Nobody wants a translation that doesn’t meet their needs or that they pay too much for, right?
You can easily avoid that with our simple 4-step process focusing on your translation purpose.
The trick is to match the purpose (or use) for your translation with the right method or type of translation for the quality you need.
This ensures you always get the right translation for your needs – and it might just save you some money.
Here’s the process, which we flesh out below:
Step 1. Define your translation purpose
Step 2. Identify the translation quality that purpose requires
Step 3. Match this to the right type of translation
Step 4. Choose the right translator
And here’s how it works:
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Step 1: Identify your translation purpose – the starting point for getting the translation you want
In most cases your translation purpose will be self-evident.
It’s what you’re going to use it for, or the function it will serve.
Here are 6 of the most common translation purposes in business:
- To get an overview or the gist of a text.
Where you just want to know broadly what the text is about or says and the detail doesn’t matter.
- For background information.
Typically these are read once and archived, but may also be used as reference materials.
- For internal circulation, low importance.
Routine or non-critical documents to be used solely within your organisation.
- For internal use, key documents.
Also for internal circulation but where an inaccurate translation would be a problem.
- Client facing.
These always carry reputational and/or financial risk.
Documents essential to your organisation operating successfully.
Step 2: Understand the translation quality you need
Not all translations are equal
These days, clients have many potential sources for their translations.
They may use:
- computer programs like Google Translate
- people with varying skillsets within their organisation
- enthusiast translators found on the Internet
- professional translators and translation companies such as ourselves
As a result, the translation quality they receive can vary markedly.
At one extreme a translation may have too many deficiencies to be usable.
Others might be good in parts but also contain typos, unclear wording, or translation errors. As we’ll see, these may still be acceptable for certain purposes/uses.
At the other extreme are totally accurate translations that read beautifully – quality pieces of writing in their own right.
We can think of it as a continuum:
What we mean by translation quality
We have a detailed post on what translation quality entails, but in brief there are 4 components to it:
- Wording / expression
- Grammar and spelling
For our purposes, we can focus on the first two:
- whether the translation has the same meaning as the original
- how well worded the translation is
We can make some broad generalisations about these.
Being generalisations, they won’t apply in all cases, but are useful enough to illustrate our point.
A high-quality translation will have the same meaning as the text that was translated.
A translation where some meaning is omitted, added or changed will be of lesser quality.
A high-quality translation will read well and use natural language. Nothing will be jarring to the reader and the text often won’t seem like it’s a translation.
A translation that has some unnatural, awkward or unclear wording will be of lesser quality.
Applying our continuum:
You won’t always need a translation of the highest quality
If the function of your translation is just to get the gist of what a text says, a misconstrued meaning or even omission probably won’t matter too much.
Or if the translation is just for background information, some awkward phrasing here and there shouldn’t matter.
Conversely, you wouldn’t want either of these in your business-critical or client facing materials.
So different translation purposes/uses imply different requirements for translation quality.
That is, different minimum standards for accuracy and quality of expression.
The accuracy and wording requirements of our 6 translation purposes
What we’re assessing here is what degree of low-quality indicators each purpose can tolerate.
In other words, how important would a translation error or less than ideal wording be?
Here’s our assessment:
- Overview or gist. Low quality will generally be acceptable – translation inaccuracies or poor wording shouldn’t stop you understanding what it’s about.
- Background information. Accuracy is important, although the odd inaccuracy shouldn’t be critical. Quality of expression is less important – it doesn’t need to read beautifully, just be readily understandable.
- For internal circulation, low importance. Requires reasonable accuracy and quality of expression. But some inaccuracy and less polished wording can presumably be tolerated as these aren’t essential documents.
- For internal use, key documents. High accuracy is needed. You also don’t want ambiguities or lack of clarity, so high quality of expression is also needed.
- Client facing Highest possible accuracy is required – you can’t afford a mistake. And excellent wording too – you don’t want your reputation tarnished.
- Business-critical Demands the highest level of accuracy and excellent expression – there’s no place for ambiguity or unclear wording in these translations.
|2. Background info||Medium - high||Low - medium|
|3. Internal, minor docs||Medium||Medium|
|4. Internal, key docs||High||High|
|5. Client facing||Highest||Highest|
|6. Business critical||Highest||Highest|
And we can chart this:
Important: These are the base standards you could accept
We need to stress that these are the minimum quality levels acceptable for each translation purpose/function.
You may well want better – especially if you could use the translation for a different purpose later.
