What is language translation? How do translators work? What does a language translation project look like? If you are new to this type of task, you will hopefully find answers here.
Let’s say you sell a widget to customers in the U.S. and you market it using a sales brochure. Now you see an opportunity to expand to Germany and would like to bring your sales brochure along when you visit a trade fair there. You know that English is the international language of business. However, you are also aware that most people do not speak English well enough to base their purchase decisions on it. So, you decide to have your sales brochure translated.
What is language translation?
Translating a text means more than simply replacing your English words with words from the foreign language. If you are old enough, you may remember packaging materials that were translated by a “guy with a dictionary.” The result is frustrating if not comical. The dictionary-only approach does not work for language translation, because the target language
- may not have direct equivalents for some words
- will have a different word order than yours
- uses a different grammar than yours
- has different expressions than your language
- likely presents information differently
- probably follows different politeness rules for addressing a customer
When is a translation a good translation?
A good translation considers all the above aspects. Not only does it contain the words needed to convey the same basic content as your source text. A good translation also
- presents and orders those words in a way that follows all grammatical rules of the language
- breaks your sentences apart or merges them to achieve an information flow that best suits the target language.
- may use different idiomatic expression with a similar impact. For example, if your products “push the envelope of technological possibility”, they may instead “go to the limits of technical feasibility” in German. Because in other languages, nobody pushes envelopes. While your product may well be the “best of the best” in the United States, a German audience would probably prefer a product “of highest quality.”
- addresses the customer in an appropriate manner for the target country. When you can tell your U.S. customers to “Buy now!,” a business customer in Germany would be more likely to follow a link “to our product offerings.”
Thus, language translation means to adapt a source text. To convey the same meaning in a form that the foreign audience will accept. If they have the time and the budget, people sometimes use “backtranslation” to check on the quality of translation. This means that the translation is translated back to the source language by a different translator. Then the backtranslation is compared to the source text. Given that a good translation always contains some adaptation, you should expect differences. But as long as the basic meaning still comes across, those difference are nothing to worry about. Of course, you could just ask an independent translator to evaluate a translation. Much cheaper and faster. And the result is likely more useful, because the reviewer can also provide you with an opinion about style and appropriateness.
How do translators work?
A translator’s primary goal is to adapt your text such that the foreign audience does not even realize they are reading a translation. So, the translator massages your text as described above. At the same time, the translator keeps in mind that
- you expect the translation by a specific deadline
- you need to keep the translation within a specific budget
After all, if your plane to the trade fair leaves on Thursday, you must have the translation in hand by Wednesday at the absolute latest. Plus, your marketing department allocated X number of dollars to your trip and the flight already cost more than expected. The sales brochure must be paid from the same pot, so your funds are limited. This means that translators do not only need to keep language concerns in mind but also time and cost.
Translators use specialized tools
To stay within time and budget, business translators typically work with CAT tools. CAT stands for “Computer Aided Translation,” i.e. CAT tools are productivity tools. Note that CAT tools are not “machine translation tools.” Translators still provide fully human translations, but they use these tools to make their life easier, to work faster, and to keep the cost down. Here’s how:
- A CAT tool uses a translation memory (TM). This is a database that contains all previously translated words, phrases, or sentences. For each phrase, it looks for a translated phrase that closely matches. If found, the CAT tool offers the previous translation to the translator. The translator may then just need to adjust a few words. This saves a lot of typing.
- The tool presents text in a uniform work environment. Your sales brochure may originate from Word, Indesign, or Framemaker. Yet, the CAT tool allows translators to keep their focus on the translatable text. Without having to worry about the intricacies of the program in which the file was created.
- All kinds of translation-specific quality checks are built into the CAT tool. You are familiar with spell checkers. CAT tools also allow to check punctuation, formatting, numbers, terminology, and more.
- The translator can do quick web research. With a few keystrokes, the CAT tool will search the translator’s favorite websites for information about a specific word or phrase.
Most of our translators work with SDL Trados Studio, so we have decided to become one of SDL Trados’ LSP partners.
Prep and postprocessing
If you order any language translations at The Geo Group Corporation, you will often see minimal charges for some sort of “prep.” Such prep brings your file(s) into a format that is compatible with the translator’s CAT tool. Because no tool can handle all possible formats or layout decisions you might make. In such cases, you might also see “postprocessing.” This brings the translated files back into the format you need.
Benefits of the process
Translation quotes at The Geo Group Corporation will typically show you how a translation memory benefits your balance sheet by bringing the cost down over time.
So, the translator is using the CAT tool to step through your files sentence by sentence, or phrase by phrase. In the process, the translator is reading your document more closely than anybody has ever done before. If anything in the text is unclear, the translator will likely find it. At The Geo Group Corporation, we encourage our translators to ask questions that we then relay back to our clients. We know that our translators are very smart people. And if these people do not understand a passage, it is very likely due to ambiguous, incomplete or even misleading wording in the source text. You can treat translator questions as a useful quality step in your own writing efforts.
What does a translation project look like?
When you come to The Geo Group Corporation to inquire about costs or timelines for a language translation, we will ask you a lot of questions first. We will want to talk to you about your goals, your audience, your products, your source material, your processes, and more. And we will ask you for files – not only the files you want translated, but possibly additional ones. If your document contains images, we might ask you for the source files of those. For embedded spreadsheets, we might ask you for the Excel documents that contain the data. When you send us PDFs with web content, we might ask to speak with your web developers.
If this is your first encounter with a translation company, you may get frustrated – “but I just want a price!”
Questions and more questions…
Trust us. We ask these questions not only to get you a reliable quote but also to determine if the translation process makes sense. It may turn out that the files you sent us initially are not the best files for translation. We may be able to spend five minutes on the phone with your web developer or your tech pubs. With the aim to get files that make the whole process a lot smoother (faster, cheaper). This is what sets The Geo Group Corporation apart. We recognize that every client and every project is different, and we customize our processes exactly to your needs. To do so successfully, we need to gather lots of information.
A quote that you can rely on…
After this initial barrage of questions, we will send you a quote. Unless anything completely unforeseen happens (such as you changing your mind on the scope in mid project – wait – does that count as unforeseen?), that is the quote we will stand by. At The Geo Group Corporation, we like predictability – for our own sake and for yours.
If you accept our quote, the project is a “go.” We can usually start right away then, because we have gathered all necessary information and files during the quoting process. Yes, if you reject our quote, all our prep work was a waste (we do not charge you). But that is the risk we take – for our mutual benefit.
Your deadlines are our law
Our quote typically contains line items that clearly state what steps your project will go through and how long these take. Besides standing by our quoted price, we also do our absolute best to meet your deadline. We do not only speak the language of business, we know how important time is for you. Here is our performance over the years:
As you can see, we are currently (Jan 2019) approaching 100% on-time shipment – our (elusive) ideal. We are a company holding ISO 9001:2015 certification for our quality management system. This means we take continuous improvement very seriously and the trend in our on-time shipment efforts speaks for itself.
Throughout the project, we monitor its progress and ensure that it stays on track. No news is good news here – if you don’t hear from us, you can assume that all is well.
Satisfied customers are our goal
Ready to give it a try? Come and Request a Quote. You have nothing to lose, but you could gain a partner for whom customer service is everything. That is why referrals and word of mouth bring more new clients to us than other channels (shown for 2018) :