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
  • Common sense
  • Education/qualifications

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.

translation ninja

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!

attention to detail - proofreading

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.

tattoo gun

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?”

The answer?


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.

Author: Bethanie Melly

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!

dictionary definition

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.

street sign

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.

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?

dictionary definition

Terminology preferences

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.


Remove duplication

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.

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.

For example, a technical manual and a press release will have very different requirements for use of language.

Any translation will do?

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:

  1. “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.”
  2. “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.”
  3. “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.”
  4. “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.”
  5. “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.


In-depth analysis

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?

Author: Bethanie Melly, Senior Project Manager

Eagle-eyed readers, and dedicated STAR UK blog fans (I mean, there must be at least one of you out there, right?!) will have noticed that, recently, there’s been a whole lot more content appearing on this humble page.

We’re aiming to provide translation buyers with useful content that clarifies the potentially confusing world of translation. I’ll admit though, we don’t just want to be useful.

We want translation purchasers to contact us with potential projects. We want to talk to them about how STAR UK can help with their global strategy.

Except that it’s not really about what we can do. It’s about what they need.

In recent years, much of the translation purchasing process has become what you might call “transactional”. Clients want to buy translations in the same way as they buy their office supplies. Basically, with a pre-agreed price and with a minimum of interaction.

office supplies

It sometimes feels like we sell our highly skilled professional service as a product, and not a particularly valuable one at that. Or perhaps “not sufficiently valued” would be a better way to put it.

However, that’s not really the client’s fault. If we present our service as a commodity to be bought by the unit (the word), then we can’t blame the customer for buying it in that way.

Is there another way?

There are clear and obvious reasons how we’ve ended up where are:

  • Clients want transparency
  • Per-word pricing allows for easy comparison between quotations
  • Per-word pricing makes translation an out-of-the-box solution

Transparent pricing

It would be lovely to charge by the hour like a solicitor, but that’s not where our industry is right now. Different translators will translate at different speeds, but does the quality of their output warrant the vast difference in pricing that this could lead to? Of course not.

In addition, there are considerations related to software tools. Translation technology, whether Translation Memory or Machine Translation, needs countable units to be effective. The value these tools add to the translation process, both in terms of accuracy and speed, especially for technical material, is too great for that genie to ever go back in the bottle.

Translators and translation agencies need to be able to agree a transparent price before translation work begins.

Have translations become a commodity?

Although I think that the commoditisation of the translation industry is a topic worthy of its own blog post, it is relevant to this discussion too.

Commoditisation occurs when consumers can buy the same product or service from multiple businesses and price is the only distinguishing factor. Translation quality is subjective and is not always distinguishable at a glance, so it makes sense that price is a far easier differentiator when looking to purchase translations.

Not very satisfying though, is it, selling translated words as though they were so many nuts and bolts?

nuts and bolts

What’s behind that quote request?

It’s so easy to perpetuate the narrative when presented with a quote request.

Select customer. Check. Select languages. Check. Enter the statistics. Check. Create Quotation. Boom. Job’s a good’un.

But is it?

While we accept that we’re not going to change the basic pricing model, and nor should we want to. We are increasingly asking ourselves and our clients what lies behind their request for 500 words in German and Spanish.

It shouldn’t be ground-breaking, but it is a mindset change. For all parties.

More than just words?

Translations are more than just words in another language. Translations are a way of communicating with people across the world.

We’ve been asking our clients what they hope to achieve with their translated documents. More leads and conversions? Increasing customer or staff engagement? Perhaps it is a new product launch, or you need to ensure compliance with regulations in your new markets?

For each of these intentions, there are subtle changes in how language is used. We might not notice it when we are working in our native tongue. We flit between marketing brochures and technical manuals and easily switch between using persuasive sales arguments and accurate technical terminology.

For a language service provider, these considerations affect the choice of supplier for your project, and on rare occasions, the price of translation itself.

However, this goes beyond just the choice of supplier.

More questions, more listening

We’re asking a lot more questions and doing a lot more listening, having longer conversations about things other than the immediate project. And by doing so, we’re finding new ways to help – structuring content to be more efficient for translation, assisting with the content creation itself, improving and maybe automating workflow processes, advising on local market requirements, or perhaps working on multilingual SEO.

