The benefits of a translation memory are clear. These living databases help companies maintain quality, consistency and tone across languages while at the same time reducing costs (For a quick rundown on the translation memories, check out this previous blog.) For these reasons, almost all large companies use translation memories, and almost all professional translators work with translation memories.
The basic unit of the translation industry is the “word.” Translators and agencies both bill by the word. But how you count words and therefore how much the translation costs depends greatly on the software you use. Here’s a quick breakdown on the not so simple world of counting words.
The word count our clients are most familiar with is Microsoft Word. While its word count has become much more accurate in recent years it’s still worth investigating what counts as a word and what does not.
Microsoft Word counts numbers in as words. So, “I have 2 dogs” would be counted as 4 words. Similarly, punctuation marks unconnected to other words count as independent words. The stray ellipses “…” or hyphen “-“ counts as an extra word. Microsoft Word does not count text in Headers or Footers. For a long time Microsoft Word would not count text in Footnotes, Endnotes, Tables or Text Boxes, but in every version since 2010, text in those areas is counted. However text in embedded objects, like an embedded Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, is not counted.
SDL Trados is a Computer-Aided-Translation (CAT) tool that helps manage Translation Memories and is the industry standard in translation software. AZ World uses Trados to analyze documents and then create quotes and proposals for clients.
Unlike Microsoft Word, Trados does not count numbers or punctuation marks as words. But text in Headers, Footers, Footnotes, Endnotes, Tables or Text Boxes is all counted. Text in embedded objects, like an embedded Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, is still not counted.
Typically Microsoft Word provides lower counts than SDL Trados. If we were to create a quote based on a Microsoft Word word count we would no longer be able to take into account the benefits of a Translation Memory. Even with an empty TM, Trados allows us to quote lower prices because of repeated phrases within a document.
We’ve found that the while word counts vary little between different software, understanding the basis of a word count goes a long way to building trust between a translator and a client.
Some of our clients are fluent in the languages into which they wish us to translate. As we’ve discussed before there are many reasons why bilingual staff should not translate, but it can often be useful for clients familiar with the language and target audience to review the translation to catch any mistakes or preferences not taken into account.
What is a Translation Error?
When reviewing translation, it is essential to first understand the difference between a preference choice and an error. A translation error is a grammatical or spelling mistake or an incorrect word choice given the original words’ meaning or the document’s target audience. A preference choice is a word that the client prefers over others. For example, the words “contract” or “agreement” can both be translated into Spanish as either “contrato” or “acuerdo”. Neither is necessarily wrong; it is a matter of preference. At AZ World we always strive to determine and then act in accordance with our client’s preferences. But keep in mind that translators are not mind readers, without prior instruction translators can only translate with industry standard terminology that may differ from the clients preference. The basis of preferences can be personal, or based on important business considerations. For that reason different editors can prefer different terms and different departments within the same company can prefer different terms. Of course, if a preference was stated and then not taken into account, it is treated as an error.
Take for example, the French word, “camion” which refers to a truck. It would be a simple translation error if it was translated as “bus.” If it was presented as “truock” that would be a spelling error. If it was translated as “truck” when the target audience was known to be in the United Kingdom, then it would be a translation error, as “lorry” is the preferred term in the United Kingdom.
This is where it is important that the person reviewing is not only fluent in the language, but also familiar with the target audience. A regional difference in language can also be mistaken as a glaring error. Consider that for the English word “computer” the preferred translation into Spanish will be “computadora” in Latin America (while it varies in some countries to “computador”) and “ordenador” in Spain. “Computer” can even be translated as “equipo” (which means device) as a neutral term and also in order to avoid repetitive and awkward text.
Remember that as it is a translator’s duty to always create a faithful representation of the source text; documents with awkward and or poorly written language may result in translations that also sound awkward. One example of this would be a Safety Incident Report written by South American miners, where the language and grammar can be very simple. In such cases a translation full of rich words would be inaccurate. However, AZ World is happy and available to improve the text’s flow and tone if the client requests it
Five Simple Guidelines for Reviewing Translations
1. Before doing any editing, make sure you read through the entire document first. Many “errors” are often word choices that make more sense when the context of the entire document is known.
2. Universal “find and replace” changes should be avoided as much as possible. The translator typically has good reason for the word choice. You should check other instances of the word you wish to replace to ensure that your preferred word works in every context of the piece.
