Buying translations

Buying translation services: why price is not a reliable indicator of quality

Bying translations

A higher price doesn’t always equal higher quality. In the translation industry in particular, it can mean slow, inefficient workflows. Advanced technology and optimized process management will give you significantly better quality translations and save you a considerable amount of money in the medium and long term. To make sure you get maximum bang for your buck from your translations, we recommend taking the following into consideration.

If you’ve had bad experiences with translation service providers, there are two conclusions you’ve probably come to.

  • Firstly, that a poor translation can be expensive – and not just in a purely financial sense. You have to spend time fixing the problems, and even though you might be able to remove the errors in the translated text, the damage to your brand image and client satisfaction is often irreparable.

  • And secondly, that spending less money up front can often lead to spending a lot more money down the line. This is all true, but it doesn’t mean that the most expensive quote is automatically the best option. On the contrary, it can mean that the service provider uses inefficient, outdated systems and won’t give you everything you need. In an attempt to avoid another bad experience with their service provider, those controlling the purse strings often feel the need to “splash the cash” and can easily fall into the trap of buying from expensive but inefficient providers.

The question is: does the extra amount you’re paying merely compensate for poor project management on the part of the translation service provider, or does it pay for the experts and state-of-the-art technology that will give you the services you need? The following three points will give you an answer:

Use of computer-aided translation tools (CAT tools for short)

Using tools to automate the translation process is no longer optional for professional language service providers – it’s a must. Translation memory systems allow your texts previously translated by the agency to be saved and used as an additional resource. That is, a database of translations that you have checked and approved from previous jobs can be accessed by the translator to help them as they work on your new job. Together with term bases and glossaries, translation memories are an effective tool for standardizing and accelerating the translation process – as well as saving you money. They ensure that specialist terminology is translated correctly, specific corporate language and style is adhered to, and terms are used consistently.

One result of this is that your relationship with your translation partner works just like other conventional business relationships: loyalty and exclusivity pay off. The more jobs you send to your translation agency, the more their staff and their systems will learn your language. This means the amount of editing or reworking required after delivery will gradually decrease, giving you even better value for money. And ideally your projects would be handled by the same project managers and translators every time, as this is the most effective way to ensure the agency’s workflows are adapted to your needs and the texts they produce fit your company’s identity.

What does the translation service provider require from its translators?

In order to provide high-quality translations that offer value for money, the following criteria should be considered when choosing translators to work on your projects:

  • Linguistic expertise
    It goes without saying that translators need to speak the relevant language pair in order to translate your texts. And unfortunately, as self-explanatory as it may seem that translators need to translate into their native language in order to produce the best results, in practice it isn’t always like that.

  • Specialist technical expertise
    But even if a translator is an outstanding linguist in the source and target language, this isn’t enough if they don’t know their way around mechanical engineering (for example). Linguistic skills are only part of the equation: if you need technical documentation to be translated then the relevant technical expertise is crucial, and if you have more creative texts then the translator needs to have a creative and inventive mind.

If these criteria are not met, you risk having to edit your texts every time they’re delivered. Apart from costing you time and money, this means you can at best expect nothing more than a passable translation. So don’t be tempted to take the cheapest, most superficially attractive option. If the price is a result of taking shortcuts with the quality of the translators, what initially seems like great value for money may well end up costing you a lot more than you bargained for.

ISO 17100 certification is a good starting point when evaluating language service providers, as it requires agencies to only use qualified translators and reviewers.

Project management

Although translation is at the core of the services provided, on its own it’s not enough to ensure satisfied clients. You need to know if the translation service provider can fit seamlessly into your in-house business workflows. How they structure the processes involved in providing their language services is at least as important as the texts they actually deliver: poor organization can result in as many additional costs for you as an unusable translation that needs to be fixed.

In addition, as the language service buyer you can play a big part in accelerating the translation process and reducing the amount you pay (find out how here).


In summary: High-quality translations and lower costs are by no means mutually exclusive, but you will only get both from a translation agency that combines expert translators with advanced technology and can adapt its workflows to suit yours. So it pays off – literally – to look closely at how a translation service provider works before accepting their quote.


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