You are the experts in your business

It seems to be a bit of an obvious one, but as the customer, you have the best knowledge of your products and your industry, but also the challenges you face.

While we can’t claim to know the minutiae of the technology in a combustion engine (though that might be a poor example, as our technical translators work on these kinds of texts all the time), we know a fair bit about our business, translation.

competitive pricing

We’re the experts in translation

By this, I don’t just mean that we have qualified staff and we can understand at least two languages. I mean that we can add value to translation projects with points that a customer might not have considered.

We understand about optimising files for translation so that customers can keep their costs down and improve TM leverage.

We can help with advice on when a translation is required, and in which languages it might be needed.

We can even help you with the technical side of your multilingual website, potentially simplifying your processes.

Sometimes these are issues that the clients themselves hadn’t recognised. Sometimes, the client has just accepted the status quo without realising that there are better options out there. Perhaps they know the issue is there but are too busy to be able to remedy it themselves, or don’t have the requisite knowledge or skills.

We enjoy creating lightbulb moments when a client realises we can significantly reduce their costs, or dramatically speed up the turnaround times.

This is where we add value. Not just as translators, but as experts in multilingual communication with knowledge and training to be valued and shared.

Author: Bethanie Melly, Senior Project Manager

Every industry has its own challenges when it comes to translations, and there are arguments for each one having its own quirks and requirements. However, I believe that for luxury translations, there really is a je ne sais quoi that sets them apart from others.

At a very basic level, all translations require a set of words to be rendered from one language into another. So why are luxury translations in a category of their own?

I’ve worked at STAR for nearly seven years at the time of writing this post, and I like to think that I’ve learnt a few things along the way. One of the lessons that will stay with me forever is that luxury brands are demanding. For buyers of luxury translations, it’s the smallest details that make a big difference.

These buyers understand that sales of luxury goods are built on brand image and prestige; perceptions that have been cultivated over many years. Luxury translations must slot seamlessly into the existing brand image.

haute horlogerie translations

Exacting standards

It is no secret that luxury brands have high standards. In a way, these high standards are part of the reason why they have become a luxury brand in the first instance. Luxury translations are one area where these high standards become apparent.

Terminology requirements are exacting. Not just as concerns the specifications of the pieces they sell, but also as concerns the language used to describe such pieces generally. Some of our luxury translation customers have lists of banned adjectives that do not convey the correct nuance and must be replaced with an approved synonym.

Our customers provide us with terminology lists, brand guidelines, tone of voice documents, style guides so that they can be sure that the luxury translations we provide are a perfect fit for their desired brand image. Translated documents are reviewed and amended by multiple stakeholders in complex review procedures so that the brand voice can be guarded closely.

In the luxury industry, the creation of many items involves artisanal processes that require intense attention to detail. The luxury translations that describe these processes must be judged against the same high standard of attention to detail in order to maintain the brand prestige.

translations for luxury cars

Luxury goods are inherently international

According to one definition, luxury goods can be identified by their price point, which places their products among the most expensive items in their category. It is therefore not surprising that luxury goods require a global brand presence so that they can access the world’s richest and increase their potential customer base.

The largest market for luxury goods is Europe, followed by the Americas and Asia. Although English is likely to be spoken as a second language in those areas, it is an accepted statistic that buyers are more likely to buy a product in their native language. In the case of luxury goods, the psychology of the purchase itself means that luxury translations are practically a requirement.

The importance of brand perception

I would argue that for luxury translations, brand perception is so important that an error within product documentation is more damaging to the brand than a similar mistake in other industries.

Luxury goods are at the pinnacle of their respective areas – only flawless diamonds will do; only the finest materials; only the best ingredients. No mistakes will be tolerated – in the products themselves and in the luxury translations that accompany them.

translations for the chocolate industry

More than just a translation

When it comes to luxury translations, we are actually talking about more than just translation. Only a process of transcreation will do; using the initial text as inspiration when recreating the intention behind the text, rather than simply rendering the words into another language.

There are stylistic considerations to consider too. Should the translator “borrow” words and terminology from the original language to inject hints of the original language into their luxury translations? Does haute couture sound more impressive than “high fashion”? Should these be explained, or does that detract from the message of the text?

Innovation adds complexity

Part of the appeal of luxury items is that they offer something that no one else can offer. Perhaps a technological innovation; perhaps simply a unique artistic style. For this reason, luxury translations are not straightforward.

