Translation services explained

As is implied by its headline, this article is written for those who don’t know much about the translation services.

The idea is simple: 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. For instance, I sometimes get calls from my proofreader, and those are the calls I cannot escape. In this article, I will shed the light on some things that may save you from all this annoyance — things that you might like to know about the translation process.

And the first question that one may ask when considering hiring a professional translator is this:

Why not use the 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

The output quality of some machine translation engines has improved dramatically over recent years, yet you still cannot rely on this kind of ‘translation’. Although using machine translation services can be convenient to get the gist of the text in a foreign language, they 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 from my practice:

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. 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

This 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!

Pardon me, what’s this? Apparently, just the machine translation of the phrase “It’s as easy as one, two, three!” which 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., 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 sounds like 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?

Thanks to the machine translation, it may come as a surprise to some people that translation is far from being a commodity. 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 speaking, I haven’t met people of any other profession who would be so keen on continuing professional development.

That said, it should be noted that there is a number of factors to consider that influence the difficulty of the translation and hence its price.

1. Subject of the translation.

It can be quite understandable that some subjects may be harder to work on for some translators than others. (Some individuals can nail any complex topic, though.) That is why translators specialize. Good translators have expert knowledge in one or several subjects. But it is impossible to be able 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 her or him longer to translate it. Or he or she has invested a lot in a particular area and so their rate is justified with their experience.

2. Type of text.

Some types of texts are harder and take longer to translate than others. For example, marketing texts that are intended for customers 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 in reality the client and the translator often 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 the screenshots of corresponding areas in the software (ideally along with the program demo). You can also provide links to the resources that you may find useful. These could include a particular website with specific terminology (more on that later).

3. Quality of text.

The quality of the text is significant, too. 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 his/her own date. This way you would be sure to get a thoroughly proofread and polished work. Naturally, translators would also charge more for working under stressful conditions of tight deadlines.

Why am I required to sign documents? Why all these unnecessary complications?

When ordering translation services, you typically sign a service contract. You would want to read it carefully and 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 he/she misbehaves. Besides, in some countries like Ukraine this document is required to receive money from clients. As for the NDA, you would probably also like to sign it, whether you trust your translator or not, just to be on the safe side. So, what seems complicated at first is actually beneficial to you, the client.

What else do I need to know?

If you need marketing translation, for example, you’re likely to aim at certain audience and look for a certain tone of voice. This must be communicated to your translator (although the translator would ask for this information if he/she is not able to find it by themselves). Ideally, you would already have a style guide and send it to your translator.

If you have previous translations and want your new translations to fit them, share the respective resources — websites, glossaries, translation memories, etc. No matter what kind of project you have, you would want your terminology to be consistent, and 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 for the benefit of all.