There seem to be some common misconceptions about translations. Using a list of 11 points, I will clarify what translations are not, so that people placing translation jobs, such as entrepreneurs, marketers, and government officials, know what to expect when requesting translation services.
1. Translation is not a small, niche market.
In 2012, the global market for outsourced language services is worth over US$33 billion. The largest segment of the market is written translation, followed by on-site interpreting and software localization.
The vast majority of these translation services are provided by small agencies. A stunning 26,000 of small agencies exist throughout the world. These companies coordinate translation projects in multiple languages simultaneously, often involving many different file types, processes, and technology tools.
Across the globe, there are hundreds of thousands of language professionals translating and interpreting. Many translators and interpreters also have direct clients, but most are freelancers whose work comes from agencies.
2. Translation is not a need fading away
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that by 2020, there will be 83,000 jobs for interpreters and translators in the United States alone. This job market is expected to grow by 42 percent from 2010 to 2020, significantly higher than the average of 14 percent for all professions. Globally, the market has a compound annual growth rate of 12.17 percent.
3. A translation into one dialect of a language alone is not sufficient
One dialect is not good enough. Lee Densmer gives the example of Spanish: there are 26 varieties of Spanish in the world. One version of generic Spanish for all these countries might be okay, but it is not great. One version may be understandable, but the regional dialects, filled with local slang and cultural references, are required to grab the target audience fully. It is better for business to address your target audience in their own dialect.
4. A translation is not too expensive
Sarah-Claire Jordan explains that the idea that paying someone else, who is a professional, to do an excellent job as a translator may seem ridiculous to people who think that they can get the same quality of work from any untrained bilingual person.
However, please consider how much of a mess you could get into if you got a non-translator friend to translate an article for your company’s blog. That friend could make any number of mistakes because said friend is not trained. Your company ends up paying big time for those mistakes. In the end, you are just better off working with people who specialize in translation, because they will get you the results you need.
5. Translation is not just the exchange of words
As I said in my blog “12 Things a Translator Is NOT”, translating is not about putting one word after the other in another language. If that were the case, computer translations would be much better. Translating is about sentences, stories, ideas, images, and cultures.
In addition, as Elisabeth Hippe-Heisler wants you to note, a translation, in theory, is never complete. “It may seem perfect after checking it 10 times, but you will still change at least one thing when you check it the 11th time. In addition, no translation is exactly like another: give a text to 20 different translators, and you will get back exactly 20 different translations.”
6. An accurate translation is not free
As Densmer states, there is much buzz about the available free online translation tools as well as many misconceptions. Free online translation tools have their uses: getting the gist of some content in your language, such as from a blog, a product review or a love letter. As I conclude in my blog “Machine translations for your website: not always the answer!”, machine translations are only acceptable for user generated content on corporate websites. An example is the reviews on websites like Booking.com.
However, the technology is not advanced enough to handle any high-profile content without human intervention. The reason behind this is that translation websites are powered by algorithms, not humans who understand context, subtle nuances and regional terminology. Again, a complete translation project is not just about changing the words from A to B.
Kwintessential agrees that no translation program can and ever will be able to take the place of a human translator. Computers do not understand what language is, how it is used, the subtleties within it, and the ever-changing use of it. Computers will never be able to tackle the complexities within literature or technical texts.
7. Translation is not easy
Kwintessential also claims that translation is far from easy. It can be very intricate, complex and arduous work. Having to concentrate on two different texts simultaneously is mentally exhausting, because a translator is continuously moving between two languages and mind frames. A translator must first read and register source information, and then manage to digest it and present it accurately in the target language. This requires having an excellent vocabulary and appreciating the subtleties in language such as phrases, metaphors, tone and intention. Providing a quality translation therefore means experience and time served learning a craft.
8. A translation from a large agency is not always better
Nataly Kelly has noticed that some people think that buying a translation from a large agency will get them a better quality of service, as it has thousands of translators and handles hundreds of languages.
However, generalists are not always better than specialists are. If you are seeking translation for just one language or in a specialized industry, you might be better off working with a small agency or a professional freelance translator. Large agencies have their role – usually in supporting large customers that spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in translation.
Kelly concludes: “Just as a mini-van might not be the ideal car for a single person with no children, large providers are definitely not the best solution for every single type of project.”
9. A translation translated by one agency and checked by another is not a good way to keep quality in check
Kelly has also noticed that many buyers of translations think they are being savvy by paying one agency to translate their content, and paying a separate agency to check their work for errors. However, pitting one provider against another does not keep quality in check.
Kelly offers several reasons why this approach is a recipe for failure. First, the focus of the reviewing party becomes “error detection.” In order to prove they are doing a good job, they will often flag as many “errors” as they can find, even if in fact, many of the changes they are suggesting are preferential. Indeed, some providers might be hoping that if they catch enough mistakes, they will be rewarded with the translation work, which is generally more highly paid than the quality control work.
Second, the customer ends up spending a lot of time mediating between the two parties, and many “errors” boil down to one person’s opinion versus another’s. Third, the entire focus of the process becomes combative instead of collaborative in nature.
10. A translation is not better after quality control; it is better after quality improvement
Following the previous point, Kelly believes that for translation quality, the focus should not be on quality control (checking for mistakes). It should rather be on quality improvement, which means producing a better translation from the start.
Would you like to bring home a printer and then have to return it a week later due to manufacturer’s defects? Alternatively, would you prefer to have a great printer from the very start?
As Kelly says: “There are many ways to ensure a good translation from the beginning, but chief among them are providing the translators and editors with the necessary resources so that they can understand as much context as possible to uncover the true goal of the communication. Translation teams who are armed with glossaries, style guides, support materials, and contextual information can produce a translation of much higher quality than those who are just handed a text with no background.”
11. A translation is not good if the source content is bad
A large percentage of “translation errors” are actually due to source text that is poorly written or unclear. Think of a paint job: you can only do so much to hide the scratches and flaws underneath it.
Kelly explains: “When a sentence can be understood in more than one way, the translator has to make an educated guess about what the original author intended. Usually, translators do not even have the opportunity to clarify with the source text author to find out what the intention was behind an ambiguous term. They rely on their research skills and professional experience to try to figure out the intended meaning, but this is not desirable, and can obviously lead to a translation that does not measure up – but not necessarily due to any fault on the translator’s part.”