Translation services explained

If you don’t know much about the translation services, this article is for you.

The idea is pretty simple, right? You give your text to the professional and receive the completed translation.

But then the translator starts asking all kinds of questions and gets on your nerves. I feel you. I sometimes get calls from my proofreader, and those are the calls I cannot escape from.

So let me explain a couple of things that will save you from all this annoyance.

The first question that you may ask when considering hiring a professional translator is this:

Why not use machine translation instead? It’s free, after all!

A funny-looking box designed as a robot head with a microphone in front of it, illustrating the cumbersome output of machine translation services.
Photo by palesa on Unsplash

It’s true that the output quality of some machine translation engines has improved dramatically over recent years. But you still cannot rely on this kind of ‘translation’. Machine translation can be convenient to get the gist of the text in a foreign language, but it can be very harmful for such areas as marketing.

The thing is that MT engines do not understand the text as humans do. This may lead to huge mistakes even in the simplest of sentences.

Here is an example I’ve encountered:

the sentence

It depends on the system configuration whether only the active training protocol is activated or all training protocols assigned to the patient.

was translated into Russian as

От конфигурации системы зависит, активирован ли только активный протокол тренировки или все протоколы тренировки назначены пациенту.

There is a significant logical mistake here. The translation reads “or the patient has been assigned all of the training protocols“. Such mistakes can cause big problems in the medical domain.

Or have a look at this translation into Ukrainian:

The Top Mistake Medical Device Engineers Make When Designing Laser Integration

Найпопулярніші інженери медичних пристроїв помилок роблять при проектуванні лазерної інтеграції

Forget about preserving the target of your headline — this translation does not even make any sense!

I also keep seeing this advertisement for an online shop on social media:

Это легко, как раз, два, три!


Apparently, that’s just the machine translation of the phrase “It’s as easy as one, two, three!” But this is confusing for a Russian speaker. There are many equivalents that would fit here: «проще простого», «легче некуда», «просто, как дважды два», «совершать покупки еще никогда не было так просто», «покупай без лишних хлопот», etc. Instead, this has become another case of failed communication.

That’s why when people expect a high-quality translation, they hire a professional translator.

The second important question is this:

Why is the price always different when I order translation services (from the same provider)?

A confused person looking at his laptop, most likely musing on the subject of translation services.
Photo by bruce mars from Pexels

In other words, why can’t you make the process simpler like for any other commodity?

Because translation is far from being a commodity. No matter what the advertisement for the MT engine may say. This is a specialized service, and you have to invest a lot of time, money and effort to become a decent translator. In fact, good translators never stop learning all through their lives. Frankly, I haven’t met people of any other profession who would be so keen on continuing professional development.

So here are a couple of factors that influence the difficulty of the translation and hence its price.

1. Subject of the translation.

Some subjects may be harder to work on for some translators than others. That is why most translators specialize. Good translators have expert knowledge in one or several subjects. But it is impossible to provide excellent translation services for all the subjects out there. So it would be a good move to steer away from the vendors who would translate any text you would ask of them. And if the translator refuses to work on your text, that’s a sign of a good translator, not a bad one.

Still, one translator can charge more for a particular subject for some reasons. For example, it may take them longer to translate it. Or they have invested a lot in a particular area and so their rate is justified with their experience.

2. Type of text.

Some texts are harder and take longer to translate than others.

For example, marketing copy should always be appealing and creative.

Every decent translator would tell you that context is crucial for the accuracy of the translation. That is why it takes much longer to translate some chunks of text without any context.

And it is also impossible to produce the correct translation without it.

And that is when the translator starts asking questions about the source material. There can be quite a lot of them depending on the nature of the text. However, good translators never ask one question at a time, but rather send a bunch of them once a day, because they know how precious your time is.

How to avoid all those questions?

It’s quite simple: provide a decent context. For example, if you intend to translate your software, provide a demo version of the program. Some developers may worry that their product may leak this way. But you can sign a non-disclosure agreement which may even prevent the translator from mentioning the mere fact of working with this client anywhere.

Besides, professional translators always treat the privacy of their clients seriously and use up-to-date antivirus and firewall software. This makes the risk of leaking minimal but helps improve the quality of the translation and its speed drastically.

Another good idea would be to send relevant screenshots of the software (ideally along with the demo version). You can also provide links to useful resources, like a particular website with specific terminology (more on that later).

3. Quality of text.

A scanned PDF file could be very hard to handle and would definitely take more time to translate. And if it is handwritten then it would be almost impossible for a translator to use computer-aided translation tools.

4. Deadline.

Setting a reasonable deadline helps ensure a higher quality of the translation. If you don’t really need the translation done ASAP, let the translator set their own date. This way you’ll get a thoroughly proofread and polished work.

Naturally, translators would also charge more for working under stressful conditions of tight deadlines. And for asking their trusted colleagues to proofread the text, if you want this kind of service.

Why am I required to sign documents? It’s so complicated!

When ordering translation services, you typically sign a service contract. You can always propose changes if you don’t agree with something. But don’t worry, you would only need to sign it once with one service provider. This document is important because it lists rights and obligations for both parties, so you may mention those to the translator if they misbehave. Besides, in some countries like Ukraine this document is required to receive money from clients.

As for the NDA, you would probably like to sign it, too. It is not the matter of trust. But eventually you may benefit from it.

So, what seems complicated at first is actually beneficial the client (that means you).

What else do I need to know?

If you need marketing translation, for example, you have a certain target audience in mind and look for a certain tone of voice. This must be communicated to your translator. But don’t worry, the translators will ask for this information if they are not able to find it by themselves. Ideally, you would already have a style guide, so send it along with your copy, too.

If you want your new translations to fit the language of the previous ones, share the respective resources — websites, glossaries, translation memories, etc. Whichever project you have, you would want your terminology to be consistent, and a professional translator would definitely make sure of that.

Is there anything else you would like to know about the translation services? Feel free to drop me a line, and I will update this article.