There is no available reference material to help with your luxury translations, because it is often an entirely new product using new techniques. In many cases, these new techniques are at the forefront of technological developments – pushing the boundaries of what has been achieved previously.

In addition to technological developments, some products require luxury translations that describe artisanal processes requiring years of expertise to master. These are often specific to a geographical area and therefore a language. Yet more intensive research required for a translator of luxury texts!

Think long term

Another difference that I’ve noticed when it comes to luxury translations is that the buying team often want to commit to a long-term collaboration.

Of course, there are test projects and initial discussions before this can happen, but rather than start working with a supplier and see if it works out, a buyer of luxury translations wants to be sure that they have the correct team in place.

There is generally so much information to share before translation can begin that it makes sense to be sure of your team before you start working.

What about the Why?

I’ve looked at how luxury translations differ from translations for other industries, what about the reasons behind this?

The psychology of a luxury purchase

For me, the reasons for the differences all stem back to one consideration. The psychology of a luxury purchase.

For any purchase, there is an emotional factor, but for luxury purchases there are additional levels at play.

Luxury purchases give the buyer a sense of achievement. They are often a much-considered, much-wanted item and represent a considerable investment for the buyer. The luxury translations that go with the item must match the buyer’s expectation of the brand.

Brand loyalty can overcome many disadvantages

Luxury translations must maintain brand prestige. Sales are intrinsically linked to the brand image, they are not just about the item itself. They harness intangible assets like desire, aspiration, ambition and satisfaction.

These assets are linked in no small part to the quality of the product documentation and marketing; in short the luxury translations that accompany the item.

Luxury translations need to sound nice, a statement that almost goes without saying. However, more than for any other industry, the writer/translator needs to understand the buyer’s psychology and motivation so that they can adapt their language accordingly.

Luxury goods are about more than just the item, they are about how that item makes you feel. For this point, the marketing and brand identity are arguably MORE important than the item itself. The item must just meet expectations of quality, the marketing must convey desirable traits and exceed what the buyer desires.

Author: Bethanie Melly, Senior Project Manager

Translation memory software was first discussed in the 1970s, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that the first translation memory tools were made available to translators and customers. The main aim of any translation memory tool is to reduce the translation work needed by reusing as much of an existing text as possible.

If you are not in the localisation industry, or familiar with certain concepts of information processing, then the inner workings of TM software might be alien to you. This article builds on the info given in our Ultimate Guide to Translation, and aims to give you a basic knowledge of how TM tools work and the benefits they can offer.

Do you need to understand how translation memory software works?

Perhaps you don’t understand how TM software works, but is this really a problem? As a general rule, not really.

Your language service provider and their translators will be the main users of the translation memory tool, and you can safely expect them to be familiar with all of the advanced features that support their work.

However, understanding the basic principles of translation memory software and how it considers units of language might affect the way you write your content. Writing with an awareness of potential pretranslation possibilities can lead to significant cost savings in the long term.

What is translation memory software?

Put simply, translation memory software stores “segments” of text that have been previously translated. It aids human translators by providing these existing translations as suggestions during the translation process. In so doing, it improves consistency of translation and speeds up the translation process, delivering cost savings.

Basic principles of a translation memory software tool

A TM tool considers a text as a series of language units, called segments. A segment can be a clause, sentence, paragraph or a sentence-like unit (headings, titles or elements in a list).

Each segment within a source document is linked to a corresponding segment in the target text. Once translated, the translation memory software will store the translation for future use, either subsequently in the document or at a future date.

At the start of any translation project, the translation memory software analyses the content and uses a fuzzy logic algorithm to consider exact matches and partial matches within the existing translation memory.

What is a fuzzy logic algorithm?

Generally, within computing, fuzzy logic considers “degrees of truth”, rather the “true or false” Boolean logic on which modern computers are based.

When it comes to translation memory software, each segment is compared against existing translations to give a fuzzy match percentage. This percentage rating gives an indication of the similarity between the new text and an existing translation.

The translation memory engine considers the words within the segment, looking at how many are the same, how many have changed, whether words have been added or removed, whether words have been moved within the sentence. It also looks at the capitalisation and punctuation of the sentence and takes this into account for the fuzzy match percentage.

