How do you translate a language for business?


Frequently Asked Questions

Why would a translation help to promote my business?

Whilst many foreigners appear to speak very good English, for all those who do, there are many more that don’t. Of these, many will be able to understand and communicate enough for basic transactions, but will not be able to study texts which describe your product or services. If you want to increase the number of foreign customers, addressing such customers in their own language will be a major advantage for your businesses.

Why use a translation agency?

A full-service translation agency will take care of all the steps from discussing the design of a multi-lingual website or brochure, the handling of the actual translation through to typesetting and website registration with foreign search engines. An agency is in control of quality all along the way as well as of the budget and timeframe.

How does a professional translator actually work?
To start the translation process the translator reads through the entire document to get a clear idea of content and style of the source text.

If the text contains specific vocabulary, technical terms or is of a very technical nature, this is the time when research will be done and translation memory software used. It is also when you as a client can assist in the process by providing company specific vocabulary or existing material in the target language.

It is in the translators interest to keep translations as consistent and true to style and content as possible.

The first working translation follows. Usually, the translator puts the first draft aside for a short while in order to be able to review the work from a fresh viewpoint.

After the short break the translator works through source text and target text checking content, style and format.

Reading and checking the translation for consistency and fluency can take several runs and at this stage usually a second translator gets involved to proof read the translation before it is returned to the project manager.

Why not use translators who live locally?

Experience has proven that when you live in a country where the everyday language is not your native one, even after a relatively short period of time (6 months or so), you lose the edge off your mother tongue. This is because languages are constantly evolving with a surprising number of new words and phrases coming into and out of use. For promotional material translations, it is very important that the language used is the current version otherwise, the wrong messages can be conveyed. Only those translators who live in the country where their mother tongue is the main spoken language should be used.

My friend can speak French, why can’t I use him to translate my web site?

As with most professions, amateurs are able to dabble but only professionally accredited translators who have been trained specifically to do the job properly with accuracy and consistency will get the task done properly with assured quality. With important material such as the promotion of your company, it just has to be done correctly otherwise the damage can be significant. The following is an extract from the web site for a Hotel in Germany; “It expects you a guesthouse with comfortably furnished rooms. In our Italian restaurant we offer you an extensive international food.” The above example is more humorous than damaging but all too often, it can be the other way round.

How much can one translator do per day?

For straight forward translations, i.e. no specialised vocabulary or copywriting, or other factors which add complexity, a typical translator will be able to undertake approximately 2,500 words per working day.

Why not use more than one translator to speed things up?

This is possible but is not advisable for material which is to be published. As with any form of writing, each person has their own style and this can be seen in translations as well. Therefore, where uniformity of style is important, sufficient time should be allowed for one translator to undertake the task.

Why your overseas agent or distributor might not be a good translator.

It may appear to be ideal to use you overseas agent or distributor to do the translations themselves – they speak the language, know the product and don’t charge the same as a translation agency.

Unfortunately, the end result is usually a major disappointment for all concerned. All too often, such agents or distributors have their own ideas about what the promotional material should say and re-write it rather than translate it. They may also lack the fluency in English to fully understand technical terms, not to mention the fact that the typical salesman is not a professional writer who has the skills to ensure that the document is grammatically correct. Finally, they have other responsibilities so it is unlikely that they will be able to undertake the translation within a reasonable time scale.

However, overseas agents or distributors are ideal for checking that a professional translation has the correct style and terminology that they are require for their market. Their feedback to polish the translation is invaluable.

How do translation agencies select translators?

Reputable translation agencies select translators based upon the following criteria:

  • Native language speakers who live in the country of their mother tongue so that they are current in the language, customs and attitudes which prevail there
  • Accuracy
  • Reliability
  • Speed
  • Qualifications: translators must have a recognised degree in translating
  • Experience and references
  • Area of specialisation: both working experience and degree (or higher) qualification level in the relevant field
  • Professional accreditation from their relevant national association

Will the play on words in my advert translate into Japanese?

