These days there’s no lack of places where you can get an instant translation. On web pages, on eCommerce sites, on social networks, just click a button near a foreign language post and you can render it into a familiar language. On most serious international sites, too, you can select from a drop-down menu and render the content into the language with which you are most comfortable. This is the essence of localization, and it’s fast becoming a staple of our global existence. But there are limits to automation, and times when what you need is the expertise of a professional translator. We’ll provide a guide about what you should be looking for.
Machine Translation Vs a Human Translation and Interpretation Network
Machine translation has advanced by leaps and bounds in recent years. The progress in translation quality is the result of a technological advance based on Artificial Intelligence, specifically neural networks. Neural machine translation raises the quality of what machines can do in terms of language quality. For surfing and chatting, that level of translation quality may be adequate. But is it good enough for a brand, or a professional services company? Usually not.
Machines are good at handling highly structured content. Weather reports. Sports results. Financial reports. These have specific conventions and structures. Machines do well with these. This is partially due to their pedigree. Google Translate, back in 2006, was trained on translations of the documents of the European Parliament and the United Nations. You can’t get much more structured (and boring) than that.
Such is not the case in the worlds of academia, creativity, and business. All these seek distinctiveness and innovation. Language is very subtle and nuanced and this can prove challenging. Ofer Tirosh, CEO of translation company Tomedes, points out that the literal and figurative nature of language is where machine translation falls flat for discerning producers and consumers of content. This is where software algorithms find their limits and a human translation and interpretation network comes to the fore instead. You can use such networks to achieve impressive growth in the corporate world. When you have a task that needs that extra something special, you need professional translation services. In the next sections, we’ll consider how and where to find them.
Distinguishing Translation, Interpretation, and Localization
Before getting into the practicalities of locating resources, we need to distinguish between translation and localization. Translation these days is a subset of localization. Translation generally refers to the adaption of textual documents from one language to another. Interpretation, by contrast, refers to the adaptation of speech from one language to another. Localization is a more general concept that covers all the changes required when adapting content from one locale to another.
Localization comprise the lion’s share of the language services industry which, according to Nimdzi’s pre-pandemic projections, will shoot to $70 billion by 2023. Localization includes translation and interpretation, but there’s more to it than that. You often need to adapt number and date formats, currency, and measurement units. More importantly, you need to account for cultural differences between the two places. Software algorithms are fine with the technical items but lousy at more subtle cultural aspects.
A localization process is often applied to digital content to create a global website or app. This involves creating variables for all items that need to be internationalized and then creating a matrix that includes all the phrases used in the website structure and content in which the localities required are columns and the items and phrases to be translated are rows. There is specialized software available to assist in this process, and there are human experts – called localization specialists, or localizers – who can assist or fully implement localization for your website or software applications.
Where to Find Professional Translation and Localization Services?
Like most things these days, you find the expert resources you need with an internet search. If you are seeking to localize your site or app, then search for “localization services” or “localization agencies”. If you are focused on textual documents, search for “translation companies,” or “translation services.” If you need to translate or localize primarily audio or video material, then you would seek out “interpreters,” or “interpretation services.” For converting audio or video material to texts, seek out “transcription” services.
Typically you would want to qualify your search query with the language pair(s) or domain(s) relevant to your content or industry (e.g., legal, medical, technical).
The likely respondents to a search query are agencies. They will respond within hours to an email describing your task. Include the name of your website or app and the target languages or locales. If it’s a documentary translation, include a sample document. If it’s a video or audio, send a link or file. You should get a detailed proposal and timetable. Compare offerings, ask questions, check references, then “go with your gut.” Typically you’ll be assigned an account manager, who ensures that the professional linguistic or technical team behind the scenes carries out your work as contractually specified.
Expect a broad spectrum of pricing. Document translation is usually based on the word count of the source texts ($0.12/word is average), but the price is also affected by the language pair and urgency of delivery. Recording transcriptions are based on duration, while interpretation is based on hourly rates. When you choose, keep your eye out for cultural familiarity with your target market and personal chemistry.
Considering Freelance Translation and Localization Options
Professional service agencies, naturally, need to profit from their work and cover the overhead of running a company and managing far-flung teams. A lower-cost alternative is seeking out translators and localizers on one of the many freelance marketplaces which “cut out the middleman.” Upwork, Freelancer.com, and Fiverr are some with a good supply of translators.
You select and vet the presumed expert linguist and contract directly. These marketplaces let you check their profiles, portfolios, and rates. You can ask questions and negotiate the terms of your project. The platform holds your payment in escrow till the job has been completed, presumably to your satisfaction.
Working with freelancers has the benefits of direct selection contact and selection of the one who will execute your work. But it takes more of your personal time and adds the risk of working with an individual rather than a formal agency. One tip is to work with pairs of freelancers on each language, one to check the other’s work and over if one flake.
Bottom Line: Translation Agency vs. Freelancer?
Here’s a suggested rule of thumb. If your budget allows working with an agency, take that route. It’s easier, faster, and more suitable for multiple languages or complex products. If you have a limited budget and a more focused aim, give freelancers a shot.