3. Provide an explanation for your choice. If it is a preferential change, there is no need to implement it, unless it is a standard term or expression within the company
4. Do your research. Don’t go with something you think you remember being right. Both you and the translator are susceptible to the human error of being fairly sure of something without checking, only to be proven wrong. Avoid this by double checking the basis of your change
5. Communicate your explanations and changes to the translator or project manager. Seeing the changes will help improve the quality of their future translations for that client. Getting the right translation for each client is an iterative process and feedback is essential to that process.
The Big Lesson
The reviewing process is often painful for both clients and translators. At AZ World we believe this is caused when translators and clients have different expectations of what translators will produce and what clients require. If followed, these guidelines can make reviewing a fruitful and enjoyable learning experience for both client and translator. Remember that the goal of reviewing a translation is not only to ensure that the translation at hand meets the needs of the client, but also to make sure that future translations are as effective as possible. If changes are explained and communicated, reviewing can become a great investment because it produces more effective and less costly translations in the future.
At AZ World, our goal is to let our clients’ work speak for itself… in any language. We are always happy to discuss preferences, build glossaries and terminology lists, and then edit according to our clients’ needs. This is all part of the process of creating the right translation for our clients.
One of AZ World’s team members is currently in China; this blog was inspired by their experience with translations in that country.
Travelling through China I have been struck by the huge range of translation quality. From billboards so poorly translated that any meaning had been completely lost to hotel pamphlets that could have been written by native speakers, the range of potential translations is huge. Despite this range, most of the English in China has been somewhere in that area where the meaning is understandable, but it’s horrible English that no native speaker would ever use. These “mid-range” translations were likely done by an employee with an approximate knowledge of English, Google Translate or a combination of the two. To be fair, they get the job done. Any English traveller can understand it and get the message.
Translation is a fluid art. There are always different words, expressions, grammatical structures that can be used to comply with the three basic rules of translating: no omission, no addition and no choice giving.
Understanding our client’s business and preferences is the key to providing the best product, one that is accurate but also appealing to our client’s taste. To do that, communication, time and experience are essential.
Communication is not always the number one priority in our industry. The client is rushed to get the document translated and the translator is rushed to get the job done on time. However, an awareness of the expected degree of formality, a complete knowledge of the technical vocabulary involved, or an identification of the recipients of the document can make the difference between an average work and an excellent work. This ultimately determines how successful both ourselves and the client are.
Let’s take, for example, an email to be translated from English to Spanish, then sent from the headquarters in Canada to a Mexican subsidiary about a corporate announcement. Is it a formal or informal communication? Although based in Mexico, are the recipients mainly from Mexico or are they from other Spanish speaking countries? Is the audience part of the management team or is it a global message aimed at all employees? These questions should be answered before the work starts, so that the best approach can be identified.
Making assumptions about a client’s needs or preferences is risky. Unfortunately, it is not always feasible to find the desired communication channels to get the information needed. If the task is not seen as strategic by the client and the timing is tight (which is often the case), we will only get feedback once the job is completed. And most of the time, we only receive feedback when our work does not meet the client’s expectations, and at a point in time when it is too late to change.
So, how can be better understand our clients? The best time to communicate expectations is when the workload is lower than usual. This is when we can find gaps to personally meet our clients without time pressures to get deeper insights into their business and preferences. Holding these meetings on a regular basis is also a good way to continually further understanding.
Apart from that, trial and error also applies to the translation business. There are always learning opportunities when our clients complain about our work. Updating our Translation Memories with those words our clients prefer, breaking them up into different Translation Memories to better target each department needs and making a list of reminders for that client, are must do activities any time we receive feedback.
To sum up, we as translators are obliged to provide a quality product that meets each business’s expectations. Each client is different and each has their own “understanding” and use of a language. Finding the perfect match between a product that excels in quality but also looks nice for our clients is the key to success.
We will get to Rome but we will follow different roads every now and again.
A couple of weeks ago we received a document which we translated to the best of our knowledge. We tried to keep the style, the register and the level of education of the original writer as it must be done in translation. When we sent the document back to the client the feedback was that the translation looked a bit choppy and that the level of English writing was not there.
First, we apologized to the client and offered to rework the document. We looked at the document and noticed that the translation was a true rendering of the original document written in Spanish, and then we re-translated using more professional English, modifying the sentences that were choppy and so on…and the client was happy!
