June 12, 2009

Getting the best translation results

As part of running the French Linguistics site, I provide various translation services, notably translations into and out of French and Spanish, where necessary in collaboration with a network of other freelance translators in order to bring the best experts together on a given job. I thought it would be worth clarifying a couple of points here about how to make translation services work best for you, and to help you find the right service.

If you want to get the best translation results, the first thing to consider is making sure your text is well-written in the first place. Are there any parts that would be open to misinterpretation by another reader knowledgeable in the field?

In general, you should then always provide the doument to be translated in your initial contact. You'd never call your plumber and say "I've got this job for you to do and I want to know how much it'll cost, but I'm not going to tell you what it is that I want you to do". But it's amazing how many people contact translators expecting to get a quote on a "miscellaneous document". As a general rule of thumb, no reputable translator will agree to a price without first seeing the document that you need translated. Unless you've really made special arrnagements otherwise, then as a rule of thumb, if you are ever given a quote without having supplied the document, alarm bells should probably be ringing.

The same is true of deadlines. Translators can give a rough words-per-day estimate, but no reputable translator will commit to a given deadline without having seen the document. A thousand words of one document may require much more time than a thousand words of another.

The next thing that can help speed up the process is to be specific about which parts of the document need to be translated and in what format you require the translation. It may be obvious to you that you only need columns one and two of the three-column PDF you sent, but unless you explicitly state that, you may risk waiting for and getting billed for a translation you don't need. For similar reasons, if you send additional files "for reference" that don't need translating, be very specific about this. A reputable translator will always query in case of doubt, but it is good to be specific from the outset.

If you need to translate business documents, try and see the translation as an important part of the process, whose results will affect the impression that readers of the document have about your company. Properly budget for the time required to get a quality translation (ideally, at least a day or more per 2,000 words on average); don't just go for a cheap "rush job".

If quality is important to you, then don't engage in cowboy practices. Reputable translators should generally not engage in practices such as discounting repeated words (the translation may depend on context) or discounting names (names may also require translation, choice of spelling alternatives, and the choice of surrounding words may depend on the name-- in short, names are part of the translatin too!). If a translator or translation company agrees to such practices, it is likely that the quality of your translation will be compromised.

Finally, as mentioned in the section on book translation, you may need to adjust the layout of your document to accommodate the extra length (or diminished length, depending on direction) of the translation. As rough guide, English text translated into French typically has 20-30% more words compared to the original. (This increase is generally due to certain company grammatical structures that English has, but other languages such as French do not.)

For a good translation, you should expect to pay around 50-60 Euros per 1000 words at the very least, and more for specific circumstances such as an unusual language pair or for extra reviewing time. Sometimes translators can quote less than this if it's a document they know they can translate quickly and accurately, e.g. because it's very similar to one they've translated before. But in general, if you are ever given a quote for much less than this-- especially by an agency-- then that is probably a sign that cowboy practices are being employed, such as using a machine translation or not having the text translated or properly reviewed by a native speaker of the target language.

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