February 5, 2015

Frequently Asked Questions & Answers

The Translation User’s Frequently Asked Questions

Can anyone translate?

Confucius once said “If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant; if what is said is not what is meant, then what ought to be done remains undone”.

Some might say, “You just look up the words in the dictionary and replace those written in language X with their equivalents in language Y.” Well, not quite. Aside from the differences in grammar, syntax, word order, and idioms, relatively few words have a one-to-one equivalent in two different languages. Some have a great number of possible translations, few of which are interchangeable. Knowing which one to use in a given context requires thorough understanding of the source text, mastery of the target language, in addition to a great deal of experience.

There is a debate about the status of translation and whether it is a science or an art. Translation is defined as, “The expression in another language (or target language) of what has been expressed in another (source language) preserving semantic and stylistic equivalences.”

The translator has to make a choice between translating word-for-word (literal translation) or meaning-for-meaning (free translation).

Pick the first and the translator is criticized for the “ugliness” of a “faithful” translation; pick the second and there is criticism of the “inaccuracy” of a “beautiful” translation. Either way it seems that the translator cannot win, even though we recognize that the crucial variable is the purpose for which the translation is being made.

The translation of texts that may affect the image and the success of your business should be entrusted only to experienced professional translators. At Marcos Business Services your text is translated by experts, checked for accuracy, consistency and style, and delivered to you in the format that you specify.

What is a good translation?

A good translation is simply one that conveys the original message fully and accurately across the linguistic and cultural barrier that separates the writer from the intended reader. Good translations are produced by highly skilled individuals, deeply rooted in both the source and the target cultures, who are familiar with the specific lingo of the subject matter at hand. Good translations are also the result of carefully coordinated teamwork between translators, editors, and proof-readers to ensure accuracy and completeness.

Will machine translation eventually replace human translators?

While translation was one of the first intended applications of computers over 50 years ago, the inherent complexity of language has so far frustrated all attempts at high-quality fully automatic machine translation, despite the spectacular innovations in hardware and software since those early days.

Even the best translation software produces unexpected and often confusing results. Language is a human activity. For example, consider the multiple meanings of the word “buzz” within American English. It can mean a noise, “There is a buzz coming from that speaker.” “Buzz” can also mean gossip or news, “The buzz around town is that Mary got a new job.” Another reference for “buzz” is a pilot flying low to the ground, “Ralph buzzed the field in his new plane.” “Buzz can also mean to call someone on the phone, “Give me a buzz when you get a chance.” And that’s just a few meanings of “buzz.” There are confusing terms, contexts, uses and syntaxes in other languages, too. For instance, a German who says that he “is a little blue” does not mean that he is sad, but rather that he has had too much to drink, a distinction entirely lost on a software package.

While machines have been successfully used to aid translators in repetitive tasks and to translate simple texts or lists of words, even the most expensive and sophisticated computer systems have not been able to produce translations of acceptable quality of more demanding texts without extensive pre- and post-editing by human experts. This situation is not expected to change in the foreseeable future.

The point is that no computer program can read a sentence and get the context right in translation. This requires human effort and intelligence. Save your money. When getting it right makes a world of difference, depend on Marcos Business Services.

Would a bilingual individual be automatically qualified to translate between his languages?

Speaking two or more languages does not qualify one as a translator. Translation is an acquired skill of expressing ideas, formulated within the framework of a particular culture and within a specific field of human activity, in another language so that the message conveyed to the new audience remains unchanged. This skill is acquired over many years of practice after which the individual has acquired the necessary basic language skills.

Should I choose an individual translator or a translation company for my translation project?

While many translation companies are actually individuals incorporated for marketing purposes, a full-service translation company is equipped to offer a broader range of services. It is not restricted to the particular skills of a single individual, but relies on a team consisting of both in-house talent and independent contractors that are carefully tested and selected for each particular project due to their expertise in a given area. When you buy translations from a reputable translation company, you pay for extra quality control and resources that are usually not available to an individual translator. If you need nothing more than a simple translation for information purposes, you may get better value from a competent individual translator.

For demanding projects, however, where even the smallest mistake can be costly, and projects involving large volumes, several languages, tight deadlines, complex or unusual technical subjects, and typesetting, you will need a full-service translation company, like Marcos Business Services.

A translation bureau I contacted claims that they have 25 translators and that they handle all languages and all subject matters in house. Is that true?

No translation business, not even the largest franchises, can afford to have translators in all imaginable combinations of languages and subject matters in house. The translation industry just doesn’t work that way. But full-service translation agencies rely on independent translators (freelancers) for the majority of their work. What distinguishes reputable translation agencies from “envelope switchers” (i.e., merchants who buy translations from the cheapest available source and resell them at a hefty markup), is careful selection and testing of those independent contractors by a competent in-house core staff and a team approach to each translation job, whether in-house talent or outside experts are used for translation and editing.

What should I look for in a translation bureau?

Translation agencies come and go. During our long-standing experience in the UAE (United Arab Emirates), we have seen many persons who opened a business and called themselves a translation agency. Many of these businesses were established on shaky basis and failed within their first years of existence, but not before they cause incalculable harm to unknowing customers. Look for staying power, the number of years in the business will tell you about both the company’s experience and its ability to satisfy a demanding market. Marcos Business services is a translation bureau you can count on.

Is translation the company’s main business or is it an afterthought, while the bulk of its resources are sunk into language teaching, graphic design, advertising or other more or less related activities?

Ask about and check the qualifications and experience of the agency’s management, its references, as well as the human and technical resources of the business.

Am I better served by a small or a large translation company?

