Translation Buying Guide


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The translation of any suybject is not simply a product but a service which is to be rendered with utmost care and intelligence to perform the specific communication by its user.

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Translation Buying Guide

  1. 1. Translation Buying a non-commodity How translation standards can help buyers & sellers
  2. 2. Translation: Standards for buying a non-commodity To the What’s a commodity? Translation is 2 reader l White granulated cane sugar not a commodity You may already is a commodity. For all practical This is important, so we’ll say be familiar with purposes, one package is identical it again: Translation is not the contents of to another of the same weight. a commodity. the pamphlet When you send someone to the If it were, it would be enough Translation: Getting grocery store to pick up a bag of to say: “You need a translation? It Right. If not, sugar, you typically don’t specify Go out and ask several translation please take a few the brand, and the person will service providers how much they minutes to read or simply buy the least expensive one. charge per word and choose the re-read it. l Blank CDs have become a lowest figure.” End of story. [If you don’t have commodity. So long as they hold But it’s not like that. For a printed version the amount of data you need and example, you’ll obviously handy, you can have the right format for your need to specify which language download it free of computer, you’ll probably purchase you want your text translated charge from www. strictly on price. into (e.g. French or German] But recorded CDs are another or Japanese). Getting it Right matter entirely. Suddenly there are And just as color and price is packed with dozens of factors involved—the are not the only factors in buying useful information genre, the artist, the song, and so a car, you’ll want to consider for purchasers of on. Q: Would you buy a country other criteria here, too. translation services, & western CD rather than a jazz For example: but was never recording if you hate country music n The type of document 1 intended to be but the jazz CD was a few cents being translated. exhaustive. more expensive? A: Not likely. Is your text a contract, a This brochure, Likewise, a car is not a user manual, instructions Buying a Non- commodity unless all you care for taking medicine, a sales Commodity, is about is whether it has four wheels brochure, a set of Web pages the next step for and passes safety inspection. Many or a financial report? translation buyers car buyers look closely at such n The subject-matter expertise 2 and sellers (both factors as fuel economy, needed by the person doing individuals and horsepower, handling, number of the translation. organizations). passenger seats, and styling. Someone who knows all about medical technology may not be up on accounting, sustainable Music CDs are not a commodity. development or plasma fusion. Cars usually aren’t either. n The intended readers. 3 Nor are translations. Are you targeting teenage
  3. 3. Translation: Standards for buying a non-commodity gamers, genetic researchers, patent It is the huge variety of agents or simply anyone who possible specifications for a 3 might stumble upon your website? translation project that makes n The purpose of the translation. 4 translation—just like music Sometimes all you want is to get recordings—a non-commodity. (or give) the general idea of A single source text has dozens, a document (rough translation); in hundreds, thousands of possible other cases, a polished text is translations. Which one is right essential. for you? Listing your priorities— n The regional variation of 5 drawing up specifications—will the target language. help you get what you need. Are your readers Mexicans in Monterrey or Spaniards in A universal truth? Seville? Both speak Spanish The sheer variety of translation but it’s not the same Spanish. projects is daunting. So daunting, in fact, that even experts Taken together, these and sometimes wonder if there is any other factors make up the single piece of advice that applies specifications for your translation. to all translation projects. Tlme, money and image... Translation is a risky business, as Mead Johnson Nutritionals of Indiana found out a few years back, when misleading Spanish instructions on bilingual labels forced it to recall 4.6 million cans of Nutramigen Baby Formula. Following the flawed directions could have caused illness or even death, said company officials. Feedback from sharp-eyed linguists has served Swedish housewares company Ikea well. “Svalka” means “refreshing” in Swedish—a fine choice for a line of drinking glasses, thought management. Unfortunately it means “landfill” in Russian. (The company’s Moscow team axed the final “a” for glasses sold locally, retaining an exotic flavor while avoiding an unfortunate association.) A California manufacturer of medical equipment sold a device in France without a French translation of the instructions for using it, wrongly assuming that all the operators would be fluent in English. In France, French language documentation is required by law. Far worse: patients died from radiation overdoses administered by poorly informed technicians.
  4. 4. Translation: Standards for buying a non-commodity (“Always do X.” “Never do Y.” 4 “Do Z, and you’re home free.”) Examples How about this: l A European lens manufacturer “In every translation project, printed the English version of the buyer and the translation its annual report in full color service provider (translator or with a typographical error on translation team) should agree in the front cover: “Optical advance on a set of specifications Products Worlwide”. The to be followed while carrying company and the translation supplier each thought the other out the project.” was proofreading. The covers This statement is more were pulped and reprinted powerful than it might appear. (at considerable cost). It provides the basis for a l An urgent one-page text universal definition: on innovative rail transport The quality of a translation was given to a specialized is the degree to which it follows translator with a note the agreed-upon specifications. specifying that it was for Simple but true. railway engineers. But a If you don’t identify what you reviewer thought it was for a want up front—or do identify it general audience and dumbed but those instructions don’t reach the translation down. Most the person doing the work, or of her “corrections” had to be aren’t understood by him or un-done (with the clock ticking her—you are unlikely to get a and the meter running). good translation. l In 1917, 10,000 Canadian Patching up a poor translation soldiers were killed or wounded costs even more time and money, at the Battle of Vimy Ridge in since it may also mean patching northern France. In April 2007, up your image and reputation if the prime ministers of Canada you have inadvertently offended and France honored their (“I didn’t know X meant that in bravery at a local memorial. But Colombian Spanish!...”) or left journalists revealed that historical panels nearby were readers grappling with an shot through with grammar and incomprehensible phrase. spelling errors; they had been Ask any translation service translated by well-meaning, provider, and you’ll get a raft of non-professional volunteers. examples of lost time and budget (Red faces all around.) due to crossed wires.
