5 Essentials for Crowdsourcing Translation

With a cost of 30 cents a word (per language), it’s hard to ignore the giant price tag associated with professional translation. Even freelance translators, with costs ranging 8 to 15 cents a word, will pull a good amount of money from your wallet. It’s simply not affordable for startups and small companies. But what about crowdsourcing translation? Could it be the (affordable) way to go?

A Captivated Crowd

I know from watching Smartling clients like CloudFlare crowdsource their translations that it works, and that the results can be just as good as those achieved with professional translators, at a fraction of the cost (see their blog entry about it here). So I’m a strong proponent of crowdsourcing in some circumstances, and when it’s done right.

But if you’re a skeptic, it’s easy enough to point out situations—and they are the majority—where crowdsourcing translations won’t work. If you’re a law firm, or an investment bank or a real estate developer, you can stop reading now. Sorry, but it’s very unlikely that anyone loves you enough to volunteer to do your translation for you.

But if your business has a passionate, engaged internal or external community that knows your product or service, with the workflow and translator management tools available on the Smartling platform, you can get incredible translation results—possibly even better than you’d get from a professional translator who knows nothing about your business. And in addition to lower translation costs, you also get increased community engagement, and faster global expansion.

5 Musts for Crowdsourcing

Here are five things that must—whether you are using Smartling or not—be a part of a volunteer translation process if you want high quality results:

1. Context is king.

Your translators must do their work in context. If instead they see a set of random, individual, non-contextualized strings in a spreadsheet or Word document, you are still in the translation dark ages. Is “Home” where you live, or the first page of your site? Is “Paris Hilton” the person, or the hotel in France? Smartling, of course, makes contextual translation a breeze.

2. Crowd control.

A crowd should not be an unruly mob. You must have, as Smartling provides, full control over it–who can apply, who gets approved, and how they are allowed to participate. Remember, too, that your crowd is serving you and will thrive on recognition: there are many intangible, non-financial ways to reward your top contributors.

3. Style matters.

Make sure that your translators work from an established style guide and glossary, with pre-approved terms and phrases, and their associated translations. A style guide ensures that everyone knows the proper tone of voice, and a glossary solves problems with modern terms like “Poke,” “Friending,” “Facebook.” As Smartling does, all good software will allow for identifying these key terms as well as enforcing their proper use.

4. Provide a toolbox. 

A crowd with the right tools is a happy and productive crowd. Provide tools that simplify the translation process and allow the crowd to self-police, including the ability to fix poor translations, flag questionable translations, and identify where translations simply don’t fit the space allotted.

5. Some things are better left to the pros.

Specialized marketing materials, terms and conditions, privacy policies, etc. are probably better left to the pros. A hybrid approach of crowd for some content and professionals for other content can be very effective.