Or, why the French don’t use preservatives in their food, and why Germans don’t give each other gifts.
When translating one language to another, there are certain traps that professional translators will likely be aware of that others may not be. These linguistic traps are known as “false friends”.
A “false friend” is a word in a language that has a correspondingly similar word in a different language. However, those words do not have the same, or even vaguely similar, meanings. When translating one language to another they feel as if they are an easy substitution, but they are not. They are a trap, and one that can end up with you writing something very different than what you originally intended.
Similar words in different languages
There are huge numbers of words in different languages that both sound the same and have the same meaning. In English more so than ever, as the language has adopted words from many different languages over the centuries.
The German word “Freund” is obvious to an English speaker. As is the French word “hôtel”, but this obvious familiarity is what causes the problems.
When an inexperienced translator works with a language that they are not perfectly fluent in and comes across a word in the source language that seems to have an obvious synonym in the target language, it is easy to assume they must therefore have the same meaning.
This can lead to some fairly spectacular mistakes in translation.
Let’s look at a few of these false friends:
In the UK, when one person likes another, they may decide to give them a “gift”. As you are almost certainly aware a gift is an item or service given without any expectation of payment. Often given as a sign of affection.
In German, however, if one person were to give another a “gift” then it would most certainly not be a sign of affection! The word “Gift” in German means “poison”. The actual word you would be looking for is “Geschenk”.
In the UK, “preservatives” are often added to food in order to ensure it can be safely stored. Things like sugar, salt, alcohol, or vinegar can act as preservatives for food and have been used for as long as we have been recording such things.
In France, however, the word for an additive that helps prolong the life of a foodstuff is “conservateur”.
The French word “préservatif” translates directly into English as “condom”. Definitely not something to add to your food!
In England, a “gem” is a precious stone, however in Sweden “gem” can be a humble paperclip. The correct word in Swedish is “pärla”.
In England, embarrassment is a short-lived thing. It is a feeling of self-consciousness or shame, usually caused by something that has happened to you in public.
However, the Spanish word “embarazada” means something very different. It translates directly into English as “pregnant”.
In Italy the word “morbido” means pleasantly smooth and soft, certainly not the obviously English equivalent.
The list of false friends is extensive and there is no way we could cover them all here. Words like “fart” and “slut” in Danish, “barf” in Farsi, and “pasta” in Portuguese have all caused problems in translation for many people.
But while it is amusing to look at false friends, there is a slightly more serious side to it.
Costly fails in global branding
Some global brands have had serious problems when they have been caught out by inadvertently using poor translations. I’m not talking about the well-known Chevy Nova story, as that appears to be nothing more than an urban myth, but genuine examples.
When Ford released the Pinto worldwide, they had no idea the name had a very different meaning in Brazil. There, “pinto” is an insult that roughly translates as “small penis”.
Ford also failed to notice that their campaign describing the precision bodywork of their cars was telling Flemish speakers that all of their vehicles came with a high-quality corpse.
The Mitsubishi Pajero did very badly in Spanish-speaking countries as “pajero” is a pejorative used to describe someone who masturbates frequently. The car was renamed the Montero.
And it’s not just cars that have suffered.
When Coors translated its slogan “Turn it loose” into Spanish they failed to notice it was a common term for having diarrhoea.
The fact is, all translators make mistakes from time to time. Which is why here at STAR UK we have systems in place to ensure that these types of errors won’t be made by us. Our translators, whether in-house or freelance, all have higher education qualifications in languages and translation, they work into their native language and most importantly, everything we do is checked by multiple people before it goes out the door.
If you have something important to translate, why not give us a shout?
That way we can hopefully save you the embarrassment of companies like the now bankrupt American airline Brannif International who spent a fortune inadvertently instructing their Spanish-speaking customers to fly naked.
In December 2019, the Association of Translation Companies (hereafter ATC) released new guidance for the usage of their stamp when producing a certified translation.
It was quickly followed by a press release highlighting new research that was initiated by the ATC and which looked at the lack of standardisation in how UK public sector organisations accept certified translations as well as what the ATC calls the “diverging practices” followed by producers of certified translations in the UK.
As ever, this blog aims to lay out all the information a translation buyer might need in order to make an informed decision. We’ve read the research and pulled out the key points, and along with information about how we offer certified translations, we have compiled a short guide that hopefully gives you all the information you need. This article mainly focuses on the requirements for certified translations into English.
What is a certified translation?
A certified translation is required when official documents are needed in a different language. The official documents have a certain legal status – for example, as a proof of identity.
Why does my translation need to be certified?
The translation of an official document obtains the same legal authority as the original document; therefore, the translation must be a true and accurate rendering of the original text.
When might I need a certified translation?
Certified translations are required for legal identity documents such as birth, marriage or death certificates. In some cases, qualification certificates also require a certified translation.
A certified translation is also required for documents submitted as evidence for a court case.
A muddled situation
The published research into certified translations in the UK spoke with government bodies, in order to find out their requirements for documentation, as well as with translation agencies and freelance translators in order to ascertain how they usually deal with these situations.
Of the seven government bodies surveyed, none had published any guidance on their own websites, but did refer to other pages with guidance on this issue. Although, the two other pages that can be found on the gov.uk website issue conflicting instructions on obtaining a certified translation.
Among the translators and translation agencies, there were some differences in how they dealt with certified translations though all agreed on the need to use qualified translators, and including a statement or stamp asserting the quality of the translation.
What is the process for producing a certified translation?
When you contact a translator or translation agency about a certified translation, they should first ask you what you need the translation for.
Although the responsibility for meeting the requirements for documentation and obtaining the correct level of certification lies with the translation purchaser, not the agency, the agency or translator should be able to advise on the best course of action.
If the translation is from English to another language for submission at a foreign government body, you will need to check the requirements stipulated by this official body. Every country has its own set of rules relating to certified translation and failure to comply with these could lead to your translation being rejected.
Once you have discussed your project and agreed exactly what you need as part of the certified translation, the translator or translation agency will take a copy of your original document for their records and so that they can carry out the translation.
The translator or translation agency will complete the translation work and will provide the translations in hard copy format. The certified translation should include a copy of the source text, the translated document in a format that mirrors the original layout as well as a certification statement.
What does the certification statement need to say?
