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Online Translation Services: a Guide to Buying Translations on the Internet





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I think it was Amazon that started the online commerce revolution. Or was it eBay? The fact is debatable, but there is one fact that cannot be disputed. Just about anything can be ordered online. Grocery shopping? No problem. Home electronics and cellphones? Piece of cake. You can even get a new car without going to a showroom and order it via the Internet.

This technological revolution has made our lives easier. Less time is spent driving, parking, getting sales pitches, negotiating prices. The leading online e-commerce companies have emerged as giant enterprises. Companies that did not even exist 20 years ago are now worth billions. The opposite side of the coin are that some of the “Old Economy” companies have been decimated and, in some cases, bankrupted. Book sellers, for example: Borders has disappeared from the retail marketplace. Most of the other book chains are probably on their way out as well. Will Radio Shack still be around in 5 years? Does anyone still buy vacations from a travel agent? Or do they go to Expedia, Orbitz or a dozen other online travel services. People want to order everything online and if a company does not have a strong online presence then they are courting disaster.

And the online revolution is still going strong. The hotel industry is feeling pressure from companies like Airbnb. Today, any person can rent the equivalent of hotel space directly to the consumer, usually at much lower prices than what the hotels charge. Taxi and limousine companies must be feeling the heat from companies like Uber that turns anyone with a car into a taxi driver. Anyone with a cellphone can now order and get a ride in minutes, using GPS technology to track the exact location of the driver.

The translation services industry is no exception. Until recently, people would open the Yellow Pages to find a local translation agency. They would call (or email) the company, talk with someone on the phone, send the material to be translated and get a price quote. Ordering would also be done using traditional methods, either by providing a credit card or a company PO. Now, a number of companies offer the entire ordering and delivery process online, fully automated and with no human interaction. Here are some of these online translation companies:

Gengo. This is a Japanese company backed by VC money from David McClure and others. They provide solutions for general texts, business documents, smartphone apps, blog and web content. They do not offer translation of legal, technical and medical texts. They offer three service levels, but the highest level (translation and review) is not available for all kinds of work.

Onehourtranslation. This is an Israeli company funded by private investors. They translate all kinds of texts and claim to have an online review process wherein each translation is reviewed simultaneously by a few linguists.

Rev. This is a US company that provides translation of business documents and transcription services.

Other companies in this space include Tolingo, Babylon and Worldlingo.

There are several good reasons to work with these kinds of companies on certain kinds of translation projects. For one thing, the prices you pay the online companies are low. Gengo’s prices start at US$0.06 per word, which is very cheap. Many professional translators charge more than that. Rev offers a standard pricing scheme of US$0.10 per word, which is a great price for reviewed translations. The delivery times associated with these kinds of companies is generally very fast and they allow you to track the status of the order in real-time (like Fedex does with their delivery service).

Having said that, these companies may not be recommended for translation of specialized texts like technical or legal documents and translation of medical device manuals. Additionally, the online quote systems may not support all file types. If you have a scanned document in PDF format for example. Or Framemaker files. Or a brochure in Adobe InDesign format. Or a technical manual with graphics that you need to have translated. It is also harder to convey special instructions, like specific certification requirements or back translation requirements, when ordering online.

Many translation companies offer human-assisted online ordering. In this type of scenario, you check out the translation company’s website, upload your files and fill out a short quote request form. The price quote is usually emailed to you within 1-2 hours, typically on the same day.

  Advantages Disadvantages
Fully automated process
  • Low prices
  • Fast Delivery
  • Open 24/7
  • Online tracking
  • No minimum charge for tiny orders
  • Does not support all file formats, SLAs, specialized texts
  • No DTP services
  • No translation memory support
  • Advance payment required and no cash back
Human-assisted process
  • Support for all file types, SLAs and specialized texts
  • DTP services and translation memory support
  • Ask questions, get answers by phone/email
  • Pay after delivery
  • More expensive
  • Minimum charge for small orders
  • Not 24/7

There are also advantages to using a human-assisted online ordering process. The quote is prepared by a professional account manager who checksthe text to determine the appropriate kind of handling it requires.The account manager can also check if there are repeat texts or other factors that may justify a price discount. After you get the quote you can come back with questions and get targeted answers, rather than reading through a company FAQ page. Payment options are more flexible since the online companies require credit card payment in advance. Corporate buyers prefer to pay at standard credit terms against a company Purchase Order. The online companies don’t have a cash refund policy if you are unhappy with the translation. Using the human-assisted method, you won’t pay for the work until you are happy with the results.

In summary, using an online translation service may work for you. The best thing is to start small and test the results carefully before planning a major deployment. Send the texts for review to determine if the quality matches your requirement and expectations.

About the Author

David Grunwald is the founder of GTS Translation, a USA-based translation services company. David can be found on Twitter and LinkedIn.




Published - October 2014










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