Translation Helps Your Customers Feel At Home

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.

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All roads lead to Rome, but which one does your client prefer?

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.

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When to Use Back Translation

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.

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The Modern Translation Industry

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.:

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A Link Between Language and CSR

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:


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The Translation Order and Payment Process

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.

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We are at PDAC 2014!

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

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!

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An Important Consideration in Website Translation

We’ve considered the benefits of website translation in previous blog posts.  Today we will outline a potential pitfall.

A common request we hear after translating a website or a part of a website into French is to “make it shorter.”  This is because French text is, on average, 20% longer than English.  That means that the same passage, paragraph or sentence will take up 20% more space in French than in English.  Any web designer will tell you that managing “white space” and minimizing the amount of text on a website are keys to effective presentation.  This is something that needs to be considered when planning to translate your website.

The French cannot really be shortened once translated, or rather, the translator cannot shorten it.  The translator’s job is to accurately and effectively translate the material, once that is done, they cannot simply shorten the material.  The words are what they are, they cannot be shortened just like we can’t simply shorten words like in English.

There are a couple reasons for this, one is simply that words in French are longer.  ”River” in French is “rivière”, which is about 30% longer.  The other reason is the use of “de” or “of” in French nouns. “Information technology” is “technologie de l’information” in French, this addition of “de” accounts for much of the increase in length in French.  It is also not possible to simply remove “de”, it simply wouldn’t make sense.

Keep this fact in mind when planning on translating your website into French.  Allow for extra room in the English version or rewrite your copy in French so that it is shorter.  AZ World has extensive experience in dealing with these challenges and is always ready to take on your project.

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Machine Translation Used for Spanish Version of

Turns out that the Spanish version of the new website relied on Machine Translation for translation.  We’ve blogged previously about the risks and costs associated with relying on machine translation.  Check out some of those for our take.

Alexandra Petri at the Washington Post does a great job of examining this latest round.  Read her take on it here:

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Translation Memory Explained

As we’ve discussed on this blog before translation is a complex process. Languages grow out of cultures and so even related tongues like English and French or German and Dutch can be separated by vast cultural gaps that a simple word-by-word literal translation does not convey. Anyone who has spent time trying to decipher poorly translated instructions on a toy or a bookshelf will tell you that quick and easy online translation programs often just don’t cut the cake.

Proper translation requires the work of a linguist who understands the nuance of both the languages involved. They need to be able to look at a sentence and not just substitute the words but to understand what the writer was trying to convey, and then express that in the grammar and syntax of the target language. It remains, however, a time consuming process. It takes many hours of work to rewrite a book or a manual, even for a trained and practiced translator. Given this problem, properly translating a work into multiple languages is often simply not cost effective. This is where the Translation Memory, or TM, has its time to shine.

Simply put, a Translation Memory is a program which handles the more repetitive parts of the translation work and allows the translator to spend their time and effort more efficiently. They work by first breaking the document, known as the source text, into contextual pieces, or segments. Segments can range from individual words to full sentences and once divided these segments are checked against a database of common phrases in the source language. The Translation Memory matches each of the segments in the source text to the database and rates them from 0% to 100% matched. When a 100% match occurs, the program will automatically substitute the segment in question with its established translation. Segments with a match rating between around 70% and 99% are tagged as fuzzy matches and are presented to the translator as suggested translations. Segments with a rating outside of that window are not considered accurate and are ignored by the program.

As well as searching for segments which match its database, the Translation Memory also looks for repeated phrases which it does not recognize. When the translator arrives at these phrases and translates them, the TM saves the translation into its database and uses it to translate the repeated phrase throughout the source text. In this way, the program begins to learn how to better translate the work in question and the process of translation accelerates with the Translation Memory doing more and more of the work involved. The translated segments are saved within the TM’s database for use in future works, ensuring that all the languages involved are kept up to date.

Translation Memories are highly beneficial for the translator and their client. By allowing the translator to work faster, they can deliver their finished produce to the client much sooner and, therefore, at a lower price than a translator who had worked unassisted. As such, Translation Memories offer to prospective clients a third option which is both cost effective for their business and assures the quality of a professional translation.

AZ World uses translation memories for all of our clients, and is proud to provide a more cost-effective product.  Request a quote at

Written by: Aaron Fenney
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