7 reasons to avoid cheap translation (+ ways to save money while enhancing translation quality)
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7 reasons to avoid cheap translation (+ ways to save money while enhancing translation quality)

When I read articles like this, I often wonder why big and small companies think that cheap translation (machine translation being the cheapest option) is the best choice. Why try saving at the expense of you reputation, customer relationships and time you could have spent on improving your product? Today I want to highlight some of the reasons why it’s better to avoid anyone who promises high quality at low prices.


1 Translation requires more than just being able to speak two languages, so good translation can’t be cheap


Translation is a skill. It takes years of practice to become good at it. To be able to provide high-quality work translators must have a good command of the foreign language, excellent writing skills in the target language and a thorough understanding of the subject.


Translation is also an activity that requires mental effort. Translators have to do a lot of research and keep a lot of things in mind, like who the target audience is, or any existing cultural differences.


This means that one can’t translate for many hours a day with the same level of quality. My standard output is around 2.5k words per day. I just have to charge a certain price for my services, because I want to provide the highest level of quality to my clients.


Many translation agencies and especially people-powered translation platforms advertise high level of quality at low prices. However, you should bear in mind, that translators get only about a half of the advertised price or less. Just imagine the quantity of work they have to take on to make a living at those rates and how it affects the quality of translation they produce.


One last thing I want to mention here: would you trust a hospital that said that it had a ‘network of over 15,000 highly qualified doctors’? Probably not. However this is something you often see on websites of different language service providers offering cheap translation.


2 Cheap translation puts your reputation at risk


Earlier this year the organizers of Milan Expo 2015, one of the most prestigious trade fairs in the world, were accused of using machine translation to produce the English version of their website. For an event that attracts hundreds of thousands in investments it’s been an ill-judged decision.


The translated version of the website is the first brand touchpoint for your new customers. Buying translation is often an exercise in trust and the old saying ‘You get what you pay for’ applies here as well. If you want to secure yourself against getting low-quality or even machine translation, you should be prepared to invest in good representation of your company.


3 Poor translation fails to engage customers


Research shows that people are more likely to buy products, if the description is in their native language. For example, check out this study conducted by The Common Sense advisory in 2014. This might actually be the reason why you want to provide translation in the first place.


However for your marketing campaign to be successful it has to be engaging. This brings us back to the first point: even if you get lucky and get a cheap and good translator, the sheer workload won’t let him give enough attention to your brand.


You have to be very clear about what you want to get from translating your web-site into other languages: if you just want to provide some information about your company or product, maybe going to mass-market language service providers is the right call. But if you’re looking for engagement or your goal is to provide high-quality user experience and create a basis for customer loyalty, you should consider investing in other options.


4 You will get lost among your competitors


It might seem strange, but few businesses seem to understand the importance of quality translation. People have different misconceptions about translators and translation.


Another thing is that it is hard to evaluate translation quality, especially if you don’t speak the target language and if a reputable company says it provides the highest level of quality, it’s got to be true, right? Unfortunately, it’s not always the case.


Many of companies that dream about expanding their business are thinking about translation more as a way to cut down the costs, rather than as an investment that will help them grow their overseas presence.


If this is your way of thinking, you’re missing a great opportunity to stand out from the crowd. Distiguishing your brand from other similar brands by providing a high quality translation is a great way to make people talk about your company. Surely, this depends on your target audience, but if you know that your potential customers appreciate quality in all its forms, than you should go for it.


5 Bad translation screams you don’t care about your business or your new audience


It always pains me to see beautiful web-sites with atrocious Russian translation. If I have a choice (and it’s the Internet, so, of course, I have a choice!), I won’t buy anything from the suppliers who only care about the number of sales and don’t give a thought to user experience.


6 You can run into trouble with cultural differences or a brand name choice


We’ve all come across articles with titles like 20 Epic Fails in Global Branding or Marketing Translations Gone Wrong. Probably discussing the reasons why these epic fails happen in the first place is not the purpose of such articles, but as a professional translator I can tell you one thing: translations don’t just ‘go wrong’.


The reason why these things happen is because someone chooses a wrong provider. And this often happens when people don’t understand the importance of translation and think it’s something you can easily save on. After all, you’ve spent loads of money on copywriting, how difficult can it be to reproduce your perfectly crafted marketing materials in other languages, right? Well, sure, if you hire a professional.


7 Poor translation costs you time and money


In 2009 HSBC had to spend $10 million to change the tagline that didn’t translate well into other languages. This is just one of the examples when lack of linguistic expertise had caused massive problems that cost a lot of money to companies.


Thousands of companies do not get the results that they want and deserve, because their poorly translated web-sites fail to convey their message to their target audience. Even if they spend more money on improvements, they won’t be able to get back the most precious resource that anyone has. I’m talking about the time they might have used to build better relationships with their customers.


Now that you know, what cheap translation might cost you I want to share some good news with you. There are ways to make your translation more cost-effective without compromising quality.


Choose freelancers over agencies


When you need to translate your site or brochure into several languages choosing a translation agency seems like a good idea, because they offer a full range of services.


However by now you have probably realized that an agency is only as good as the freelance translators it hires. Opting for a cheap service you basically hire someone who gets such a miserable pay, that they can’t care less about your brand or your product and often doesn’t possess the necessary skills, so you end up having to think about more things than you would have to take care of if you chose a group of professional freelancers (who often offer project management services as well).


Of course, there are agencies that work with experienced translators and provide top-notch translations, but their services come at a price. In fact, they are likely to be more expensive because of the bigger overheads. So if you want to save, reach out to freelancers.


Provide reference materials


Translation price includes the time a translator has to spend on research for a given project. If you provide comprehensive reference materials, the price might be lower. This is also good in terms of getting the high quality that you need.


I would also recommend to stay in touch with your translator during the translation process in case he has any questions. And who knows, he might even spot some errors in the source file!


Work with one translator/translation team


Both freelance translators and agencies can not bill every hour they spend on running their businesses. Marketing and customer acquisition take time, too. Getting a steady stream of orders from a client allows us to spend more time doing what we love most, that is translating. This is why we always take it into account when preparing a quote for your project. Besides when we work for the same client, we have to do less research. This influences the price, too.


Building a lasting relationship with a translator also improves the quality, as he learns your brand voice and your product range over time.


Plan enough time


It doesn’t come as a surprise that rush orders cost more. So if you want to negotiate a discount, try offering more time to complete the translation.


Let me give you one final piece of advice: regard translation as an investment, because that’s what it is. Investing in good translation will pay off in the long run.



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  • Volodymyr Dreval

    13.11.2015 at 23:19 Reply

    Great article! This should be the obligatory reading before anyone starts looking for a translator.

    • Elena

      14.11.2015 at 12:08 Reply

      Thank you for the kind words, Volodymyr!

  • Sarah Miller

    24.11.2015 at 14:59 Reply

    Absolutely right that translation is a skill and it takes years of practice to become excellent in the foreign language. So how it can be cheap? Even if we get it in a cheap rates we will not get level of quality work similar to expert work.
    Overall its nice information and thanks for sharing it.

    • Elena

      25.11.2015 at 01:43 Reply

      I’m glad you liked my article, Sarah! Thanks for coming by.

  • ترجمه تخصصی

    01.08.2016 at 15:33 Reply

    i agree with you. unfortunately, some people ignore this issue that translation is an art and poor translation puts their reputation at risk. good luck

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