So, you’ve got a document, website, audio file, or video script you want to be translated, huh? Picking and choosing from online translation services seems easy enough. Just see the one you like from the first Google Selections and we’re in business!
Only, going in too fast may prevent you from getting the best deal, and sometimes even the best service! Online translation services are dime-a-dozen — they’re, in fact, very common businesses online. In a marketplace with soaring demand, competition is also at an all-time high.
You’ve likely heard everyone talk about the “globalized internet marketplace” enough to make your eyes roll inside your skull. The truth is, clichés exist for a reason. Everyone needs their content to be seen and heard by as many people as possible. That usually requires it to be either produced or translated into different languages and for different audiences.
Due to this incredible demand, many substandard (read: bad) services by freelancers and companies proliferate. You also need to consider that automatic systems and supposedly free translation websites also abound. Without a helping hand or a word of guidance, it’s really easy to get lost in the hubbub.
Allow us, if you please, to give you a leg up with this whole “online translation services” thing! We know you need your beauty sleep, and nothing’s better than making an informed choice!
This post was updated in May 2021
What is translation, anyway?
At least that’s easy enough to define! Translation means taking a word, concept, writing or audio that’s in one language (the source language) and converting it into another (the target language). This is done in written form, as the process that entails translating via speech is called interpretation.
Translation itself can be broken down into many intersecting categories, so this is when it could get a little confusing, and guidance is needed.
When parsing through online translation services, it’s a good idea to go in with some reliable markers to make sense of the services on offer.
So, what am I looking for?
The first step in your translation endeavor is simple but important: assess your need. Online translation services can sometimes get a little frustrating because they can either tell try to compress too much information into one or two services, or they get lost into what has been called “the paradox of choice”, where too many options can become daunting for the uninitiated.
As part of the now-growing language industry, it’s become profitable for services to be offered in a sort of “multiple choice” style. It’s best to know the constituent parts of a good translation service to determine if you’re going to need a “jack of all trades” type of service or a particular part of the whole skill tree.
It’s good to know if translation companies have the required abilities and services beforehand as well. Not knowing if they have the services you’re looking for could cause you to sleep on potential problems once you get your deliverables back.
It’s also important to read descriptions carefully because not all companies offer services in an itemized way. Some are included as package deals at different pricing intervals.
The way for us to make it clearer for you is to offer a brief breakdown of what a good translation service entails.
This should be up, front, and center in any translation website worth their salt. Many translators are, say, “embellishing” their translations with automatic translators. While this is no great sin in its own right, it has led to a marked decrease in the overall quality of translations online.
We will get into this later, but let us be clear: machine-assisted or automatic translators are generally not ready for prime-time. You want a website that touts its reliance on human translators that adequately know their stuff. A good translator is also a decent writer. You want professionals who are certified or would pass a decent certification test without issues.
We could also touch briefly on the eternal debate of native translation vs. foreign. The truth is, native doesn’t mean better, and translation coming from vendors speaking a second language is not always necessarily worse. As we said, it’s all a matter of proficiency: natives will just have a better possibility of knowing colloquialisms and slang.
Whatever your pick, it’s not about whether the translator has a degree or is a native. It’s about the company (or professional) having a portfolio that can prove their skills. It’ll amaze you just how many natives are very poor at translating, and how many bi and trilingual people (and beyond!) write and speak in ways that would make your head spin. There are definitely some geniuses out there!
The proving is always in the doing. Do some pre-research before buying, and make sure a human is doing the lion’s share of the job. If possible, it’s better for the project to be handled by as few professionals as possible, ideally one. Too many cooks spoil the soup, and all that.
Proofreading and editing
These are also integral parts of any good online translation services, and essential to any QA (Quality Assurance) process.
is the process that begins after the first round of translation is completed. It entails a bilingual review of the source and target texts with the express goal of improving the result; that’s when the translator or editor compares and contrasts both to spot mistakes or make changes. The goal is for the text to read naturally and flow in ways that are comparable to the original. It should read well in the target language without any glaring breaks of flow. For example, a translator or editor should exercise discretion and know whether a literal translation is best or changes are warranted. A literal translation may make sense grammatically, but if it does not have a correct cultural analog, it’s moot.
refers to the final step of the editing process. This is when the translator or editor goes over the “proof” (or the unfinished work) with a fine-tooth comb. The goal is to weed out any grammatical error and to turn in ideally perfect work.
