“Just do it!” It’s a great motto, but not so much when it comes to translation. Having your work translated seems like a very straightforward task; simply ask a freelancer to translate your work, and have your web developers or web designers implement it, and that’s it — you’re done.
However, there’s often a lot more to it, especially if you underestimate the complexity of translation, and at the end of the day, you will end up paying more for a low quality translation.
In this article, I am going to explain how companies can effectively manage translation projects for the first time as this is a crucial step in taking full control of all of your projects.
Why translation project management is necessary
If your translation needs are basically a one-off project of a 2,000-word, simple text file to one language, you don’t need much management. Nonetheless, like many software or web service development companies, your translation needs to scale up eventually. Bigger scale translation projects include translations of different mediums to different languages done by more than one translator for each language. When several translators are involved, the tone of speech and word choice will most likely be inconsistent. Thus, you need a scalable and organized translation process from the beginning.
That’s not the only challenge you might encounter. Sadly, the translation process is not as easy as a: “Hey, can you translate this?”, followed by a “Sure! Here it is.”. Sometimes, you’ll have to answer to things like, “What’s the context behind these strings?”; “How would you prefer to use the product name? Would you like me to keep it in English or change it to Japanese characters?”; “How did my predecessor translate this?”; or “Sorry, I cannot edit PDF files.”; etc…
If you don’t manage your translation projects well, your translations won’t be consistent and the progress gets too messy to track.
How to manage your first (small) translation project
If, for instance, you are a start-up company, you want to focus on making Minimum Viable Translation. You may indeed want to focus on making MVP(Minimum Viable Product) rather than investing a lot of time and money into a fully-fledged product before you know whether it has the required value, while keeping your product capable of being easily expanded or upgraded on demand.
Focus on translating your work to one language that has a higher potential return of investment. For example, Japan has one of the biggest markets for Bitcoin market, iOS apps, and fashion, and it has the third largest economy. In Japan, English literacy level is low, therefore translating to Japanese is a potentially great investment.
1. Make a list of keywords
The first step is to make a list of keywords that require special attention when translating, such as: people, products and services, menu items, specific terminology, or any other word that needs a consistent translation.
For example, it would be confusing if the translation of a menu item were different on the user interface than on the help page. Even if you’re only working with a single English to Japanese freelancer translator or translation agency, translation can often be inconsistent (( For example, “pre-sales” can be translated to “プレセール”, “プリセール”, “事前セール”, “事前販売”. All of them are right, but if you use all four of them on a one document, it would confuse readers, because they might think those four words represent different things.)) , especially if there is a long gap of time between the first and second project.
Sample Glossary: ICO and Blockchain Glossary
2. Extract texts to give to translators
Most translators charge per a certain amount of words. They need to know the number of words in your project in order to give you an accurate quote.
When you want your Microsoft Word documents to be translated, it’s easy for translators to quote because Microsoft Word has a built-in word counting feature. Nevertheless, when you wish to translate your website or the user interface of a software, it can come to be quite complicated.
For example, Microsoft Word thinks there are 5 words in “<a href=” http://hayataki-masaharu.jp/ui-translation/”>Link</a>” when only one word needs to be translated.
You must also consider that Microsoft Word cannot count the text on images, either.
The best way to receive an accurate quote from translators is to extract and send the text in need of translation.
3. Decide the scope of the translators’ tasks
It goes without saying, but translators cannot edit your website. I mean, some of them have front-end development skills like I do, but they need back-end access to your website to edit your website.
You need to decide what you need the translators to do for you such as:
- Preparing text to translate
- Implementing the translation to your work
- Adjusting the design of your translated work
Preparing text to translate should not be part of the translators’ tasks. Sometimes, there are pages that are not easily accessible to translators, for instance, the “thank you” page after purchasing.
On the other hand, having translators implementing translated text to your work has a practical benefit. They can verify how the final product will look while they are implementing it.
If you want to implement a translated text by your designers or developers, I recommend using google spreadsheet and a parallel list of source text and translated text so that your designers and developers can easily understand where to place each text.
