Are you planning to localize your product, but you’re worried your budget won’t cut it? Or are you afraid of winding up with a localization that makes it onto one of those "Ten Most Hilarious Epic Localization Fails" listicles? This article will tell you how to save money on localization without sacrificing quality.
Computer-assisted translation (CAT) software saves clients money by helping localizers work as efficiently as possible. Don’t confuse CAT tools with machine translation services like Google Translate — they don’t translate the text for you. We’ve already gone into detail about CAT tools in a separate article, so right now we’ll just focus on how they can save you money.
First and foremost, they reduce the cost of a project by using a translation memory or TM. A TM is a database of paired phrases from the source and target languages that’s built automatically as the translator translates. If there are any repeating text fragments in your document or across multiple files — say, lists of parameters or product descriptions on a website or brochure — this makes it so the translator doesn’t have to remember exactly what they wrote last time and re-enter the same text again. The program suggests the previous translation immediately, so all the translator has to do is approve it. That means you pay less for the translation. The same goes for bits of text that are just a tiny bit different from each other.
If a file contains a lot of identical or very similar phrases (this is common for website and application UI’s, as well as technical documentation with lots of charts and statistics), you can save a substantial amount of money.
But if you’re planning to translate a novel or a series of advertising pamphlets, a TM probably isn’t going to save you very much (although it will come in handy for making sure slogans, character names, place names, etc. are translated consistently). Creative and marketing texts rarely contain repeated identical phrases.
If you have a TM containing translations by other providers, you can use that too (to save money, of course). Just keep in mind that any mistakes in the TM could spread to all future translations as well. If you weren’t happy with your old provider’s translation or aren’t confident in the quality of the translations in your TM, you’ll have to decide which is more important: cost or quality.
You’ll also need to keep in mind that if, for example, you change your terminology, the changes won’t automatically be reflected in the TM. They can be entered into the entire database if you request (and pay for) this service, or they can be corrected during future translation projects. But in this case, using CAT tools might not save you as much money.
A more extreme way to save money and speed things up is to use machine translation or MT. Modern MT systems are light-years beyond poor old PROMT — with a little fine-tuning, they can even take context into account. However, their offspring are still far from perfect.
Keep in mind that every self-respecting localization company is obligated to perform post-editing, i.e. they have the results of machine translation manually checked and corrected by a human being. This comprehensive service is known as "machine translation post-editing" or MTPE. However, if the linguist starts out with a poor translation, they’ll have to spend more time on it (which affects your savings), and the resulting text may disappoint you. Before you decide to take the MT route, there are two factors you need to consider.
First of all, carefully consider the types of materials you’re willing to entrust to a robot. MTPE isn’t a good fit for important business documents or a press release that will be read by potential customers. But if you’re translating materials that will be only used as a reference and you only care about getting the gist of them, it’s perfectly fine. MTPE can also be useful when working with technical or legal materials where retailing specific jargon is more important than a creative approach. But you should never, ever use MT to translate important legal documents. Especially if you’re planning to sign them, and not just use them for reference.
Second, we don’t recommend using MT when translating between languages from different language families (from English into Japanese, for example). In this case, MTPE could end up costing you more than regular translation and editing.
Lastly, if you aren’t confident in the reputation of the agency you’re working with, make sure you agree on post-editing beforehand.
You can save money on localization before it even begins. To do this, you just have to make sure you submit materials that will make it possible to avoid extra work.
First of all, it’s always less expensive to translate documents that are already 100% complete. Sure, you can still tweak the text here and there once localization has begun, but this can snowball quickly — any changes will have to be applied to completed parts of the translation, which means some work will have to be redone, so the project will take longer and cost more (and the chance of a translator making a mistake and having to redo something after the project is delivered goes up).
Second, if you want to save time and money, figure out which file formats are easiest for the localizer to work with. For example, translating subtitles for a video will be a lot cheaper if you submit them in text form rather than asking for the video to be translated by ear, since deciphering audio is an additional paid service. Translating a PDF costs a lot less if you give the localizer the source files the PDF was made from (this could be documents made in Adobe InDesign, Microsoft Word, Microsoft PowerPoint, etc.). Then the provider won’t have to manually extract the text before translating it, then recreate the source file by manually selecting fonts, colors, and margins from scratch. If you’re not sure which files would be most appropriate, just ask your localizer.
If you don’t have source materials in a format that’s convenient for the translator or the quality of those files leaves something to be desired, you’ll have to spend time and money fixing potential problems. This might not be too expensive if you’re dealing with a ten-page brochure, but if you’re translating a hundred-page catalog or a half-hour presentation, it could potentially double the price. So be ready for that.
Another way to reduce the cost of a project from the get-go is to give the localizer as much additional material as possible. This could be a previous translation by another provider, a glossary (a dictionary of terms), and/or a style guide.