But today, we’re discussing back translation. Back Translation is the process of translating a document that has already been translated into a foreign language back to the original language – preferably by an independent translator. Back translation is the translation procedure by which a previously translated document is re-translated back into the original language.
Now, if a back translation was required in the example previously mentioned you would never have been able to get even close to the original document. The final document in English was way better written and if you received something written by somebody with basic education you cannot expect to transform it into a PhD paper.
Translation of raw data such as focus group transcripts back into the language of a client from the language of the consumers is common in market research in Asia. In fact translation remains one of the costliest parts of a market research project. This is because it is an area where costly errors can be built in – in research stages where checks and balances are limited.
The nuances of translation are far-ranging. A literal word in one language, for example, may have no equivalent in another language, or could have a completely different “meaning” or effect in the translated language. This is why translation is an art rather than a science. No translation can be expected to convey perfectly the “meaning” of what consumers meant to convey in their own language. Hence the need for accredited translators who can translate verbatim. All the good work of a focus group moderator in not “interpreting” verbatim comments can be wiped out by a careless translator.
Back translation can improve the reliability and validity of research in different languages by requiring that the quality of a translation is verified by an independent translator translating back into the original language. Original and back translated documents can then be compared. However, due to its high cost, back translation is not overly common, but in very high risk – high return situations is well worth the investment.
Our clients are often surprised when they learn about the size and scope of our company. Far from being a small hobby job, translation is a thriving industry filled with professionals. For a great run down on how modern translation agencies operate, we highly recommend this piece from Inc.:
AZ World is busy translating a few Corporate Social Responsibility Reports. We stumbled across this article that outlines an interesting link between language and corporate responsibility.
Another interesting note is that culture can be just as important as language in CSR. We’ve discussed before the similar link in the translation industry. Our best translators are not only bilingual but also bicultural. Read more about that here.
Check out the Harvard Business Working Knowledge article here: http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/7479.html
It is standard practice in the translation business, like in all industries, for Purchase Orders or Proposals to be created and approved before contract work commences. It is also expected that once projects are approved, work done will be paid for.
At AZ World the process is as follows. We receive the file to be translated and then we do an analysis of the file using that clients translation memory. We then create a PO, or if it is our first project with this client, a Proposal. Only once that PO has been formally approved do we begin to work on the file. Once the file has been completed, it is delivered to the client along with a Net 30 invoice.
Our process protects us and our translators from miscommunication and other unforeseen circumstances. AZ World follows the same process with our translators too, and we always pay our translators within an agreed upon timeline, even if the client has not yet paid their invoice. It is not our translators’ problem if the client hasn’t paid yet, it is the agency’s problem. Our translators do quality work and deserve to be treated right by this agency; so that’s what we do.
Other translation agencies do not conform to these best practices. They have been known to not formally approve PO’s and often do not pay their translators until 6 months after work has been completed. AZ World prides itself on paying translators promptly and maintaining good productive relationships with service providers and clients.
More than 80% of the work we do at AZ World is mining related. This includes feasibility studies, environmental studies, technical reports, mining software, mining equipment, mining contracts and web sites for mining companies or companies that service the mining industry. We think PDAC is the best place to talk to clients and find new ones.
AZ World has created a name in the industry as a translation company specialized in the mining industry and this is shown by the fact that currently Barrick, Goldcorp, Kinross and KGHM are among our over 70 mining clients.
Today I would like to share some of the questions that I was often asked as I walked the stands yesterday,
You are not an engineer, how do you know the terminology?
You’re right; I am not an engineer but I am a translator that has engineers, lawyers, geologist, and other specialists as editors, that has extensive terminological databases, that works with translators trained to work for the mining industry, and that uses the most advanced software available to translators today.
How long does it take you to translate a report?
Well, it depends on things such as the format, the terminology, the number of repetitions in the document, and if we have a database of terminology available for that subject. A general rule of thumb is that a translator’s output is around 2000 words per day.
How much do you charge?
Before we provide a quote we like to see the document. A Word, Excel or Powerpoint document is always cheaper to translate than a PDF because a PDF requires more formatting prior to translating than a ready to edit Word document. We are always happy to provide free quotes, available at www.a-zworld.ca/request-a-quote-translation.php.
And remember there is a reason why we count over 70 mining companies as clients, if you are not one of them, send us a note and we will be happy to assist you.
Make sure to seek out Ana Maria Zuniga over the next few days!