Translation Services – A Basic Translation Primer

Whether you have an 800-page book, an academic dissertation, a series of product manuals, legal contracts, or just need a birth certificate translated into another language, the world of translation services can be confusing if you are not familiar with the industry. After all, a single Google search for “translation services” turns up over 81 million hits that range from 1-hour machine translations to the translation of specific languages.

To help you navigate the world of translation, let’s take a brief look at some of the most common components of the language service provider market:

Types of Translation Services

There are three main types of translation services, although some companies offer multiple service options.

            Machine Translation: Machine translation involves the use of software to take text from a source language and translate it into a target language. The software uses a set of algorithms to determine a language’s rules and syntax or relies on a statistical model of the language to determine what words mean, how they are used in a sentence, and what their most accurate translation might be. Because the computer cannot know your context or intent, machine translations have a hard time accurately translating text that is not standardized. Variations of the machine translation may include a Post-Edited Machine Translation (PEMT) where a human does a quick review of the translated text to ensure there are no glaring errors.

Computer-Assisted Translation (CAT): CAT refers to the translation process where a human translator uses computer software to assist in the translation process. This is different than PEMT since the human translator works with the computer through the entire translation process. A CAT translation typically involves the updating of termbases and translation memory, the creation of a translation guide, and could include desktop publishing services, localization, and any of a number of post-editing options. A CAT translation is much more accurate than a simple machine translation and is usually much faster than a human translation by itself.

Human Translation: The most accurate, though typically the slowest, of the translation methods is the human translator or human translation team. Many documents that have complex tables, graphs, formulas, and the like, require the hands-on expertise of a human translator (though the translator is typically not a stand-alone entity). Human translation should include an expert translator, an editor with subject matter expertise, a cross-checker who verifies the accuracy of the translation, and a final editor who verifies the localization of the language. By the time a text has been translated into a target language by a human translator, it should read as if it were written in the target language originally.

How Much Time Does Translation Take

A machine translation can render a translation of an entire novel in seconds. If you want the text checked for accuracy, however, it will take at least the amount of time it would take somebody to read the volume of writing. Time can be saved if the novel is broken up into pieces and several people verify the translation at the same time. Remember, however, that even a machine translation with post-editing is going to do little more than provide the gist of the text.

A human translator can typically translate around 2,000 to 2,500 words per day. This speed may be increased with the use of CAT tools, but there are many factors that affect a translator’s speed. For example:

  • Text format: will your translator be working from hard copies or an electronic text? If the text is electronic, is it in a program that the translator is familiar with?
  • Topic: Is the topic one that the translator is familiar with or will they have to spend time looking up words and researching terms?
  • Style: Is the project straight prose or does it contain a number of different stylistic elements that will take a longer time to accurately translate?
  • Formatting: Does the text require special formatting or alignment?
  • Graphics: When a text contains tables, charts, graphs, and other graphic elements which include text, the translation can take significantly more time than projects that are mostly text.
  • Language Pairs. Some languages are easier to translate to and from than others.

What Goes Into Setting Translation Fees

  • Obviously, the number of pages and the amount of text to be translated will affect the cost of the translation. Most baseline fees are calculated by a per-word or a per page charge.
  • In addition to the additional time that it takes to format various projects, the translation service provider may charge an additional desktop publishing fee.
  • Accurate and Native. With each increased service level, your translation will become more accurate and sound like a native speaker wrote it. From a basic machine translation to a complete human translation with a comprehensive edit, the fees follow a range directly related to the service level.
  • Rush Order. If you require your translation with a faster than normal turnaround, there will likely be an additional fee or fees.
  • Many documents require certified translations. The certification requires a special page and stamp. This process may incur extra fees and charges.

The translation field provides specialized services. If you know what is available, decide what you want, start the process early, and have the appropriate documents, the entire experience can be smooth, enjoyable, and rewarding.

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