Know The Translation Type You Need (Before Vendors Tell You)

You wouldn’t start a car buying process by walking into a dealership and asking the nearest salesman for a recommendation.
No. You’re too smart, too savvy, and too sensible for that.

Instead, you’d probably begin by brainstorming your ideal features, outlining your absolute necessities, and researching which cars are parked at the intersection of those two lists.

Buying translation services isn’t much different. In order to get the result you want for a price you can feel good about, YOU need to be the one steering the conversation.

What Does “Good Translation” Mean to You?

Success is subjective. Your standard for good translation may not match the criteria held by someone working in a different industry, company, or department. And as we’ll discuss later, that standard may even change according to the kind of content you’re transforming.

But while variation is acceptable, confusion is not. You need to turn vague expectations into clear definitions by honestly assessing how much you value these four variables:

  • Originality. Every translation request must be plotted somewhere on the spectrum of creative freedom. Do you need faithful translations that prioritize accuracy and conformity to the source content? Or are you looking more for fresh interpretations that prioritize bold and original recreations of the source content?
  • Quality. For all the mysteries and complexities surrounding how to improve translation quality, it only takes two questions to reveal your acceptable standard. How damaging would it be if your audience spotted a mistake or misinterpreted a phrase in your content? And how much are you willing to invest in the proactive avoidance of such scenarios?
  • Speed. Whether your deadline is explicit or implicit, all translation projects operate on a ticking clock. How long can you wait to publish content before its absence becomes a business problem?
  • Cost. Any translation outcome you want is possible — for a price. So let’s cut to the chase. How much budget are you hoping (or allowed) to spend?

Each variable inevitably impacts the other three, but clarifying your requirements around each one makes it much easier to identify which translation types deserve further investigation.

Translation Types To Know

Now that you have a better idea of the translation result you’re targeting, let’s examine the translation types that could take you there.

Transcreation. Transcreation is one part creative copywriting and one part traditional translation. Practitioners still transfer a message from one language to another, but they have more freedom to modify the details along the way. As a result, the final product usually looks more like a creative interpretation than an exact replication of its source content.

Transcreation can be a powerful tool in business scenarios where only the most nuanced, authentic, and culturally-sensitive communication will suffice. Cost is a significant consideration, though. Transcreation typically is paid by the hour, not by the word, and is often more expensive than standard translation — not to mention that customers must also spend time developing detailed creative briefs.

With that said, most companies only recruit transcreation services in select instances where content succeeds or fails solely on the strength of its creativity.

Professional Translation. This is the model most people picture when they first consider translating a business website. Customers send their source content to translation agencies or freelance professionals, and expert linguists produce the most accurate adaptation possible.

In many cases, customers will also elect to have an editor and proofreader review the translator’s work. This quality-conscious workflow is commonly known as TEP (Translate-Edit-Proofread), and it has become the default strategy for customers who prioritize precise communication over affordability or speed.

In some cases, though, customers may forego the review steps and request that content be returned as soon as the translator has finished. This “single-pass” approach is a savvy way to reduce expenses and accelerate publication, but it’s best reserved for scenarios where the probability of critical translation errors is relatively low.

With or without additional review steps, professional translation is an excellent match for any content you feel is valuable enough to merit an expert’s hand.

Machine Translation. Computers will never fully replicate the endless subtleties of human communication, but they’re certainly making progress. Statistical models, rule-based systems, and neural networks are generating vast reserves of artificial intelligence that customers can leverage to produce credible linguistic translations without any human intervention.

No other translation type can rival the speed of this automated approach. And machine translation (MT) engines offer dramatic cost savings over human professionals. But clearly, computers are not known for their creativity. And despite the promise of future improvements, MT cannot consistently match the quality of human professionals.

As a result, this powerful technology is still best applied as an economical means of translating large volumes of your least essential source content.

Machine Translation Post-Editing. If machine translation is the automated counterpart to single-pass professional translation, then machine translation post-editing is the computer-aided cousin of professional TEP. An MT engine takes the place of a human translator, but human reviewers are still there to elevate its output to a more acceptable standard of quality.

This approach is slightly less efficient than standalone MT, but the time and cost savings are still significant when compared to entirely human alternatives. And post-editing does at least offer one layer of defense against the most egregious and embarrassing translation errors.

Post-editors are not magical healers, however, and there is only so much they can do to improve a troubled translation output. As a result, MT post-editing is best applied toward low-impact content that you still deem valuable enough to merit a second set of eyes.

Adaptive Machine Translation. What would happen if humans and machines acted less like rivals and more like complementary partners? Well, adaptive MT is one of several innovative ideas currently pushing the translation industry in that direction.

Adaptive MT engines study the linguistic decisions of human translators and post-editors in real-time, continuously learning correct terminology that can be used in their next MT output. As a result, each new translation request assigned to the MT engine is completed with a progressively higher standard of proficiency.

Adaptive MT is slightly more expensive than traditional MT models, but it has the potential to match or surpass the quality of post-edited MT without any (direct) human intervention required.

These exciting possibilities make adaptive MT a must-watch technology, but for now, it is best reserved for processing large volumes of lower-impact content that you cannot reasonably afford to spend time and money translating professionally.

Blend Translation Types for Best Results

By now, you’ve probably sensed that no single translation type will perfectly suit all your content requirements. Maybe you see the merit in professionally translating your checkout page, but you can’t imagine paying an agency for six weeks spent translating customer reviews. Or, perhaps you’re intrigued by the efficiencies of machine translation but know you’ll need transcreation experts to help you enter the Japanese market.

Whatever the specifics of your situation are, there’s no need to settle for misaligned translation services. But in order to assemble the optimal mix, you’ll need to conduct a shrewd assessment of content value.

We’ve said it several times before, but not all content is created equal. And since no business has the luxury of operating with an infinite supply of time and money, it only makes sense to allocate your limited translation resources in a way that prioritizes your most impactful content.

Where you decide to draw the line between the critical minority and nonessential majority will depend on several unique business factors. But if you’re anything like the (aspiring) Japanese eCommerce brand we alluded to a few lines above, the ideal approach might look something like this:

Now, wouldn’t that be a stronger place to start your next conversation?

Learn More

See how Smartling’s flexible translation services are making a difference for companies like WeWork, Hootsuite, and Wish.