What are the top 5 questions asked about translations?

I’m researching the translation market and am trying to find out what the top five questions which translation agencies get asked. Can you help me please?

Hi Jilly,

Thanks for your question about the translation market. Happy to answer below. I’ve sorted the answers by popularity with the most frequently asked question at the top in position 1.

1. How much does a translation cost?

By far the most popular question we get asked is ‘how much will my translation cost?‘.

This is not surprising as price is an important part of any deal and has become increasingly important over the last decade or so due to the global financial situation.

It’s also understandable on a different level as, if you think about it, translation services are different to most other things people buy in that they can’t understand what they are buying or they wouldn’t need to buy them!

It’s natural for people look for something they can understand about a product or service to help make their decision as to whom to choose.

Everybody understands the difference between one price and another and so many people tend to concentrate on that aspect.

However, buying on price alone can be dangerous because translations are not commodities.

By this I mean all translations are not the same. For example unless you understand Japanese you wouldn’t be able to tell whether a document translated from English into Japanese was translated by a professor at Tokyo University or one of their first year students – the text would look the same to you, but the quality would be radically different as the undergraduate student would not have the experience and expertise of their professor.

That’s why it’s important to choose an agency like ourselves who only uses skilled professionals with many years of experience but who offer competitive translation prices.

2. How long will my translation take?

Second only to prices is ‘How quickly can you translate my document?‘.

The answer is usually ‘much faster than you think’, and here’s why.

A competent professional translator can translate between 2,500 and 3,000 words a day – a little less if the subject matter being translated is highly technical or a little more if it’s straightforward.

However, translation companies use advanced software called CAT tools to drastically increase this throughput. CAT stands for ‘Computer-Assisted Translation’ and it’s NOT the same as machine translation software like Google Translate.

The best way to think of a CAT tool is as special type of word processor designed to help translators manually translate your document.

One of the key features CAT tools include is the ability to spot repetitions of words and phrases so that once they have been translated once, they don’t have to be translated again as the software remembers the previous translation and offers it up again for the translator to accept, amend or reject.

This makes the translation process much quicker and keeps costs down for you because you are charged at a greatly reduced rate for repetitions.

One of the reasons we always ask to see a copy of your document before giving you a price and a turnaround time is so we can run it through our CAT tools and have the computer scan for repetitions and find savings.

The other feature of CAT tools which speeds up delivery is the ability to split documents up between translators whilst making sure consistent terminology is used.

In this way you can have a whole team of translators working on your project at the same time. If say, five translators were working on your document then the speed goes up from 2,500 to 3,000 words a day to as much as 15,000 words a day.

Other factors which influence speed include the format the document is in and if you need typesetting or other graphical elements including.

Over the years we’ve developed quite a reputation for speed, in fact were are known in the industry for our famously fast translators.

3. Do you charge based on the number of source or target words? What’s the difference and why does it matter?

First let’s define the terms.

Source words = The words in the original document which you already have and that you’d like translating.

Target words = The words in the resulting document after the original document above has been translated.

So, if you had a letter written in English which you needed translating into French then the number of source words would be the number of English words in the letter and the target words would be the number of French words in the completed French translation.

Why it’s important to understand the difference between source and target words when asking for a translation quote

It’s important that you are clear whether or not you are being quoted a price for translation based on the number of source or target words for the following reasons.

Translation Word Growth

The number of target words in the completed document can end up being more than in the source document, in the case of English to Portuguese for example, up to 30% more! For more details, see our article on word growth in translation projects.

This means that had you accepted a quote for an English to Portuguese translation based on the number of words in the target document you may end up being charged nearly a third more than you expected. That’s a nasty surprise.

Conciseness accuracy and value for money

Much like the essays we were all obliged to write at school, a long translation does not necessarily imply a good translation.

As a customer, you are not buying translation by the number of words on the page, you want your translation to be accurate, concise and fit for purpose.

If your agency is charging you by the number of words in their finished work, there is an incentive for them to simply waffle on to make more money.

We always charge by the number of words in your source document – that way, you know exactly how much you’ll be charged before you give us the go-ahead.

4. What’s the difference between human translations and machine translations?

With the rapid advance of technology, many people assume that machine translation software and free online services like Google Translate mean we no longer need human translators.

Computer translation certainly has its place where you need small chunks of non-critical text roughly translated so that you can get the gist of what is being said but today’s translation software still has severe limitations in that machines do not understand the text, they merely process it according to a set of rules.

The accuracy of the translations which computers produce depends on many factors but the best results are usually obtained when translating highly-structured documents such as technical manuals and straightforward texts which do not contain abstract concepts or creative ideas.

For example, they may do a passable job at translating technical documents pertaining to the construction of a car but would be hopeless at translating a novel or a poem.  You can see some examples of what to beware of in our free guide, Translation Without Tears.

Over the years, translation software has become much better and where it really comes into its own is in assisting skilled human translators to do their job better.

For instance a human translator may use computer software to create a rough translation and then go through the results and add their own input whilst comparing it to the original text. This is called machine translation with post editing.

So, to answer the question directly, the difference between human translations and machine translations is that computers are faster and cheaper but humans are required to achieve the best quality translation. We strongly advise using human translators for important texts but a machine translation may be fine if you just need to get a very rough idea of what the text says.

We always use expert human translators unless we have discussed options and prices for using machine translation with you first.

5. Why is it best if translators work solely into their native language?

The simple answer to this is ‘because that’s one of the best ways to ensure you get the highest quality translation‘.

Someone’s ‘native language’, sometimes known as their ‘mother tongue’, is the first language they learn as a child and is most embedded in their psyche. For these reasons it’s also the one in which they are most eloquent.

Language is much more than just words, it’s an expression of culture. Nuance is very important. Someone translating into their native language will usually be much better at capturing these subtleties than someone translating the other way around. Here’s more information on why it’s important to use mother tongue translators.

Some translation agencies try to save costs by allowing their translators to translate both into and out of their mother tongue. We never do that, we ALWAYS use native speakers to ensure you get a translation which is 100% accurate.

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