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Barbara Jungwirth of reliable translations llc writes about language and the business of translation.

How Much Will It Cost? Part II

As I noted in Part I of this post, a number of different variables determine the price a mid-sized company looking to expand into foreign markets may pay for having their materials translated:

  1. The language combination
  2. The type of text
  3. The length of the document(s)
  4. The formatting and file type(s) of the original
  5. The desired quality of the translated text
  6. Whether or not an intermediary (translation agency) is used

I explained items 1.-3. in Part I. This post covers items 4.-6.


4. The formatting and file type(s) of the original

Most technical translators use a type of software called a CAT (computer-aided translation) tool. It helps translators to keep translations consistent and aids their productivity. Most CAT tools can handle standard file formats, such as MS Office files or plain web pages. Less common formats, however, are not always supported. PDFs pose a special challenge. While some CAT tools claim to handle them, the actual results are often problematic: text is dropped or rendered incorrectly, paragraphs are arranged out of sequence, etc. If the translated text requires extensive formatting (e.g., charts with embedded text, space constraints), more time will be required to handle the document. The extra time required to deal with these issues will need to be compensated by charging more than you would pay for having only plain text in an MS Word document translated.


5. The desired quality of the translated text

Leaving aside the question of hiring less-than-qualified translators at extremely low prices, experienced translators can provide different levels of work, depending on your needs. For example:

  • You simply need to know what a particular document is about, or
  • The translated text will only be used for internal training, or
  • The text is part of a worldwide, multi-channel marketing campaign.

In the first instance, the translator only makes a single quick pass through the text, delivering a first. This is called translation for information only. In the second case, the initial translation will be edited so it flows smoothly, but the text does not have to be elegant. Here you want a good, solid translation. In the last case, however, you need more than just an accurate rendition of the text in another language. The text must entice the new audience to buy your product or service. This calls for transcreation, where the message you are conveying is more important than the specific words used to do so. A rough draft takes significantly less time and resources to produce than does honing the translated document to perfection for a new target audience, hence the price will differ.


6. Whether or not an intermediary (translation agency) is used

A translation agency can usually handle multiple languages and may provide desktop publishing and other services, as well. It will also manage large, multi-lingual projects for you. But it will charge a premium for these services. So if you only need one or two languages and have your own art department (or are already outsourcing that word to a designer), you can save money by hiring translators directly. The American Translators Association, the professional organization for translators and interpreters in the U.S., has a searchable database of translators on their website. Its German counterpart, the Bundesverband der Dolmetscher und Übersetzer, has a similar directory.

I will talk about other ways you can save money on translations in an upcoming post.

Read explanations of items 1.-3. above in Part I of this post.

A Documentation Manager’s Questions About Translation lists the questions I will answer in this series of posts.

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