Turnaround Time for Translation: it may not work the way you imagine
Updated: Sep 23
There are multiple reasons why we can’t just ‘do’ a translation while you wait. And there are multiple reasons why you shouldn’t want that.
A scenario: you have a rush translation job, not a big one, but you’d like to turn it around same day. After all, why can’t you just send it off to your translation vendor and have them translate it and send it back? Why can’t that happen in many (most) cases?
We do not have an office full of translators
This is a common misconception about how we work. We do not generally (speaking for the industry in general here) have employees who are translators. We use independent linguists that either work as freelancers or for a translator agency as freelancers. One exception to this may be agencies who specialize in one language/culture, like Spanish. There are multiple reasons for this:
Translation is a specialized skill. Most of the team at Language Intelligence are multilingual trained linguists. However, knowing more than one language does not qualify someone to be a professional translator. Our linguists are project managers who know the workflows and how to manage translators- they rarely translate themselves.
100s of languages. It is not unusual to have a requirement for a project to be translated into multiple languages, in fact it is common. By using freelancers we can quickly find translators for the required languages. Because these language sets vary widely from client to client and project to project, we would have to have dozens of staffers versed in multiple languages. The reality is that this isn’t practical.
Native in-country linguists are preferred. Whenever possible it is preferable to have a native speaking translator of the target language who lives in the country where the language is spoken. This is where ‘localization’ comes into play. Having a local professional translator ensures that cultural mismatches are avoided and local usage is up to date.
Linguists with subject matter expertise in the type of translation you’re requesting. Translating an eLearning course, for example, is much different than translating a marketing piece or a manual. The language and tone is different, they are formatted differently, may contain different kinds of content like video and audio, and may require technical knowledge of the subject matter.
Spreading out work across a range of translators to manage workflow. In this business, managing workflows is critical. At any given time we may have projects totaling many thousands of words, in multiple formats, and multiple languages. By accessing the large pool of international linguists, we can offer faster turnaround and higher quality.
The basic word-for-word translation is a rare bird
When a file comes in there is a set-up process. It is logged into our system to ensure that it doesn’t get lost and any specific requirements are determined. We enter it into translation memory (TM) software which determines if there are phrases we have translated before, saving time and money for you. TM keeps a record of all the work we do for you, eliminating duplication of effort and shortening turnaround times. Because you typically pay by the word (there are exceptions to this), this saves you money and represents a growing asset over time. After the TM is set up, we match an available translator to the project and the actual translation process begins.
Review is a critical step requiring a second translator/linguist
If we send a translation back to you without evidence of a review for accuracy and you have no one in-house who is qualified to review it, how do you know it is good? This in-country review process requires a second translator who fits the subject matter requirements above, who can vouch for the quality of the translation, and make edits and comments where necessary. We built our intelliReview software specifically to help manage this process with reviewers, project managers, and clients interacting with the content in a centralized place, eliminating version control issues.
Formatting makes all the difference
If you extract the text from a formatted document like a Powerpoint or a PDF, or even a proprietary file format used in your business, that text is now out of context and its meaning may not be clear (imagine a picture caption without the picture). Translations vary in length by large amounts, depending on the language, so pouring the translated text back into the original format is almost certain to require work to keep design elements consistent. This is the reason we have in-house and contracted capabilities for audio and video editing, desktop publishing, software string translations, etc., and translators experienced in these formats and their requirements. Send us your content, in context, and you will get it back, properly formatted.
But, Google Translate…?
We use machine translation as part of our process but it has limited usefulness, especially for less common languages. Where we are able to use it, we put its translations through a machine translation post-edit process where a translator reviews and edits the machine translated content. This is required to avoid content going out into the field with potentially damaging errors.
These workflows are how you are ensured consistent high quality translations, that are ready for prime time
Even a small project requires these workflow and process checks. The processes described above are quality checks that ensure your translation is accurate, properly formatted, reviewed, and ready to go. That simple request for a fast turnaround, in most cases, still requires these steps and checks.
When we get a request for a rush, we will try to get it back as fast as possible, however, same day with short notice can be problematic. If you know you have a rush project coming and can give us advance notice, we can set it up and arrange for resources to be in place for when it arrives.
Nimdzi, a translation industry consulting firm has identified an emerging attempt to use technology to make continuous localization (referred to in their article as L10N) possible in scenarios where many very small translations are required on a continuing basis, specifically in software string translation. However, as their article on continuous localization points out, the restrictions we talk about in this post still are a major factor in limiting turnaround times, no matter how small the translation job is.