The value of translation—far beyond money (Part I)

🏷️ 💵 The price of quality

It’s indisputable that quality and price are two proportional factors. That is, when one increases, the other will increase proportionally, and the reverse is also true.

When we speak of quality in terms of value, we mean that a product or service is fit for its intended use, will perform its function properly, and is free from defects that will impair its purpose.

Under such conditions, we can say that the product or service meets the needs of those who require it. Normally, quality is an objective concept—we can verify it.

Value, on the other hand, is subjective because it’s also associated with the degree of importance people perceive in the product or service, in addition to more objective factors such as quality.

Higher value 💍

A superior product or service will be well-designed, functional, useful, effective, long-lasting, beneficial, and, in a world saturated with products and services, it must also stand out.

Therefore, value is directly associated with quality.

It’s common sense that products and services of a higher value and quality also entail higher production costs, right?

More expensive raw materials, specialized professionals, etc. are elements that we can all perceive as being associated with quality. Obviously, we all expect that, proportionally, this implies a higher selling price.

I believe that up to this point you are following me, and you agree, right?

But often, if we can’t see with our own eyes the effort invested in the creation of something, we can’t understand why it ends up being so expensive! 💵

This happens a bit here, there, and everywhere, but it’s extremely common when it comes to language services, especially translation.

Even more so because we all have a friend or acquaintance who speaks our language and a second one, and we believe they are able to “translate” a simple text for us very quickly and seemingly effortlessly, just as an interpreter is able to, simultaneously.

So, should translation be free?

In this light, it may seem to us that a translation should be free or cost very little, right?

The answer is no! ❎

As linguists, we know that many clients underestimate the fact that providing a high-quality translation is a complex, time-consuming task that requires a significant number of resources—before, during, and after translation.

We are here to help you see for yourself. 👀

Let’s take a peek “behind the scenes,” shall we?

👩‍🎓💼 Translators are trained professionals

Translation is not an informal or amateur service, much less volunteer work.

A well-done translation, faithful to the original and well-written, demands much more than the approximate idea obtained from an immediate reproduction made “off the cuff,” without a second thought.

If you have an important document to translate, are you really looking for a dubious-quality rushed draft?

In a situation that requires simultaneous interpretation, we obviously know that the circumstances do not allow for greater quality, reliability, and accuracy—still, if we want to ensure that all the speech heard is being translated in real time with the best possible quality, and really corresponds to what was said, hiring a professional isn’t optional!

To begin with, a professional translator, like specialized workers in other fields, will have gone through several years of study and/or years of hard work and experience to get to the point of providing you this service.

And, obviously, this professional who has prepared for years to get to this moment needs money for their rent, car payment, groceries, often their children’s school supplies and books, etc.

Services such as legal translations, certified translations, technical translations, marketing translations, website and software localization, etc. obviously require specific knowledge in each of these areas and are provided by specialized professionals.

In addition to the normal academic background of a translator, these professionals have obtained a specialization. The vast majority of translators seek to specialize in one or a few specific areas, either academically or by acquiring know-how over decades of experience.

Translating is not transferring

Many clients believe that translating is simply transferring words from one language to another. However, translation involves so much more than transferring words: translation is about conveying meaning, and doing so with consistency and accuracy, in a way that feels natural and fluid in the target language, while respecting the style and tone of voice of the source content.

Oh, and let’s not forget that in many areas it’s also necessary to ensure that the translation obtained is culturally acceptable. 🌎

💻📚🔍 The translation process

Furthermore, almost all customers are unaware of the process every professional translation undergoes.

Translators read, translate, and even proofread. Overwhelmingly often, research is vital during the translation; after the translation itself is complete, then a quality assurance process must take place.

You will certainly understand that any linguistic task—not only translations but also creative or even scientific writing—must be revised when completed to eliminate natural and expected human errors or distractions that don’t depend on skills, but on fatigue or inattention, and in order to improve readability.

In most cases, especially when it comes to translation agencies or companies, a second professional will be involved—one who was unbiased and uninfluenced by the translation task just completed—who will review the other professional’s work to ensure the quality of the translation.

I bet you didn’t know that, more often than not, you’re paying for a service that involves not one but at least two professionals!

As we saw earlier, mistakes are inevitable in all professions. For this very reason, there are processes that guarantee high-quality translations, in which case the translation involves not one, not even two, but three professionals.

What is TEP?

TEP is an acronym that stands for Translation, Editing & Proofreading.

In short, one translator translates the text, and a second translator takes care of the editing task, i.e., the changes related to style and content. Afterwards, the proofreader will make corrections focused on spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

✍️✍️ Translating is more than “translating” 🤔

Translating is definitely not just writing “the same thing” in another language, word for word.

