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A 101 Buyer’s Guide on Translation Services

Buyer's Guide - Translation - Business - Food for thought

Understanding the Investment of Professional Translation Services

Is driving down translation cost really to your benefit?

For some time, the translation industry has been undergoing a forceful rate push downwards from clients. Be it from multi-bajillion dollar entities to those who truly have little capacity on spend. Translation tends to be seen as a necessary evil. Something that has to be done – which usually pops up in the “Oh yeah, I almost forgot” stage of most projects.

It’s also a line item that finance tends picks up as a red-flag when looking at Quarterly or EoY reports, without really understanding the “why” or the “value” behind the investment or services related to the line items.

It’s normal that an amount related to translation services (or other language services) yield the equivalent to sticker shock to someone that is outside the immediate circle of those producing content and having it translated. After all, it’s easy to use other less expensive options like automated translation solutions (cough – Google Translate – cough) coupled with bilingual employees, right?

Well, the answer isn’t as simple as that. Let’s take a look at the how professional translation companies price out their services and why it’s likely more cost-effective than automated*  or internal solutions.

* Let’s clear the air by saying, we’re not suggesting automated (i.e. MTPE, Machine Translation Post Editing) isn’t a viable option for reducing costs. The fact of the matter is many translation companies are using it behind the scenes to increase profitability, but we can explore that later. We want to first ensure you understand what you’re paying for.

Per word charges and what it (typically) includes

Let’s preface this section by saying the information is intentionally generalized, but we can speak more specifically as to how Ad Astra charges when we discuss your projects.

While this may be a somewhat simplified overview, the intent is to provide you with the basic understanding of terminology and concepts in widespread use in the “language” industry.

The source word is the typical unit of measure used to establish price, unless dealing with character based languages like Asian languages as the source originating starting point for our translation. Then it can be per character. It is effectively the smallest (reasonable) unit to measure for pricing.

Source word analysis/Statistics/Word Count refer to the amount of words found in the document to be translated.

With that, translation companies have (tools) technology, which enable the files to be broken down into segments of text. Effectively these segments are defined by a standard ruleset, like after a period or semi-colon, etc. These are called segmentation rules. There are standards and stuff – but it’s beyond the scope of this post.

All this said, a word-count is to be performed. This word count is not the same as your word count in your Microsoft Word software.

Word counts carried out by translation environments (CAT Tools) capture the basic number of words, similar to your Microsoft Word, but will also take additional variables into consideration such as how many repetitions there are in the document.

More impressively, and where these environments usually leave standard word editors in the dust is that they are connected to repositories of content that the translation company has previously translated for you. Effectively building up a database of your translated material.

The word count, also known affectionately as an “analysis” also considers how much of the content in your “source document” has been previously translated (or partially translated).

Cool, huh?

So the system breaks down the document into segments of text and then compares each of these segments against a database to see how much of the new source segment and the stored segment are similar.

The system breaks the “matches” down into categories of similarity.
The standard breakdown categories are defined by percentage:

  • 0-54%
  • 55-74%
  • 75-84%
  • 85-94%
  • 95-99%
  • 100%
  • 101%

The categories can be combined together to represent a billing category, such as “New Content”, referring to content that requires translation and has not yet reside in the translation repository.

“Partial Matches”, which is relatively self-explanatory. Content that has in some way been partially translated before.

“Repetitions and Exact Matches”, which again are self-explanatory and are segments that of text repeat themselves throughout the content or have been found to have an identical match in the repository.

Each of the categories typically yield different pricing structures and tend to vary from provider to provider.

Questions to ask your potential (or existing) provider

  1. Can you please document what your price ranges are and provide the analysis on every project?
  2. Can you please provide us with a copy of our translation repository after every request?
  3. Can you please provide us with a copy of our terminology repository after every request?
  4. Can you please outline any additional cost that are not per word costs that we may be subjected to?

With the above explanation of pricing and questions to ask, you should be in good shape to start taking control of your translation costs.

Happy shopping and (translation)