As the ATC-commissioned research indicates, different governmental bodies in the UK request different things. However, in order to cover as many of the requirements as possible, the statement should mention that the translation is a “true and accurate translation of the original document”. It should include the date as well as the name and contact details of the translator or translation agency who carried out the translation.
Do you need an affidavit/notary statement or apostille?
In certain cases, greater levels of certification are required. This may be the case when your certified translation relates to documentation for a court case, or for certain official foreign bodies.
If you require an affidavit or statutory declaration for your translation, the translator must swear an affidavit in front of a magistrate or solicitor. This will state that they carried out the translation, are qualified to do so and that it is an accurate rendering of the original text.
If you require notarised translation services, the translator must visit a Notary Public. Similarly to an affidavit, they make a statement attesting to their qualifications and their ability to carry out the translations. The Notary Public checks their identity and attaches a notarial certificate to the certified translation. It is important that the notarial certificate does not endorse the quality of the translation itself. It can only confirm that the translator’s identity and qualifications were verified by them.
Translation with apostille
An Apostille is a document in the UK issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). It verifies the authenticity of the signature on an official document and ensures that it will be recognised as an official document in all States that have signed the Hague Convention of 1961.
Usually it is the original document that bears the Apostille. Translations cannot be sealed with an Apostille stamp unless they carry a declaration endorsed by a Notary Public, in which case the Apostille refers to the notarial certificate, not the translation itself.
I hope that by the end of this post, things are slightly clearer for you. There is a lot of information to digest, however, the principle of a certified translation is simple. Certified translations should be carried out by a qualified, experienced translator and should be accompanied by some kind of statement attesting to the translation quality.
Translation is a service which changes words or text from one language to another language. A deep understanding of both languages used is vital for this to be accurate.
Thanks to the global connectedness of the internet, this process is popular on websites, search engines, and even social media.
But, translation systems and services vary from country to country. So finding out exactly what translation is, and how it works, can be more complicated than you would first think.
How to Define Translation
The first step to answering the question “what is translation?” is to define the service itself.
Translation is the process of rendering written content from one language into another language.
Correctly translated text or words will convey the same meaning, emotion, and intent as the original message. It will also take into account any potential differences in culture and phrasing between the two languages.
Translation and interpretation are often used synonymously. But, a translator will work with written text, and an interpreter will work orally.
Who Translates Written Language?
Many companies now offer automated services that will do the work for you.
But, the quality of translations can vary. Different companies will perform this service to different standards, and prices will vary depending on this.
For instance, certified translations are required when documents are being translated and sent to governmental bodies.
Written work that is translated to be published will potentially need a higher standard of translation than work that is used for information only. So let’s take a closer look at translation in writing.
What is Translation in Writing?
Translation in writing is important, as this text is often written with the intention of publication.
When translating in writing, the original language is called the source language. But, the language text is being translated to, is called the target language.
When translating writing, especially that which is to be published, the result needs to convey the same intent and meaning as the original text. So, this requires a translator with a solid knowledge of both languages.
To achieve this high standard, ISO 17100 provides an internationally recognised standard to measure translation services against.
This standard suggests translation services and suppliers are qualified when they have an MA (or similar qualification) in translation. Alternatively, when they have a BA in translation paired with 3 years of experience translating full time.
What is Translation Exposure?
Translation is centred around global connections. The exchange of information, products, and services between different places will need at least an element of translation at some point.
So, what about translation exposure? What is that and is it related? In short, no, it is not related to written translation, though it shares the name.
This term is also known as translation risk, or accounting exposure. But each of these names share the same definition.
Translation exposure relates to a company’s income, liabilities, assets, and equities. It is the risk that these elements will change in value as a consequence of exchange rates.
Multinational companies with subsidiaries in other countries are those most at risk of translation exposure.
How Does This Affect Companies?
The main way in which translation exposure affects a company is in financial reporting.
When carrying out financial reporting, any assets and liabilities abroad will need to be translated into the parent company’s home currency.
So, changes in foreign exchange rates will actually cause a change in value for the company itself, in its foreign-based assets and liabilities.
Types of Translation
We’ve looked at one major type of translation in a bit of detail: translation in writing. But what other types are there?
Translation services often vary in price depending on the type of translation they are doing.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the options out there.
Information Only Translations
We’ve taken a brief look at translation in writing, where the text is likely to be published following translation.
However, some written work will be translated for information only. So, people intend to use the information provided, but aren’t going to be professionally publishing the work for a target audience.
This type of translation is a little less high-pressured than other types. But, it is still important that the information is correct with the same content and voice.
What is translation in a legal sense?
There are plenty of legal documents that need to be translated. These include contracts, company policies, and terms and conditions.
However, legal translations often require certain qualifications. It might need a certified translator in order to achieve the right standard.
Because of this, legal translation services may cost a lot more than other types of translation.
This usually involves translating documents such as manuals, safety information, specifications, and technical sheets.
These topics usually involve in depth research skilled, or a high level of technical knowledge on top of the knowledge of the two languages involved.
This huge amount of knowledge brings with it a higher cost.
So, let’s recap what we’ve looked at.
Translation is the process of rendering text from one language to another. This can be for legal documents, technical documents, or even just for interactions on social media.
Whatever the purpose, it requires an in-depth knowledge of the source language and the target language. Accurate translations often also need translators with a good knowledge about the subject of the text.
Global interaction and increased levels of connection over the world have prompted a rise in these services and their importance.
But, various translation services will vary in cost and potentially in quality depending on the certifications of the translator. Prices are often based on the material being translated, and the purpose for which it will be used.
The value of translation feedback for professional translators
All professional translators and translation agencies will, or at least should, set great store by the quality of their work. After all, translations are not just words on a page; they are a means of spreading a message.
Whether the translation contains important safety information or will be used for the marketing launch of a new product, mistakes can be costly.
Translation feedback is therefore vitally important for professionals in the industry, both from their customers and from translation colleagues.
The importance of this translation feedback has been enshrined in the ISO 17100 translation quality standard.
The ISO 17100 standard stipulates that all translations should receive a review by a separate translator, with translation feedback being shared with the original translator. It also lays out a requirement for language service providers to handle client feedback in a defined process.
The 4-eye principle
The translation philosophy across the STAR Group is built on the 4-eye principle.
