A Translation Buyer's Guide

Buying translation can be confusing. We often hear “I wish I knew that before…” when people talk about a prior experience buying translation. Whether a translation newbie or a veteran, here are our tips to navigate the world of buying translation.

Why should I use a professional?

Translation is like writing: lots of people can do it, but few people do it well. Sure, it’s tempting to ask that cousin who lived in Japan for a few years or hire Japanese-speaking, part-time staff. But think again. The materials you distribute are part of your reputation. To project a professional image, a professional translation is essential.

The same goes for online translation tools like Google Translate or Babelfish. Machine translations can help you roughly understand quick phrases, but they do not give a quality translation.

Where do I start when buying translation?

Before contacting a translator, have your project and timeline ready. The first question a translator will ask is how much text you have. You can give the word count, or, better yet, simply send the project. Let the translator know what your timeline is as well. Knowing when you need the finished product will help them provide a more accurate quote.

What kind of language services provider should I use? 

When buying a translation you can choose between freelancers, agencies and large companies.

Freelance translator

A freelance translator may work independently or with an agency. Often, the translator specializes in a certain field of translation (like legal, medical or technical).

Pros: If you have time to do the research, a qualified freelance translator can give you a good value for your money. You can save on costs that agencies include, like proofreading and project management.

Cons: Because anyone can brand himself or herself as a translator, the quality of a freelance translation varies. You’ll want to make sure that you’re working with a pro.

Before hiring: Check the freelancer’s CV, have a video interview (this helps avoid scams), and ask for a test translation.

Agency

Agencies employ translators directly or via freelance, and usually offer proofreading and project management as well.

Pros: A good agency will give you the security of knowing that you are working with qualified translators. Since agencies work with numerous translators, they can also accommodate large projects. An agency that offers proofreading also boosts quality control and delivers an overall better product.

Cons: If an agency does not carefully choose their translators, you could end up paying a high price for low quality translations (or become the indirect victim of a translation scam). A large agency can also feel impersonal, and it can be hard to work within their rigid, defined work styles.

Before hiring: Ask an agency how they choose their translators. They should have already tested their translators’ work and should be able to provide the translators’ qualifications at your request. Ask if they provide a guarantee for quality and how they proofread. At Word Connection, quality control and proofreading is a standard part of all of our services.

Large translation companies

Large translation companies have teams of office management and in-house or freelance translators, often spread across many different cities or countries.

Pros: A large translation company will offer a standard service and stable level of quality across many different markets. They serve as a “one stop shop” for clients who need multiple language pairings and consistency above all.

Cons: As with large agencies, a large translation agency may prioritize output over quality. Since they work with volume, small clients may not feel as valued. They also often have strict turnaround times. Many clients value flexibility, so this can be difficult.

Before hiring: Ask a translation agency for an assigned project manager to deal with. Ask the project manager how they choose translators and proofreaders and about their turnaround times.

How should I choose a translation provider?

The best translation providers are responsive, professional and have the client’s best interest at heart. You should never pay for a quote. Also, you should never start a translation project without a signed quote. Translation companies should also be able to share examples of work they have done before. You can also ask for references from their clients, or ask someone you trust for a recommendation.

How much does a translation cost?

Translation costs vary. The amount depends on your timeline, the amount of text, the subject matter and the language pair (the original language and the target language). It’s always a good idea to ask for several quotes and compare before buying translation.

How long should I wait for a translation?

The turn-around time depends on how much you have to translate. As a general rule, a translation will take around as much time as you spend to create the text. An expert translation provider completes a maximum of 2,000 – 3,000 words per day.