How Important is Translation Quality? Isn’t It All the Same?
Updated: Sep 23
Why you should care
I recently read an article* on the need to convey professionalism in the translation business. The writer, a translator and an employee of the American Translators Association (ATA), was addressing the view by many, and encouraged by belief in the power of Google Translate, that translation is a basic skill that anyone can learn, if they are bilingual. Part of this misconception is based on a lack of clarity around what translators and language service providers (LSPs) actually do and the value we provide to our clients.
*Unfortunately I cannot find a link to the article online. It is titled Communicating The Value of Our Services and the author is Ekaterina Howard. It appeared in the July/August print issue of the ATA Chronicle.
‘Typing in another language’
At its base level, a buyer with little understanding of translation and its complexity might be reducing the perceived value of translation to the statement in the subhead above. In part this is due to the implications of translation technology, but it is also due to a lack of understanding of the complexity of communicating in another language. And the value of getting it right. It doesn’t help that translation, at its simplest level, is priced by a cost per word, which varies by language. We understand this is useful for comparing translation bids, but there is way more iceberg under the surface.
60% don’t buy from sites in English, if English is not their native tongue
About 360 million citizens of this planet are native speakers of English. That’s about 5% of the total population of 7.5 billion people. That means that not translating into other languages cuts off both access and interest to the vast majority of potential customers, readers, markets, etc. As we’ve written about previously, language is the first and most critical step to successfully entering global markets. The ROI of quality translation is off the charts, market-wise. It literally can determine the success of globalization efforts for a business So why is it commodified?
The challenge is review of the translation: machine translation cannot review itself
It is difficult to impossible to review the quality of a translation in a language you do not speak and read fluently. Add in the need to understand the current culture of the target language societies (localization) and the need for subject matter expertise, and you can appreciate the risk involved in simply ordering a translation from the lowest bidder. Fortunately the translation business has a quality management workflow that deals with this challenge for the client. This workflow is why it is almost never a good idea to work solely with one translator on a direct basis. It is called translation review. The only exception to this may be with a very minimal translation project requiring very little localization. Machine translation may serve in these cases but it should always be reviewed by a native speaker of the target language with expertise in the subject matter.
Your content and communications represent your business or organization’s reputation
It’s a cliche but words are ambassadors. Like their human counterparts they interpret between different cultures to ensure that there are no misunderstandings or offense given. The quality of your translation is directly related to your brand, your reputation, and your potential for success in entering new markets. It’s that important. I’m going to break that down a bit.
Buying processes worldwide have changed drastically
Digital information is the way products and services are marketed in a digital world. The role of sales people is being marginalized as buyers demand in-depth information prior to making any kind of buying decision or even revealing their interest to a seller. We want to gather information on our options, make comparisons, and then, and only then, pull the trigger and initiate a transaction. This is a major change in the way all meaningful transactions take place, and it is not central to one society. 70% of the world’s population has some kind of access, typically via mobile phones, to online information. We’re basically blocking out conventional advertising on a subconscious level. We want actionable information in the language we speak.
There’s no simple formula for ROI in translation and localization
Reputation is a critical component of effective communication. Reputation is measured by social proof (who else has dealt with them and what were the results?). This is proven by things like reviews, case studies, and testimonials. All require translation. Accurate translation. Translation that conveys the original intent and context of the words, video, research, training, documentation, and all the other components of modern communication. Treating translation as a necessary cost center rather than something critical to success is shortsighted at best. It and its quality level can make or break reputations.
The ROI is respect
With information-savvy buyers and users of your products and services, you can’t take the risk of insulting their intelligence with poor translation. Even the thinking that English is the universal language of business can be insulting. You and your content must earn the buyer’s respect by respecting their language. There is a remarkable amount of language pride in most cultures. If you’ve traveled and seen how the attitude of the locals changes when you try to speak in their language, then you’ve experienced this. It really only takes a little extra effort to break the ice and turn a stranger into a friend. It’s no different when you reach out to them with marketing, training, or product information via a high quality, well-reviewed translation.