Again speaking in generalisations, the translation industry classifies a fuzzy rating of 70% or higher as a fuzzy match. Fuzzy ratings of less than 70% can have so many differences that it might take longer to amend the sentence than it would to start again fresh.

What is the difference between translation memory software and a machine translation engine?

The choice between a TM tool and a machine translation engine is something that we look at in other blog posts, but we can give you the basic overview here.

Translation memory software uses reference material from existing materials to provide exact matches and suggestions of similar translations. The main work of translation is carried out by a human translator.

A machine translation tool, also known as a machine translation engine, uses existing translations and artificial intelligence algorithms to translate the entire text. These translations can then be “post-edited” by a human to fix any errors made by the machine translation.

What is an internal repetition?

When looking at translation matches for a new document compared with an old document, translation memory software also looks at internal repetitions within the text.

Internal repetitions are the subsequent occurrence of a sentence within your document. The first time a sentence appears, the translation memory software considers it as a new or fuzzy sentence, but for second (third, fourth, etc.) occurrences, the sentence is considered an internal repetition and is offered at a low rate.

How does this benefit you as the customer?

At a first glance, it can seem that the choice to use translation memory software or not lies with the language service provider, and that it is independent of the customer. Often, the customer does not run their own file imports, nor do they manage their own reference material.

However, this does not consider the whole of the issue. Although you might not directly interact with the translation memory software, you are directly affected by its use in terms of project cost and translation quality.

How can translation memory software reduce your translation cost?

As a first point, starting to use translation memory software for your localisation projects has the potential to dramatically reduce the cost of translation. As early as from the second translation order, you may start to see reductions in cost as the percentage of reuse from translation memory increases.

These increases will vary depending on your text type; a technical manual will contain more crossover between documents than a series of marketing press releases.

Additionally, however, with an awareness of translation memory software and how it works, content creation that is optimising your texts for translation reuse can further increase the likelihood of pretranslated matches within their documentation.

How can translation memory software decrease the turnaround times for your translations?

As well has having a positive effect on the cost of translation, use of translation memory software can also speed up translation.

For our in-house team, we assume that one translator can work on 2000 words per day in a completely new document. If the same translator is reviewing a pretranslated document, we would estimate that they can review 10,000 words per day. That’s five times faster!

These are conservative estimates, so actual speed increases could be even higher.

How can translation memory software improve the quality of your translations?

Translation quality is notoriously difficult to measure as it can be highly subjective. For the purposes of this article, we will look at two factors in translation quality that can be definitively linked back to the use of translation memory software.

The first of these factors is consistency of terminology. TM tools includes a terminology module that can be used to provide approved terminology to the translator. During the quality assurance phase of the project, this terminology module can automatically check that the approved terminology has been implemented.

The second factor wherein translation memory software can support translation quality is using integrated QA checks. There are many different quality assurance checks available to translation suppliers. In addition to the standard spellcheck that you might expect, there is also a format check. This is particularly useful for checking the correct usage of punctuation, capitalisation and number localisation.

For a long time, translation memory software has been the domain of the language service provider. Honestly, I’m not sure that I see this changing in the majority of cases. However, I do believe that knowledge is power. If you know a little bit more about the tools that are used to work on your projects, you can adapt your processes to make the best use of it.

Author: Bethanie Melly, Senior Project Manager

As a translation buyer, you may be aware of the benefits of translation memory tools. But are you familiar with the advantages of automating your translation workflow?

Although it may sound intimidating at first, automating your translation workflow could be the answer to some of your localisation woes.

In recent years, technology has evolved in a myriad of ways. One of the most interesting developments is the massive strides that have been made in automating workflows. In this article, we consider how an automated translation workflow can solve certain translation workflow headaches.

What do we mean by automating your translation workflow?

When my colleagues in the office are asked why they enjoy their jobs, a recurring theme is that every day is different and presents new challenges. However, there is no denying that for translation project management, a majority of the workload comprises repetitive tasks.

These repetitive tasks include importing a file, checking project settings, selecting a translator, creating statistics reports and quotations as well as running quality checks on export of the file.

We are huge advocates for using human translators and for the added value that a project manager will bring to your team. So, it seems slightly counter-intuitive that we also advocate for automating your translation workflow. But, bear with me please.

By automating your workflow, you reduce the administrative burden on your team and free them up to work on other tasks.

