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Why Relying on Distributors for Translation is Often a Bad Idea

Or, “but they’re fluent…”!

Many companies rely on their agents or independent distributors to handle translation. Usually, the thinking goes something like this: “We’ll let our distributor in country X translate our product datasheet there; they are fluent, and letting them do it will save us time and money.” Unfortunately, too often the opposite result occurs and companies end up spending more time and more money — for an inferior translation — than they would have if they had used a full-service, professional translation provider. Why? The following are a few reasons.

Loss of Quality

While it is true that a distributor in Germany, for example, will have people who are fluent German speakers — this doesn’t mean that they can perform a quality translation from English.

  • What level of command do they have of the English language?
  • Will they be familiar with specific terminology in English?
  • What kind of linguistic background do they have?
  • How will they handle tough idiomatic challenges or English words/phrases that simply do not make sense in German?

Finally, who will review their work? (see our blog entry on The role of the internal reviewer). In most cases, the coordinator of the project, typically does not speak all the languages in which the document will be produced. This means they are incapable of judging the quality of the translation (accuracy, tone, register, technical terminology, etc.) — and they cannot know whether they have received an inferior translation. Therefore, the coordinator has no choice but to trust the agent/distributer and hope the translation(s) generates no negative feedback for the company.

The Clock is Ticking

Handing translation work off to distributors can create a nightmare in terms of coordination and efficiency. If a company has a product datasheet that it wants translated into seven languages, how much time will pass before all seven distributors get round to doing the work? Surprisingly enough, although the distributor is the most interested party in getting the materials translated, this work often takes several weeks… or even months!

Unexpected Costs

Naturally, if you spend a lot of time trying to chase down distributors for a translation project, you are not able to perform other responsibilities, and are therefore not concentrating on your core business. There is a huge opportunity cost associated with this approach.

The Risks of an Inferior Translation

This approach has several potential risks:

  • Getting a poor translation that fails to accurately capture a marketing message or technical details
  • Ending up with different messages in different markets, therefore losing brand consistency and image
  • Mis-translating product warnings and other legal content which is simply too important to hand over to non-professional translators.

How to reduce translation costs

At QuickSilver Translate, we take an integrated approach to the translation process, which reduces translation costs considerably. We use state-of-the-art translation software which speeds up the process. For example, we use Glossaries and create a client-specific Translation Memory for each of our clients. This enables us to offer considerable discounts on ‘repetitions’ (text that has already been translated in this, or a previous document). A streamlined approach reduces the need for large numbers of people to be involved. It also reduces the number of emails to be sent!

Moreover, the fact that we can integrate Desktop Publishing (DTP) and translation also makes considerable savings. This means that by implementing a more optimised process, you will save on designer fees. It also leads to savings on updates — next years datasheet or Catalogue, for example. By integrating the DTP, we can analyse your updated document, isolate the changes and only translate the new and updated copy.

To summarise, the key is to think about the multilingual documentation process as a whole. And to optimise that process. It isn’t just about translation; it’s about design, translation, internal review and desktop publishing. It’s also about next years’ documentation, and the ease with which you can make amends or updates in the future.

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