Blog post dated Jan 7, 2020

Effectively Reduce Translation Costs

Time, money, and quality: You are doubtlessly familiar with the ominous triangle in which it is very difficult to meet more than two criteria at a time. This is also true of translations: A quick and cheap translation often tends to be of a rather poor quality.

On the other hand, as the budget pressure is very high especially for translations, businesses need to introduce the right measures in order to get high-quality translations despite this pressure. It is important to remember that translations serve as a company's figurehead. For example, poorly translated advertising and product texts can push up the threshold for a purchase decision.

An Article by

Flurina Schwendimann
Freelance Translator

The following tips can help businesses reduce their translation costs, while at the same time increasing the quality and reducing the time to market.

Beware of Price Dumpers

Trying to save money by purchasing translations at ever lower rates is a short-sighted approach. After all, the freelance translators at the end of the supply chain need to make a living. If the rate per word, line, or hour is too low, the quality will invariably suffer. Take, for example, a translation agency that tries to bait customers with a rate of seven cents per word. This would mean that the translator at the end of the supply chain will only get about three of four cents. Depending on how difficult the text is, a translator can translate about 2,000 words a day. Based on the said rate, the translator would thus earn about US$60 to 80 a day. Would that be reasonable?

What is more, freelance translators may not always have a full order book, and like everybody else, they too can fall ill from time to time. Often, translators who accept such low word rates are not qualified for processing specialized tests or demanding marketing documents. Revising these texts will cost the company at lot of time, money, and nerves. If you buy cheap, you pay (at least) twice.

Revising poor translations will cost the company a lot of time, money and nerves.

Optimize the Translation Process

The translation process is more complex than it might seem at first glance. If you have not examined this subject in depth, you might think that the text is simply sent to "somebody" who then translates it and sends it back to the company. While this is actually true in some scenarios, the process is much longer and more complex in most cases. Our article "Optimizing Translation Processes" zooms in on the entire supply chain and all processing steps of a translation until the publication stage. Furthermore, the article shows how you can tune the process to the needs of your business.

Strictly speaking, some of the following tips also belong to the category "optimizing translation processes". Nevertheless, we will focus on them one by one in this article, as they have a direct impact on the translation costs.

Plan Translations Early Enough

Remember the time-money-quality triangle? If you need a translation urgently, you will have to pay an express surcharge in most cases, especially if the translator has to work at night, on the weekend, or on holidays. The project management overhead is significantly higher especially for high-volume express jobs, as more translators need to be commissioned and coordinated. This is also reflected in the price. Therefore, be sure to schedule translations in due time in order to make sure that your translation agency or translators get the orders early enough in advance.

It might also be wise to inform the language service provider in advance of any upcoming translation work. If, for example, you already know that an order of a volume of 15,000 words will be ready for translation in two weeks, you can inform your contact to make sure that the needed capacities will be available. For a business that regularly assigns large orders, it might be wise to conclude a framework agreement in order to book a certain quota.

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Establish an Efficient Terminology Management

What is the difference between terminology management, terminology maintenance, and terminology work? Or between terminology system and terminology database? Or between company terminology and corporate terminology? Some of the words are synonyms that may be used in different contexts.

This is exactly the challenge associated with the use of terminology. Often, the use of a particular term depends on small nuances that can easily be forgotten or overlooked when translating long texts.

The establishment of a terminology database is a must for the creation of consistent texts (see section "Optimize the Source Texts") and translations. But even when companies use a terminology system, it is not always managed efficiently. This issue is addressed in the article "On the Tip of Your Tongue? How Terminology Work Can Help You". What happens if the company does not do any terminology work? What are the consequences of poor terminology maintenance? Spoiler alert: Good terminology management saves translation costs!

Extra Tip

The American Translators Association (ATA) provides clients with a wealth of free information on the placement, processing, and pricing of orders. Moreover, the brochure "Translation: Getting it Right" by the ATA offers an easy-to-understand overview of common stumbling blocks when purchasing translation services.

Prioritize the Texts to Be Translated

Nothing against internationalization, but is it really necessary to translate the entire website and all marketing documents? Businesses are often rather negligent when it comes to this aspect of internationalization. But yes, it is important for potential buyers to be able to get product information in their native language in new target markets. Yes, manuals must be made available in the respective local languages. And yes, GTCs must of course be translated.

Still, especially the website often contains information that may not need to be made available in all languages during the first internationalization stage. This applies especially to texts that, for example, are written primarily for readers in the USA. Be sure to prioritize the texts to be translated in order to achieve the highest possible ROI. Further tips on translating websites are provided in the article "Website Translation Made Easy: Connecting CMS and TMS".

The website often contains information that may not need to be translated in all languages during the first internationalization stage.

Avoid Redundant Translations, Connect a Translation Management System

Are parts of your corporate texts always identical or similar? Are your texts translated from scratch each time? If you answer both questions in the affirmative, this tip is especially valuable for you and your business. When a translation memory is used, every translated sentence is stored in a database. The system recognizes any identical sentences that occur again in a text and suggests the previous translation (100% match). It also recognizes similar sentences that merely need to be adapted (fuzzy matches). The advantage is obvious: The higher the match rate, the less the translation of the sentence will cost. Plus, the use of a translation memory enables a higher degree of consistency in and between translations.

