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Why Relying on Agents or Distributors for Translation is Often a Bad Idea

Many companies rely on their independent distributors to handle translation. Usually, the thinking goes something like this: “We’ll let our distributor in country X translate our product data-sheet 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 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.

  1. 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? 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 client reviewers in corporate translation projects”)
  2. Time: 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 7 languages, how much time will pass before all 7 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…!!!
  3. Cost: 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.
  4. Risk: This approach has several potential risks:
    • the risk of getting a poor translation that fails to accurately capture a marketing message or technical details
    • the risk of ending up with different messages in different markets, therefore losing brand consistency and image
    • the risk of mis-translating product warnings and other legal content which is simply too important to hand over to non-professional translators.

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