translation, localisation, proofreading



Author : Mateusz Majewski




Clients these days tend to be particularly demanding. Clients these days are offered much by service providers, they are promised low prices and high quality at the same time. Clients these days do not have to search for professionals, they just have to choose because service providers are first to knock on the online door of the client and ask if there is anything they can help the client with. The client is only supposed to make a decision, and there is a lot of options to choose from – it is no different in the translation market. But what is true information and what is just a marketing gimmick?


A person or a company looking for a translator or, especially, a translation agency should realise a couple of important things to avoid a mistake – often very expensive – of entrusting a translation job to a translator not suited to the task. A poor translation can really cost you a lot if it requires many corrections, but it can also damage the image of your business. When using services of an individual and specific translator you may be sure of his or her skills and experience to a great extent, it is all quickly verifiable, though it might be a lot more difficult to do so when using services of a translation agency, a bigger one in particular, if you do not know what to pay attention to when choosing one. “Traps” – let us call them so – most often set for clueless or unaware clients include the following:


(a) We translate everything for the same price

(b) No text is a challenge for us

(c) We translate a lot of pages in a short time

(d) All our translators are reliable and professional

(e) We translate every material entrusted to us in a thorough manner and every our translation is proofread by a proofreader.


Let us begin with this simple fact that when one translates everything, one in fact translates nothing. Translation is a complex process that requires, besides an in-depth knowledge of the source and target languages, a profound insight into the subject, and it is no secret that the human mind has its limits ― ‘specialists’ and ‘fields of expertise’ are not just vain concepts. The more narrow specialisation, the better because it gives a kind of guarantee of professionalism and broad knowledge of the subject. It is also the case with translation; although non-specialist texts need simply less time to be translated well, highly specialist texts should be translated exclusively by translators who are experts in a particular field, even better if they are able to prove their competences with recommendations or certificates. It is common knowledge that good specialists and experts know their own worth because they are aware that not everyone is able to do well what they do for a living on a daily basis. A conclusion is simple: do not expect a complex or demanding material requiring special skills and competencies to be translated professionally for little money. It is also worth remembering that translation agencies charge commissions, which means that translators working for them are paid less, sometimes much less than you pay as a client of the agency. You will never know how much of what you paid is given to the translator working on your material; therefore, you may never be absolutely sure if your material was translated by an expert in a given area.


Another trap you can fall into are descriptions of how reliable and knowledgeable a translation agency is (or even what a know-it-all it is). You will undoubtedly find the right specialist to translate your materials sooner or later, but a short deadline happens to be an obstacle to a more thorough search, sometimes the stakes are too high to reject a profitable job requested by, for instance, a well-known business and its potential client. It is often the case with translation agencies which tend to accept every job without making sure whether they have the right person to complete it. And then? Terrible things can happen. The material is translated by a translator who is at that time available because there is no time to look for and test new translators. The client is unaware of that since he or she discussed his or her translation project with a project manager or, in other words, a translation task distributor and not with a translator responsible for his or her project. Far better is working with a translator with whom we stay in touch and whom we can contact at any time.


Yet another situation when the client should think twice about having his or her material translated by a translation agency or even by a freelancer is when time is not an issue for them notwithstanding how much text is to be translated. In a standard working day of full eight hours of work, one can professionally and accurately translate from five to ten pages of new text; what I mean by one page are 1800 characters with spaces. Of course, it is just one of a few possible systems of calculating translation pages, but this one is used in Poland most often. There are certain exceptions to that rule, for instance working late (although it may be inefficient) or an excellent knowledge of the subject, but one has to bear in mind that any page above that number entails either poor quality of a translation or the necessity to share the work with other translator, but it can result in divergent terminology or style. An exception are teams of translators who collaborate very closely with each other for a long time and have developed a system of work which allowed them to eliminate such divergences and discrepancies.


The next trap is set only by translation agencies which suggest that each and every translator they work with is a professional and always reliable specialist. In fact, it is not always the case. Thanks to a relatively recent trend towards quality instead of quantity, agencies actually try to test (potential) translators with whom they collaborate as thoroughly as possible, but sometimes a translation job needs to be done extremely quickly or requires the knowledge of a particular specialist area of expertise. Then, if you take the job, it means that you accept the risk and trust a new vendor (translator). Even the bigger problem could be not having the translation proofread by an expert in the field before sending it to the client. In such a case, the agency does not have a choice and sends the client the translation as it is and hopes that no one notices its possible defects and flaws. When working with a translator directly, it can be easily avoided because the translator is not anonymous and the client can look him or her up, among other things, on social media for professional networking or by asking for letters of recommendation from people for whom that translator has worked before. Moreover, if contacted directly, it is pretty improbable that the translator accepts a job which requires skills or knowledge he or she does not have.


Last but not least – proofreading, guaranteed almost by every translation agency; they also tend to promise that every translation they do is proofread by a native speaker of a given language. Here, there are two things that need to be highlighted. First of all, translations are not always proofread, let alone by a native speaker, usually because there is no time for that or the agency wants to save money, and second of all, the fact of being a native speaker of a certain language does not automatically mean that he or she has knowledge and skills needed to properly proofread a text. Let me repeat: Just because one knows a foreign language does not make one a translator. However, if you insist on having your translation proofread by a native speaker of the target language, be aware that it will most probably cost you more in the end.


Naturally, it is not the case that bigger translation agencies are evil incarnate. They have advantages; for instance, they are able to efficiently coordinate large and complex translation projects in multiple languages, which means that the client commissions the job only once, but undoubtedly whether he or she will be lucky enough to have all of the materials, in all of the required language pairs, translated at least well is often a lottery. Once you are lucky, the other time – not so much. Nevertheless, not working with translators directly but with a project manager does not mean that you are doomed to receive a poor translation. You just have to be careful and remember this article. In my opinion, if you have something to translate and have an opportunity to contact a translator directly instead of going to a translation agency, you should definitely do it.