Translation: Determining what service you need and what it will cost

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Contents

Overview

This article is intended for companies and individuals that require translation services. The goals of the article are to:

  • Introduce the various levels of translation service that are available
  • Provide an overview and (eventually) links to resources that can be used to estimate the costs and risks associated with each service type

First question: What level of quality is required?

Before answering the question of how much translation costs, or which type of service is best, one first has to ask the question "What level of quality is required?" The answer to this question will determine the category of service which will be required. Quality here is used in its everyday sense ('good translation' / 'bad translation') rather than the usage often seen in ISO quality standards referring more to consistency and compliance.

If a translation is required only for internal informational purposes, a quick-and-dirty translation may be suitable. Even automatic translation has its place when used just for "gisting" (i.e., just to determine what a document is about, to see if all or part of it needs to be translated by a human translator). When automatic translation is not acceptable but some minor errors can be tolerated (i.e. it is for information purposes rather than anything promotional, legal, financial, medical, or that could otherwise be deemed mission-critical), human translation of 'unspecified quality' can be suitable. Translation of material in which the presence of errors could have undesirable consequences requires the service of professionals that offer some level of guarantee or assurance concerning quality.

Automatic translation

Free, general purpose automatic translation

Automatic (or "machine") translation ("MT") is available for free in many languages. Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and other companies offer rapid automatic translation in a host of languages at no cost. For translations being performed for informational purposes, these solutions may be adequate -- although caution is required.

Automatic translation customized / trained for specific fields

There are also companies that specialize in building custom machine translation solutions, optimized for a given set of material. These solutions, which carry a fee but tend to be less expensive than human translation, may be appropriate, especially when translation of very large volumes of texts is needed in a short time (and again, there is room for error). They may also be useful to determine which parts of a large text are important enough to invest in proper human translation, and which are largely irrelevant for your current purposes.

Human translation of unspecified quality

There is a class of people and companies that offer translation services without offering concrete guarantees or assurances concerning the quality of their work. Rates charged for this category of service vary significantly, from US$0.20 or more per source language word (or character for oriental languages) down to as low as US$0.01 per word. Established businesses and organizations may even find fans or enthusiasts willing to contribute translations for free ('crowdsourcing'). In cases where machine translation is not suitable but the risks associated with possible errors are seen to be within acceptable limits, working with this class of translation service providers may be an option.

High-quality human translation

When it is important that a translation read well and be free of errors (because it is intended for publication, use with customers, involves safety, health, significant financial or legal risk, etc.), it is necessary to work with professional, accredited translators (or translation companies who can demonstrate that they only use such translators) that can offer some level of guarantee or assurance concerning the quality of their service (for example in contracted terms and conditions, services agreements, or other ways). To understand the rates associated with this form of service, it is useful to understand what is involved in the work.

To produce top level work, a translator must not only be able to understand technical materials for the relevant field in the source language, he or she must also be a subject matter expert and an excellent writer in the target language, preferably a native speaker or part of a team where all work is checked by native speakers before delivery. He or she must also have sufficient business experience in the profession of translation, including the use of common IT tools. The number of people who have this combination of skills is limited. What is more, skill alone is not enough; most projects require some amount of research and, as a minimum, a careful word-by-word check for accuracy. So a certain amount of time must be spent to ensure quality in any given project.

For these reasons, high-quality translation has a certain cost associated with it. Budget less than that rate as a translation buyer, and you put yourself in a position where it is unlikely that you will receive high-quality work on an ongoing basis. Conversely, you run the risk of exposing your company to horrendous problems costing hundreds of times more than the money spared on translation; so be sure that if you choose the budget option you are happy to live with the consequences whatever they might be.

