Tips for Language Translation

Why Translate?

If you’re reading this article, you probably have a need to translate one language to another, or to multiple languages. There are many reasons to consider translation work, as follows:

Compliance – Your organization could be subject to laws or regulatory requirements to translate certain types of materials. This could include new EU requirements, medical industry, as well as government regulations to provide materials and services in multiple languages depending on local population.

Business – You may wish to widen your business beyond your current language market. This may include marketing materials, websites, manuals, books, invoices, etc. Each language you add can open a significant number of new potential customers.

Outreach – You may simply want to get a message out to a wider audience, whether it be political, volunteer work, or educational.

Which Languages to Translate

Starting an effort to translate can feel overwhelming. One challenge is the high number of languages. There are over 6500 spoken languages in the world, although most are used by very few. How do you decide which languages to translate to first? If you have compliance mandates, then this may be outlined for you as to which languages you must address.

If your reason is for business or outreach, you may have specific business reasons to target particular languages. For example, if you ship a product, it may be costlier to ship to certain countries, or there may be regulatory issues which prohibit selling to a country. Certain countries or populations may also be better customers for your product or service.

However, if you wish to reach the highest number of people, then you should look to the actual volume of usage. According to Wikipedia, the top 10 languages in order are as follows:

  • Mandarin
  • Spanish
  • English
  • Hindi
  • Arabic
  • Portuguese
  • Bengali
  • Russian
  • Japanese
  • Punjabi

Quality of Translations

Quality is of utmost importance in most circumstances. Readers in their native language will quickly detect even the small nuances of improper use of the language and may resent that. They may see your organization as a foreign company to avoid doing business with. Also, if you are translating a website, poor translations can be ranked lower by search engines, and customers may give lower reviews based upon poor translation in a user manual.

How can you address this? In addition to ensuring a competent translator, have it proofread by another. Even a good translator may make mistakes in grammar or specific words. The proofreader has the specific responsibility to ensure quality and can be a native speaker of the target language.

Use of Translation Services

Most organizations will not have translation capabilities in internally so will need to contract out for this work. We recommend doing research and carefully select your translation service. It can be tempting to look for the lowest cost service or what pops up first in the search engine, however consider that lower cost might mean lower paid translators that aren’t as skilled.

You can also consider a freelance translator, however they may handle only one type of language, and may not be always available when you need them, whether due to backlog of work or simply have ended their business. We recommend a larger service that will be around for a long time and can serve all your potential needs.

Here’s some things to look for in a language translation service:

  • Do they cover the languages you want?
  • Do they do the type of translations you want, whether financial, websites, notarized, medical, etc.? Translating something like medical terms requires special expertise.
  • How fast are they to complete translations?
  • Are they reachable by phone and online chat?
  • If this is needed, do they offer localization services?
  • Are their prices competitive with no hidden fees?
  • Do they charge you for rush orders or weekends?
  • Do they use native language translators?
  • Do they offer proofreading?

If you are researching and selecting your service via the web, look for an organization that has a well-designed website with a great deal of useful information online. An example site is this certified translation service website. You can learn a lot just by browsing through their website, for example their full list of translation services to consider.

Quality Validation

Be sure of the quality level of your translation service. Don’t take any chances in situations where a poor translation can greatly hurt your business, such as your website, primary marketing materials, and user manual. While a user manual is provided after the sale, we have seen poor reviews given on products based on this, which in return will reduce sales.

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