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WHY IS TRANSLATION SO EXPENSIVE?

March 23, 2016

In this day and age, I’m sure that some of you have used online translation services like Google Translate or Bing at least once. How did that work out for you? These online translation services have helped open the eyes of many to the importance of translation services. However, the mindset “Why should I pay for it when I can get it for free?” has made it difficult for consumers to understand the cost associated with a professional translation service.

We have all seen examples of bad translations, as of late they seem to be everywhere. Just have a look at the website below for a good laugh:

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/weird-news/translations-go-wrong—13-3700064


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Just consider this: what does it say about the importance of clients to your company if you do not make an effort to communicate with them properly? Not to mention the risks involved with improper translations of manuals, instructions, legal documents, etc… This is where a professional translator comes in – because even with all the advances in modern technology, the best way of getting your message across in various other languages is with human translations.

Just being bilingual does not make you a translator. Translation is a profession. Professional translators are highly educated and trained and are continuously learning and improving their trade. A translator is constantly learning new things in varied areas and fields. Most translators are subject-matter specialists which basically means that they have an advanced understanding of both the language and the subject. However, they are not limited to that subject matter and are constantly learning new things in different fields. Let’s put it this way, you would have difficulty making a presentation in a subject matter that you did not know, in the same way, a translator can only translate a document fluidly when they have a deep understanding of the subject-matter and how it is used in their language.

So why are translation services expensive? There are a few factors to consider, here are just a few:

  1.  Translation is a manual labor. A translator must first interpret each sentence and then translate it. In the case of technical documents, translators must look up difficult or technical words and consider the use of each word. After the first draft is done, the text must be checked for errors and omissions. This is very time consuming. Now consider the wage for a skilled employee, cost of editing, project management, markup by the translation agency for infrastructure/technology, currency fluctuations and a modest operating income. Once taking that into account, a price of between RM0.35 – RM0.50 per word is quite reasonable.
  1. Another factor to consider is the number of suitably qualified translators an agency has for the language pair in question and the volume of work in the market for those pairs. For instance, here in Malaysia, there is a high volume of work in the English to/from Bahasa Malaysia language pair as such we have a wide pool of talent to draw from. On the other hand, if you needed say, a translation from Spanish to Bahasa Malaysia then that will be more expensive as the number of translators operating in these languages is limited and hence command higher rates.
  1. The next point to consider is qualification and experience. Everyday our inbox is flooded with translators who would like to work with us, to be added to our database of translators. I would say that 75% of the applications that we get are written in broken English. These translators are not qualified and have little to no experience. As I mentioned earlier, translation is a profession, and a professional translator only gets better with more experience as with any profession. We have our own selection process to ensure that all our translators are of the highest caliber. We also match new translation jobs to the expertise of the translators to ensure that the finished translation is up to our client’s requirements.

With professional translations, the term “you get what you pay for” is applicable to all factors. There is a possibility that the translator lives in a part of the world with a lower cost of living, however the most likely reason for a lower cost is that they aren’t native speakers, or they aren’t experts in the subject matter or the agency or translator is using machine translation tools.


So I am not going to continue ranting about why translations are so expensive, instead, let’s talk about some steps you can implement to reduce your translation costs.

  1. Reduce word count in the source file – The cost of your translation is determined by the word count of your document, software string, video content, website content and app. Therefore, reducing the number of source words can help reduce your translation costs. You can eliminate unnecessary words, use simpler words and concepts. Another thing to try is if you are translating multiple documents, is to use the exact same wording across materials. For example, if you describe a product on your website, in a brochure and in a catalog, use the same wording in all three places. This will help you build a Translation Memory which is a database of phrase that you have used. Most good translation agencies will use CAT tools to leverage TM in order to help you to reduce the cost of your translation.
  1. Simplify the file format of your content – File formats such as PDF, Powerpoint, Illustrator, Photoshop for example require the translation agency to spend time (and that does mean money) to extract the text, translate it and re-introduce the translated content into the source file format. For example, we once did a translation of a company’s internal management system software. The source file was not properly extracted and we ended up with source text that had code mixed in with it. During the translation we had to only change the text and not the code. This more than doubled the time we needed to finish the translation, as such the cost increased considerably. Ideally, you should send your translation agency files in Word, Excel and plain text formats.
  1. Plan ahead ­– You need to have a plan in place before your translation agency even begins to start on the work. To incorporate translation into your workflow, you will need to consider the total amount of content to translate and edit, what needs to be translated and what doesn’t. Once you have finalized this submit the content to the translation agency so that they can start the work. Only make changes when it is absolutely necessary. Also, as mentioned earlier, a translator has to completely understand the source material and do research to find the proper terminology, this is time consuming and cannot be rushed. We have received many request from clients for “express” translation, now this is fine for standard documents (i.e birth certificates, diplomas, etc) however for something like a press release for the latest gadget or service, time is needed to localize the text to the target language. Also when we have a request for an “express” translation, we will need to rearrange our workflow and deadlines to meet your requirements, because of this, translation agencies will normally charge a premium for express translations.

I hope this has helped everyone understand the costing involved in the translation process and the steps that can be taken to reduce that cost. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us at info@languagesolutions.com.my.

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