Can automation really make that much of a difference?

Automating your translation workflow can deliver time savings

The short answer to this is yes, and the long answer is yes, it definitely can.

A few years ago, we developed a new project management tool. We had found that our existing tool could no longer keep up with the increasingly complex projects from our customers. As part of this process, we incorporated certain aspects of customer and supplier invoicing into the tool. Although it is hard to quantify, we estimate that we saved approximately 20 hours each week by removing certain tasks from our team members.

We believe that similar, if not greater, time savings could be delivered by automating your translation workflow.

Which tasks can be automated?

At the risk of sounding trite, the world is your oyster when it comes to automated translation workflows.

An automated workflow takes repetitive tasks and applies the same actions in the same order. Using this logic, project set-up, file import, statistics generation, quality assurance checks and file export are all targets when you consider automating your translation workflow.

My projects are not standardised; can I still automate?

As a first point, it is worth adding that it is not all or nothing. It is perfectly possible to automate your translation workflow by only automating certain tasks. This can be useful in situations where you regularly translate into different languages, but always use the same statistics report.

Or perhaps you have a set of five core languages that you always translate into but on occasion, you translate your documents into twenty world languages. It is possible to create multiple processes when automating your translation workflow, so that you have two sets of automated workflows.

This same distinction also applies when you work with different file formats or have different terminology requirements for certain document types. At a glance, your projects may seem almost random, yet on closer inspection they follow a set of rules.

Here at STAR, we have experience with workflow automation tools, and we are happy to help you with guidance on automating your translation workflow. In fact, I would tentatively suggest that automating your translation workflow might be easier than you think.

We use multiple tools; can I still automate?

In 99% of cases, a project workflow is not created end-to-end in one go. Project workflows evolve slowly over time and adapt to the changing requirements of the business. This often leads to an interconnected web of software tools that make automating your translation workflow a daunting task.

It doesn’t need to be complicated. Many workflow automation tools on the market are designed to bridge the gap between software systems.

The arguments for automating your translation workflow should be even more compelling in this case. When using multiple tools, there are bound to be elements of crossover. Crossover of project information inevitably leads to duplication of tasks.

Automating your translation workflow can remove the element of human error

Automating your translation workflow can remove the element of human error

We know that everyone, even your best employee, can have an off day. By using a translation management system to automate your translation workflow, you can remove human error from the equation.

A translation management system (TMS) will not confuse the delivery date or times. It will not forget to change an important project setting. And it will always use the correct reference material and terminology lists. These are all elements that are programmed into the system as part of the work automating your translation workflow.

What other benefits are there to automating your translation workflow?

Every workflow tool on the market will offer different services and capabilities. For this reason, it is impossible to provide an exhaustive list of benefits to automating your translation workflow.

However, a commonly offered feature is an at-a-glance overview of orders, budgets and translator capacity. Most translation management systems offer an interlinked series of customer and supplier portals with customisable dashboards.

Once you have started to automise your translation workflow, these dashboards allow you to check on the status of an individual project and to review budgets and prices from within the same tool.

What does an automated translation workflow actually look like?

This is a difficult question to answer. In many ways, the best response is another question: What do YOU want it to look like?

The first step to automating your translation workflow is to audit your current process. Consider the different elements that go “into” the system, what happens to them during the process and which elements come “out” of the system. This will provide a basic overview of your workflow.

I can’t vouch for all the tools on the market, but I can comment on what the STAR Group tool can offer if you want to start automating your translation workflow. STAR CLM consists of a network of browser-based portals and task blocks that can be combined into a bespoke workflow automation tool.

Have I convinced you to start automating your translation workflow?

I’ll admit that I’m biased in this area. Of course I want you to automate your translation workflow. An automated translation workflow can deliver cost and time savings.

Automate your translation workflow to deliver cost savings

By automating your translation workflow, you ensure that translation is no longer a step in the process that you need to worry about. Your Marketing Manager can go back to creating engaging copy. Your Technical Writer can focus on writing clear documentation.

In short, when you automate your translation workflow, your team can play to their strengths.

Author: Bethanie Melly, Senior Project Manager

 In recent blog posts, we’ve been trying to demystify certain areas of buying translations. Today, our chosen topic is preparing content for translation.

