10 Questions to ask a translation company before working together
Translation is a valuable and necessary process, but most companies aren’t lucky enough to have in-house translators. It’s no secret that machine translators are not capable of producing professional, publishable material, which means that outsourcing your material to a translation company is your only reliable option. Of course, cost will be an important element when choosing your translation company, but it should never be the only deciding factor: there are plenty of other questions you should be asking, besides the price, and here are ten of the most important:
- “Are you a specialist, or a generalist?”
Translating material is about much more than simply being bilingual. It requires a specialist set of skills, as well as in-depth knowledge of the subject area of the source material, and translation into the translator’s native language, in order to get the most accurate and natural result possible. The days of translation companies basically being akin to supermarkets, and offering every sort of translation and language related service under the sun is gone – thank goodness. A translation company should be looking for clients just like you, and specialised in the domain of your interest – you will find one that is.
- “What are your terms and conditions?”
Most translation companies will display their terms and conditions on their website, and you should read these carefully. This means that you will know what the company expects of you, and what you can expect of them (in terms of liability, complaints, confidentiality) should a problem arise. Becoming familiar with a company’s terms and conditions means that you are 100% aware of the service you are buying into, regardless of what you may be told by them on the phone or elsewhere.
- “Can you describe the entire process my file will go through?”
This is essentially a little like asking to look under the bonnet of a car. Dig into who will do what, and in what order, and how the different collaborators relate to each other. A translation project should never, ever, under any circumstances be handled by just one linguist. As a marketing specialist agency, most of our projects go through a pretty complex process, normally involving 3 different linguists. That’s overkill for some documents, but before you ask the probing questions and expect nothing less than clear, concrete answers that demonstrate a rational flow through multiple linguists with a final sign off of “publication ready” status.
- “Can you handle multilingual typesetting?”
This is an important question if you are expecting your translated text to be returned ready to publish. This means that the translated text will be embedded in your images and graphics in the same way that they are in the source text. This is an especially important question to ask if you are working with right to left languages, such as Arabic and Hebrew, when failure to use the correct tools could end with a result that is nonsensical in the target language.
- “What is your turnaround time?”
Professional translators can translate between 2000 and 2500 words a day, and proof-readers can check around 4000, so you can use this as a rough guideline as to when you should realistically expect a job to be completed. Of course, the actual completion date will depend on a translator’s existing projects, and they will tend to allow a little extra time in case of any issues. It is really when you are given a date that seems too soon to be true that you should be wary, as it could be a sign that not enough care has been taken.
- “Can you quote upfront?”
Though the price isn’t the only factor you need to consider, it is still important- and it is especially important that you know what you will be expected to pay before you allow a company to begin your translation. To receive an accurate quote, you may need to provide the company with the documents to be translated. There used to be a pretty common practice of charging per TARGET word. That meant that the translator was incentivised to put more words on the page (awful idea) and that you never knew what you would pay until they had finished. Get a fully itemised, firm quote, and be sure to ask exactly what that quote includes, and how long that quote is valid for. The quote should also inform you when the fee is payable by, and if anything needs to be paid before they begin the work.
- “What tools do you use?”
Most translation companies will use a CAT tool, which helps to maintain continuity throughout translations- whether during the same one or across multiple for the same company. CAT tools will be able to create translation memories, which recognise whether specific words or phrases have been translated by the company before, ensuring they are used again instead of another. I would strongly advise against working with any translator or translation company. They’re clearly not investing in best practice, not committing to their trade, and long-term you’ll get lower quality at a higher cost if you continue translating.
- “What’s your policy on changes?”
Ideally, you should be certain of exactly what you want and need from the translation company before you begin working with them. However, if you are worried that these needs may change during the project, you should make the translation company aware of this beforehand, and ask what their policy would be regarding these potential changes. These will change from company to company, so ensure that you are happy with the answer you are given before you start work.
- “Can you provide testimonials?”
Of course, even after asking all these questions, you may still be nervous about choosing a translation company. Most companies will have a testimonials section on the website, but if not, you should ask for them. This is a way of knowing that other people have been happy with the quality of work the company has provided in the past.
- “Can I have that in writing?”
For the benefit of both you and the translation company, you should ask for any agreements and negotiations (be that on price quotes, time quotes, policies, etc.) to be sent to you in writing- a simple email would suffice. This means you have tangible proof of what has been agreed between the two parties and means both parties are covered in the case of any discrepancies.
Translation is not a cheap service, and bad translations can be damaging, which means it is important that you are happy with your choice of translation company before you agree to start working with them. Research is often the best way to ensure this, and be sure to ask a few companies these questions before deciding to use one.