9 Tips For Increasing Translation Quality While Decreasing Translation Cost
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In some cases, there's no win-win
situation when you're looking to increase product
quality while decreasing cost. Translation is the
exception; measures that decrease word count and therefore
cost often result in a more precise and accessible
translation. Here are some "translator's eye view"
tips gleaned from some of my recent projects.
- 1. CONDENSE AND CLARIFY
Many businesses ignore the value of pre-editing
materials for translation, but this step can reduce
costs by 25% and more while ensuring a higher-quality
final product. How? By reducing sentences such as
"The objective of this chapter is to explain the
use of macros in word processing software." to "Chapter
Objective: Explain word processing macros." It's
easy to see how this saves money, cutting 11 words
down to 6 for a cost reduction of almost 50%, but
it's also important to see how this makes the sentence
clearer, easier to translate, and easier for the
end user to understand. Consider hiring a translator
or specialized translation editor to eliminate redundancies,
standardize style, or even vet entire sections that
aren't relevant to the target reader.
- 2. BANISH JARGON
Many translators comment that industry-specific
jargon is one of the biggest barriers to producing
a quality translation. What's more,we use our own
jargon so much that we don't even recognize it as
such. To a translator, "I'll deliver the target"
connotes the transfer of a translated file, while
to a hunting goods supplier, it means something
very different. A Google search for "industry jargon"
reveals 307,000 sites, many of them dedicated to
jargon-busting, and full of examples of how jargon
leads us astray. When I first encountered the term
"belly lift" on an aeronautics jargon site, I thought
"yoga posture or plastic surgery procedure?" while
the correct definition is the cargo capacity of
a passenger airliner. To ensure a quality end product,
ask an industry "outsider" to review your documents
for problematic jargon.
- 3. SCREEN FOR SPORTS TERMS
Americans in particular have a fondness for using
terms and examples from sports, often our "homegrown"
sports like football and baseball. However to most
of the rest of the world, superlatives like home
run, pinch hit, touchdown, Hail Mary pass, or bottom
of the ninth fall flat. In addition, making use
of sports-centric examples alienates the target
audience and slows translators down, resulting in
delays and cost overruns. Recently I worked on a
computer manual translation where students in an
HTML class were asked to create an ordered list
of the teams in the American League. This text,
destined for Western Europe, required the translation
team to localize the exercise by asking students
to alphabetize a list of Formula One drivers. Better
yet, screen these terms out of your text entirely.
- 4. ELIMINATE DUPLICATE TEXT
Many documents include redundant text, which, if
not eliminated, results in paying for the same translation
twice, or even more. One of my recent projects included
translating a workbook, and the workbook's answer
key. The client simply noted the word count for
each document, not realizing that the entire text
of the workbook was repeated in the answer key.
When I pointed this out, the client was happy to
have saved several hundred dollars. While every
text contains some amount of necessary repetition,
try to eliminate the unnecessary kind. In cases
where budgets are tight, consider referencing duplicate
text, i.e. "see instructions on pg. 42" rather than
having it re-translated.
- 5. MAKE A MULTILINGUAL GLOSSARY
Most businesses have specific terms that always
need to be translated in the same way throughout
their literature, for example the name of a certain
machine, process, department, etc. While these terms
often appear on a company's multilingual website,
"standardize the terms with what's on our site"
is a tall order when the site runs into hundreds
or thousands of pages with terminology scattered
throughout. Creating a multilingual glossary of
crucial terms avoids this problem; simply e-mail
it to all of the translators on the project. This
saves the time needed to respond to translator e-mails
when terminology is unclear, and results in a standardized
- 6. PROVIDE CONTEXT
Good translation depends on context, since words
mean different things in different situations. This
is especially important in documents such as a spreadsheet
of terms, where no context is available. One of
my regular clients is a software company doing market
research abroad, with the results coming to the
translation team in spreadsheet form. The client
always provides the text of the survey questions
so that translators know what the context of the
responses is. Recently I translated a survey where
one of the responses was the word "Linus." My immediate
thought was "like the Peanuts character?" However
when I referenced the survey text and saw that the
question had to do with computer operating systems,
I saw that this was a typo of the "Linux" open source
operating system. Providing context allows translators
to be more precise in their terminology. Consider
providing either supporting documents, or a short
summary of what the text is used for.
- 7. GO METRIC
Whether used as a unit of measurement to give the
dimensions of a product, or as a figure of speech
such as "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound
of cure," realize that America is the odd one out
when it comes to metrics. Pre-convert all measurements,
speeds, distances, etc. into metric before sending
the document to be translated.
- 8. PROVIDE DOCUMENTS IN READ-WRITE FORMAT
Read-only formats such as PDFs are a great way to
exchange documents between users of different systems
and platforms, but they slow down the translation
process and make it hard to standardize the end
product. Many end clients want their documents returned
with the same layout, look and feel of the originals,
thus saving desktop publishing time later on. When
documents are read-only, this is impossible, and
results in the translator having to describe where
the text should go, i.e. "this is the caption below
the picture of the jaguar." Embedded and scanned
objects that include text fall into this category
too; consider typing the text below the object so
that it's ready for the translator to work on.
- 9. COLLABORATE
Translation consumers can save time and money by
paying attention to the human element of the process
along with the technical and linguistic sides. Benefit
from your translation team's expertise by asking
"What can we do to make this project a success?"
rather than just sending off the files and waiting
for the result. Every agency and every translator
can draw upon a multitude of "do" and "don't" examples
from past clients, so take advantage of this advice
and use it to your benefit. Encourage translators
to ask questions, and discuss how they should be
managed in order to get answers back quickly and
accurately. One of my clients requests that I type
up questions and send them in batches (rather than
one at a time) so that the client can just paste
in responses. This is fast, easy, and cheap. "Should
euros be converted to dollars?" "No," etc. With
pre-editing of documents for translation, these
types of questions can even be anticipated and answered
in an advance instructions sheet for translators.
These tips reflect my experience as a translator
and my own opinions, not those of my clients. Feel
free to use them in your own work, and let me know
if they are helpful!
This article may
be freely reproduced or redistributed
for non-commercial use with attribution to the author
Copyright 2004 by Corinne McKay
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