Think J. Jonah Jameson, but with an emphasis on quality texts.
You should only go for services that include this as part of their basic package. Take no sellers that want to charge extra for this! You’re entitled to correctly-edited and grammatically perfect work, or as close to it as possible. Some opportunistic vendors will want to charge extra to give your translation a once-over. Good for you that they do this because that’s when you know it’s time to go elsewhere.
This is the Holy Grail of translation services. You can have an award-winning translator working on your project, yes. It’s all moot if they don’t know how to localize.
Localization could be seen as another step in translation. It’s about taking a text that’s been translated into the target language and adapting it to a specific country or region. This means adopting slang, turns of phrase and colloquialisms into those of the target region. While more a staple of multimedia translations, localization is also done in written translation. This is due to the aforementioned effect of globalized culture.
A good translator will localize on the go. This is when you want a top-level native or someone that knows the culture to a tee.
You definitely want translation works that are perfectly localized not only to a specific region but sometimes to a subculture or specific group. A correct localization makes a translation come to life and become more than just a dry document.
Localization means the extra care and effort were made into researching who a translation is for. A bad localization will…
Well, see for yourself. You want to avoid your project veering into intentional hilarity! For that, it’s important that the pros you hire know how to walk that razor’s edge between staying true to the original and overly localized and make you come out a winner!
Why not use automatic translation services?
If you search for “Online translation services” on Google, you’re very likely going to run into the “miracle pill” of translation: automatic translation services. Google itself offers this with “Google Translate”. There’s also an overabundance of apps and free sites that claim to be able to convert your docs cleanly and perfectly.
To make a long story short: don’t trust the hype. Reports of the death of human translation have been greatly exaggerated. Yes, AI is coming for a lot of jobs previously unthought. It’s accelerating at a great enough pace to be seen as a short-term bane and long-term boon. Still, the greatest advances in neural networks, deep learning, and cloud-based computing systems are not enough.
Translating, despite what we’ve been led to believe, is a very human affair. Getting a good translation is not as easy as changing one word to another. A translator has to concern themselves with meaning, tone, localization, changing idioms, and a host of other very subtle details. Even though automatic translation is generally passable to get out of a jam — say, you’ve got an email you need translated into Portuguese — it flounders with texts of any complexity. And don’t get us started on speech!
If you want to take a slightly deeper dive into this subject, try Tom Scott’s video. Although it’s slightly old, it’s as relevant today as it was in 2015. No matter how much computing power we throw at machine translation, it’s still decades away from being feasible. Don’t buy into the Silicon Valley hype, or it could cost you your hard-earned cash!
Don’t say we didn’t warn you!
Freelancers or Agencies?
Lastly, a matter that depends mostly on preference. Online job marketplaces like Upwork, Workana, and Fiverr are replete with people who claim to be able to do translation. You partially should guide yourself by a freelancer’s reviews and portfolio, but still, be careful. Many people can’t distinguish between a good or bad translation; many freelancers have hundreds of positive reviews, but when hired, may be using mostly automatic translation. They may also not be professional translators, or up to the level of actual pros.
Depending on the importance of your material, we’d suggest always erring on the side of higher-priced, well-reviewed freelancers.
Still, the only way to actually get reliable, high-grade translation is by having a thorough veto process. These platforms generally don’t handle these matters in detail.
That’s why we suggest you err on the side of caution and hire a Pro from a reliable outsourcing or translation agency. You’ll know that their work is being overseen by other professionals and editors. That means that you’ll get well-edited, proofread, and localized work made by humans, every time.
Great freelancers are out there, for sure! But if you want special, go with a specialized service.
Want to hire the best translation pros? Submit a project at Bunny Studio, and we’ll get going in minutes!
We hope to have given you something to get started with when selecting online translation services. With these concepts on hand, you’ll likely become more proficient at sorting what works and what doesn’t. It’s easy to get lost in the crowd and think that every service is the same. Don’t fall into that trap!
Now you know what’s what, and know how to make the most of it!