It might sound strange, but this basically means that four eyes take a look over every project. Two belonging to a translator, and two belonging to a reviewer.
In other words, every project is reviewed and there is the opportunity for translation feedback on every piece of work that a translator submits.
In practise, this works in one of two ways. Either two translators either work in conjunction on a project, such as display texts, or translation projects undergo a separate review by a second translator before being delivered to the client.
Where a separate review step is carried out, the reviewer (or reviser to use the ISO 17100 terminology) completes a translation feedback sheet to list all changes made to the text.
What are we actually checking when we review a translation?
In essence, we are checking that the translation is fit for its intended purpose. That means that it must contain no errors, either of spelling or grammar, but also that it should be suited to its intended audience. The translation of a medical report shouldn’t use any slang words for body parts, for example.
As part of our standard workflow at STAR, we also include a string of quality checks into every project. Therefore, in addition to reading through the translations and checking for misunderstandings, the reviewer also checks terminology, spelling and formatting to ensure that the end text is fit for purpose.
The translation feedback sheet is a form detailing the type of error found in the project and provides examples of each. We have 20 categories ranging from mistranslations and terminology errors through to grammar and punctuation mistakes.
This might be overkill, but we don’t think so. It can be really useful to the translator to see if they make the same type of error over and over again.
Every translation feedback sheet is automatically made available to the translator, whether part of our in-house team or a freelancer.
Our translation feedback process aims to share a list of changes made due to errors being made, but also changes that were made for other reasons, such as to comply with terminology preferences or an in-house style guide.
By sharing the feedback sheets, we ensure that key customer knowledge is shared across the team and that each translator is able to see any errors that they make frequently, allowing them to fix this.
January can be a strange month. The new year brings a metaphorical clean slate. We feel that now is our chance to change anything we choose.
Yet, at the same time, we spend a lot of our time musing on the previous year. Did we achieve everything we set out to do? Is there anything we should do differently going forward?
With all this in mind, January seems to be a great time to look at your translation purchasing and look for ways to reduce translation costs. It might be easier than you think to save money on translation.
Cheap is not necessarily cheapest
Before you start scouring the internet for a new translation supplier in an effort to reduce translation costs, I’m here to tell you that it’s not necessary.
Sure, some translators are cheaper than others, but this doesn’t give the whole picture.
At the same time as looking at the invoice costs, consider the value provided by your translation supplier.
In many cases, a professional translation agency offers additional services, such as proofreading and quality checks.
Using a non-professional translator or a freelancer might be a way to reduce translation costs, but this could have a negative impact on the translation quality.
Instead, this blog article will look at ways to reduce translation costs by optimising your text and your processes.
Professional translations are usually priced on a per-word basis. We touched on this in our Translation 101 and looked at it in more detail in an earlier blog post.
If you are looking to reduce translation costs, reducing the number of words in your project is a simple place to start.
Of course, I’m not suggesting that you omit important information in your quest to reduce translation costs. However, there are two things to look at here:
Is your text repetitive or very wordy?
You can reduce translation costs by removing repetitive warnings, ensuring that you use direct language wherever possible, and by using bullet point lists rather than long paragraphs of explanation.
Is all of your content relevant to all markets?
If you are localising your website for a new audience, you can easily reduce translation costs by being discerning about which content you choose to translate.
You could choose to only translate information about certain product lines, or to be selective with case studies or blog articles.
A simple way to reduce translation costs is to increase translation memory reuse.
Translation memory software stores “segments” of text so that they can be reused by translators in future projects. It looks for exact matches and partial matches from your content.
Increasing the amount of pretranslated matches and reducing the amount of completely new content is a sure-fire way to reduce your translation costs.
This will not be possible for every project. Information about a brand-new product is likely to be mainly new content, however, technical manuals, safety information and even marketing campaigns can include similar content.
For example, every technical manual contains warnings and safety information. Any warnings or safety information that are common to multiple products can be directly copied. When it comes to translation, they will be pretranslated matches and will cost less. A simple way to reduce translation costs!
To give another example, if a marketing campaign comprises web banners, print ads and point of sale collateral, the same slogan and taglines will appear on each item.
Another facet of increasing leverage from translation memory in order to reduce translation costs is to restrict editing.
It can be tempting to make a few tweaks to existing content to “freshen it up”. Or even to “improve” on a colleague’s work. Yet these small changes can quickly lead to considerable cost increases.
Look after the pennies
Changing one word in a ten-word sentence will cause the whole sentence to be considered as a partial match, rather than a complete match. Depending on the pricing structure, this could cause the cost for that one sentence to double or even triple.
Although we are talking about “mere pennies” for each sentence, the costs quickly spiral if that one sentence is translated to multiple languages and similar edits appear throughout your document.
Over a year, the additional (and potentially unnecessary) costs could reach hundreds of pounds.
My last point in this section is to create “translation-friendly content”. My internal jargon alarm just sounded as I typed that, so I’ll explain further.
You are looking to write content that is easy to translate and that is more likely to deliver translation memory matches in future projects:
Consistent grammatical structure
Make sure there are no typos or grammar errors
Use the same terminology throughout
Fail to plan, plan to fail?
It might not be immediately obvious how planning can help reduce translation costs. For me, there are three points to consider here.
It is not always possible to avoid projects with short turnarounds. Life happens and sometimes, delays are inevitable. When you have a fixed publish deadline and limited time for translation, it is common practise for agencies to charge a rush fee for the project.
Sometimes these are a flat fee, but more often, they are a percentage charge on top of the translation cost.
Sending a quick heads-up to your translation agency partner to let them know about the project might help you to avoid these and thereby reduce your translation costs. Simply tell them how big the project is and when you need it for.
They should be able to tell you how long they would need for translation so you can factor this into your schedule. If you already know that the turnarounds will be short, they may be able to suggest ways of working that will help you to meet these tight deadlines.
Incur a minimum number of minimum fees
Generally speaking, a minimum fee is incurred when the total number of chargeable words within a project is below a certain threshold. Your translator will always do a certain amount of project admin, regardless of whether the project contains 10 or 10,000 words. The minimum fee is used to cover their time for this admin work.
If you send 10 words every day, then it’s possible that you will be charged a minimum fee every day. These can quickly add up, and for anyone looking to reduce translation costs, reducing minimum fees should be a priority.
