Translation – Your Guide to Better Documents in Another Language

One is confronted with a number of problems when documents are to be translated. The following tips are offered by TransLogic   ©.

How much does it cost?

The cost of a translation can vary a great deal. A high price does not necessarily guarantee high quality, however a low price will often result in a mediocre result. When publishing a brochure, user’s manual or advertisement where the total project cost may range from some hundred thousand to several million dollars; it would be unwise to save a few dollars on translation and end up with an awkward text, maybe even littered with spelling errors. Please keep in mind that for the foreign market segments, the translator is just as crucial as your copy-writers. A translation will also need proof-reading and a final review. It is imperative that this be performed independently from the translation (the translator may become oblivious to his or her own mistakes).

The fee can be calculated in several ways, by the number of characters, by the number of words, by the number of pages, by the hour, or by fixed project fees. A fee per word is the most common and maybe also the most sensible. Just be sure to state whether the word count should refer to the source or the target text.


Finalize the text before starting the translation

No matter how tempting it might be to start the translation work parallel with the authoring, this will invariably turn out to be more expensive than providing a final text for translation. And even worse; it presents a greater risk that there will be errors in the completed product. Sometimes you might not have a choice; the deadlines are so short that the translating has to begin as soon as possible. In such a case, be sure to see to it that all versions of the originals are referenced by version numbers and dates, and that all changes to the text are clearly marked. Time is money, and the time needed to manage changes and correct translations because of errors in the original document will be expensive.

Nobody places your text under closer scrutiny than the translator. You should welcome this opportunity to make sure your original text is comprehensible. Encourage the translator to ask questions, this may reveal any unclear sections and possibly enhance the quality of your text. There are many examples where the translation has become clearer and more concise than the original document. Some companies have learned from this, and will not send the original document for printing until they have received the translator's comments.

Inform the translator of the purpose of your text

A speech is not the same as a web page. A marketing brochure is not the same as a user’s manual or a catalogue. A press release is not the same as an offer of shares for public subscription. You should also consider how the text will be read and interpreted. On one hand there are scientific papers in which each sentence will be thoroughly scrutinized and assessed by critical peers, while on the other hand there are magazine articles that are read only for entertainment, or web pages that are merely browsed for general content.

Everything; style, wording, and sentence construction will vary according to where the text will be presented and the purpose it is intended to serve. Paying attention to these issues will assure you maximal impact in terms of your message and your target group. This may have substantial influence on the price. A glossy brochure in which every word and sentence is “polished” will be considerably more expensive than a rough translation of an internal memo.

Some customers have non-realistic expectations concerning what a translator is actually able to do. The translator will usually translate one sentence at a time. Re-working the text, considering the document as a whole, and to a certain degree, authoring a totally new and better text will invariably take more time than merely translating it, thus costing more.

Make sure you provide enough time for the translator to perform her/his work. Today, no one can afford to sit around waiting for a job that will arrive ”probably on Tuesday, maybe not until Wednesday”. Most translators are freelancers, working late evenings as well as weekends. They will appreciate very much receiving early notification of when the job will arrive, so that they can plan their own schedule.

Technical issues

It is a well known fact that last minute changes, headings, abbreviations, line breaks or other changes to the words may ruin an otherwise perfect text. Always be careful about making changes over the telephone. This often results in misunderstandings.

Typographical conventions vary from country to country; the use of the apostrophe, quotation marks, numbers, and comma varies. Paper sizes also vary – in Europe the sheet is called A4 while other countries use Legal or Letter. These sizes are somewhat different, and thus they will not hold the same amount of text per page. A very common problem is that the space for text in text boxes and figure callouts is too limited. In cases where everything is packed into a limited space, one has to use abbreviations, a practice that does not always result in a clear text.

If you write a date as 02-04-08 (02/04/08), it may mean April 2, 2008 or February 4, 2008, or April 8, 2002. Historically, it may also mean April 2, 1908. To avoid ambiguity, use the ISO/ANSI standard yyyy-mm-dd, i.e. 2008-04-02 for April 2, 2008 (this format is also adopted by the UN). Also remember that eight o’clock might be AM or PM, so please use the twenty-four hour clock: 08:00 and 20:00.

Number designations such as10,000.00 and10.000,00 differ from country to country;  not to mention the term “billion”. One ”milliard” (1 000 000 000) in Norwegian means one billion in the US, whereas one ”billion” (1 000 000 000 000) in Norway means one trillion in the US.

 File formats

A translation agency will normally receive all kinds of formats, graphics, drawings, and faxes. Please note that there is considerably more work required in translating single words spread over a graphic image than translating a free-flowing text in MS Word format. If it is possible to give the translator a clean text file for translation and later use DTP specialists to place the text where it is supposed to be in the printed material, this will result in overall savings.  Special fonts or intricate formatting will also add to the translator’s work load. Do you really want the translator to spend time on graphic specialties that are routine tasks for the DTP specialist? Use the appropriate ’craftsman’ for the specific task to be done.

