A few ideas to help you reduce translation costs. Not necessarily what you think!

Triangle showing if you want to reduce translation costs, you need to reduce quality or speed.
Supposedly, you can only choose two.

There’s a sign at my garagist’s saying: “The service you’ll receive will either be fast, inexpensive, or good. You can only choose two.” The message is clear. If you want inexpensive service, you’ll either wait more or get a lower quality. Makes sense, right? But if you’re looking to reduce translation costs, it’s another story.

First of all, translation speed is pretty much fixed. Translators will be able to handle about 2,000 to 2,500 words a day. Since translation agencies usually get paid per word count, they have no reason to go any slower.

Second, quality is non-negociable. You might occasionally accept a lower quality translation if it’s softer on your budget, but most translators’ pride won’t allow for it. Plus, there’s a matter of public image for your company, and even consumer safety, depending on the nature of some documents.

But if you’re budget-conscious, and there’s no reason you shouldn’t be, don’t worry. There are still several easy strategies to reduce translation costs you can implement.

Here are four.


#1. Start to reduce translation costs in the project briefing.

People in a meeting illustrating how to reduce translation costs by having a project briefing.
A clear project briefing will help reduce translation costs.

If you created the content that needs to be translated, you probably are very familiar with it. More than the translation team that you’ll work with. Try to see your documents with the eyes of a layman. Is there anything they wouldn’t be familiar with?

A clear translation project briefing should include – but is not limited to – the following three elements:

  1. A description of the context.
  2. Any useful support.
  3. Any references.

A clear context of how your documents will be used (What, where, whom, when, how) will influence how they are translated. Who’s the target market? Kids? Business travelers? We’ve said before that context influences translations greatly. If your translators start with the context in mind, they’ll save on research and crosschecking, and you’ll save on costs.

Along with the context, send relevant supports. These could be screenshots of the UI where the translation will be implemented, for example. Information on tone, vocabulary, character descriptions and backgrounds, etc. are always time-saving for the translators.

Finally don’t forget references if you have them. Are there previous translations already available? Is the project in continuation with work that has already been done? For example, if you are translating a video game, and there is already a board game version of it, it would greatly help if you could forward that information to the translators.


#2. Establish a terminology and discuss it with the translator.

Someone taking notes. Could be for terminology.
Establishing terminology is time consuming if you don’t have the necessary information about the project.

This almost goes hand-in-hand with the project briefing. It deserves, however, a section of its own.

So much time can be saved by discussing terminology before starting the translation project. Rather than illustrating why it’s a good idea, I’ll show you what can happen if you don’t:

a. The translation team will get to work. They could be working on different sections. As they progress, they notice a few important terms. They’ll spend some time researching, maybe discussing the best way to translate each one. Depending on their interpretation of the term, it could be correct, it could be wrong.

b. They might decide to spend some time creating and updating a glossary.

c. Then comes the proofreading. The reviewer notices the same term has been translated inconsistently. They discuss with the translators, who argue about the best translation.

d. Then the project manager asks you about the terms. You send them an explanation.

So much time wasted. If you skip directly to [d], the project manager will be forever thankful. They’ll know to take into account the time saved creating the glossary, which in turn will reduce translation costs.

Plus, you can keep the glossary for future use. All those terms that are not “new” can be stored in translation memory on the agency’s side, and that sort of work has a lower per-word rate.

Now, for some industries, such as video games and multimedia, terminology is very important. Neologisms and work that builds on previous editions are legion. But even if you are not in a creative industry, you might want to take a few minutes defining the terms you absolutely want to be translated correctly, and what they mean to you. Better safe than sorry.


#3. Select, prioritize, categorize.

Someone working on a computer, to cut text and keep only what needs to be translated.
Decide what is essential to your translation project, and what isn’t.

This one might go against your intuition. At the very least, you might not expect this recommandation from a translation agency. But here it is:

Do you really need to translate everything?

It might very well be the case that some of your content can stay in English. Heck, you might even do with a Google Translation in some cases. Now, we’re not saying you should consider Google Translation as a valid alternative to a professional, proofread translation. Not at all. But if you are looking to get the gist of a text, it might be sufficient.

Go through all your documents up for translation. What can you cut? What do you keep?

To help you decide, here’s a quick (and imperfect) guide:

  1. Keep everything that’s going to be public-facing. Any content that outside sources will view needs a professional translation.
  2. If documents are non-essential to your main message (for example, your company profile when your main goal is to buy products from China), you can remove it.
  3. For internal documents, make a distinction: is there a safety concern if there is a translation mistake here? Will there be consequences to this message being misunderstood? If yes to either, have a professional translation. If not, remove it from the project.
  4. Is there a universally understood way to write this? Look at these instructions. Notice how it’s just drawings. If you can do that, you’ll definitely reduce translation costs, because there will be nothing to translate.

It may seem counterintuitive for a translation agency to recommend this. As a translator, I’d much rather receive a fraction of the project, that I can translate well, than lose the whole project because it’s out of my client’s budget. Plus, the client will receive a high-quality translation of what’s essential, rather than an average translation of everything.


#4. Send work in an editable format to reduce translation costs.

This one is easy to understand. If you send a document that is:

Then the translation project manager will spend time editing, creating forms, and not translating.

If the document is in a language the PM doesn’t understand, then the translator will spend his time transferring information. Arguably, they could translate a PDF directly into another document. That would leave the source text untouched, and give an editable version of the translation. But that’s mainly for smaller projects.

Either way, that’s time-consuming. And that loss of time will be reflected in a higher per-word fee.

Now, what format should you choose?

There are lots of good choices. But if you were to spend some time putting the translation content into a spreadsheet, that would be optimal. The reason why is discussed here.


Ready to send your translation project?

We hope that shed some light on the available strategies you can use to reduce translation costs. Maybe you know other ways, or have more details to give. Feel free to let us know in the comments.

If you’d like to know how much you should budget for your translations, feel free to use the contact page and send your information over for a quick and FREE quote!