6 steps to getting great translations (and one shameless plug)

1. Find the right translators 
Your translators need to be experienced and knowledgeable in exactly the kind of work that you need them to do. Pick out the key skills you need and then recruit specifically for the work you need. If style is important to you, get samples from the candidates, and have those checked by someone you trust. If you need someone who can work with HTML or XML, don’t compromise or take someone at their word. Test them.

2. Find enough of the right translators
Bear in mind that if you are working to a deadline, or want to complete a very large project in a decent time you may need to operate teams of translators, with an editor. Keeping these teams small will help, but that won’t be enough alone, and presents a co-ordination job that shouldn’t be underestimated (see number 6!).

3. Setup resources to help
Putting in place glossaries at the outset of a project, especially when working with teams of translators on large technical projects, will help to avoid difficult consistency editing tasks, and save a lot of time in the long run. Translation memory tools are out there to help with co-ordinating teams, and can make a real difference in large projects, saving costs and helping with the consistency issue. But again, this needs to be managed carefully.

4. Provide a detailed brief
Somebody probably spent a long time coming up with the original text, redrafting it, and making decisions along the way based on the context of the work. For instance, if you produce website content it’s likely you kept in mind your audience, and used tone and style of language to put across your company/brand values. If you don’t pass that information on to the translator, they will just have to work off the text, missing out on all of that thinking. If you didn’t create the text, you will at least know why you need it to be translated, and how it is going to be used. The background details might be obvious to you, but assuming the translators will implicitly understand is a big risk. Don’t take it!

5. Don’t expect immediate perfection 
If you have ever tried writing some text for your business, a brochure, landing page, or press release, you’ll have redrafted and tweaked, probably several times. It’s the same process when translating. If an editor comes back with questions about the translation, or a translator sends you a list of queries, don’t think “why don’t they just get on with it” – welcome the questions and answer them properly. I passed this text to two other people who suggested improvements,  before it was ready for the wider world…as they say in Brazil “normal”!

6. Communicate, communicate, communicate
The more time you put in with the people involved, and the more conversation you have with them about the work and what it is all for, the better the results will be. Keeping communication open and welcoming questions, responding with thoughtful answers and asking for other’s opinions when in doubt will make a big difference. It will also help to minimise ambiguities – the translator’s worst enemy. A quick call to keep in touch at key points in the project, even for no particular reason, can keep translators motivated and focussed on your work.

7. If all else fails, hire a professional
Agencies offering Professional Translation Services are everywhere. If you do choose to go down this route then check the agency’s credentials, and quiz them on how they work, how they are organised, where their project managers are and what qualifications they have. They should at least demonstrate to you, with evidence, that they understand the steps 1-4 above. Beware the lure of certifications. You can buy many, and self-approve others, so don’t take them at face value.

Did I mention I know a great translation agency? ;) 

Written by Matt Train
Matt Train
Matt Train is Operations Director at TranslateMedia - responsible for working with clients and system integration partners to advise, plan, and deliver multilingual digital content for international brands and content publishers.

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