Planning ahead is key in this regard.
If your recurring minimum fees are short social media posts, then collecting every post that you intend to publish within a month can be a simple way to avoid multiple minimum fees and reduce translation costs.
Or, perhaps your recurring minimum fees are additional buttons or labels from a larger project. It is easy to overlook text, or to have additional requirements appear at last minute. At STAR UK, we’re happy to gather all of these labels into one minimum fee over a period of time. All you need to do is give us a little bit of prior warning.
Use white space wisely
My final point in this section is that you can reduce your translation costs by planning your document layouts carefully.
What?! I hear you say. How does that work?
I have touched on this in a few previous blog posts; text expands and contracts depending on the language combination. For example, a paragraph in German will take up more space than the same paragraph translated into English.
By allowing space for your translations to expand into, you reduce the DTP requirement for your documents, thereby reducing your translation costs.
Just one translation supplier
Working with just one agency partner is a simple way to reduce your translation costs.
Every translation agency builds up their own store of translation memory for their customers and they use it for each project that they receive from them. Although you might think that it is beneficial to you to use one agency for technical texts and another for marketing texts, there can be a surprising amount of overlap between the two.
This feeds into my point about reusing as much as possible – agency A cannot reuse material that is stored by agency B; they don’t know it exists!
Working with one agency can also reduce your translation costs over time. Long-term partnerships lead to better knowledge of your projects and your material. Your agency partner will be familiar with how you work and they might be able to suggest process improvements that you have not previously considered.
Use technology to your advantage
Again, I touched on this one already. Translation technology was designed with the aim of reducing translation costs by speeding up translation and aiding reuse of existing material.
Using editable files allows this translation memory software to be used. You can easily build up stores of reference material for future projects that will help to reduce your translation costs in the future.
It’s important when looking at your editable files to make sure that all of the text is editable. Picture labels might be embedded in images and therefore not recognised by the translation software. In these cases, there may be additional charges for DTP work, or minimum fees to deal with the missed text.
My last point for this post actually relates to your own workflow as a customer, rather than ours as a supplier. Making workflow changes internally will obviously not reduce translation costs directly, yet you might be surprised at how much time you can free up with just a few small amends.
So, is your internal workflow as streamlined as it could be?
One key tip that I could offer at this point is to make sure that you are working in the final file type. Rather than copying your InDesign or web copy into an MS Word file for translation, try asking your agency partner to work directly in the INDD or XML files.
You could save yourself many long hours of copy-pasting!
The same applies for using your own multilingual staff to work on translation tasks. In many cases, they were not originally hired as a translator so they already have a full schedule of tasks to complete. If your employee is working on translation work, they are not working on their main tasks.
The above points are only a few examples of cost-saving measures, but I hope they prove that your first step should not be to change supplier. In my experience, most customers can see immediate cost savings by implementing one or several of these tips.
Recently, we published a piece that aimed at answering translation FAQs from across the internet. If you’re interested, you can read the whole article here. One of the questions that we touched on was “What makes a good translator?”
It’s a topic that appears time and time again, so today I’ll be looking at the qualities or attributes that make a good translator.
There’s a plethora of articles out there, and reassuringly, they largely agree with my own thoughts on the matter. So here goes, my top five skills that a good translator needs:
What makes a good translator?
Writing skills in the target language
Knowledge of the source language and its culture
Attention to detail
Although I’ve restricted myself to five attributes here, I really struggled to cut the list down that far.
I’m the main blog writer here at STAR UK HQ, but I usually do a little bit of crowdsourcing/sense checking when I write these articles. I can always be sure that prompts about required skills for translation will generate lively discussion. In fact, I was inundated with responses.
We are unusual in that we have a large in-house team, and of course, they are all skilled translators in their various specialisms. They all have their own opinions about what makes a good translator and they have examples to back up those opinions.
In addition to this, they have all reviewed bad translations and can pinpoint the skill that was lacking on those occasions.
Do you know any translation ninjas?
Chances are you’re aware of what a ninja is – in pop culture, it’s a person who moves and acts without being seen. You might be pulling a slightly confused face as to why I’ve introduced a ninja into the middle of my blog about good translators. However, I do have a point to make.
When it comes to translations, and particularly good ones, the aim is to create a target language version that contains all of the information from the source text and creates the same reaction in the reader as the original language version.
A good translator recognises that there is nothing in the above definition that mentions them. In short, a good translator should be invisible.
I can explain further.
The internet is full of product descriptions that don’t quite hit the mark – we find that questions can be asked to the customer service team, or that a product convinces with its top quality. We even see many companies claiming that their experts have extensive Know-How in certain fields.
For any German speakers reading this, it is immediately obvious that these are translated sentences. They follow the original text just a little too closely and cause a native English speaker to pause for just a moment.
A good translator needs to have excellent writing skills in their target language to avoid replicating these mistakes. If they do their job well, there is no evidence that they were ever there, and they can claim to be a translation ninja.
Source language skills
Really, this one should go without saying; it’s rather a given that a translator must have good knowledge of their source language.
It’s an almost universal requirement of BA language courses in the UK that students spend an extended period of time in a country where their chosen language is spoken. It is perhaps the best way to gain an in-depth understanding of your host culture and the nuances of language.
These nuances of language are important. A good translator can pick up on these nuances and convey them in their target text.
In some languages, source language skills are the difference in recognising, or not, such tenses as the conditional, pluperfect and subjunctive.
These source language skills can easily be overlooked in favour of someone who can write persuasively in the required target language. If it sounds good, does it matter if it’s accurate?! Well, yes!
Can you spot a typo at fifty paces?
Within the office, I’m a well-known stickler for correct formatting. I like everything to be perfectly aligned, and I derive great satisfaction from improving dodgy table layouts. Don’t judge me…!
This attention to detail also stands me in good stead when I translate.
It is one thing to understand the source text and to accurately render it into the target language. But if your submitted draft is littered with typing errors, then you cannot presume to call yourself a good translator.
In my opinion though, attention to detail extends further than just the ability to spot typing errors.
At the end of every translation project, we run a QA check known as the “format check”. It looks at punctuation, spacing and whether text formatting has been copied over into the target text. (Among other things, it’s a bit more complicated than that!).
