Companies are now realising the true potential that translation offers for global growth and resources, but the number of translation agencies out there can make choosing one overwhelming. So how do you choose which one is best for you?
Making your choice entails weighing up various factors. This may seem a daunting task as many agencies seem to offer identical services, and carrying out an online search for “translation agencies” produces a huge list. Yet the decision-making process is so much easier if you know how to go through these options with a fine-tooth comb. Here are some useful pointers on how to choose a translation agency wisely.
Communication and mutual trust are key
It may sound obvious, but it is worth remembering. Regular contact with your chosen Language Service Provider (LSP) means you can keep each other updated. This includes sharing details about the source text, including vocabulary and meanings. You want to be sure that you can rely on one another.
Test the waters by sending e-mails to potential agencies. Do they quickly provide a good quality reply? Do they present information in a clear way? Go further in evaluating the agency representative’s skills by asking a more specialist question that will require them to have inside specialist knowledge. Keep track of how each representative responds because this will help you make your final decision.
Electronic communication therefore has many benefits, but it has made phone calls fairly rare. You should use this to your advantage; a brief phone call can reveal a great deal. If you speak to someone who is open and happy to share information, it tells you a lot about integrity. It also gives you a chance to define your expectations. Will you build a translation memory that stores your company terminology (e.g., industry specific keywords and phrases)? Agencies wishing to work in this way are clearly interested in developing a long-term relationship. They may even ask about the purpose of the document or if you have a related glossary. This shows they are committed to producing exactly what you need.
Knowledge really is power
Agencies must show a good understanding of the translation process. They should also educate you about it in an honest, expert way. This shows experience, credibility and respect for the entire translation process. They are obviously investing time in staff training. Knowledgeable agencies plainly distinguish between British and American English, and between Mandarin and Cantonese. At the same time, they must speak a plain language, not relying on terms like L10N and LSO (checking the final version of a document). This proves that they are mentors, setting them apart from their competitors.
Technology plays an important role
One part of this is handling the layout of the document. The formatting process should be considered separately from translation and not bundled into one package. Find agencies that are honest about this topic. It is even more important for Desktop Publishing (DTP), which calls for experts in the field.
Technology also includes Computer Aided Translation (CAT) tools. They often indicate high quality, low costs and consistency. Yet bear in mind that they do not guarantee precise results. In fact, it can be damaging to rely on them too much. The CAT tool policy of agencies is very informative.
When arranging website translation, it is vital to discuss Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). Without this, the website will not function successfully in the other language. Do agencies fully understand this matter? If so, they deserve some brownie points!
… but tread carefully! Obtain a Free Instant Quote. If the price lies well below other competitors’ offers, quality is bound to suffer. On the other hand, it is neither practical nor profitable to accept very high costs, even if they do indicate that results will be professional. You can happily pay mid-range fees, without sacrificing quality.
Even so, an acceptable price does depend on the purpose and target audience for the translation. For each document, ask yourself are you prioritising perfection, or speed? Will your customers actually see the translation, or is it simply for your records? Enter the negotiation with an open mind.
Is there a promise of high quality?
It is still essential to have background knowledge about prices and be aware of language-specific issues. This includes whether the price will be calculated using the number of source or target words. Remember that translating may cause the word count to expand a lot, as it does from English to French.
This can be very difficult to judge. All agencies want to give the impression of being reliable, whether it is true or not. It is useful to check for accolades, awards and membership to respected bodies, like the International Standards for Organisations (ISO). Reviews, case studies and recommendations are always helpful, but watch out for any bias or vested interest! The translations need to be in line with your company expectations and suitable for your customers.
Another good measure of translation accuracy is the criteria used to pick linguists. Does the agency have a rating system for its translators and how does this work? How does it select a particular translator for a specific task? Does it make use of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) for specialised topics? LSPs should be able to provide you with this information. The suggested turnaround times must also be realistic. Do not be seduced if they are unreasonably fast, as the result will be poor translations, possibly machine generated.
We have seen that certain agencies request your company glossary and style guide. This suggests that they are concerned about quality. In working together on several projects, you will understand each other more and develop the translation memory. As a result, translation standards are likely to improve.
It might be an idea to check out previous similar translations or test translations, but treat samples with caution! These often do not accurately reflect the actual translation process and product. In reality there tend to be style guides. There are usually opportunities for questions, feedback and communication. “Real” translations demand time to appoint the most suitable translator, to pace the job and to create glossaries. A sample rarely has such luxuries.
Always remember: quality, price, technology, understanding and communication. They are all central to choosing a translation agency and none of them should be ignored.
Please share any experiences – positive or negative – that you have had with translation agencies. Tell us how you made your final choice!
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