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Translation Services 101: Your Guide to the Basics

Translation services can benefit your company in many ways. But what exactly are they, and how do they work? How much do they cost, and are the benefits worth the investment? What types of translation services are available?

This guide will tell you everything you need to know. 

By the end of this post, you will also have a deeper understanding of what to expect from a translation services company (or Language Service Provider, also commonly referred to as an LSP). As a result, you will make an informed decision for your organization when it comes to translation services. 

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What are translation services?

Language translation services are professional services that translate written and audio content for you. In other words, they convert a text from one language into another. 

It sounds simple, but there’s much more to it than you may think. Aside from proficiency in both languages, the best translation service providers need to understand:

  • Cultural nuances
  • Technical terms
  • The text’s purpose
  • The target market
  • Desired turnaround time
  • Your budget for translation services
  • And more. 

Localization vs translation services

Translation services can differ a little or a lot from localization, depending on the project context. If we’re dealing with an English to French book translation, both services will produce a book in French. 

However, translation focuses mainly on accurately translating the words and replicating the book precisely. Localization also adapts the setting and context of the book to the new culture. For example, “John” becomes “Jean”, “Main Street” becomes “Rue de l’Église,” and a bacon and eggs breakfast may change into a croissant.

Localizers can also make these changes to a text without changing the language:

  • American English to British English
  • Brazilian Portuguese to European Portuguese
  • High German to Swiss German

Read more about localization and its benefits.

How does a translation service work?

There is no universal process for translation — global translation services will have a very different workflow from a solo freelance translator. However, traditionally a translation process would be described as translation + editing + proofreading (TEP). 

Different content may require a different process. Internal communications may not require a perfect translation while an owners manual likely does.

Even similar providers can work very differently. For instance, if a company relies heavily on machine translation without human input, the process will be much faster with fewer steps (though at the expense of quality in most cases).

Here’s a look at all the possible steps in translation services: 

1. Pre-translation: text preparation and research

The first step of any translation project is collecting the files to be translated, and extracting the text from them into an editable format. In translation agencies, they’ll use translation management software to “analyze” the files. 

Analyzing is a computer action that compares the text in the files to any text available for reuse from a translation memory. The results will determine costs and timing. They’ll then typically choose an expert translator with the needed qualifications and skills to complete the work.

The translator reviews this text and any other documentation and research needed to understand the context and desired deliverable. 

2. Pre-translation: reference materials and tool preparation

Next, the translator puts together reference materials and assets that will make the translation process more efficient and also more accurate. These may include translation memories, termbases, style guides, and other tools. 

This step may not be necessary for smaller scope projects. However, it saves a lot of time and headache in the long run for organizations with larger or more complex projects and ongoing needs, that require enterprise translation services. 

3. Translation

The translator begins the translation process, making use of computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools as needed to increase both speed and accuracy. CAT tools are used by many translation companies to reduce translation project costs. 

The translator will use features of the translation software to translate more text in less time. These tools include translation memory and termbase glossary lookup, which make editing translations easier.

4. Post-translation: editing and proofreading

The best agencies and professionals have a post-translation process to ensure the best accuracy and quality. Sometimes the translators themselves do this, especially if they are solopreneurs.

At agencies and for higher-stakes projects, a different translator checks the text. Historically, they have acted as editors and made more than rudimentary corrections. 

Typically, they compare the translated text against the original, their objective is to ensure that the translation sounds natural, as if written in that language. While proofreading is a more defined process. 

Here you’re checking to make sure that nothing is missing, and that everything is accurate. You’re looking for typographic mistakes such as spelling, grammatical and punctuation errors. 

5. Post-translation: formatting (if needed)

Typically, the translation software would generate a near perfect duplicate of the file with the translation in place of the original text. 

A designer or a similar professional would review and correct the formatting of the target language text to match the original, or according to the deliverable requirements. This helps to retain as much of the formatting as possible. 

Most formatting corrections are due to an imbalance of characters between two languages. 

French, Spanish and other languages may contain as much as 25% more characters and ruining a designer’s layout. While other languages such as Chinese, Japanese and Korean produce far less characters and creating different formatting challenges. 

Today all translation companies and a growing number of enterprises use translation software with automatic file formatting. This reduces costs and helps to reduce translation production time significantly.

How much do translation services cost?

Translation services costs vary greatly by agency, professional, and country.

You can find the average price for translation services in different language combinations and currencies on ProZ.com. This is a huge translation marketplace where translators advertise their services and clients post jobs. ProZ uses the data to publish average rates, which you can find here

You may find translation services for very cheap, and others that are a bigger investment. When weighing the cost of translation services, keep in mind the price depends on various factors:

1. The qualifications and experience of the translation service providers

An amateur just starting out will charge very different rates than an established agency offering professional translation services. Even among reputable providers, prices vary based on qualifications, experience, and geolocation. 

You may also need to pay extra for certified translation services or official translation services. 

2. The level of specialization and complexity of the text

Some texts deal with everyday language which could be translated by any professional working in that language pair. Others, like healthcare translation services, require subject matter expertise, and can only be done well by highly specialized professionals. 

