Buying Translation: Why Comparing Prices Is Not Enough

If you have looked for translation services recently, you have probably contacted a few different language services providers and chosen the one who seemed to offer the best value for the price. Odds are you were working under a strict deadline and did not have much time to do more than compare quotes which consisted of per-word, -page or -hour rates with an estimated time of delivery.

While this information is important, a lot more goes into evaluating the cost of a translation project and there is a strong probability you are comparing extremely different services while strictly looking at the price. Here is an overview of what you can expect from translation agencies (individual translators fall under a different category) and how to ensure you get the best value for your next project without taking a gamble on the quality of the final product.

Is Your Translator Human?

This question may seem strange but in the age of advanced automated translation software, knowing if the paper you spent weeks working on is going to be put through a machine or translated by an expert is a legitimate concern. As a general rule, a professional translator is expected to translate between 1500 and 2000 words per day, depending on the complexity of the original and the experience of the linguist. A quote suggesting your document will be translated at a significantly higher pace might be an indication that your provider is using machine translation with post-editing. However, it is worth noting that automated translation might be a good solution if you need the translated document for internal purposes only or if you are working under extremely tight deadlines and have the ability to get your document reviewed by a native speaker from your staff. On the other hand, if you have gotten the confirmation that your translator is indeed human, going one step further and asking for his qualifications is also a good way to check if you will be working with professional linguists, bilingual staff, or even non-native speakers in the worst-case scenario.

A la Carte versus All–Inclusive Services

The spread of open access translation tools like Google Translate has contributed to the impression that the translation of a document is a simple, one-step process consisting of transforming the original into its translated copy. While this might be true for simple, everyday content, specialized material that requires a significant amount of time and research to produce also requires a lot of work to be translated. The preparation of a glossary of terms, the translation, editing, and proofreading, and the insertion of comments and edits into the translated version are all necessary steps in a high-quality translation process, and it is worth checking with your provider to verify whether those options are all included in the translation estimate or if they will incur additional fees upon request. Choosing only translation without independent editing might save you money in the short run, but could end up costing you way more down the road if you need to find a reviewer yourself or end up with poor-quality work.

Finding a Project Manager Who Speaks Your Language

If you have worked with freelance translators in the past and were the one who was overseeing the completion of the project, you understand the importance of the role of the project manager. This person not only oversees the preparation, planning, and proofreading of the translation, but also acts as an interface between the client and the translation team. When working with a language services provider under a short deadline, you need to look for a partner who is able to act as a true member of your team in order to ensure the translation of your document reads like an original to the target readership and all your questions can be answered by someone who understands your field. Looking for a partner who understands the mission of your institution and the final purpose of the translation is an approach that will prove to be much more effective than strictly basing the selection of your translation agency on the profile of the linguists and the price estimate. Oftentimes, project managers who have acquired significant experience in one particular field are able to raise questions that can add value to the communication of your message, thus providing you with far more than a translated document.

In sum, while budget considerations always play an important part in selecting any business services, the nature of the translation industry does not allow for a fair comparison between language service providers when strictly looking at rates. Understanding how your project is done and building a relationship with your project manager is a good start in helping you make an educated choice and avoiding negative surprises down the road.