Why Professional Translation Services Are About More Than Fluency

“Thanks for the quote, but we’re just going to use one of our own staff, who is fluent in the language, to translate the materials.”

As professional translators, we see this often, and we understand the motivation behind this decision. We really do! Your own people know your organization, they know your products and services, and they are a known entity. Plus, in many organizations, it can be easier to justify allocating staff time instead of money. If you have a tight budget, it feels easier to just overload your one Brazilian guy (or the guy who studied in Brazil) than to go back and find funding for unforeseen translation costs.

In the right circumstances, insourcing your localization to a fluent staff member can work out fine. However, more often than not, the drawbacks of such an approach are disproportionate to the convenience. The world of professional translation services has come a long way from late nights with a bilingual dictionary. Here’s what you get with professional translation and localization services that you don’t get with amateurs, no matter how fluent:

Professional Linguistic Experience

If you ever sat through a creative writing class in school, or went to an open mic, you already know that fluency doesn’t automatically make a good stylist. Your insider might know your target language in and out and still not be able to match the tone, style, or terminology of the source materials. Or the converse might be the case – they might know the specs by heart but, when they get down to it, it’s actually been a while since they wrote in Occitan. Our translators are natively proficient, tertiary-educated, experienced professionals whose careers hinge on the quality of their work. That means that their work is more likely to be:

  • Accurate (they say what you mean)
  • Precise (they say only what you mean)
  • Timely (they know how to write to a deadline)
  • Idiomatic (they say it how you want it to be said)
  • Up-to-date (they useth not the verbiage of antiquity)

Oftentimes our linguists have specific domain expertise in fields like engineering, legal, advertising or medicine, and we match our talent to the subject matter of the source materials – so no need to worry that your content is too technical.

Computer-Assisted Translation Tools

Computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools are perhaps the biggest differentiator between the contemporary professional linguist and the fluent amateur. CAT tools have had an immeasurable effect on the translation industry, and it would not be possible to compete without them. These tools maximize:

  • Accuracy (ensure the best term is selected and that nothing is left out)
  • Consistency (ensure the same target term or phrase is always selected)
  • Speed (repetitious content only needs to be translated once)
  • Scalability (content can be parted out to multiple linguists concurrently)
  • Repeatability (translation memories ensure that terminology is consistent from project to project)

Accuracy is an obvious requirement for all translations, but these other facets are particularly important in a business context, compared with, say, translating literature. They bridge the gap between an isolated piece of accurate content and a resilient, predictable, global communications program.

Context

Text translation is only the tip of the iceberg. There are a number of other services that organizations like ours add to a translation project that are difficult or impossible to replicate without the expertise:

Desktop publishing: Layouts in other languages can be difficult, particularly with different scripts. Even equipped with internally-sourced translations, your designers and developers may struggle to accurately implement the most accurate translations correctly. Our multilingual design specialists work with our linguists to ensure that the target language materials are as well-designed as the source, and read accurately in their final layout.

Quality Control: We have numerous controls in place, both human and automated, to ensure that quality is high, including an editing pass by a second professional linguist to make sure the translation hits in the mark in terms of accuracy and style.

Scoping: Scoping is a surprisingly tricky and persistent problem for translation. It takes experience to know what needs to be translated (and what doesn’t), to find all of the bits of translatable metadata, to know about matching dialects to locales and scripts, etc. Our analysts, account managers and project managers are trained to ensure that the context of the translation project is arranged for maximum impact to your business.

All of this is to say that translation is a field that lends itself to specialization – of personnel, tools, and practices. This brings us back to one of the most significant drawbacks of insourcing translation, which is that the time that your own staff member spends working on translations is time that they aren’t working on their actual job! We know your personnel are busy, and you hired them for a reason. If you factor in the opportunity cost of the time they spend translating and not performing their primary role, the convenience and savings of insourcing start to look less attractive.

To be clear, if insourcing really does make sense for you, then give it a shot. If you read all this and you don’t think it applies, then who are we to say otherwise? There are situations in which insourcing really is a fast, cheap way to get something to market. Before you do, though, we recommend you consider the above and ask yourself whether you’re gaining quite as much as you think you are. Regardless of what your final decision is, remember that we are always happy to consult with you and help plan a translation and localization strategy that fits your needs.