It is extremely unusual for plays on words, double meanings, etc., to work directly in other languages. This is where it is necessary to select a suitable translator and then to provide a brief which fully explains the messages which the original text is designed to convey. The translator will then write new copy which reflects the messages and style of the original but is essentially a new piece of copy in the foreign language, rather than being a direct translation.

Will my material be treated with confidentiality?

A reputable translation agency will guarantee that all material will be treated with utmost confidentiality. Ask to see their confidentiality policy.

Why is it inexpensive to change the translated text on a web site?

Once translated, the text can be inserted by the site designers or, if you use a site with software which allows it, directly by the translator. The cost is therefore effectively for the translation only.

Is typesetting required for web site translation?

As no printing is involved with web sites, typesetting is not required. However, to process languages such as Japanese, the translator will have to use a computer with the corresponding operating system. Should the client wish to be able to display and print the text without themselves having the necessary operating system, the file can be supplied as a PDF graphic.

How can I reduce the cost of printing foreign language versions of my brochure?

All too often, we see designs for promotional literature where a simple change of text to a foreign language results in a complete set of 4 colour printing plates being required at great expense, not to mention the resultant 4 colour printing costs. If planned from the start, costs for a multi-lingual leaflet can be reduced by designing it such that all of the text which will be translated is black only and is separate from any photos or other graphics. At the initial printing stage, the print run would consist of 4 colour process printing, including the black text. If the printer has suitable facilities, the text can be run as a 5th colour and the text plate swapped to the foreign language version mid way through the print run, thereby minimising set up costs. If changes to the text are subsequently required, only one set of printing plates, i.e. the black text ones must be changed, rather than a complete set of 4 colour plates. Using such a technique, if the quantity requirement for foreign language versions is initially unclear, a number of blanks, i.e. Colour brochures minus text can be printed at the same time. This can subsequently be printed with the appropriate text in relatively small quantities on a simple one colour black only printing press at an economically attractive rate.

Why is it so important to plan for foreign languages before designing the brochure?

In addition to the points noted above, there are other issues to consider. When printing Asian languages, especially Chinese and Japanese, the characters used include some very thin strokes. When printing these reversed out (where the text appears in one colour against a non-white background), the resultant printing quality achievable for the thin strokes of the characters is fairly poor. It is best to plan for such text to only appear in a non-reversed out location.

Additionally, many languages such as German are bulkier than English in terms of the space required for the same text. If space is not allowed, this can result in the font size and/or spacing having to be reduced and thereby changing the appearance.

Why is typesetting so important?

Simple word processing programs are incapable of the accuracy required for the layout of documents which are to be published. Printers therefore use specialist typesetting programs to select fonts, spacing and layout to suit the design of the leaflet, business card or other material to be printed. In the case of English, printing companies (or sub-contracted typesetting companies) do not normally have the experience and facilities to undertake this. The typesetting and checking of foreign languages needs to be undertaken by linguists who understand the text and can safely check it. Additionally, specialist software with the correct fonts is required.

What is so different about voiceovers?

Where for example a video voiceover is to be translated, it is vitally important to maintain the timings of the original so that the images match the voiceover. Given the differences between languages, this will require liaison between the video production company and translator so that any modifications to the text can be done accordingly to suit.

Why does the correct “voice” have to be used?

Whilst TV and radio personalities make it seem easy, very few individuals actually sound professional on tape. We have all been pre-conditioned by TV and radio to expect to hear voices of such quality when we watch a video, so use of unsuitable voices can have a very detrimental effect. Additionally, in some cultures, use of the wrong accent can lead to acceptance problems. It is therefore important to find a professional voiceover artist who has the correct accent.

Why translate your website?

Using the web as a marketing or service tool is the first step – missing out the non-English speaking audience is like stopping half way.

“There are approximately 172 million English speakers and 163 million non-English speakers online” (Global Reach).

“50.4% of Web Users speak a native language other than English” (Global Reach)

“Web users are up to four times more likely to purchase from a site that communicates in the customer’s language” (

“Site stickiness is doubled when a website is translated – visitors stay for twice as long” (Forrester Research)

Unlike printed promotional material – creation of a foreign language version of a web site does not cost significantly more than the translation itself and it can quickly be updated just like the original version.