular advantage over a freelancer, namely that it can handle translations into more than one language, as well as minimise the dependence on a single translator.

Rightly used, new translation technologies can reduce costs.

The technical tools available today can give customers advantages in the form of shorter lead times, lower costs and consistent use of the terminology you want to use. The bigger agencies are often better placed to invest in these technologies. But there's no rule without exceptions.

A professional translation agency is in most cases also extremely good at handling all kinds of formats, a factor which is important not least for the database-stored information required for online stores. If the translated text can be efficiently imported and smoothly uploaded in the correct language version onto the website, that makes things easier for everyone involved.

The following specific tips can help you ensure you get translations that maintain the quality you need at a reasonable price:

  1. Check that the provider uses translators with experience in your field. A good way of doing this is to ask for a free test translation of a short text whose content is typical for your business. Most professional translation agencies will be happy to oblige.
  2. Request offers for a sample project, ideally comprising several texts. Ask whether the offered price applies only to the translation or includes a complete review by another translator. Translation is a craft, and it’s only human to make mistakes, even with the technical support available today. So having a translated text checked by another capable linguist is an important quality parameter. Ask for an offer in writing, as this is an area in which many translation agencies promise more than what they can actually deliver.
  3. Consider using a certified translation agency. A couple of Swedish translation agencies are certified to the European sector standard EN 15038. These agencies guarantee that all texts are translated and checked by two different linguists, and also make high demands on their translators in terms of training and experience, so this can be a useful parameter for evaluating providers.

Prices and discounts
Practically all translation agencies now use translation technology that supports translators and saves time and money as well as maximising the consistency of the translated texts. Translation providers can choose whether to pass these savings on to their customers or not. So ask for fully specified offers including discounts based on the use of translation technology. Ask about any discounts you get thanks to the "translation memory" that the provider builds up from your translations. A reliable translation agency has transparent pricing.

Don’t forget to ask the provider you are thinking of using how their translation memory works, as well as about the associated pricing.

Service level
How quickly can a translation be done? Translation is often the last stage before publishing or printing, and at this point, time really is of the essence. By and large, translation agencies are fully aware that they are positioned late in the chain and consequently offer a very high level of service. As a rule, your enquiry will be answered within a working day. That also gives you an indication of how quickly you can expect a response when working with them, so you can already evaluate them to some extent upon your initial contact.

It’s useful to know certain rules of thumb for the delivery times you can expect. For longer texts, expect a translator to translate 1,500-2,000 words in a day. However, the total lead time will include the agency’s work in analysing your material, contacting the right translators and confirming that they can do the job within the requested time. So even texts shorter than 1,500-2,000 words can have estimated delivery times of 2-3 days.

Tell the translation agency if a job is really urgent and the translation must be completed by a specific date. If it lies outside the normal delivery time, most translation agencies will offer express delivery at a surcharge.

Agencies that run a website where you can log in and order translations can as a rule often help you more quickly than those which simply receive orders via e-mail.

Keeping an online store updated in all languages
After the launch of your online store, the information it contains must be kept updated in all languages. Even if you had initially hoped to handle this via your internal resources, it can be worthwhile asking if the translation partner you choose has a process and/or technical solution that facilitates your updates.

If your international enterprise is going well and there’s lots to do, your internal resources may be too overstretched to tackle tasks such as translation and updating. The following questions can then be worth asking your translation partner:
  • Do you need to pay minimum prices for small items of information, or how are these priced?
  • Does the provider have a solution for integrating his system with your database, so that the translation and updates can be handled automatically? In such a case, how do they charge for this solution?
  • Do they have experience in running such solutions?
It can be very time-consuming to handle updates manually. By letting a professional partner do this for you, you can free up time that can be usefully applied to your further expansion.

If it’s worth investing in a multi-lingual online store, the job should naturally be done properly - most of us would agree to that. After all, don't your products deserve to be presented equally well on all your markets?

Åsa Ralpher

Xplanation Language Services

Åsa Ralpher är inte längre kontaktperson för Xplanation Language Services.

För kontakt med Xplanation, vänligen kontakta den svenska kontorschefen Anna-Karin Josefson.

Åsa Ralpher återfinns sedan 1 mars 2014 på Scania, som chef för avdelningen Språk och publicering.


A well-written article. Some common sense information that many people don't seem to realize.

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