Previously, we’ve looked at decoding a translation quote, and for customers in the engineering sector, we discussed the translation requirements for the EU Machinery Directive.

We know that, usually, our customers are not experts in translation. We don’t expect them to be; that’s our job. Yet, much of the way we interact with them assumes a certain level of knowledge.

With this series of articles, I hope to share some insider tips to help our customers when they purchase translations and when they are preparing their content to be translated.

Do you need to spend time preparing your content for translation?

So, you’ve done your research on exactly what you need to translate. You’ve compared your quotations. You feel ready to proceed with a translation project.

Perhaps you’ve heard that content should be prepared for translation before your supplier starts work?

What do you need to know? What do you need to do? Do you need to do anything at all?

Think of it a little bit like starting a DIY project. Yes, you could buy some emulsion and slap it straight onto the wall without even moving the furniture. (Don’t do this.) However, you might get a better result if you prepare the walls beforehand.

When it comes to translation, preparing content is the same as preparing your walls. You should carefully choose your paint, mask any areas that don’t need to be painted and fill and sand any holes. Not only will you receive a better translation, but it will be cheaper and faster. Who doesn’t want that?

How do you prepare for translation?

In short, you need three things:

  1. A clear project brief that provides everything the translator needs.
  2. An unambiguous text that reads well.
  3. Optimised formatting and layout.

We looked at all the ways in which our Project Managers and customers prepare content before translation. It inspired the following non-exhaustive, but pretty comprehensive list.

Our tips fall into three main categories; project set-up, text and formatting.

Preparing your project before ordering the translation

All our translators have higher education qualifications in translation and foreign languages, as well as being experts in various specialist sectors. However, the end customer should always be the expert.

For this reason, customer collaboration is key. Project set-up is important for a successful translation project. When it comes to preparing content for translation, you are not just preparing the content itself but everything that goes along with it.

As a first step, it is important to communicate any hard deadlines, or perhaps the date of a training course or meeting where the documents are needed.

A translation dossier can provide everything your translation team need to know

Preparing a translation dossier

We recommend compiling a dossier to share with the team working on your translations. It is helpful to provide instructions, a style guide and/or glossary if you have one.

In essence, if you have a sales or marketing strategy that defines your customers and how you communicate with them, share it with those working on your documents. It pays dividends to share this with your translator. It ensures that your brand voice is the same across languages.

Many languages use multiple levels of formality and vary sentence structure for certain audiences. Providing clear guidance on this when preparing content before translation starts avoids guesswork or time delays due to queries.

Providing a terminology list can also reduce queries and speed up the translation process.

What other information is useful?

Do you need further inspiration on which information to provide when preparing content for translation? STAR UK uses an internal style guide. It ensures that all our documents display consistent style. Among other things, it means that all our translators use the same capitalisation, date format and follow the same punctuation rules.

Style guide as part of content preparation for translation

Generally, we also make notes on style for each of our customers. These notes include information regarding brand names, product names and any preferred terminology or phrasing. We use this when translating and update this regularly based on any customer feedback.

The final point to add to this section on preparing content before you start translating is that your translation team ideally need an editable file to work with.

The advantages of this are twofold. Using an editable file ensures that your translation team can use a translation memory tool. This allows them to leverage any existing translations, thereby reducing your costs. Using an editable file also means that there should be no charges for formatting your translated document.

Make sure that your text can be easily understood

All of the tips included in this section could be summarised as “make sure the text reads well”. Use of clear and concise language avoids ambiguity of meaning and leads to a better translation overall.

A translator always works into their native language, so are reading your text in their second (or third) language. They have extensive qualifications in this language but can still be thrown by awkward phrasing or typing or grammar errors.

Preparing technical content for translation

For a technical manual, we recommend that technical terms are used consistently. This is an obvious point, but inconsistent terminology occurs very frequently. Perhaps more frequently than you might expect.

A translator will assume that two terms which are similar but slightly different will require two translations. This could lead to ambiguity in your translated documents. Acronyms should also always be avoided or explained when they are first used, again to ensure that the translator can deal with them accurately.

Preparing marketing content for translation

For a marketing text, it can be tempting to stuff your text full of idioms and clever turns of phrase. These techniques create powerful writing and will attract readers. However, be mindful of your translation team.