Sample spreadsheet: Sample Translation spreadsheet
Also, keep in mind that when you translate a User Interface text, you have to make sure you include variables in your spreadsheet. In different languages, the position of words vary. For example, in English, you write a number after “more than” or “less than”, but in Japanese, the same number will be written before “以上” which means “more than” or “or more”. On the following image, “him” is the last word in English and the first word in Japanese. Some employers don’t consider this to be different, and ask me to translate “I send email to”. I can easily assume that after the preposition “to”, a variable will replace a name or a pronoun.
4. Finding your translator or agency
You have four options of where to find translators:
- Freelance translators
- Translation agencies
- Crowd translation services
- Google Translate
First of all, I must mention that it’s never a good idea to use crowd translations or Google Translate. You will probably end up having to proofread or correct the entire translation. You will almost surely lose credibility to the speakers of the language of your translated text.
Both freelancers and translation agencies hold their own benefits. On one hand, an agency allows you the simplicity of having only one contact point for all your translating needs.
On the other hand, freelance translators always offer cheaper a per-word rate and often a much better quality. I cannot stress this enough — not all agencies are skilled or reliable.
Where to find freelance translators
There are various websites where you can find freelancers like: freelancer.com, upwork.com, and peopleperhour.com. My personal favorites are freelancer.com and upwork.com being that the former has a lower commission, but you can find more projects and freelancers on the latter.
How to screen a freelancer
To be completely honest with you, it’s challenging to find genuinely skilled and trustworthy freelancers on crowdsourcing websites. Even if you clearly say “English to Japanese translation project. Natives only!!!”, many translation agencies will bid the minimum rate on your projects without having any native Japanese translator on their team.
Ask freelancers to send you their previous samples of their work, their LinkedIn profile, and ask them to answer some translation related questions like “How do you want to proceed?” or “Tell me about your experience in legal translations.”. If they are truly professional translators who care about quality, they will give you clear and concise answers like you see in my blog articles, that can only be written by people who actually have experience — not just a “We have experience.” response, which anybody can easily lie about.
It’s also useful to tell your freelancer that you will mention or tweet about the one who translated your website. No translator wants to show the whole world a poor quality translation sample.
The market price for English to Japanese translation is 35 USD per hour or 0.08- 0.12 USD per word. However, you find freelancers who charge less than 0.04 USD per word. Unfortunately, many “translators” out there either give you machine translated and non-proofread text, or they are native Japanese speakers who don’t really care about the quality of their work or the success of your business. Hiring a translator purely for their budget pricing is like getting a Chinese tattoo — it looks cool but that permanent mark on your back says “chicken noodle soup”.
5. Consider using a CAT tool
The biggest benefit of using translation agencies is that you don’t have to directly manage translators. You give your translation coordinator a file and they will return a translated version to you.
Contrary to popular belief, translation agencies don’t have the advantage of volume over freelancers. Translation is a labor intensive service, therefore the size of a company has very little impact on the productivity of each translator. It’s not like one translator in a company of 1,000 translators can translate more words per an hour than a freelance translator.
So, why hire an agency? The answer to that, is that you can enjoy the simplicity of having only one contact point to manage all your translations.
Although, you can contemplate simplifying the translation management process by using crowd translation management tools, so that you don’t need to work with translation agencies who will charge two or three times more than freelancers.
Here are some paid translation management tools:
You can also use open source tools. However, be aware that you’ll need some technical background and a server to host the software.
- Zanata: Community powered translation
- Home – GlobalSight
- translate5 – open source web-based translation system
- Online translation tool | Pootle
- Weblate – web-based translation
These tools will help both you and freelance translators complete your translations consistently and efficiently.
If you don’t want to invest money by using the paid translation management tools or invest your time working with the open source translation management tools, I recommend Google Translator Toolkit.
6. Ask your translator to revise the final product
It’s quite essential to have your translators double-check the final work. The translation of your text might be perfect, but the design of the website or the brochure might look weird in the translated version. Personally, I don’t want to have a poorly designed translated website or brochure on my portfolio.
In general, I wouldn’t recommend hiring proofreaders due to a conflict of interest. No matter how good a translation is, proofreaders have a financial incentive to say “this translation is really bad. You should fire him and hire me.”. Instead of hiring a proofreader, ask your translator to proofread the final product.
“I really hate it when clients just want text translated” – a comment from a reader on my blog.
I agree with him. I care about the overall quality of a translation, and so should you because it’s your product, service, website, brochure and/or business. Hiring a translator who can also help you manage your translation project will serve you well in the end.