Now that we have established that it is best to use a translation agency when in need of document translation services, let’s explore the components involved in the price of a quality translation from a highly rated translation company.

  • Administration
    This includes the owners and managers, receptionists and secretarial work, talent recruitment, accounting and billing personnel, sales and marketing staff and costs, and, of course, the project managers who shepherd each project from the first contact with the client through final handover of the finished translation.
  • Translation
    At a good translation company, in order to minimize errors in the final text, every translator is a highly educated and experienced professional who translates written documents from their foreign language(s) into their native language(s). Many translators also work in another writing profession, and this additional development of skills improves the quality of the finished translation. Translators often have at least one subject matter specialty—in the medical, financial, or legal fields, for instance—to ensure that the original terminology and usage unique to the specialty area is preserved in the translation.
  • Bilingual Editing (Revision)
    A bilingual editor is a second translator who knows the same language pair as the original translator does. This person’s job is to provide input on any questions the first translator might have had, and make certain that the translation corresponds to its original in meaning, style, and appearance.
  • Monolingual Editing (Review)
    A monolingual proofreader looks at the edited translation with the intention of checking for errors in punctuation, grammar, syntax, and formatting. The proofreader is a native speaker of the language of the translation.
  • DTP
    DTP, or desktop publishing, is needed if there are any graphics or formatting issues that could not be handled by the translator or editor. This step may sometimes be eliminated if a document’s structure is very simple.

While it is true that a translation can seem costly (particularly if it is very long, requires a large amount of formatting, involves a highly specialized subject, or needs an uncommon language pair), an examination of the factors above will reveal that a good translation company uses a process that improves upon a raw translation every step of the way, resulting in a finished product with a great deal of value.

Inevitably, the question will come up of whether there isn’t a way to cut some corners. While different translation agencies might find themselves able to offer various combinations or levels of services with minimal loss of quality, there is one method some companies use that is rather problematic.

Fool’s Gold: Lightly Post-Edited Machine Translations

There is a fairly new phenomenon in the translation world called “lightly post-edited machine translation”, a practice in which a translation agency runs a text through a machine translation program and then provides the translated text to a translator who checks it for serious errors and general comprehensibility. The result is then usually handed over to the client without any further examination. This is an attempt to address some of the more egregious problems with machine translation, which we discussed in earlier blog posts (here and here), while keeping the cost of the translation down. In the face of the higher cost of a quality translation by humans, some translation clients hear of this option and think they’ve found hidden treasure. The truth is that this technique is anything but that.

Translators who work for companies that offer “light post-editing” of machine translations are paid a very low rate for this work, and told to ignore small problems and work only on big errors. The finer points of punctuation, word order, syntax, and even grammar are glossed over in the interest of speed, and translators are encouraged to adopt an attitude that if it’s generally understandable, it’s good enough for the client. And, indeed, the translators do so, because they can’t afford to do anything else: careful editing or rewriting of this kind of translation is too time consuming for the pay they earn.

Putting aside the ethics of asking translators to work for so little, there are issues with this approach. For one thing, if the majority of a translation company’s departments are striving to provide the best human-made translations in the business, having a branch of the same company that intentionally creates a low-quality product is somewhat cognitively dissonant. For another, the speed with which “light post-editors” are expected to work virtually guarantees that not all the nuances of the original document will be rendered accurately in the translation. At best, the translated text might sound a little funny; at worst, the fast-working “light post-editors” will miss something major that changes the meaning or impact of the entire document. Due to the nature of the job, there is absolutely no guarantee that “light post-editing” will add value to or improve the accuracy of a machine translation.

Apex does not offer post-edited machine translations, but we would love to talk with you about how our all-human crew can help you with your document translation needs. Please click here for your free quote!