The format check makes sure that a document is ready to be published. It cannot replace a final proofreading step once the text is in its final layout. Yet, it enables us to make sure of the little things.
For example, It makes sure that a sentence starts with a capital letter and ends with a full stop. This sounds like such an obvious check that you might wonder if it is necessary, but unfortunately, it often flags oversights in a text.
The translation industry is fast paced, and deadlines are always strict. A good translator pays attention to the little things during the project, meaning that my post-review check routine takes less time. All project managers out there can attest to the level of gratitude we feel to the translator when QA checks run without a hitch.
Considering your next tattoo?
In a tale that has become STAR UK folklore, one of our in-house team told of their interview to join the company. Many moons ago, this interviewee, who was fresh out of their Masters course, was confronted with the question “What should a good translator have tattooed on their eyelids?”
I don’t think I can overstate the importance of common sense when translating. A good translator will be able to use this common sense to identify the most sensible translation for a specific context. (Hint: If you see a technical German text that mentions a Feder, it’s most likely that they are talking about a spring, not a feather!)
A good translator can also apply this common sense to issues that arise during translation, such as how to deal with acronyms or ambiguous sentences.
As a project manager, I can’t emphasise strongly enough how important this can be. I mentioned earlier that our in-house team can all tell stories of when they have reviewed texts completed by a good translator and also by a less skilled translator.
Often, the difference between the two is their use of common sense when it comes to any problems posed by the translation.
We do not expect our translators to know every piece of technical terminology that might crop up in a text, and texts often include company-specific acronyms that can only be interpreted by a member of staff. Queries are therefore par for the course, and something that we deal with on a regular basis.
A good translator will recognise that the English company commissioning the translation of a German report will probably not be able to help with some of their queries. They therefore would word their query as “I’m not sure of X, but my best suggestion is Y”. It makes a much better impression than: “I have no idea what X means, so I guessed”. More often than not, the guess is completely implausible and makes no sense…
I know there are many industries out there where your level of education and the qualifications you hold are paramount. In a way, the translation industry is no different.
The ISO 17100 standard for translation requires translators to have higher-education qualifications in either a language or translation, or extensive full-time practical experience in the field before they can be considered as being compliant.
If we consider the ISO standard as a measure of whether someone is a good translator or not, then qualifications are indeed important.
However, the ISO standard also allows for translators who have five or more years of full-time translation experience.
A translation course gives you a great grounding in translation theory. You have the opportunity to gain professional feedback on your work and to work on a variety of texts away from the pressure of customer expectations and tight turnaround times.
In our experience however, the qualification is just a basis on which to build. You’ll notice that I left it to the end of my list of attributes for a good translator, and I did it for a specific reason.
At STAR UK, we love hiring new Masters graduates and giving them their first job in the industry. Yet we know that it is the start of their career, and when we have multiple applicants with the same qualifications, we look at the whole picture. Can they write nicely in English? Do they have any common sense? Do they display attention to detail?
Translation skills can be learnt, but some things can’t be taught.
Today, we’re continuing with our self-appointed mission to help translation buyers and we’re working through some of the main FAQs that we see across the internet. Let’s start with the fundamentals.
What is a translation?
When looking at any translation services definition, it’s important to state first off that translation relates to written content. When it comes to spoken language, interpreting is the service that is required. However, let’s avoid tangents and get back to a specific translation services definition.
You may (or may not) be aware that there is an internationally recognised standard for delivering translation services (ISO 17100). It provides the following translation services definition:
“Intangible product that is the result of an interaction between a client and a Translation Services Provider”.
So. That’s clear, right? In case you’re still feeling a bit confused, I humbly suggest the below definition:
Translation is the process of rendering written content from one language into another language.
Although not a necessary part of the definition of translation, I would also add one key point. It is important that the aforementioned translation is completed by a qualified and experienced translator. Unfortunately, using any old French speaker or someone with a long-neglected O Level probably won’t be sufficient for business purposes.
How are translation services priced?
We’ve already looked at pricing for translation services in our Ultimate Guide to Translation, and we have also looked at per-word pricing in greater depth. If asked how much translation costs, it’s near impossible to give an exact figure when placed on the spot – language combination and text type will affect the price.
What we can say though is that when it comes to pricing for any service, the key is transparency. Everyone involved in the transaction wants to be sure that they know what work is required and how much money will be charged. Prices for translation services in the UK are no exception to this.
For this reason, the majority of prices for translation services in the UK are based on an analysis of the source text.
For Western languages, analysis is usually carried out per source word, though other units include per line or per page. It’s easy to see why – words are easily countable, so both purchaser and supplier can be certain what the cost of a project will be with no nasty surprises. For Asian languages, characters is the preferred unit. One glyph in Chinese is equivalent to a word (roughly), so again transparency of effort vs. cost can be achieved.
An alternative to source analysis is the target count price. The basic principle behind this strategy to work out prices for translation services in the UK is to consider the “work” done by a translator, and again it provides an unequivocal measure of work completed, leading to a transparent cost. However, when translating from one language to another, the amount of words used will change, sometimes dramatically. French to English word counts often decrease; whereas German to English increases in word count. This adds complexity to a quotation – target analysis quotations can only ever give you an estimate of how many words might be in your target text so the final price will be different.
When comparing prices for translation services in the UK, it can be difficult to know which is cheapest if they are using different means of analyses. However, it is worth bearing in mind that rates are usually adapted to account for word count increases or decreases, thus leading to a roughly equivalent end cost. To give an example: For a German source text, a translator may have to type significantly more words when translating to English, and a target word price will be adapted accordingly.
The main situation where a target count is agreed upon is in the case of a non-editable file. If the only copy of a source text is a PDF scan, it is a long and arduous task to count each word. Yet if a target price is agreed upon, billing is based upon the end result and both client and translator can be sure of a transparent price.
Why do we need translation?
As I reach the third section of this blog, I wonder if I should have put this question front and centre at the top of the page. Here I am, writing copy to explain the various facets of language translation services, but I didn’t start with the ultimate question. Do we even need translation? We sometimes ignore the fact that not everyone is convinced that translation is actually necessary to start with.
So. Let’s lay out the facts:
The world as we know it is shrinking every day. The process of globalisation has led to the world being increasingly interconnected thanks to trade and cultural exchange.
