Bill Hackos, Comtech Services, Inc.
JoAnn Hackos, Comtech Services, Inc.

                                                                Translation and Localization Services

Prepare for Translation and Localization

For many organizations, translation and localization are essential to financial success, but translation is very expensive, 30 to 60 cents to a dollar a word for translation alone, depending on language and related services. Before purchasing translation and localization services of any kind, it is important to prepare your information. Translation memory can help save costs, but be aware that translators charge about one third of their standard rate for not translating content that is stored in translation memory!

Prioritize your documents. Do you need to translate everything? Create your information with translation in mind. Use controlled language to facilitate accurate translation. Apply minimalism standards to your information to minimize the amount of content to be translated. Create your information in a modular form so that you need only send changed content to your translator. Use XML so you can send unformatted content. Translators charge for desktop publishing to reformat content.

Beware using a Localization Service Provider (LSP) to give advice on how to prepare content. Remember that LSPs charge by the word. Some will find it to their advantage to translate lots of words.

What’s Available

Several options are available to a department that needs to translate content for delivery to global customers: localization service providers, independent translators, inhouse translators, and machine translation. Localization means ensuring that content meets the requirements of a local culture, including using the correct measurements and regulations. Localization includes translating the text but also ensuring that the text is appropriate not only for a particular language but for the country in which the language is spoken. For example, French spoken in France is different from French spoken in Canada and needs to be translated differently.

Localization Service Providers

Localization Services Providers (LSPs) are typically medium to large organizations that handle an entire translation and localization project, including hiring and managing the people who do the actual translations. LSPs also provide project management, tools and technology support, editing and technical reviews, and production for many delivery media.

Independent Translators

Independent translators can be contracted individually rather than through an LSP. They may be less expensive but will require more management by your department.

Inhouse Translators

Some departments find it less expensive and more effective to hire their own translators. These translators may report to a localization department that manages the projects for everyone in the company. Or, they may report to the publications manager directly.

It is essential that any translators you hire directly be well qualified and professional in their approach. Local staff members in-country, many of whom work for sales organizations, may be fluent speakers of a language but they are usually not skilled translators or good technical writers. General staff members who are not located in a target country are rarely good choices because they may be unfamiliar with the most current terminology choices or the nuances of the local culture.

Machine Translation

Machine translation is becoming an increasingly important option, especially when content must be translated on a very short deadline. Literal translation tools are available on the Internet, including BabelFish and Systran. These tools produce somewhat adequate translations but are free and fast. Sophisticated machine translation tools must be taught the required vocabulary and writing style. They work best when the text is carefully prepared to support machine translation.

Features that Count

Although costs vary by target language, much of the total cost of localization and translation includes terminology management, translation memory management, project management, desktop publishing, and formatting. The more efficient and effective the total process, the lower the costs will be.

The very best translators are native speakers of your target languages and are familiar with the terminology used in your field or have the resources to research the terminology.

Not only does the translator need to be skilled in language and writing but he or she must also have publishing tools expertise. If you are delivering content in a desktop publishing system, you will need the translated text and graphics to be formatted correctly. MS Word, FrameMaker, InDesign, Quark, Ventura, and many other desktop publishing systems can be used to format content correctly in multiple languages, including, in some tools, languages that print right to left or top to bottom.

A number of technology resources can also be applied to make translations less costly. These include Translation Memory databases that preserve the text of earlier translations and apply it to new translations. Terminology databases provide multi-language glossaries that are specific to a subject-matter domain. Computer-Aided Translation (CAT) software helps translators isolate the text segments to be translated from the formatting codes generally embedded in the files. XML technology is becoming increasingly important because text is more easily isolated from XML tags and formats are attached through style sheets and production processing rather than through desktop publishing, further reducing production costs.

Many of the technology resources available today comply with international standards developed by the Localization Industry Standards Association (LISA) and the W3C working group on the Internationalization Tag Set (ITS), which includes many XML-specific standards. Compliance with standards ensures that you are able to transfer the work done by one translation agency to another agency or translator without a loss of quality on your initial investment.

Localization and translation projects are complex. Content must be carefully retrieved from your source material, prepared for translation, supplemented by terminology glossaries that include both source and target languages. The translations themselves must be edited and reviewed by in-country subject-matter experts. The translated content must often be updated following content changes you make at the last minute. The projects must be carefully monitored so that your deadlines can be met and costs controlled. The projects require excellent project management to be successful.

How to Choose

If you decide to forego inhouse translation, consider how to choose among LSPs or independent translators.

Create a carefully crafted request for proposal (RFP).

Before you begin your search for a translation and localization provider, work with your staff and stakeholders to put together a detailed RFP. The more information you give the provider about your needs, the more precisely the consultant can craft a proposal. A vague and ill-defined RFP will cause providers to give you a higher bid so they can protect themselves from your ill-defined ideas.

Think about using two localization and translation vendors.

Some organizations opt for two LSPs to promote competition and lower prices and to ensure that they will not be without a translator should an LSP fail. They often assign specific languages to each of the vendors to take advantage of economies of scale.

Ask about compliance with international standards.

If your LSP is in compliance with international standards, it will be easier to shift work to another vendor that also complies with international standards in the future. If the LSP uses a proprietary system, you may be stuck or have to pay for the content to be retranslated by a new vendor that cannot read the original files.

How does the provider calculate the number of words to translate?

You should confirm the LSPs word count of your content by conducting your own word count before submitting content. If you know how the LSP counts words, your count should match theirs. Resolve any discrepancy before submitting the content for translation.

Ensure that you own your Translation Memory.

The Translation Memory for each of your documents is very valuable. Loss of the translation memory after a translation can more than double the cost of future translations after updates. If you own the Translation Memory you can change LSPs without the penalty of a new translation from scratch. Also ensure that the Translation Memory is updated after every translation project and that each translator receives the proper, up-to-date memory.

Discover the qualifications of the actual translators.

Are the translators fluent in English? Are they native speakers of the target language? Do they live in a country where the target language is spoken? Are they familiar with and have access to your authoring tools? Are they familiar with XML? Do the translators have expertise and knowledge of your organization’s technology? How long have they been translators in the target language? How long have they worked for your vendor? Will you have the same translators the next time?

How and by whom will your project be managed?

Will the LSP take on a strong management role for your translation project or will much of the management be your responsibility? Ensure that you meet the project manager assigned to your project so that you can be comfortable working together. Understand the schedule and your responsibilities for meeting deadlines as well as their commitments.

How long has the provider been offering the service you are buying?

Does the LSP have an adequate business history? Are they likely to remain in business long enough to get to know your content?

Is Localization and Translation the only business of your LSP?

Some LSPs are also software manufacturers. Beware of LSPs whose primary business is software development and who may try to sell you their proprietary software. A proprietary system may make it difficult to change vendors in the future.

Does the LSP guarantee staff assigned to your project?

Make sure that the proposal offered by the LSP contains information about who will be assigned to work on your translation. It is important that you use the same set of translators for all of your translation so they can gain experience with your technology.

Ask for references

Ask about similar services performed for other companies along with references. Quality LSPs will be happy to provide information and references about past projects. Don’t fall for the ploy that because their projects are confidential they cannot give you any information or references. The vast majority of customers are more than willing to give references for quality translation projects.