The Worst Way to Reduce Translation Costs. And What You Should Do Instead.

Translations usually come at the end of a long process involving text creation, corrections, revisions, and finally localization. Every one of these steps has a cost. With all that time and effort put into your source text, translations often feel like they take most of the remaining budget. And let’s be real, translations are rarely cheap. Good translations, at least.

So what can you do?

“Well, we’ve got Aleksey over there, he’s half Russian so if we could just give him a computer and Google Transl…”

That’s a bad idea

If you are looking to get the gist of a text in a hurry, fine. Go ahead and pop that text in a machine translation. You’ll probably understand something out of it, though not always. And you won’t be 100% sure either.

But if you need high-quality text, that you can show on your website, to clients, to potential government agencies, or even internally with your overseas division, you’ll want a human translation. And a good one.

Machines translate words, humans translate meaning. A nonsensical translation is what people make fun of online. An incorrect translation is what makes you lose potential clients as soon as they read your copy.

And it seems like using that “dev who’s pretty much bilingual” could work too, but think of this before you do:

  1. His main job is not translating stuff. You are paying him $30 an hour to do his job, and do it well. Is he worth that much as a translator?
  2. He probably does not have the experience you are looking for. Sure, he knows the industry he is in, but what about the many other things translators look at? Grammar rules? Vocabulary choices? Culturally sensitive text?
  3. Maybe he doesn’t even use your target language every day. Maybe he stopped when he was eight. Sure, he can still communicate in it, but that’s not enough.

“Well in that case we can send the translated text for proofreading and…”

That might be more expensive

At Kotolingo we bill proofreadings based on word-count. Most agencies do. But if a text comes in for proofreading looking like it went through a wood-shredder, we bill by the hour.

Sometimes our translators spend more time fixing a machine translation than they would translating a text outright. And here is something to keep in mind if you are not from the translation industry:

The text you give the translator for proofreading sets the frame within which he can operate. He can fix sentences, spelling, try to make sense of it, but not always make stylistic changes. If the style is inexistant, even the best proofreading won’t improve the translation. The proofreader has to keep the translated elements.

Which explains why some translators will refuse those proofreading jobs.

Microsoft Bing Translator with an example of inaccurate text from Japanese to English
The text on the right already feels a bit stiff, don’t you think?

And as far as machine translation goes, here’s another reason to stay away from them:

They usually use English as the base of all their translations. Let’s say you translate a text from French to Japanese. It will first be translated from French to English, then from English to Japanese. If a small inaccuracy slips through the first translation, it could become big in the second one.

So how do we reduce costs?

Now that we’ve established what not to do, let’s talk about something you can do to reduce costs:

Prioritize your content

Agencies will gladly translate everything you give them. For them (ahem, for us), the more work, the better.

But do you really need your website translated into Spanish if you only operate in Asia?

If you are going to attend a conference in Milan, will you need all your marketing materials in Italian, or just the business cards and a pamphlet?

Your need to translate Safety Data Sheets into French. But do you also need to translate your company history?

Often times, you can drastically reduce translation costs by focusing only on the highest priority content. You can get to the rest later on when your budget allows for it. And here’s the good news: as a repeat client, agencies will also be more likely to accomodate you in the future. Win-win for everyone!