Certain cultural references need to be explained. These explanations lead to long sentences and complicated texts. Other references are better omitted. Omission of certain text might remove some of your sales arguments.

Optimised formatting makes a world of difference

When it comes to content preparation for translation, document formatting is paramount. In fact, we’ve dedicated a whole blog post to formatting MS Word documents for translation. Yet, this step is often overlooked, and the importance is regularly underestimated.

On the technical side of translation, translation memory tools consider a text in sentence units. The tool looks at the use of punctuation and formatting markers such as line breaks. Incorrect formatting can lead to segment fragments appearing in the translation tool, which in turn can lead to mistranslations or inconsistencies when an existing translation cannot be found due to the sentence split.

For the customer, this can be frustrating – updates to a product manual should lead to minimal translation work, though the quotation shows it to almost need retranslation. Spending some time preparing content formatting before translation can drastically improve translation statistics.

Improving formatting is the simplest way to keep translation costs down

On a personal note, I’ve been working as a Translation Project Manager for nearly seven years, and I can spot incorrect formatting at 50 paces. (Yes, I know, it’s a pretty useless skill to have…). I have the formatting marks displayed in every text editor tool that I work in, solely to ensure that formatting is correct.

For me, it is the simplest way to keep your costs down. Poor formatting in a document causes problems during translation. Neglecting to prepare your content for translation will slow down the translation or will incur costs to improve formatting. By optimising your formatting to ensure clarity of message, you ensure that your content is prepared for translation.

Earlier in this post, I said that editable files are important for your translation team. The point is also relevant for this section – but in terms of ensuring that graphic text within your file is also editable.

Often, graphs or image labels are transferred into a document as an image. Translation Memory tools do not recognise them as text. They are then omitted from the initial translation project. In a separate step, they must be typed up, translated and then inserted back into the translated document. All of which incurs unnecessary cost.

Consider text expansion when preparing content for translation

This last suggestion is more of a best practise idea to think about during content preparation for translation. In no way is it a must for implementation.

In other blog posts, we mentioned that certain languages “expand”, i.e. they use up more space in the target languages than they do in the source language.

There are rough figures that we can assign to estimate this expansion (or contraction) rate, though there are no hard and fast numbers. It should simply be something to be aware of when designing a document.

I’m sure this isn’t the first thing you think of when you consider preparing your content for translation. However, if you use small font sizes so that you can fit it all on the page, then the spacing errors will be far worse in your translated document. Even when all of the document text is visible and readable, the layout may seem cluttered if everything is squeezed onto one page.

I hope to have covered the entire sphere of tips for customers who are thinking of preparing content for translation.

It can seem that there are so many things to think about, it is almost an impossible task. I would frame it in this way. These tips are not just helpful when preparing content for translation – surely these are golden rules for content creation in English too?!

A good text should be easy to understand. This includes the style of your source text, the actual text itself as well as the layout of the document.

In summary, set good habits and preparing content for translation will require no additional work on your part.

Author: Bethanie Melly, Senior Project Manager

As a translation company that does a lot of work on technical documentation, both for end clients and for agencies, a large proportion of the work we undertake falls under the requirements of the EU Machinery Directive, also known as Directive 2006/42/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 May 2006. In this article we take an in-depth look at the information required by the Machinery Directive and the Machinery Directive translation requirements.

Given the current focus of UK politics, you’ve probably heard of the European Union and have a vague idea of what it does. But in case you aren’t aware, the European Union is a political and economic union of 28 member states that produces policies aimed at facilitating the free movement of people, goods and services and capital within the internal market. A directive is a legal act of the European Union which requires member states to achieve a particular result without dictating the means by which this result is achieved.

One such directive is the Machinery Directive, whose main focus is to ensure a common safety level in machinery placed into the market or put in service in all EU member states and to ensure the freedom of movement of this machinery within the European Union. It applies to machinery, interchangeable equipment, safety components, lifting accessories, chains/ropes/webbing, removable mechanical transmission devices and partly completed machinery. It is worth noting that machinery covered by other more specific directives is excluded from this scope, such as motor vehicles and household appliances.