Translating requires solid, in-depth knowledge of the spelling, semantics, syntax, grammar, and usage of both the source and target languages.

It also requires good knowledge of the people, cultures, habits, and lifestyles of both countries. Not all content is common to all languages; often the lexicon varies according to the particular view of the world and the socio-cultural specificities of each culture.

Any language is far more complex than it seems. Words can have multiple meanings in different contexts, and often the most appropriate translation is not a direct translation.

We are talking about the mastery, and not just the knowledge, of two languages. Plus, the expertise needed to provide the client with not just a word-for-word translation, but a perfect interpretation of the message that should be understood by the target native audience.

Of course, as the saying goes, “no man is his craft’s master the first day,” so it’s easy to infer that translation professionals had to study hard to acquire such knowledge—it didn’t come out of the blue.

Also, it’s common knowledge that, besides the huge personal investment of time and effort, studying beyond high school is not free.

🤓😎 Translators are experts

Only professional translators know how to use specialized professional tools.

A computer-aided translation (CAT) tool not only helps the translator work faster, but also makes the translation itself much more effective and coherent. I’m sure you want the terminology to be consistent across all your documents.

These tools are paid for, as you can guess, and in most cases represent a large investment that needs to be renewed on an annual basis.

Don’t assume that translators will be able to charge less if they skip these expensive tools, because not having the right tools only means the professional will spend 2 to 3 times more time on a job, which will not allow him to charge less, but quite the opposite! 🕒

🛠️ Translators must have expert knowledge not only of the tools, but also of the fields in which they work:

  • translators cannot translate a medical text if they don’t understand the subject,
  • nor a legal text if they have little to no experience in the field,
  • nor an engineering text if they’re not familiar with the industry terminology,
  • and so on…

In other words, we have seen that most translators will pursue a specialization, so these professionals working on specific subjects are in fact experts who have studied and worked hard to obtain this specialization and have had to invest time and money in their training.

👪🏠💰 Translators must make a living

Most people are unaware of the high underlying cost of being a translation professional.

Middle-class consumers usually consider professional translation to be an expensive service, also taking into account their personal income.

This is because, in most cases, they aren’t aware of all that this service entails, but more importantly, they aren’t aware of the impacts that a bad translation can have on their own budget.

Good translation requires professionals, often experts, who—like anyone else—need to earn a living. All professionals need to make their activity profitable.

The price of a translation depends on multiple issues:

👉 obviously, it depends on the average cost of living in the translator’s country of residence;
👉 if it is a rare language;
👉 whether the topic is technical, and naturally much more complex, or whether it is a generic topic;
👉 whether more or less intensive formatting work is required or whether it’s enough to just replace the source text…

And as we’ve already seen, translating is a complex and time-consuming task that must be paid for as such because these professionals translate, research, correct, edit, and that’s not all. They also:

👉 deal with formatting;
👉 do quotations and invoicing;
👉 work in collaboration with other translators;
👉 hold meetings—personal and/or virtual with colleagues and customers;
👉 communicate with customers about the projects;
👉 advertise their services and respond to ads in an attempt to get jobs;
👉 take courses in order to remain relevant…

Additional costs that are “invisible” to most customers:

💻 Computer, Microsoft Office, and translation software
🌐 Other software (e.g., antivirus, PDF reader, etc.)
💡 Electricity and internet usage spent on the task
🎓 Education and training

Essential costs that all translation professionals face, just like all other professionals:

🏠 Household bills
🚗 Fuel (in case they must travel to the client’s location or to the notary for certification of translations)
💰 Taxes
👩🏻‍⚕️⚕️ Vacation, sick leave, and social security

When drawing up their rates, translators must consider all these factors, or their work will not be profitable in the least.

And even then, there will always be unpaid tasks!

For example, it’s often necessary to spend hours on text conversion, with OCR tools, just to be able to send a quote to a client—who may or may not end up hiring our services.

If the customer doesn’t accept the rate, those hours of conversion and budgeting work will have been for nothing! 😖

Even if the client accepts the rate, all the time spent on customer service itself is not paid work—the price of the translation is always limited to the content and word volume of the text to be translated and doesn’t take into account the hours lost in communication with customers.

Want to know more?

Keep following us so you don’t miss the rest of this helpful and constructive article on the price and value of translation.

The second part of this interesting article will shed light on the impact of a bad translation and why you should always prioritize quality!

Visit our FAQ page for further clarification on these and other questions!

If any of our services are right for you, don’t waste time—contact us now!

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