You’ll find them everywhere: free online translation services, low-cost human translation or freelancer portals, and companies claiming expertise in all languages and subjects. They’re all happy to take your content in one language and send it back in another for a minimum of time, effort and cost.

Although easy to find and simple to use, what are the chances that these companies or freelancers (never mind translation engines) who don’t know you, your company, or your field can give you the right translation?

(See Natalie Soper and Hannah Keet’s blog posts on their mystery shopper experiment through a freelancer portal for a sobering insight into the quality of service and translation received, plus the economic realities behind low-cost translation.

Although I’d argue that for the amount paid you are “getting what you pay for” – professional translation is not possible at that price.)

Every text comes from a particular context and is translated for a specific purpose. That means that translation is not a commodity and needs more than a simple transaction to get right. (This is also why volume discounts are not appropriate for translation.) Direct contact with your translator ensures that your style, terminology, processes and values get through to the person putting your concepts into words. You also benefit from your translator’s experience on other projects, including potential issues and how to avoid them.

Just as investing more in the beginning costs less in the long run, preparation for and involvement in the translation process increases the chances of getting exactly what you need: clear communication of what makes you worth buying from or working with.

See: What’s wrong with Japanese to English translation? (PDF) and Why translation should be reassuringly expensive (PDF)