A higher quality translation will always serve your purpose and will generally do the job better.
Some clients always opt for higher quality translations, regardless of purpose. They figure they’d rather be safe than sorry.
But there are two reasons most clients don’t – time and cost.
Generally, the higher the quality:
- the more expensive the translation
- the longer a translation will take
Most of us don’t like paying more than we need to, and there’ll be times when you need a quicker turnaround.
Step 3: Match the required quality to the right type of translation
There are 4 main types of translation used in business – for further details on these and when to use them, see our separate article, video and infographic.
- Machine Translation (MT) – translation by a computer program or app such as Google Translate, with no human involvement
- Machine Translation + editing – the machine translation is edited by a human to fix errors and unclear wording
- Human translation (HT) – translation by a professional human translator following best practice processes
- Human translation plus review – a second translator reviews the human translation as a safety check and to further refine wording
These typically achieve the following levels of translation quality:
|1. MT||Low – likely to contain translation errors, misinterpretations, incorrect vocabulary usage||Low – some parts OK, others unclear, some gibberish|
|2. MT + editing||Medium – most problems will be fixed but any that aren’t obvious will remain||Medium – the text is made understandable without being “polished” into elegant prose|
|3. HT||High – but there’s always the chance of inadvertent “human error”||High – will read well with good quality of expression|
|4. HT + review||Highest – any “human errors” will be picked up||Highest – the translation will be further refined to improve quality of expression|
Important: the human translators we’re referring to here are proven professionals.
They’re the type of translator we engage for our work.
Not all translators meet these standards, so selecting the right translator for your project is crucial to achieving these outcomes.
Overlaying these two charts gives a rather neat correlation between our 6 translation purposes and 4 translation methods:
In table form:
|Translation purpose/function||Suitable Type of Translation|
|1. Gist/Overview||Machine Translation|
|2. Background info||Human Translation|
|3. Internal, minor docs||Machine Translation + editing|
|4. Internal, key docs||Human Translation|
|5. Client facing||Human Translation + review|
|6. Business critical||Human Translation + review|
Important: Again we must stress that these correlations generate the minimum acceptable translation standard required, and higher quality will always serve your needs better.
Note: For purpose number 2 (texts for background information), a human translator rather than machine translation plus editing is needed to achieve the greater accuracy needed.
Why do this? – the 2 key advantages of matching translation purpose and type
The 4 types of translation don’t just vary considerably in quality, they also have very different cost and turnaround times.
We can plot this like this:
So matching your translation purpose with a suitable type of translation doesn’t only give you your required translation quality.
You also pay the most economical price and get the fastest turnaround time for the quality level you need.
Step 4: Choose the right provider – the final step to getting the translation you need
Choosing the right translator is obviously central to getting the translation quality you need.
Here are our tips for doing that.
Use Google Translate. If a passage doesn’t make sense, try it in Microsoft Translator – it might be clearer.
BUT, be sure you understand the limitations of machine translation programs!
Machine Translation + editing
Search out a translation company that offers this service – sorry, we don’t. They may refer to it as PEMT – post-editing machine translation.
A company experienced in PEMT will know which of their translators to use (many won’t do these jobs, and others aren’t so good at it), and they’ll have their processes down pat.
Alternatively, you could source a translator yourself, but that might be a bit of a lottery. You’d want someone with solid experience doing this sort of work.
Use our budget professional translation service – our translators are top notch and you’ll get the quality you need.
Alternatively, use another translation company – but make sure they’re genuinely quality focused. Perhaps compare what they offer with the steps we take to ensure consistently high standards.
Or you could source a translator yourself. If considering this, we suggest you read our articles on the skills translators need and the translation process professional translators use. They’ll help you know what to look for.
Human Translation + review
Use our quality-assured translation service – it’s designed precisely for this scenario and will give you the very best translation standard.
Alternatively, you could choose another company – just make sure they’re genuinely quality-focused and follow best practice.
Most individual translators don’t have their work independently peer-reviewed, so translation companies are generally best for this.
This process is all about value for money.
It’s a way of focusing on your translation purpose to get exactly the translation you need.
It will deliver a high-quality translation when you need it.
And one of lesser quality when that will serve your purpose.
This gives you the most economical translation for your needs, in the most favourable time frame.
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Other articles that may be of interest
Realistic translation times – knowing how long a translation will take
The two essential steps for a successful translation review
Knowing when you need a technical translator – and when you don’t