What information do I need to provide to comply with the Machinery Directive

The full list of information required by the Machinery Directive can be found in the document itself, which can be accessed in English here: 2006/42/EC Machinery Directive

Generally, you need to make sure that you provide:

  • Information and warnings on the machinery
  • Machine Instructions
  • Assembly instructions for partly completed machinery
  • EU Declaration of conformity of the machinery
  • Declaration of Incorporation of partly completed machinery

Section 1.7.1 clearly sets out the required formats for information on the machinery:

“Any written or verbal information and warnings must be expressed in an official Community language or languages, which may be determined in accordance with the Treaty by the Member State in which the machinery is placed on the market and/or put into service and may be accompanied, on request, by versions in any other official Community language or languages understood by the operators.”

These Machinery Directive translation requirements can be simplified into a requirement to translate your documents into the official language of each of your target markets. However, you must make sure that you are aware of any countries that have more than one official language.

What are the Machinery Directive translation requirements?

How do you know what to translate, and into which languages? The answer to this may be simpler than you think. It all depends on your product and your intended market.

You may recognise the CE mark, a conformity mark that acts as a declaration from the manufacturer that their product meets the necessary requirements of any applicable EC directives relating to that product. At STAR, we most commonly encounter this mark for products which meet the standards of the Machinery Directive 2006/42/EC, though there are countless other Directives which are part and parcel of the CE marking system.

Section 1.7.4. of the Machinery Directive reads as follows:

All machinery must be accompanied by instructions in the Official Community language or languages of the Member State in which it is placed on the market and/or put into service.”

Put simply, you need to translate your documents into the official language of each of your target markets. However, make sure that you are aware of any countries that have more than one official language. It is best to do some research to find out which languages you need in order to comply with the Machinery Directive. For your reference, we’ve given a list of the official languages of EU countries, and some additional countries below.

table showing official languages of EU countries

*  EFTA Country – European Free Trade Association Country

Do I really need to translate every single item of documentation?

This depends on the type of documentation and the target readership. The main rule is that all machinery should be accompanied by instructions and declarations of conformity, both of which should be available in the appropriate language. The instructions are needed so that the machinery can be operated correctly and safely – this cannot be guaranteed if the user does not fully understand the instructions.

However, the Directive does allow for an exception to that rule:

By way of exception, the maintenance instructions intended for use by specialized personnel mandated by the manufacturer or his authorized representative may be supplied in only one Community language which the specialized personnel understand.” (Section 1.7.4)

Perhaps you have a German engineer who is located very close to the borders of the Netherlands and Belgium. You may wish to send him to service your machinery in each of those countries. The Machinery Directive allows you to only provide German translations of any maintenance instructions which are intended solely for this engineer – he understands German (one of the Community languages) and therefore you don’t have to also give him Dutch translations just because he’s going to work in Amsterdam.

Does the document need to say anything special to show that we’re working within the law?

One of the general principles for drafting instructions given within the Machinery Directive relates to the labelling of said instructions, specifically:

The instructions accompanying the machinery must be either ‘Original instructions’ or a ‘Translation of the original instructions’, in which case the translation must be accompanied by the original instructions.” (Section 1.7.4)

The “Original Instructions” are those for which the manufacturer accepts liability and are to be supplied with every machine sold. They denote that the language version has been verified by the manufacturer or their authorised representative. Multiple language versions can be labelled as “Original Instructions” where the manufacturer accepts liability for the contents.

For any translations of these instructions, the text must be labelled as “Translation of the original instructions” or similar, so that any end users know that the original documents were not written in their native language.

How will these Machinery Directive translation requirements be affected by Brexit?

At the time of writing (September 2019), the spectre of a “No Deal Brexit” looms large and there is currently no consensus on exactly what will happen following the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union. However, we hope that we can provide some clarity (only as concerns the Machinery Directive translation requirements though… we’re just as confused as the rest of the population when it comes to the UK’s future with its EU trading partners!).

As we understand it, if you wish to trade with an EU member state, you are bound to comply with the regulations currently in force within that EU member state. For this reason, we would advise that the translation requirements as listed above will still apply post-Brexit. We hope to update this resource with regards to this issue as soon as any clarifications are available.

So, if you think you might require a translation, and you’d like to discuss it with us, talk to a member of our team. Alternatively, fill in the form below and we’ll be in touch.

Author: Bethanie Melly, Senior Project Manager


Reference for all Machinery Directive quotations appearing in this article:

“2006/42/EC Machinery Directive”, EUR-Lex,, accessed 23rd September 2019.