A Delicate Balance: Meeting SLED Agency Translation Needs

Discover how SLED agencies can overcome language barriers and efficiently translate content while balancing quality, speed, and cost-effectiveness.


State, local, and education (SLED) government agencies have a necessary but formidable task—ensuring language access for all in their region.

Government translation deals with an array of serious topics, such as healthcare services, personal safety, homeland security, transportation services, and taxation. SLED agencies are responsible for quickly and efficiently localizing this information in a way that constituents will understand.

From our experiences partnering with numerous SLED agencies, we know the challenges that come with government translation services. Let's dive deeper and discover how you can mitigate these challenges to streamline government translation services.

Common translation needs and challenges for government agencies

Most SLED agencies have a large amount of content that they must translate into many different languages to eliminate language barriers. SLED agencies must navigate several challenges during this process, which makes government translation a formidable task.

Here are a few of these challenges:

1. Translation volume

Translation mandates for government agencies most often apply to their websites and government documents. Many SLED customers must translate upward of 2,500–5,000 URLs based on this requirement. Even 1,000 pages would be a lot to translate, especially considering that agencies must make each page available in several different languages. And, of course, given the subject matter, agencies don’t typically have the luxury of time. They need to accurately and quickly translate a high volume of content.

2. Number of mandated languages

Because SLED agencies need to ensure language access for all within their territories, it’s not uncommon for government translation projects to involve translating content into six or more languages. For example, the law requires one of the departments we work with to make its website and apps available in 12 languages besides English.

Beyond the sheer number of languages, the differences between them add an additional layer of complexity. Translating official documents from English to Spanish, for example, is much different than translating from English to Burmese. There are also nuances involved in translating content into different dialects or variations of the same language (for example, Chinese vs. Simplified Chinese).

Additionally, other government translation challenges commonly arise, such as:

  • Sentence structures that vary between the source and target languages
  • Cultural sensitivities that require careful consideration
  • A lack of exact matches for certain words or phrases in the target language

3. Speed

Agencies also must balance quick turnarounds with cost and quality. You’ve probably heard some variation of “You can have cheap, fast, or high quality, but you can’t have all three.” This is known as the Iron Triangle.

For SLED agencies, though, speed is non-negotiable. At the same time, agencies cannot compromise on accuracy or translation quality when translating government documents. Furthermore, cost savings are understandably a major point of interest. The cost of translating thousands of pages into several languages can quickly add up, depending on the chosen translation solution.

So how have the agencies we’ve partnered with been able to quickly and accurately publish translated content while also saving money? First, we’ll tell you what doesn’t work.

A broken approach to government translation management

As is the case with many organizations, some of our customers originally tried to piece together their own translation solutions. These solutions often involved using Google Translate for their websites, as well as a manual process for human translation. Both posed some issues.

Security is always a top concern in the government vertical. Though Google Translate is a top machine translation software, it is not necessarily the most secure tool for translating technical documents or those that are of a sensitive nature. This concern alone means that government agencies need better translation solutions.

Additionally, our customers’ use of human translators heightens this need. Their human translation processes were very manual, technical, and complicated, especially given the scope of the projects at hand. These challenges did our customers no favors in terms of speed and cost savings.

Smartling's solution for efficient, secure government translations

So what is a faster and more secure solution for these sizable government translation projects? The answer lies in Smartling's Global Delivery Network (GDN) and neural machine translation (NMT). Using these, most of Smartling's SLED customers have completed onboarding and launched their localized websites in 30 days or less. Here’s more on how that’s possible:

Smartling’s GDN

The GDN, Smartling’s translation proxy, is one of the fastest ways to deploy web experiences in multiple languages. Content flows from your website into Smartling for translation, after which Smartling can instantly deliver localized content to website visitors based on their IP address. The GDN is especially useful in the SLED vertical since it automatically detects and surfaces changes to website content in the source language for translation. Since many government sites undergo frequent or ongoing updates, this automation reduces the manual work required to submit content for translation. It also ensures that agencies translate time-sensitive content on schedule. For example, early in the COVID-19 pandemic, agencies had to quickly translate constant updates. Manual translations would have taken hundreds of hours, so automated translation was not just nice to have—it was essential.

Smartling’s machine translation software

With the help of artificial intelligence, it’s possible to translate billions of words almost instantly. Moreover, SLED agencies can do so for a fraction of the cost of human translation. Not only is Smartling’s NMT Hub completely private, secure, and capable of handling complex file formats, but it also selects the machine translation engine that will achieve the highest-quality translation results. This process can easily reduce manual translation work by 90% or more. Updated MT Graphic This combination of solutions—along with support from our incredible customer success team—has enabled our SLED customers to scale their website localization and launch content in new languages quickly. The same can be true in your case.

Overcoming government translation challenges: A Smartling case study

Let’s consider one of Smartling’s SLED customers. Over the course of five years, the agency stated that its site visitors requested to view their site in other languages over 73 million times. Clearly, there’s a high demand for non-English content. With Smartling’s help, the SLED agency has been able to meet that demand.

Since onboarding with Smartling, the SLED agency has translated nearly 15 million words, and NMT has translated more than 13.5 million of those words. This underscores the efficiency with which agencies can operate using Smartling’s GDN and machine translation software. Over the past five years, the SLED agency has saved an estimated 204 days (29 weeks) and over $2 million by leveraging Smartling's ever-growing translation memory.

Elevate government translation with Smartling

For SLED agencies, government translation is about more than just publishing translated information in all mandated languages. Translating sensitive information accurately and efficiently is critical, which is why our machine translation software and the GDN are so valuable. Combined with support from our customer success team, these solutions save agencies hundreds of hours and millions of dollars. But these results aren’t exclusive to the SLED vertical. Smartling Sample Jobs Ensure the highest level of accuracy and security for your sensitive content translations with Smartling. Schedule a demo today and witness how Smartling can transform your translation workflow, break down language barriers, and boost efficiency.