The provider can add previously-translated materials to the TM database (but only if you send them both the translation and the corresponding source text). You can save money if fragments from old translations match new ones. A glossary and style guide can help the localizer get a better understanding of the kind of translation you want. This makes it less likely that corrections will be required, and corrections cost time and money.
Make sure you keep an eye on your reference materials. If a glossary or old translation contains mistakes or multiple versions of the same terms or set phrases, the provider will solve these problems on your dime. Either that, or they won’t solve them at all, and all the mistakes will make their way into the new translation. To avoid a misunderstanding, discuss the quality of your reference materials and how they’ll be used in the future with the agency.
In addition to translation, providers may offer you other services such as desktop publishing, localization testing, voice over, dubbing, subtitling, and localizing images, diagrams, and other text from graphics. Almost all localizers edit their translations by default. If you aren’t willing to figure out what you need and why, we suggest just going along with it. As a rule, the professionals know what they’re talking about — sometimes the quality of the translation could suffer without these phases, and you’ll end up with mistakes that have to be fixed (again, on your dime). However, if your budget is short of the mark, but you have some time, you can learn more about each phase and use this information to decide where to save money. Here’s a little cheat sheet.
You can forgo this in favor of subtitles. This will be a lot cheaper than working with narrators and actors. But if you absolutely need to have a voice over, you can order a basic voice over, i.e. a single audio track that plays over the foreign-language track, which will still be audible. This is cheaper than dubbing (i.e. fully replacing the actors’ speech with translated audio), since there’s no need for lip sync.
Another way to save money is synthesized speech, i.e. using software to recognize and produce translated audio in a "robot voice". This works pretty well for English, but the robot usually has a noticeable accent in other languages.
Let’s say your video has text in it. If there’s a lot of it, and it’s in front of complex graphics rather than bars of flat color, translating this text can get awfully pricey. If the dub or subtitles recapitulate the text, you could just ignore it. During editing, you could remove some of the text or cover it with colored rectangles.
As far as programs are concerned, the text in images, charts, and diagrams is often part of the image rather than separate text. If so, this text needs to be converted from an image into text, translated, and then re-converted from text back into an image. If the text in the images isn’t important to the reader or you explain it in a description, you could leave the graphics alone. You can also save money by not translating screenshots (especially since it’s better not to translate them, but get new ones from the localized version of the program or website).
Desktop publishing or DTP basically involves working on the appearance of visual materials. If you’ve translated a document with a simple structure and no images (say, an article in Word) and you’re confident you can fix any issues related to style, font, and margins on your own (or if, for example, you’re not planning to show anyone the document anyway), you can skip desktop publishing.
But if you need a document in a file of a specific format and it contains charts, images, and diagrams, you’re likely to end up with lines stuck together and incorrect numbers that have fallen victim to automated text recognition. Text can also run off the side of the document or spill over to another page due to differences in the lengths of sentences in various languages, and text from images can end up translated with charts underneath it or not translated at all, since image editing is also the desktop publishers’ job. So don’t pinch pennies on desktop publishing if the document’s readability or appearance is critical.
Here’s another tip: if you’re preparing marketing materials to be posted on a website or sent out via email, but you aren’t planning to have them printed, you can forgo the "print-friendly" desktop publishing option in favor of an "online-publishing-friendly" option. The image quality will be lower, but you’ll save some money.
In localization, the customer is usually right. So if you say you need everything yesterday, the translator will try to meet your needs. However, in order to complete your project in a short time frame, they will have to bring in additional resource or work overtime. This can cause the cost of the project to skyrocket and the quality to plummet.
Try to divide the project into multiple parts and set priorities. For example, it makes more sense to translate the content and interface for a website first, then translate promotional materials afterward. If you need to translate technical documentation, start with materials for equipment that will be installed or sold in the immediate future.
Conclusion: planning and setting priorities will allow you to solve potential technical and linguistic problems in a timely way. Then you won’t have to spend valuable time and money on fixing mistakes.
If you want to translate one page of a non-standard contract, your provider will need to familiarize themselves with lots of additional materials and find a translator with a narrow legal specialization in order to provide you with a high-quality localization. This can end up costing more than having all your company’s legal documentation translated, since large projects often come with a discount. Why is that?
First of all, with a long-term project, the localizer can evaluate and plan all the work ahead of time and choose suitable linguists while striking a balance between cost and quality. The translators will also have a chance to become familiar with the finer points of the project. This can protect you against unforeseen expenses. Moreover, you can plan your own budget months, if not years in advance.
Second, translation memory and other specialized tools are more effective for long-term projects, especially if you need to translate similar documents with identical text fragments. As mentioned above, repetitions can significantly reduce the total cost of a project.
