Document translation: six mistakes to avoid

Understand how a translation project works when calling on the services of a specialist LSP (Language Service Provider)

Clients are increasingly looking for greater flexibility while meeting deadlines and controlling costs of their translation service providers.

To achieve this, there are many things to be taken into account in your approach. More specifically, there are some do’s and don’ts when preparing content for translation by professionals.

Why is this?

Firstly, by understanding the challenges and methods involved, you will be able to more effectively control the translation process and integrate it in the planning and deployment of your projects.

This will give you a clearer view and a firmer handle on your budget and lead times.

In addition, a good relationship with the LSP’s project managers and translators is based on a mutual understanding of your respective challenges. This is highly appreciated by translation project managers and translators.

So, here goes our compilation of the Top Six Mistakes to Avoid and our tips for smooth sailing!

PDF documents can be a real headache for your partner project managers and translators. This is because they cannot be edited.

The text to be translated must be manually extracted from the PDF and then the page layout has to be recreated in an editable file format, which increases the lead time and costs you more. You therefore need to make sure the document is available in a native file format.

Recreating documents from scratch is a time-consuming process for language service providers. This is all the more true if the page layout is complex.

You should also avoid converting your PDF files into Word files, or any other editable format, using OCR (Optical Character Recognition) tools, particularly if you can easily access the native files. PDF to Word document conversion produces very poor results and, unfortunately, also makes it necessary to recreate the document.

For document translation, providing a native file makes it possible to rapidly produce a quote that is based on the exact number of words to be translated. This is impossible to do with a PDF as recreating the page layout only gives a rough estimation of the word count and, therefore, the time required for translation.

Sometimes, to try and reduce costs by having only certain parts of the content translated, it can be tempting to extract small pieces of text (or underline them in the document). This can be the case with amended documents or when you already possess, directly or indirectly, some of the translations.

While this may seem like a good idea, the project manager will have to spend a lot of time identifying, preparing and finally reintegrating the translations.

The advantage of LSPs is that they have efficient and fast tools to differentiate parts that have already been translated and those that remain. It therefore makes more sense to entrust them with the entire document to be translated and negotiate with them ways to include and use existing translations.

The result? The total cost of translation of your documents will very often be lower.

Lastly, this process enables you to get the most value out of your translation memories. The relationship with your language service provider will be far simpler to manage and, above all, you will spend less!

In a multilingual world, where many people have a good command of English in particular, it is common for “non-native” speakers to write in a second language (generally English).

When this content is then used as a basis for translation into other languages things can become very complicated:

Any inaccuracies or errors made by non-native speakers will be difficult to interpret by translators, who may then reproduce them in the target languages.

When you write your source documents in a language other than your mother tongue, you run a major risk of producing translations that are incorrect and of poor quality in the target languages.

Before beginning the translation process, it is therefore a very good idea to have such documents proofread by native speakers who are familiar with the specific field and context, and will be able to clarify any problem areas with the author.

The same difficulties can be encountered when translations are done into a language (often English) that is not the translator’s mother tongue (i.e. by a non-native translator). This will very likely lead to a substandard document translation that will require proofreading by a native translator.

Avoid being vague about the context of your translation request.

Context is crucial for document translation. It is even more important for the translation of data files containing raw text. If you do not provide relevant information, the LSP will be unable to prepare an accurate quote and will have to recontact you to get more details. This means you will lose time.

A few examples:

If you are looking to translate a user interface (software, SaaS, machine) and provide content for translation in a database format (.csv, Excel, etc.), make sure you supply all the relevant contextual information for the interface. This could be in the form of access to the software, user manuals and online guides, for example.

Elsewhere, in the case of translations of questionnaires (for e-learning courses, for instance, or customer surveys), it is important to supply additional information to translators, so they understand the applicable field or sector, as well as the general context.

Or, if you require a sworn translation (carried out by a translator certified by the courts), be sure to specify when you need it for, so the translation can be effectively organised.

Also, if you want to have your document translated into English, remember to specify the local audience: do you require American English, British English, Australian English or New Zealand English?

Generally speaking, you need to be clear and specific from the outset.

This is the fifth but by no means the least important point. What happens when you modify the source document that has already been sent for translation?

In addition to the headaches this causes, it will create a significant delay and confusion for both the translators and project managers at your translation service provider.

The impact will be felt in terms of both the deadline and cost of the document translation project:

  • If you delete part of the document, you will still have to pay for the translation done.
    What’s more, you will have to add new translations to the initial price.
  • It is necessary to return to the beginning of the document to ensure the topic covered is coherent in terms of both idiom and context.
  • Modifications can harm the relationship between you and the LSP as it will seem like you are paying significant additional costs while lead times get longer. All of the people involved in the translation project will be put under added pressure for the delivery deadline, which must of course be avoided.

The real solution to avoid all of this is to effectively plan ahead for the translation in your project management and production schedule. Only send the content for translation once it has been finalised and then lock it. Provide the best possible conditions for people involved in the project.

Many people think that working with several LSPs offers a form of security and is beneficial in terms of costs and deadlines…

However, when work is divided up among several teams, time and cost savings are considerably reduced. 

When LSPs use translation memories, they store and organise translated content. Everything that has already been translated can therefore be directly or indirectly reused. This enables major time savings and reduced costs, because content that is reused or adapted is charged at a much lower price.

An additional benefit is that there will be far greater coherency between translations carried out, as they will be based on the work of the same teams and the same memory data.

While it is possible to work with several LSPs when you have content related to several different sectors or fields, it is usually better to keep your eggs in the same basket, when it comes to translations at least!