Thanks to the internet (among other things), we can purchase goods from and communicate with China just as easily as if they were down the road from us.
Language translation services might not be responsible for the technological advancements that make that happen, yet they are paramount to its success.
In order to buy a product from China, we need to understand the product description and price. Similarly, in order to sell a product to China, the consumer will need to understand your own product information to be sure of what they are buying.
Leaving aside the widely published statistics about customers preferring to purchase in their own language, a customer cannot buy a product if they do not have any knowledge of the language. Language translation services therefore facilitate global trade.
What is a certified translation?
A certified translation is a translation that has been completed by a certified translator or that has been certified by a registered company. Certified translations are often required for translations of identity documents that will be submitted to governmental bodies.
Each country has a different system for certified or sworn translations. Many countries have a recognised program and accreditation to be completed, thus allowing the translator to claim the status of “sworn translator” or “certified translator”.
There is no equivalent in this country, therefore translation services in the UK have to use a slightly different process if they are selling translations into English. There is currently no official system in the UK for assessing and registering certified translators.
Instead, the translation supplier provides a form of certification that attests to the accuracy and quality of the translation.
There are several official bodies for translation in the UK; the ITI, CIOL and ATC. You can learn more about each one in our Ultimate Guide to Translation.
What are the types of translation?
This is quite a tricky question to answer as it could have several different answers.
When it comes to pricing for translations, there are two main price differentiators (aside from the language combination). The first is the purpose of the translation; whether it is needed for information only or whether it will be published.
For translations that are required for information only, accuracy is important, but there is not the same focus on the text as in cases where the final text will be published.
The second price differentiator for translations is the text type. For example, legal translation services or technical translation services.
Legal translations can be more expensive than other types. Translators have often completed additional qualifications to support them with their translations and prices reflect this. Legal translations often include contracts, terms and conditions and certain company policies.
Technical translation services relate to the translation of technical documentation such as technical sheets, specifications, manuals and safety information. Certain technical specialisms command higher prices as they are so highly specialised and require such in-depth research skills.
What makes a good translator?
Buying translation services can be a confusing process. In many cases, the buyer may not be very familiar with the service that they are buying. Added to this, it can be very difficult to judge the quality of a translation if you are not experienced in translation and have knowledge of both languages.
If you cannot judge the quality of the output, you want to know that the supplier is qualified and experienced. For this reason, the concept of a certified translator can be reassuring; someone else has tested and approved them previously!
However, it is important to be aware that the UK does not have an official system of certified translators. Never fear though, there are other ways to judge whether someone is a good translator.
The ISO 17100 standard for translation considers suppliers to be qualified if they have an MA in Translation or similar, or a BA in Translation or a foreign language plus three years’ full-time translation experience.
In addition, there are official bodies such as the ITI (Institute of Translation and Interpreting) and CIOL (Chartered Institute of Linguists). Both of these organisations offer assessment programs for translators. Possessing MITI status or the DipTrans qualification can go some way to assuaging a customer’s worries about potential output quality.
Yet perhaps this doesn’t get to the core of the question. In my experience, qualifications and experience are a good basis for judging whether a translator is good or not. They show that they have the theory and knowledge to deliver a good translator. However, to be a good translator, you also need a few additional attributes.
You need to have creative flair in your target language, you need excellent attention to detail, and you need to be able to research terminology and concepts in depth.
Only when you can claim to combine qualifications with these skills, can you claim to be a good translator. In my opinion, at least!
Can I translate my own documents?
For the average Joe (or Josephine) on the street, their only contact with the translation industry is when they require a translation for some of their official documents. They might have moved to the UK from abroad and need translations for their identification documents, or perhaps they are planning a move and want to make sure that their new host country will accept their proof of identity.
I’ll make a generalisation that often, such people are bilingual to some degree, and the temptation is there to save costs and to translate their own documents for submission to official bodies.
Unfortunately, in these cases, certified translation services are required, and a self-made translation will not be sufficient for their needs.
The term “certified translation services” refers to translations of official documents that undergo various levels of certification to guarantee that they are a true and accurate representation of the original source text.
These levels of certification vary between countries and languages. Each country has its own requirements for which quality guarantees are needed, as well as having their own systems for “sworn” or certified translators.
There is therefore no one size fits all definition of certified translation services, but there’s no need for panic. Translation agencies are used to dealing with these types of projects and will be able to advise on the specific requirements for an individual’s situation.
What makes a good translation?
A good translation is one that is an accurate rendering of the original text with no errors or omissions, as well as one that replicates the spirit and tone of the original in order to create the same effect on the reader as the original language version.
When you order professional translation services, you expect that your translation will have all of the characteristics above.
Every word in the original text should appear in the translation and it should be translated correctly for the context. Be wary of any “false friends” that look like they should be the correct translation yet have a completely different meaning in the target language.
Most important though, for good quality professional translation services the effect on the reader should be the same. If the original text is a powerful marketing piece, the translation should also use impactful and convincing language.
What qualities should a translator have?
STAR UK is a relative rarity among translation agencies, as we have an in-house team of translators working on our projects. We pride ourselves on delivering top translation services, and we find that this is the best way of ensuring we provide quality translations to our customers. For this reason, we know what we think are useful qualities for a translator.
For this question, I’m going to interpret qualities as soft skills, rather than personality attributes. I don’t believe that there is one personality type or a set of qualities that will make a translator good or bad. Our team is testament to the diverse world of translators and we think that every one of them helps us to provide top translation services to our customers.
While pondering this question, I actually came up with a very long list, so you can be sure that this topic will form a longer blog post in future weeks. Yet if I were forced to choose only three attributes, I think I would say that common sense, creative writing skills in the target language and the ability to work independently for at least part of the day.
Do I need to be certified to translate documents?
A quick Google search of document translation services will provide an array of results all claiming to offer “certified translations”. But what does this really mean? Do you need certification of your document translations?
Generally speaking, if your requirement for document translation services relates to proof of identity, you will require certified translations of your documents.
In the UK, we have no official system for certified translators, but it is considered best practise to have translations carried out by a registered agency or a translator that is a member of an official body such as the ITI or the CIOL. So, if you want to provide document translation services for birth, marriage or death certificates to give just a few examples, then you would need formal qualifications in translation or a language.