This increases the price as there are fewer qualified translators, with the required  years of training, experience and subject matter expertise. In addition, these texts typically need much more research and post-translation editing to ensure top quality. 

The scope of a project also influences the cost. For example, enterprise translation services need much more to be taken into consideration, from legal matters to current trends, compared to book translation services. 

3. Computer-assisted translation (CAT) vs human involvement 

CAT tools benefit nearly any project to some extent, and fast translation services should always take advantage of this. If many texts sound very similar or use repeated language, using verified machine translation greatly speeds up the process without compromising on quality. 

However, other services like localization and transcreation can only be done by humans. 

In this case, the work goes far beyond finding equivalents of words. It draws heavily on idiomatic expressions, tone of voice, and cultural references that a machine cannot pick up on. 

Companies offer different types of translation services to meet these various needs:

  • Human translation services (typically the most expensive)
  • Automatic translation services 
  • Machine translation services 
  • AI translation services (artificial intelligence) 
  • Translation software as a service 

4. The deliverable details

Some translation services include the cost of editing and formatting, while others charge extra or do not offer these services at all. The price can also include extra deliverables, such as a High-resolution PDF file, a style guide, maintaining a translation memory or termbase you can use in future work. 

Another big factor in the price is the timeline. Fast turnaround translation services may charge a little more as they need enough translators available around the clock to immediately pick up projects. 

Lastly, some projects require extra skills such as programming to extract the text or integrate the translation where it’s needed. For example, there is a big difference in the knowledge required for: 

  • Document translation services 
  • Web translation services
  • Software translation services 

Benefits of translation services

The most obvious advantage to translation services is that you reach a wider audience outside of a single language. 

This can mean various things, depending on the reach of your business:

  • You communicate with citizens in a multilingual country in their primary language.
  • You connect with minority groups in the same country.
  • You expand your business to reach new markets abroad.
  • You provide better customer support

However, that’s not nearly all. Here are four more translation services benefits you get:

1. Strengthen bonds with customers

No matter how good someone gets at speaking another language, people always feel most comfortable speaking their native one. By speaking to your customers in the way they feel most comfortable, you are showing them that you care enough to put their needs first. 

2. Avoid miscommunication

The same words can have different meanings in other languages, leading to confusion, misunderstandings, or even offense. Even though this is not the intention of the brand, the damage from the first impression is already done, leading to missed sales opportunities. Worst case scenario, poorly done translations can even lead to thousands of dollars lost in legal problems. 

3. Get an edge over your competition

Whether you’re trying to break through as a new company or you’ve already established yourself at the top, nobody is the only player in the game. Optimizing your customers’ experience with your brand through translation services is an excellent way to set yourself apart from determined competitors. 

4. Increase your sales

Translation services not only help you easily enter new markets, they also directly increase your sales. A 2020 Common Sense Advisory report shows that 76% of consumers are more likely to buy a product or service if they can access it in their native language. 

Who needs translation services?

What organizations and companies need translation services? Basically, any that want to reach a wider audience while enjoying the benefits explained above. 

This can include anyone from global enterprises to freelance authors. With the ever-expanding global economy and boom in digital content creation, more and more businesses find themselves needing their content available in multiple languages with the same high level of quality. 

This applies especially to these industries:

In addition, any global organizations will likely need:

Beyond translation services for documents and text, some projects also include audiovisual elements. In that case, the work is called “translating and interpreting services.” The main kinds are:

  • Audio translation
  • Transcript translation

One of the main applications of this is elearning translation services, where clients may need instant closed captions or even voice-overs in multiple languages for online training. 

What translation service is best?

There are hundreds of language services to choose from, but you don’t want just anyone. Your business means everything to you, and competitors are getting more aggressive by the day. You want to find the best provider in order to optimize your customers’ experience — and maximize your profit and growth. 

So how do you know who will make the investment truly pay off?

The best translation services fulfill these basic criteria: 

1. They are qualified and experienced

You need to be able to trust your translation services company. They should inspire confidence by only working with translators who have the required qualifications to meet your organization’s unique needs.

2. They use the right tools to maximize efficiency and quality

The best translating services take advantage of the right translation tools in order to speed up the translation process while also ensuring top quality. These include:

  • Translation memories
  • Termbases and glossaries
  • Machine translation

At Pairaphrase, we integrate these top tools into our translation software so that everyday users at your company can access powerful translation technology used by the pros. 

3. They consider the unique context of your needs

Translation services for medical offices have a very different audience than translation services for schools. The tone, level of formality, and use of the text and risk all change, and so should the solution of the translation provider.  

Bring Translation In-House

Want an alternative to translation agencies? Save costs on translation services by bringing translation in-house at your organization using Pairaphrase translation software

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Pairaphrase is a web-based translation management system that puts advanced translation technologies into the hands of everyday business users. As a result, you reduce the time and costs associated with the production of secure, high-quality translations. 

Schedule a Demo or share this article with a colleague.

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