You have spent days crafting your elevator’s pitch, weeks in marketing planning, and only after the foreign campaign launches in a new promising market you realize that the translation of your messages is not what you expected.

In a time of crisis or limited cash flow, it is quite obvious that clients want to save money. Businesses want to make a profit, the larger the better, and their utmost concern is often on cutting operational costs. However, no company should dare to cut costs for language services, unless they want to face consequences.

Cheap translations are the best solution if you want your endeavors to fail!

New digital solutions in the field of translation have definitely improved the translation flow and processes. Added to remote interpreting, machine translation, and translation memories, new devices promise to deliver Star Trek-style universal simultaneous translation. If you are interested, Digital Trends (Twitter: @DealsDT) hosts a good blog with interesting posts [1], some of which are linked below.

I cannot deny the results are promising and somehow intriguing, but we have to recognize that automatic translations based on artificial intelligence is still unchartered territory. What is more, no one should underestimate the dark side of digital trends: through guerrilla marketing or false promises, some language services providers say they can translate long texts overnight with the best of quality. That is simply not true and should always ring a bell for company owners or prospective clients.

Unlike budgets – which can be adjusted or modified on-the-go within certain limits – the quality of a translation or interpreting service is noticed immediately and when this happens it is already too late. Out-of-place expressions, a “derailed” train of thought or inconsistencies in a document or a speech are common signals of a lousy service.

Business owners or entrepreneurs should be aware of the obstacles to a good translation or interpreting service, which I tried to summarize as follows:

The source

Sometimes translators struggle with poor source content. A well written, proof-read and well organized text conveys meaning well. A crafted, rehearsed speech will be easier to deliver and more easily understood by interpreters and audience. Companies, authors, and speakers in general – on the one side – and translators/interpreters – on the other – are on the same team. The better they work together, the most profitablethe final outcome will be for both.

As far as translations are concerned:

  • The manual translation workflow also influences the quality of source texts. Copying and pasting from/to different files, sending bits of text instead of a longer and coherent text (see lack of context below) adds to complexity and reduces understanding. A confused original message will never be translated into a clear message.
  • Old-style translators do not exploit the wonders of translation memories, i.e., a database of previous translations, which ensure consistency.
  • Lack of context is the major cause for misunderstandings. Texts are not accompanied by background information, images are removed to reduce file size, companies do not share their internal glossaries or terminology.
  • Last, but not least, in order to save money (again!), companies decide to pass on in-country reviews. A review by a local translator will ensure every single expression is adapted (localized) to the target market, thus minimizing inconsistencies or mistakes.

Interpreting is not very different:

    • Interpreters (#terps) do prepare for assignments. They have to know and understand context, background, any pending issues, the commonly adopted language and terminology, and so on.
    • In order to do so, openness and collaboration on the part of the client is key to the common goal of getting the message across.

The stakeholders

Authors/employees and translators/interpreters should work as a team. When a new prospect contacts me, I always take time to explain how interpretation works, what the client can expect from me, and what he/she should do to make my life (and his/her effort) easier. I don’t charge the client for that time for it can be a good investment for both.

Likewise, I suggest to invest time and money to find the right translator or interpreter for the job. Reviewing or possibly doing translations again means you are paying for the same work twice, which is inconsistent with the original objective (saving money). Of course, don’t forget that lousy interpreting services have no second shot!

The business vision

Businesses widening their network of international contacts cannot avoid language barriers. Therefore, translation costs are hardly avoidable for those companies that want to expand abroad. In fact, the demand for translation services has soared over the last years. Cheaper, and yet professional solutions are becoming increasingly popular in the B2B and B2C space, such as remote interpreting (check out this excellent post by Tony Rosado as well as solutions like Kudo by @ewandromag or Interprefy by @KimLudvigsen).

Seeing language services as costs rather than investments denotes a lack of business vision. I know it is tempting to opt for basic translations, but solutions as such can easily backfire: poor translations will have a strong impact on sales abroad. The reputation of your company hinges on effective communication of all the messages related to your brand.

Get this wrong, however, and repairing the damage may be a pain in the neck. Public confidence is hard to regain, especially on social media. And while you can correct spelling errors or issue corrective statements, reversing bad reputation is a totally different issue that influences sales and profit. The modern entrepreneurs are becoming more and more aware of the significance of language services to their businesses.

Translation in both the oral or written form is a craft, so don’t get off at the first stop. Try and try again until you find someone who knows your sector well and is passionate about translating your messages as you would do.

A last word

I cannot finish this post without thanking the clients who have allowed me to work for them and WITH them over the years. Every time I found someone available to listen or to talk, I have learned something new. This was awesome for me and the clients.

To put this in perspective I want to quote the words of Christine Crandell from her article on customer co-creation on Forbes:

[…] clients large and small realize that customer alignment leads to a transformation that exceeds their expectations, in a good way. The more customers realize their vendor is committed to listening, embracing and delivering their precise requirements, the more they want to be involved in that organization.

The operative phrase is to “be involved in.” Increasingly, that is taking the form of customer co-creation. […] I define co-creation as the “purposeful action of partnering with strategic customers, partners or employees to ideate, problem solve, improve performance, or create a new product, service or business.”

That’s it.

If you want to know more, or receive advice for your company or business, contact me. Feel free to share your ideas or comments below.


[1] Articles and posts from Digital

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