What skills do translators need?
I touched on this early in the article when I discussed what qualities a translator should have. To deliver high-quality professional human translation, there are a few important attributes that a translator must have.
Personally, I think that research skills are key to delivering good professional human translation. Translators have specialisms; a specialist subject if you like. Though even if a translator spends the majority of their time translating a tractor manual, there will still be occasions when they need to research a new component or technology that has just been developed.
Secondly, the key differentiator for machine translation versus professional human translation is the translator’s ability to manipulate language. Machine translation struggles to decipher and to replicate puns or word play and cannot appreciate the same nuances of language. For this reason, writing skills in the target language are also important.
Does Google translate cost?
Most people know that there are google translation services. It’s simple enough – enter source language content into one box, select the required target language and press go. It is a free-to-use service available to anyone with an internet connection. The short answer to the question is therefore no. Google Translate does not cost.
However, there are hidden drawbacks to google translation services that can actually make it costly for your business.
Google translation services use the vast amounts of data available to Google in order to generate translations. As the translations are provided by a machine, it cannot judge between the quality of two translations of a term and its output may be quite poor. For this reason, if a company uses Google instead of professional translation services, they might find that their translations do not deliver the required effect.
Another consideration is that Google Translate uses machine learning to continually improve its suggestions. Every request and corresponding translation is stored in its database so that it can learn from previous work. What this means in real terms is that document confidentiality is lost when Google Translate is used. Use of online translation services can violate non-disclosure agreements resulting in heavy fines and a potential loss of trust. Ouch.
What are the advantages of translation?
In a business context, translations allow you to communicate with potential buyers in new markets. It allows you to expand your brand awareness, increase engagement with your content and products and ultimately, make more sales.
Top translation service providers can help you tap into new markets and bring your products to new audiences.
If you are the expert in your products, you can consider top translation service providers as the experts in conveying your message in new languages.
However, this isn’t the only benefit. STAR UK is a proud sponsor of Translators Without Borders, a non-profit organisation that aims to close language gaps that hinder humanitarian efforts. For example, a TWB survey found that 33% of survivors of Hurricane Idai do not have information that they can understand. Survivors in Mozambique use local languages, rather than Portuguese; the official language of the country and the main language of the humanitarian communication. It is therefore important that translations are provided to these survivors.
Whose responsibility is translation memory management?
Translation memory management is one of those terms that is regularly thrown around by language industry professionals. It often appears on web pages in a list of benefits that your language service provider can offer you. We’re guilty of it ourselves…!
One of the themes of this blog is to decode some of the jargon and to help translation buyers make an informed decision about who they purchase translation services from. We published an Ultimate Guide to Translation with just this aim in mind. It alluded (very) briefly to the idea of reference management; a concept that will hopefully be fully explained today.
So. Let’s go back to basics and define a few of the key concepts involved in translation memory management:
What is translation memory?
Translation memory refers to a software database containing source language content and the corresponding target language translation. These existing translations can be leveraged for new translation projects in order to speed up the translation process and reduce costs.
How is translation memory stored?
Before you can look at translation memory management, it’s important to know exactly what it is that you might be managing! In the case of Transit NXT, the STAR Group proprietary tool, translation memory is stored as language pairs that can be opened and amended using Transit NXT. Other translation memory tools store translation memory in a database file, often in XLIFF or XML format.
I’m not going to lie – the above paragraphs still contain a fair amount of jargon, so to break down translation memory management even further, I would suggest the following definition.
Translation memory management ensures that any existing translations are of the highest quality possible so that you can gain the most amount of benefit from them.
There. Much better.
Formats for translation memory databases
Although I stated above that translation memory is usually stored as XML or XLIFF, this is not always true. It’s true that translation memory software uses these formats, but for companies or individuals working outside of a tool (Yes, they do still exist!), Excel spreadsheets or CSV files are also workable formats. In this case, translation memory management is therefore about manipulating text stored in columns and rows.
What does translation memory management involve?
As a term, translation memory management covers a few different processes to do with storing and updating translations.
For me, the most important consideration for translation memory management would be to look at the first part: storage.
Storing translation memory
Are you storing your translation memory in a format that can be easily leveraged? If you are still working with XLS or CSV files, these can become unwieldy very quickly and you might not be able to enjoy the benefits of fuzzy matches.
Are you storing your translation memory in a format that can be easily navigated? For example, in the case of Transit NXT language pairs, are you using a folder structure that has a logical hierarchy?
Managing translation memory on a large scale
Here at STAR UK HQ, we have working relationships with customers that span nearly the entire lifetime of the company (over twenty years at time of writing). As you can imagine, we’ve done many millions of words for them, and translation memory management is important because of the sheer volume of reference material available to our team.
We need to ensure that each translation can make use of every scrap of material that we have for that customer, but at the same time, we cannot send several gigabytes of data to our team for each project.
Should we organise translation memory by document types such as manuals, press releases and contracts? Should we organise chronologically? Should we organise by text types such as technical, marketing, legal and financial?
There’s no correct answer to that question. For us, translation memory management is about ensuring maximum leverage of existing material, so we organise by language, then chronologically.
For some customers, we further distinguish between text types, but a customer’s press release may still contain technical terminology so making the technical manual translations available as reference will be helpful for terminology.
So it’s just about a sensible folder structure?
Well, no, not really. Translation memory management is also about ensuring that your reference material is the best possible quality.
What does that mean in practise?
Many of our clients have strict terminology preferences. Sometimes these take the form of approved terminology lists that are sent before translation begins. However, sometimes preferences only come to light when signalled by a customer reviewer.
In these cases, it is important that any disallowed terms or preferred terms are updated throughout the existing reference material so that these are not used for any future translations.
A project manager responsible for translation memory management for that customer will comb through the reference material and will update the translations for every occurrence of the term.
Updating translations based on corrections
Translation memory management also involves correcting translations in the case of errors. Although a thankfully rare occurrence, I wouldn’t be doing my chosen topic justice if I omitted this one.
If an inaccurate translation is suggested as a fuzzy match, it is possible that the error will be included in the new translation and will propagate through the reference material. At this point, it is far harder to resolve as the error may appear in so many locations.
