While the costs of foreign-language translation in the Louisville, Ky (USA) market are significantly below the national average, some services could still be a big blow to your budget if your company isn't prepared to pay them. So to the bilingual executive, doing it yourself may seem like the quick, easy solution. But is it the right one? Maybe, but then again, maybe not. Here are five questions to help you and your company strike the balance between quality and cost:
1) How fluent am I? There are degrees to language fluency and fluency itself is a rather fluid term. It's one thing to order stroganoff in German, but it's a completely different thing to be able to discuss Immanuel Kant's ideas on beauty with your waitress. Granted, we don't all need to know philosophy in order to be fluent in a language, but you do need to know your subject matter, whatever it might be. Say you're a hat vendor translating an advertisement for Derby hats. You know all about selling hats English, but do you know how to say "hat" in French? Without a dictionary? Because in some cases, the dictionary won't tell you what you really need to know. A quick look for "hat" in the Oxford-Hachette provides seventeen variations on the word in French. And none of them are the word you'd use for Derby hat, by the way. The word provided isn't for the Louisville kind, but for those small ones old Englishmen wear--not exactly the message you want to get across.
Fluency also involves cultural knowledge. Even when Americans deal with Americans, the message sent isn't always the message received. Cultural differences, well, make a difference. A West Kentucky girl, I was raised to always say "yes, ma'am" to show a woman respect. But in Louisville, that makes women feel old. Similarly, in French, "Oui, madame" is a sign of proper manners, but in Spanish, "Sí, señora" just isn't done. You have to know what's considered polite in order to be polite. A good translation takes elements into account that rarely have anything to do with words. Tone is one. Are you fluent enough to transfer the original's tone into a foreign language?
2) How up-to-date are your language skills? Language evolves over time. When I lived in Strasbourg, France in 1997, "mec" was the generic slang word used for "man." But six years later, a Parisian told me "mec" then meant "boyfriend." Two years after that, I learned "mec" could now even mean "God" ("the mec of mecs"). Now that's a big of enough of a language shift to get any girl into trouble. Do the words you know mean the same thing they used to? In another vain, even if the meaning of the word doesn't change, it may simply not be used anymore. "Groovy" used to be a "cool" thing to say, but if you tell someone in today's world that things are "groovy," they'll probably think you're a little strange. Does the document you're working with involve words that may have changed or fallen out of style over time? If they have, are your language skills up-to-date enough that you'd know it? When translating a piece written in today's world, you have to use vocabulary from today's world, too.
3) Is there someone else who can proofread your work for you? Say you are fluent and your language skills are used everyday. The fact remains that people make mistakes. When you do it yourself, you may just be that--by yourself. But when you hire a professional to do it for you, more than one person should be looking at your job. True language professionals have quality metrics in place, including proofreading by a qualified linguist. This extra step creates a failsafe that could save you the time and the money that it would take to correct undiscovered errors later.
4) What are the consequences you or your company could face if your translation is wrong? If you're working on a sales presentation or a website, a misspelling or an incorrect preposition use could make you look like you're uneducated or incapable of the job. But on the other hand, some mistakes can be overlooked. For example, a café in St Matthews has "Madames" on the ladies' room door instead of "Mesdames," but I haven't seen any men going in their restroom. It gets the restaurant a lot of laughs around town, but I doubt the poor pluralization has cost them any money. If you're working with something more important, however, trying to save now could cost you more later. According to a survey conducted by SDL TRADOS, translation errors have been directly linked to lost revenue for 80% of global firms. 7% of these companies have received non-compliance fines because material was not translated correctly. 40% said errors in translation had delayed important product launches. Like my brother says, buy cheap, buy twice.
5) What other job responsibilities will this take away from? Say you are perfectly qualified to do the job. Do you have time to do it? If you assign that Spanish translation to your Mexican secretary, will she be able perform her other duties and do the translation, too? Translation is mentally-taxing work that takes time and concentration. It isn't really something you can "multi-task." Can you set your other work aside to do this or would it be more cost-efficient for you and your company to farm it out?
Translation is far from an exact science and there are almost as many philosophies on translation as there are languages that translators work with. Saving money on translation services may mean doing it yourself or it may mean hiring someone else to get it done. That's a decision only you can make. These questions are just meant to help you find your own solution.
Terena Bell is owner and operator of In Every Language, a Louisville-based translating and interpreting company. The company website is www.ineverylanguage.com