Links

Discussion related to this article

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Translation: Determining what service you need and what it will cost

José Henrique Lamensdorf Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 01:18
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Not sure if I'm allowed to post this hereJun 11, 2010

Going one step beyond, I put together some candid tips for translation customers who feel lost in the woods upon having to choose between hiring a freelance translator or a translation agency at: http://www.lamensdorf.com.br/trxag.html

Of course there are more and deeper criteria, however this compilation was as general as I managed to make it, having preset for myself a fixed number of 10 items in each list, and th
... See more
Going one step beyond, I put together some candid tips for translation customers who feel lost in the woods upon having to choose between hiring a freelance translator or a translation agency at: http://www.lamensdorf.com.br/trxag.html

Of course there are more and deeper criteria, however this compilation was as general as I managed to make it, having preset for myself a fixed number of 10 items in each list, and the goal of making it as simple as possible.
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Jared Tabor
Local time: 01:18
SITE STAFF
Thanks José!Jun 12, 2010

Nice! Would you mind adding the link to the article itself as further reading (I can do this for you as well)? You're also more than welcome to expand on this article or any other being added to the wiki. Thanks!

Jared


 

Oliver Walter Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 05:18
Member (2005)
German to English
+ ...
Different first (or zeroth) question: "what is it for?"Jul 1, 2010

This article states "First question: What level of quality is required?". Maybe I'm being slightly pedantic, but I disagree. In my opinion, the first question is "What is the purpose of the translation?" From the answer to this, one can determine what level of quality is required. This is to some extent recognised in the article, in phrases like "For translations being performed for informational purposes," and "may be appropriate, especially when translation of very large volumes of texts is ne... See more
This article states "First question: What level of quality is required?". Maybe I'm being slightly pedantic, but I disagree. In my opinion, the first question is "What is the purpose of the translation?" From the answer to this, one can determine what level of quality is required. This is to some extent recognised in the article, in phrases like "For translations being performed for informational purposes," and "may be appropriate, especially when translation of very large volumes of texts is needed in a short time".
Oliver
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Pablo Bouvier Identity Verified
Local time: 06:18
German to Spanish
+ ...
Translation: Determining what service you need and what it will costJul 1, 2010

José Henrique Lamensdorf wrote:

Going one step beyond, I put together some candid tips for translation customers who feel lost in the woods upon having to choose between hiring a freelance translator or a translation agency at: http://www.lamensdorf.com.br/trxag.html

Of course there are more and deeper criteria, however this compilation was as general as I managed to make it, having preset for myself a fixed number of 10 items in each list, and the goal of making it as simple as possible.


I disagree to some extent too. Very few translation brokers are able to pay an at least a reasonable price for a high tecnical translation done by an engineer who knows exactly what he's talking about.




[Editado a las 2010-07-01 23:13 GMT]


 

Ramon Somoza Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 06:18
Member (2002)
Dutch to Spanish
+ ...
Well...Jul 2, 2010

I cannot say that I agree with all the points in the article, but overall I find it useful, so I've added a link to it from my new SEO translator blog.

The main criticism I have to the article is that it assumes that freelance translators can only translate general texts (I make a very good living translating highly specialized technical translations), and that for specialized texts you need an agency. This is funny, because the vast majority of the agencies don't have in-house transl
... See more
I cannot say that I agree with all the points in the article, but overall I find it useful, so I've added a link to it from my new SEO translator blog.

The main criticism I have to the article is that it assumes that freelance translators can only translate general texts (I make a very good living translating highly specialized technical translations), and that for specialized texts you need an agency. This is funny, because the vast majority of the agencies don't have in-house translators, and most of the time their technical or specialized skills are even worse than those of the translators they hire.

The second main criticism I have is that it assumes that only agencies can provide top quality work. I find that a personal offense, as I take a personal pride in providing quality work (and also charging for it). Too many agencies are just middle men, and provide no additional value. A good agency can indeed ensure good quality, and have a quality process that disallows even the slightest mistake, but I've also encountered just the opposite: That I had to raise hell because the "editing" had converted a perfect translation into an unreadable mess.

BTW, José Henrique, do something with the menus of your website... they are not very user friendly, I am clicking the whole time beside the item I want to select... and that kind of thing is bad for business!

[Editado a las 2010-07-02 20:23 GMT]
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