Customer corrections can also sometimes relate to preferential changes (a far more frequent occurrence). We understand this one well – your brand needs to be the same across languages and as the customer, you know it best.
In this case, we need to update the reference material so that we continue to learn what the customer likes and so that they don’t need to make the same correction twice.
The final task that we class as translation memory management is to remove duplicate, or variant, translations from the database.
The principle of translation memory is that you only work on what is new. So, in other words, if a translation exists, you can use it in your text without needing to start again. However, sometimes the practicalities of the industry get in the way.
For certain customers, workflows and internal deadline pressures mean that certain translation projects need to run concurrently. Where there is any overlap between projects, it is possible that a duplicate translation will be created.
Translation memory management therefore involves finding these translation variants and choosing one translation to use for all future projects. This could sound like a needle-in-a-haystack task, though Transit NXT has a handy variant checker for just these occasions.
Who should be working on translation memory management?
Really, it’s THE question, isn’t it? All of the tasks listed above are important for ensuring that translations are high quality, but potentially they can fall through the gap of where responsibility lies.
Although the customer is best placed to make preferential and terminological changes to their material, they often do not have access to TM tools and the reference material.
In my humble opinion, translation memory management is therefore within the remit of your translation supplier.
Your translation supplier will often have tools at their disposal to simplify some of these tasks, as well as quality assurance checkers to make sure that every instance of a change has been made.
A project brief really can make a difference to your translation project
As my dedicated readership will no doubt know, I want this blog to serve as a resource for anyone out there who suddenly finds themselves needing to buy translation and needs help on where to start.
Over countless years, I’ve watched my husband’s eyes glaze over when I start dropping jargon into stories about my day. So I know that for industry outsiders, translation really isn’t as simple as “language A translated into language B”.
Recently, we’ve been discussing how to get the best results from your translation project, and part of the key to that is to prepare a project brief. A project brief would usually contain information about the audience of a text and what the customer wants to achieve with the text.
The answer to that question entirely depends on what you want to achieve with your translation. If it’s a simple case of needing to understand a document, then sure. Any accurate translation will do.
Yet, if your aim is to drive traffic to your website or to increase engagement on your social media profiles, perhaps there’s more to it than that.
So, on to the main point that I’m trying to make. If you send the same text to different translators, you’ll receive different translations back. Each one will be a faithful rendering of the original, but they will have a different effect on the reader.
To illustrate this point, I’m reposting an oldie, but a goodie – from 2013 to be exact.
Five translation requests, five translations
My colleague sent the following short passage from a French novel to 5 of my translator colleagues, and asked them for their translations:
“Le pigeon roula un oeil rond, s’envola et ne revint jamais plus. Il en avait trop vu. Il était si vieux. Il s’en alla mourir dans une tour de Notre-Dame”. (Paris au mois d’août, René Fallet, Editions Denoël, Folio, 1964).
Here are the results, in no particular order:
“Rolling his round eyes, the pigeon took flight, never to return. He had seen too much, aged too much. He would find his final resting place in one of the towers of Notre Dame.”
“The pigeon rolled a round eye and flew away, never to return again. He had seen too much. He was so old. He went away to die in a tower of Notre Dame.”
“The pigeon rolled a beady eye and flew off, never to return. It was so old, and had seen too much. It disappeared into one of Notre Dame’s towers for the last time.”
“The pigeon swivelled its beady eye and flew off, never to return. It was so old, and had seen more than enough. It fluttered into one of the towers of Notre Dame, there to end its days.”
“The pigeon rolled his eye back, flew off and never came back. He had seen too much and was too old. He went to die in one of Notre Dame’s towers.”
As you can see, and as predicted, no two translations are the same, even though some contain identical elements. Nor are any of them “right” or “wrong”; they’re just stylistically unique (and all perfectly accurate!). Each translator has found a subtly different solution to the same linguistic problems.
The reasoning behind the choice of words was influenced by the instructions they were given. This was a “free” translation with no guidance or restrictions. But let’s consider a couple of the translations in more depth.
The second translation is arguably closest to the original. It keeps the short sentences, the factual descriptions of the pigeon and its actions. To be critical, I would argue that it has the least impact of the five.
The fourth translation takes a less literal approach – it adds information with the “beady” eye of the pigeon, combines sentences to create more of a flow in the text, and creates a far more powerful image in its description of a pigeon that “flutters” into a tower, “there to end its days”.
Each translation has its merits and would fit with a different translation brief. Without any instructions, the results vary wildly and the translator must judge the best style from other factors.
In a way, therein lies the beauty of language and, by extension, translation. When it comes to matters of style, there’s a lovely mutability to the art of translation; it’s a constantly shifting process, depending on any number of factors which influence the lightning decisions being made and remade over and over again in the translator’s brain as it analyses the text.
And of course, it’s also highly individual. Each of the five translators would be able to explain the precise reasoning behind their choice of words, depending on the unique picture conjured in their mind as they were translating.
Personally, I’m not familiar with the original French novel. I couldn’t tell you whether the second or fourth translation is a “better” approximation of the writing style of the author in the rest of the text. It’s hard to judge anything on the short excerpt that we see here, and in a way, this is why the translations are so different.
It’s not actually about right or wrong
At a professional level, and in texts involving any degree of stylistic interpretation, we don’t often deal with “right or wrong”; more with shades of equivalence and nuances of meaning. As shown, each of the five translations is accurate and would pass through a second review with no changes.
Unless perhaps, there was a translation brief to follow.
Needless to say, in any commercial translation there are factors such as customer dictionaries and style guides that will all inform translation choices. However, one of the main factors will always be the type of text and its intended audience.
If we assume that this project was a literary translation, then the first, third and fourth translations are all well suited.
If we assume that the intention was actually to create a newspaper article (a slight stretch, but bear with me please…), then the second and fifth translations would be my choices.
Yet however fascinating that might be, these types of differences and the reasoning behind them largely belong in the realm of Translation Theory. Nice to read about in a blog post and to give a little insight into the profession, but less relevant to the modern translation industry.
Customers want to be sure that the translations they receive are optimised for their intended audience. A project brief is the best way to pass this information along.
In fact, it doesn’t need to be a long and arduous undertaking – it would be sufficient to provide a line or two detailing exactly who will be reading the text and what function the text has.
What do you think? Can you see the value in a translation brief?