  5. 5. Translation: Standards for buying a non-commodity Failed translation projects are as guarantee that someone can different as frogs and falcons, but translate well between them. 5 they have one thing in common: Note, too, that expertise counts: time, money and frustration could translators are not have been saved if both sides had interchangeable. agreed in advance who did what, n Come to an agreement on your 2 when and how. If they had drawn project specifications before up a set of specifications. translation begins (CEN 3.4 and 4.4; ASTM 4.3 and 8). The European Standards to standard requires that a quality the rescue management system be in place, By now, you might be thinking: and the American standard This specifications thing sounds provides a quality management important but it also sounds like a system based on a standard list of lot of work. How do I know I have questions (called “parameters”). a full set of specifications? How Your project-specific answers are can I get through the specifications your specifications. phase as quickly as possible? n Follow the specifications at 3 This is where translation every step of the project. standards come in. We will refer to two standards here: the Don’t reinvent European translation standard (CEN the wheel EN 15038) and the American The European and American translation standard (ASTM F 2575). standards let you draw on Although they were developed hundreds of hours of input by independently, they fit together experts distilling their knowledge very well—much like building of best practices in translation. By codes and blueprints when you are underscoring the many factors to building a home. consider besides price, they are There are three key points in also a reminder that translation is each of these standards: anything but a commodity. n Select your human resources 1 with care (CEN 3.2; ASTM 6)— Q: Who comes up with translators must of course know the specifications for the both the source and target translation project? languages, but (and this comes as A: Everyone involved: the a surprise to many people) buyer and the translation provider. knowing two languages does not The buyer starts by identifying
  6. 6. Translation: Standards for buying a non-commodity the one starting point that Deadline n 3 6 everyone intuitively agrees is Price n4 essential: What is the language of Subject area and type of text n 5 your text (the source language) Source language and regional and what language or languages variation n 6 do you want your text translated Format (word processing file? into (the target language)? XML?) n 7 The buyer then contacts one or Volume (how many words, more potential sellers who work characters, etc.) n8 in the relevant language(s) about Target language and regional taking on the project. variation n 9 At this point, many buyers just That makes nine. toss the document to the seller For an even ten, we would add and cross their fingers, hoping identification of the steps n to be 10 that the translation that comes followed during the production back will meet their needs. Big phase, after analyzing the source mistake! This is the magic text. These steps are essentially moment, the time when the same in both the American specifications should be worked and European standards. out interactively between buyer Here are the most basic ones: and seller. If you wait until translation, bilingual checking, delivery to discover and monolingual checking. you were not on the same An absolutely critical part of wave-length, it will cost you this tenth specification is to time, money and energy to identify who is responsible for make things right. each step of the production phase, But enough about how and to define the specialized important specifications are. know-how of each person (for It’s time for another list. example, subject-matter expertise). If any basic step is Top Ten going to be skipped, that should The bare-bones specifications be noted, and a reason given. from which many others are (In the “optical products” derived are the audience n and 1 example above, if the purpose n 2 of the translation. specifications had indicated who Besides these, the most was responsible for proofreading, basic specifications are also the reports would not have had to the best known: be reprinted.)
  7. 7. Translation: Standards for buying a non-commodity Standards make translation a manageable How to get 7 non-commodity. the standards We’re convinced that standards The European standard will help you get the translation To find out more about the you need — or, if you are a European standard, see: translation provider, help you deliver what your client wants aboutus/index.asp and needs. To obtain a copy of the We hope, too, that this brochure European standard, contact has given you an idea of how the standards body in one of to get started. the 27 European countries As we’ve seen, translation is that belong to CEN: not a commodity, which means that using price as your sole members/members/index. criterion in selecting a supplier asp (search for EN 15038) is a bad idea (maybe even a very bad idea). The American standard Standards will help you get a To find out more about the grip on quality and get all ASTM standard or stakeholders — buyers, project to obtain a copy of it, see: managers and individual translators — speaking the same (search for F 2575) language. Delving deeper If you’ve got this far, you are obviously thinking seriously about trying out a specifications-based approach. So what comes next? We suggest the following options: - use the “Top Ten” on page six for your next job - try out the detailed list of translation parameters found at - consult translation performance skill level descriptions such as the US government scale found at - buy the standards (you can implement them yourself or with the help of a consultant) where you will find much that is not in this brochure, such as “selecting a translation service provider” and “buyer-provider relationships”
  8. 8. Translation Buying a non-commodity How translation standards can help buyers & sellers © Durban & Melby 2008 version 1.0d Endorsed by: Vereniging Zelfstandige Vertalers