Remember, however, that it is not possible to achieve the same saving potential with every type of text. For example, our blog posts touch on a wide variety of topics and rarely contain two identical sentences, let alone entire text blocks. Accordingly, the number of fuzzy matches and especially of 100% matches is very low. By contrast, the opposite is the case in our technical documentation. Our translation memory enables us to create consistent translations while saving costs.

In the ideal case, both the terminology database and the translation memory are part of a translation management system (TMS). A TMS is the link that connects customers, translation service providers, freelance translators, terminologists, reviewers, and correctors.

Its central components are a customer-specific translation memory, a terminology database, and a translation tool. In addition, a TMS offers translation management and quality assurance features. The open architecture of a TMS also enables the connection of various systems via interfaces, e.g. for content management, product information management, machine translation, or authoring assistance. This, in turn, ensures a continuous process chain throughout which data can be shared seamlessly.

White Paper
Terminology Workflows – Moving Toward Improved Consistency

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Optimize the Source Texts

Errors in the source text result in inferior and more expensive translations. For this reason, it is important to optimize, not only the translation process, but also the creation of the source texts. Substantial saving potential is on hand especially in the field of technical documentation. If, for example, the phrase "Creating backups" in the operating manual for a laptop is translated into German as "Erstellung von Sicherungen", this sentence will be stored in the central translation memory. If the technical writer decides to write "Creation of backups" instead in the next user manual, the system will only give the translator a fuzzy match, not a 100% match. In practice, this means that the translation of this segment will cost about one or two cents more. Doesn't sound much, does it? But just imagine the amounts that could add up for large texts. Editorial tools such as Congree or Acrolinx can help you to write linguistically correct, consistent source texts. In our white paper "Translation-Oriented Authoring", we show you how you can create translation-friendly content.

Provide Editorial Manuals and Style Guides

Editorial manuals and style guides are not only beneficial for creating source texts, but also for translations. For instance, marketing texts are structured and written in a different way than technical documentation. The terminology of a medical textbook will obviously differ from the terminology on a customer website about the same subject. To make sure that your translators always know how they are supposed to translate, you should document these differences in editorial manuals and style guides.

Avoid Translating PDFs

PDF documents are a translator's nightmare. The main purpose of this format is to be able to display documents in the same way on different devices. It was not designed to be edited. Though it is theoretically possible to check in PDF documents into the translation editor, the formatting is often disastrous, to say the least.

This is true especially of texts that are scanned and saved as PDF files. Though the performance of optical character recognition (OCR) of digitalized documents has improved greatly in recent years, errors can still creep in. This has two consequences: Firstly, the translator needs more time for the translation (and will thus bill a higher amount). Secondly, the internal DTP team needs to spend more time on adapting the layout in the target language. So, do yourself and your company a favor and give your translator or translation agency the original, editable file.

To make sure that your translators always know how they are supposed to translate, you should create editorial manuals and style guides.

Be Cautious with Machine Translation

Five thousand words in five seconds? Well, machine translation can get you there! Yes, you can have texts translated by a free machine translation engine and then have the post-editing done for half of the price that a normal translation would have cost. However, this is a dangerous road in terms of security and quality.

A company that seriously considers introducing machine translation as part of its workflow needs to initiate a comprehensive project in order to tackle this challenge in a realistic and professional manner. For information on key aspects that need to be observed in order to ensure the success of such a project, please refer to our article "Machine Translation for Companies"

Use Automation

Even if you decide not to employ machine translation, there are many ways how you can save translation costs through automation. Many steps can be automated especially by using interfaces to third-party systems. The greatest saving potential can be achieved e.g. by connecting the translation management system to the company's content management system and/or PIM system. This connection enables seamless data exchange between the systems and saves a large chunk of project management overhead. Furthermore, the deployed system can be connected to the translation management system for authoring assistance purposes. Thus, the writers can access the terminology database and the translation memory even while composing the text.

A company that seriously considers introducing MT needs to initiate a comprehensive project.

Tag Terms Not to Be Translated

Usually, brands, product names, product numbers, or even entire slogans (Just do it!) are not translated. In the translation management system, these designations can be locked for translation. The TMS does not consider such locked elements as words and does not include them in the total word count of the text to be translated. This saves your company money and helps avoid mistranslations and typos (which can easily occur especially with long product numbers).

Work with the Same Translators

For a moment, think of your first few weeks with your company. How long did you need for your work? Doubtlessly longer than now that you have acquired extensive experience in your field of operation. The same applies to translations. No matter how specialized a translator may be in a certain subject area, e.g. in civil engineering, he will need more time for a translation that he receives from a new customer, as he will have to do more research and examine the particular customer's field of activity in detail. The more texts he translates for the respective customer, the faster he gets and the fewer questions he needs to ask the company. Therefore, it would be good to continually work with the same translator(s).

Offer Training Whenever Necessary

Some technical products or software applications are so complex and unique that the translator will have difficulties finding information on the said product. This is especially true of products that are to be launched internationally for the first time. How can technical documentation be translated accurately if the translator does not understand how the product actually works?

In some cases, it might be necessary to recruit internal translators who can then work in close collaboration with the respective departments. If this is not feasible for your company, be sure to continually work with the same translators. If possible, these translators should be offered product training. The result: Better, faster, and more consistent translations that will facilitate the sale of these products on the international market.