Normally you will achieve the best and most cost-effective result by supplying your translator with Word-files. PDF-files have to be converted and formatted before translation, typically adding 10 to 30% to the cost.


These days, almost all documents are exchanged via e-mail. Be aware that one cannot count on E-mail messages reaching the addressee in every case. It may arrive tomorrow or next week. It may get tangled up with other e-mails, or it may disappear entirely. There have been instances where mail servers have lost thousands of e-mails without notifying either party. This is an unfortunate occurrence, but it does happen from time to time.

Machine translation – Computer Assisted Translation

Some customers ask for software that can translate the text directly on their PC. In case you need to translate a segment of text solely for your own use, machine translation may be of some assistance. It is quick and inexpensive; some services are even free of charge, like or  These are not suitable for serious translation – the result will make you appear to be inarticulate or just plain stupid. For an amusing trial run, you might try to have your PC translate some text from English into a foreign language, then to a third language, and then back into English. Having seen the result, I can guarantee that you will not want use such text to address your customers. That said, the latest addition, Google translate, is actually quite good for personal use.

Careful editing of a machine translated text by a skilled linguist is an alternative, but it will not save you any expenses overall. Most linguists will tell you that a machine translated text is so bad that it would be quicker and less expensive to do the job over again manually.

Several software companies, of which Trados, Déjà Vu and WordFast, are the best known, have developed software to assist translation agencies and translators in their work. Such software can be valuable time-savers when translating repetitive texts. The greatest advantage though, is that the software makes it easier to ensure consistency throughout the translation, i.e. repeated terms or expressions will be translated the same way in all documents. This is called CAT (Computer Assisted Translation)

Back translation

First, you translate from language A to language B. Then, as a measure to assess quality, you translate the text back to the original language A, which allows you to compare the result with the original. This seems like an attractive method for checking the translation, but actually the translator will have far too many synonyms from which to choose, so back translation will be a futile exercise in terms of quality assurance. People who have participated in such experiments, generally agree that it provides useful experience and some new knowledge for the translator; however, as a quality check it is of little value. In this respect, structured checks and proof-reading will prove to be more efficient and considerably less expensive.

Think internationally from the start - Localizing

Localizing means more than just translation; it also means that the text content will be adapted to the culture of the country in question. The translator will need to know how local telephone numbers and addresses should be treated. Should they be replaced by addresses in the target country or should country codes in addition to ”the official name of the country” be added? What about given names and names of places used as examples in the text? Should, for example, ”Knut Hansen” be replaced by ”John Smith”, and ”Kongsberg” by ”Detroit”? Regarding addresses linking to web sites, are these the same for the English, Norwegian, and German editions? Inform the translator of how screen menu items are to be treated. Are they intended to remain in the original language on the screen, or are they to be displayed in the target language?

To facilitate localization, culture-specific phrases should be avoided as far as possible. References to national sports are often misinterpreted or not understood at all in a foreign language, and the same goes for literary and cultural phrases/sayings. Always exercise caution when referring to parts of the human body; these have widely different interpretations in different cultures. Also be careful when using humor, as it may backfire unintentionally. It would be wise to avoid metaphors or puns that are specific to your country or your language; these will force the translator to add elaborate explanations or paraphrases.

Some examples:

”…hook, line and sinker” may be found in English, but what about German and French? The same goes for ”The full Monty”, a phrase indicating nudity which will be totally incomprehensible to Japanese readers. ”Time-out” is a popular expression that will be meaningless to anyone unfamiliar with American sports. ”We’ll hit them for six” is an expression from the sport of cricket that will confuse everybody but the British (In American the expression will be “The whole nine yards”). ”A baker’s dozen” means thirteen. The expression ”Der ligger hunden begravet” (literally ”That’s where the dog is buried”) works fine in Norwegian, but how does one say this in Spanish? When Electrolux launched a sales campaign for a new vacuum cleaner in the USA, they used the slogan “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux”. The expression had quite another effect than intended. Ford Company failed to break into the Spanish-speaking market with their Nova car (in Spanish “no va” means “does not work”). Local coloring may be retained if deemed necessary; however you might want to check with the translator as to what is possible and/or sensible. The translator may well be given free rein, but please keep in mind that it may be expensive. The translator is paid to translate, not author a new text.


When you have hundreds of pages of text to be translated, please take a moment to reconsider. Is it actually necessary to translate all of the pages, or would it be possible to translate an abbreviated version? A quick consultation with your contributors to decide what information is indispensable is always a good idea. A little effort at an early stage may save considerable expenses later on. Elaborate descriptions and bombastic statements on internal affairs can often improve a text by being deleted. Internal trade terminology should always be used sparingly unless you are 100% certain who your target readership is.

Last year a large technical company sent a 500-page user’s manual to a translator/consultant, asking to have it simplified and finalized. The result was a reduction of some 230 pages before the translating itself had started, and the outsourcer was surprised to find that the manual turned out to be an even better product following the trimming.

This guide is given to you by TransLogic