Translation ROI: Calculating the Return on Your Investment

Translation Return on Investment

There are a number of reasons that people have their documents translated, and each translation requires a slightly different level of time and expertise. Time and expertise that you pay for. Take a moment to think about the reasons you are having your documents translated before you select a translation style and service.

What Goes into a Translation

When it comes to translating a document, you need to consider many different skill sets and options. In a world where anyone can type words into Google translate and almost instantly receive a general translation into hundreds of different languages, we often lose sight of the specialized skills required to professionally translate documents.

The first step in translation is determining the purpose of the document. It is almost impossible to choose the correct translation service without knowing the purpose of the translation and the target audience…unless you are not concerned with the accuracy of the translation or the cost associated with perfection.

If you are translating a children’s book with simple vocabulary and basic sentence structure, it is likely that a machine translation will be able to accurately translate your work into hundreds of language pairs. You would only need a light post-edit to ensure nothing embarrassing slipped through during the translation process.

If that book is a technical manual for cardiologists, however, a simple machine translation may not be your best choice. The computers may not have all of your field-specific language in the termbase, you may use technical phrases that need to be updated in the language memory prior to translation, or you may have co-authored the book with somebody from a country who, due to cultural honorifics, has very specific ways they need to be addressed by.

Further, if your document is of the legal nature, there may be specific formatting, spacing, and language components that are essential to the acceptance of the documents.

In short, you need to have an idea of just how accurate your document needs to be and what sort of service can get it to this level.

A Look at Some Specifics

  • Lexemes and Function Words: These are the basic elements of your text. If your text uses a very basic common language, most of your lexemes and function words will probably be in a translation database.

If your word usage is more advanced or specialized, you may need to work with your translator to ensure the correct word usage is chosen for the target language.

  • Punctuation and Spacing: In most novels and prose-based textbooks, punctuation and spacing follow the norms for the language pair. In mathematical, scientific, and legal documentation, however, there are often very specific spacing or punctuation challenges that must be addressed.

An errant comma or missed line break could be the difference between success and failure, or between riches and great loss.

  • Formatting: Up to half of your translator’s time can be spent re-formatting your documents after translation. Remember, translation is not just replacing one word with another. It involves correctly moving concepts and ideas from one language to another.

As a result, there is often considerable expansion or contraction of the text. English to Japanese can expand a text up to 60 percent. Translating from English to Thai or Portuguese may actually shorten the space required for the text.

If your project is mainly prose, then there is little to worry about, but if your project involves inserts, especially tables, charts or graphics with embedded text that requires translation, then reformatting may take a significant amount of time.

On certain types of projects, especially legal documents such as patent applications, a mistake in document formatting can be the difference between your document being approved or denied.

  • Cultural Nuance: Not every people group views life the same way, and words mean different things in different languages. You need to ensure that your text makes sense in the target language.

There are many real-life stories about companies that did not check the cultural relevance of their text prior to moving forward with their projects, only to find themselves quite embarrassed.

A text properly translated but not aligned with the culture might not make sense, it may come across as funny, it may even be viewed as irrelevant; then again, you could actually end up insulting the people you are trying to impress or court with your translation.

Calculating Your Return on Investment

Each of the items listed above is going to be addressed to some level in any translation. The key words  are “to some level”. In a machine translation with a light human edit at the end, there will not be much time spent looking over the specific formatting, spacing, and cultural items associated with the text. With each level of edit you go up, the more time the translator will spend ensuring the text is perfect.

The time will come when the editing of a machine translation is just not cost effective. It would save time and money to use a computer-assisted approach. In this case, you work with the translator to update the translation memory and termbase. The translators have more “hands on” time with your documents, and the time spent in post-editing is greatly reduced, especially with technical writing.

For projects with more difficult language pairs, formulas, or projects that are graphic-heavy, a full human translation may be the way to go right from the start.

Instead of having somebody try to figure out what is wrong or inconsistent with the text and then fix it, they will just do it right the first time. Granted, this takes time, but it will also give you the highest level of translation accuracy.

Matching your needs to the time and expense ensures that you get your money’s worth. If you pay for a human translation on a children’s book, your money may not have been spent wisely. On the other hand, a single error in a technical manual could cost someone their life; your expense is well worth the price of accuracy.

In the end, the translation is going to represent you in the target language and target culture. Your name and reputation are based upon the quality and accuracy of the work they receive and not what your source document looked like. Consider your needs carefully, and choose the services that are going to best represent you to the world.

This post is written by Robert Stitt, a content writer with Ulatus.

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