And here’s another little trick if you’re translating very small texts — updates to an app, for example — into multiple languages. In addition to translation, these assignments require substantial project management. For this reason, localizers often set a minimum threshold for the price of an order — the cost of 250 words, for example. In this case, if you ask them to translate 20 words, you’ll pay as much as you would for 200 words, so it makes more financial sense to wait a couple of weeks until you have a few projects to submit, then translate them all at once.
In conclusion, let’s talk about where you should never, ever cut corners just to save a few bucks, even if your provider tells you everything is going to be a-okay.
Before beginning a localization project, try to objectively evaluate how "niche" your texts are. Translators and editors with specialized educations will always cost more than "Jacks-of-all-trades". However, trying to save money on qualified providers is almost always a bad idea.
If you need to translate documentation for a major construction project or a medical reference book, you’re better off relying on professionals in those subject areas. Not even the most scrupulous work ethic can replace education and work or translation experience in a specialized field. Don’t try to save money on important legal documents either — a mistake in a contract could lead to substantial expenses for your company.
When translating creative or marketing materials into another language, you should look for native speakers of the target language. They’ll cost you more than non-natives, but they can make your text more lively and compelling to a foreign audience (as a rule, not even excellent fluency in a foreign language can give someone the same wealth of expression as a native speaker). A text full of colorful images and authentic expressions will do a lot more to draw your readers or customers in, and you’ll make more in the long tun.
However, you shouldn’t try to find native speakers of an unfamiliar language on your own — you’re better off going to a reliable agency with its own network of vetted linguists. Then you won’t get taken in by an unscrupulous provider and waste money on hack work.
To err is human. Even the most reliable translator can make a serious mistake. A typo in an address can cause a package to get delivered to the wrong place. Incorrect data in a technical document can sometimes lead to an equipment failure or even a workplace injury. Distorted information in a product description on a website can lead to lost customers. Without editing, typos can worm their way into a text, and this can put your reputation at risk — potential customers might see a sloppy text as a sign of a sloppy approach to work in general. So, as a rule, translating without proofreading and editing is a risky business. This isn’t the place to cut corners.
If you’re translating blueprints in DWG format, brochures and catalogs that will then be published, or presentations with complex graphics, diagrams, and animations, we don’t suggest trying to save money on desktop publishing. Otherwise formatting problems and the difference in line length from language to language will probably result in an unreadable text with untranslated images, charts cut in half, weird shapes instead of letters (this can happen if the source font isn’t appropriate for the target language), and stuck-together lines. You’ll end up having to spend a lot of time fixing problems yourself (which might not even be possible in complex formats) or paying someone else to do it. Best-case scenario, it’ll just be ugly. Worst-case scenario, a few uncaught mistakes will lead to portions of the text remaining untranslated or hidden from the reader.
Localization testing involves checking a translation after it’s been incorporated into a Web resource or game/app interface. When working with these kinds of materials, the translator usually only sees lines of text, and sometimes these lines can be chopped up or out of order. During the translation and editing phases, it’s often impossible to tell what a given word is supposed to refer to. The client can always give the provider access to the website or app during localization, but these resources are often still in development. Since the translator has no context for the text, mistakes can crop up.
For example, a game localizer might have a string (a single line of text) that just says "turns left". Without knowing what exactly is happening in the game at this particular moment, they’ll probably try to submit a question. But if the client doesn’t respond before the project’s deadline is up or the translator falls into the trap of thinking they know the answer (let’s say it’s a racing game), they might assume the text refers to a racer turning left, and the name of the racer will appear before it (e.g. "Bruce turns left"). So the string gets translated into French as "tourne à gauche". However, instead of a racer’s name, the string will actually be preceded by a number, since the text actually refers to how many turns are left in a mini-game.
Localization testing helps fix problems like these before the game, app, or website is released in a foreign market.
Audio sync involves syncing up a translated audio track with the original audio and video. This is a separate kind of work that isn’t included in translation, but focuses on voice over audio and phrase length. It can only be done one language at a time. Sometimes when preparing a voice over it may even be necessary to deviate from the original text and remove certain words from the translation so the actor can synchronize a line with the existing video and audio.
Without audio sync, the voice actor will not be able to sync their speech up with the original actor’s mouth movements and gestures, and they may even end up describing things that are no longer on the screen. In the end, the audio won’t match up with the video, or the speed of the voice track will be changed significantly.
We hope these tips will help you save money on localization and stay on-budget without sacrificing the quality of your translation or your reputation. However, translation projects can often lead to unforeseen expenses — or hidden opportunities to save money. To avoid having to redo everything from scratch while still saving money and time, we recommend contacting companies with a good reputation and going over your project in detail with them well ahead of time.