Most translation companies are single-individual or a small core staff business. In this industry, a company with 3-5 employees is medium-sized; and one with 10 employees is large. While there are competent businesses among both large and small companies, your translation is more likely to get the attention it deserves in a company where translator and management are not separated by several administrative layers. Experience has shown that medium-sized translation companies, owned and managed by a professional translator, can best balance hands-on attention to each individual job and the resources needed for producing high-quality work with high productivity at a reasonable cost.

How is the cost of a translation calculated?

In the United Arab Emirates, translations are normally charged for by the number of pages produced in the target language. The word “page” is not clearly defined; so it is not unusual to find an argument about font size, format margins, line spacing, etc. In the UAE, you should expect to pay anything between Dhs 60/- to Dhs 120/- per output A-4 page using font 15 and approximately 270 words per page. In the United States translations are normally charged for by the number of words in the target language. While this practice may vary somewhat between one service provider to another, final charges are usually based on the computer word count of the finished translation. If a firm quote is required prior to the start of the translation work, the target word count is estimated from the source word count using expansion or contraction factors based on the translation provider’s experience. The per-word rate normally depends on the language combination, the degree of technical difficulty, formatting requirements, and deadlines. For publication, quality usually commands a premium for the extra proofreading and editing steps involved.

For non-regular clients, a minimum charge which may vary from one translation provider to another, is levied for small jobs to cover administrative expenses. Advertising, technical translations and other special translations are often charged on a per-job basis. Creative phrasing in another language, editing/proofreading and some other translation-related jobs may be charged on a per-hour basis.

Is a more expensive translation necessarily a better one?

When buying translations from a reputable source, you do pay for the resources and experience of the translation provider, accumulated over many years, and for the time during which this expertise is used in your project. This time will include preparation for translation, translation, editing, and proofreading by highly skilled individuals using up-to-date (and expensive) technological tools and reference materials. In some cases you may also pay for the company’s fancy offices at a prestige address, slick advertising, and a large administrative/marketing overhead, which contribute nothing to the quality you get for your translation budget. So beware of cheap translations that may betray the novice attempting to get his first translation job, but don’t automatically assume that a high price equals high quality.

Why does my large translation project take a long time to complete? Can’t you just split it into smaller portions and put more translators to work on it?

There is more to managing a large translation project than splitting it up among a number of translators. The entire project must be carefully coordinated prior to assigning portions of it to different translators, glossaries and style sheets must be prepared to make sure that what was called a share on page 10 is not called a stock on page 25, or a shareholder on page 5 is not referred to as a partner on page 20. Upon completion of the project, the entire text must be carefully proofread and edited for consistency of terminology, style, and format, placement of graphics and captions, not to mention completeness and accuracy. Similar considerations apply to multilingual projects. Specialized translation memory software can make this process easier and more reliable by automating some steps, but (especially for the first project for a customer) the old saying still applies, “Haste makes waste.”

How do I resist the lowest price temptation?

Low prices are undeniably attractive when purchasing consumer goods, but are less so when purchasing human skills. Hiring the cheapest lawyer may carry a very high price tag later on. The lowest price temptation is seductive in translation precisely because of the erroneous notion that translation is simply “typing in a foreign language.” Common sense works wonders here, look for a good balance between proven expertise and cost. Chose the company that will provide you with the most effective and competent service for your specific needs.

How do I eliminate the “Wait-to-the-Last-Minute” syndrome?

The company that performs your translation is crafting your image to your foreign customers. If your documentation has taken six months to compile, revise, and edit, it is critical to allocate sufficient time to achieve similar high-quality results in a foreign language. For large-scale projects and short time lines, the scheduling and management of the translation process are as important as the translation itself.

Is the Fission Approach [splitting the document into smaller pieces] realistic and does it work in translation?

A 200-page manual split among five translation companies working independently will not shrink your production schedule by a factor of five, it will increase your panic level by a factor of ten. Your final document will be a fractured jumble of text with constantly shifting terms and writing styles, and worse, it will be incomprehensible to your target reader. The original authors will not recognize it in any language. Assign the job to one translation company and let them worry about consistency of terminology, revisions, integration, and stylistic consistency.

Do I dispatch the text and forget about it while being translated?

Do not be a stranger during the translation production process. Make your staff, manuals, charts, and visuals as well as your technical writers available to the translators, editors, desktop publishers and other members of the translation team. Encourage site visits. The more seamless this relationship, the cleaner and more professional the final result will be.

Do I collect the final translated product and disappear?

When the project is complete, don’t vanish off the radar screen entirely. Review with your translation company all aspects of your relationship, with particular focus on areas for improvements in productivity, communications, and scheduling. Provide feedback from end user clients whenever applicable. Recognize that the better the translation company understands your needs, the better service it will provide in the future.

How does the translator go about the pre-translation process?

Upon receipt of the document or sample portion the translator will:

  • Analyze the document
  • Assess the level of difficulty
  • Perform a page/word count
  • Identify any problems, request clarification, verify name spellings and so on
  • Perform terminology research if no glossary is provided
  • Work out free quote (if required) after the pre-translation analysis

The Marcos Team

At Marcos Business Services you don’t pay for a huge administrative/marketing overhead when you buy translations. Each one of our staff is directly involved in working with the product, answering customer inquiries, and managing the work flow. We have no external salespeople. We do not need them, since over 90% of our new customers come recommended by other satisfied customers. And we’ll never sacrifice quality for volume and we will not accept work that we cannot handle competently.

Our competent and cheerful team is ready to serve you! Contact us for your customized translation quote!