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Advice on Buying Spanish Translation Services

Susana C. Schultz
Strictly Spanish LLC, Cincinnati, Ohio

In today’s world, there are hundreds of thousands of freelance translators, translation agencies, translation companies, communications companies that offer translations, translation directories and translation software, all of which make it very difficult for the persons who need something translated to decide who and what to use, and be happy with their decision. And once they make a decision, how do they know that the translation is correct and true to the original? And how do they know that it doesn’t have any typos or grammatical mistakes? They don’t speak the language and they don’t know anyone proficient enough who can evaluate the translation. So, where do they go from there?

Hopefully, this article will be a tool to help you understand the different aspects of translations and assist you in making informed decisions. There is no black or white, but many shades of gray. Maybe one of those shades of gray will hit a chord within you and be of use for your future translation purchases. Although this article will talk about English-to-Spanish translations because that is what our company specializes in, the basic concepts can be applied to any language combination.

The best way to start is to talk about some of the most common things we encounter.

Anyone with a basic knowledge of the language can be a translator, right? This is far from the truth. It is like saying that anyone who knows English can write novels. Translating is an art, just like writing is an art. Translators are completely bilingual linguists who intimately know the English and the Spanish languages. They are also skilled Spanish writers who have spent years in college learning all the intricacies of the language. They are professionals and only professionals should be handling your translations. Some of you might say that there is someone in your company who took Spanish in college, or someone who spent three months in Spain, or someone from Mexico or Puerto Rico who speaks Spanish. Certainly those people can translate, right? No, they can't–they are not linguists and more than likely they are not writers. Then, they are certainly qualified to evaluate the translations done by a professional company, right? No, they are not–they are not linguists and they are not professional translators. Plus, they will be biased to "the way they say that in their country" or "the way that they learned it in college” and they will end up ruining the job of the Spanish professional translator and introducing errors that didn’t exist before. A professional has to craft the Spanish translation so it can be understood by a wide range of nationalities. The translation must be void of idiomatic expressions, slang and regionalisms that are only understood by a few.

One of the things I always ask our clients is pretty revealing to them. How many qualified people in your company look at and change an English document before it is suited to be distributed or published? How many people make sure the document is perfect? What are the qualifications of those people? Shouldn’t your Spanish translation be handled the same way? Certainly your foreign audience deserves the same respect as your English audience. So just like you don’t compromise the quality of your English document by having someone non qualified write it, you shouldn't compromise the quality of the translated document. Your image depends on it. I am sure you have heard of all the blunders that have occurred, and that have affected the image of those companies, because they didn't think that the translation process needed to be just like their English process.

We don't need a translator, we have this great software. It all depends on the situation. For informal emails, they are great, for all other important documents remember that no software can replace the work of a translator, just like no software can write a sales brochure or an employee manual or a hospital form. You need humans to do that. What we at Strictly Spanish tell our clients is simple: run the document by your software and then do a translation of that document back into English. You will be very surprised of what you get and it will be enough to make you realize that there is no substitute for a human translation. Some people have considered having a professional translator edit the document that they ran through the software, but I don't know of any company or translator who would edit a machine translation. We all know that the time it would take to try to fix a machine translation will be much longer than translating in the first place.

How bad is that error? Can we live with it? Sometimes when we evaluate a translation that a potential client showed us that was done by a non-professional we point out errors, typos, etc. We always hear the same thing: How bad is the error? Can we live with it? An error is an error and if you will not allow errors in your English documents, how can you even think that the error is not bad enough in the translated document just because you can’t read it? What constitutes a “good” error? I still have not found a “good” error in all my years as editor and translator.

With those issues out of the way, let's concentrate on two points that will assist you throughout your process.

First, determine what the document will be used for. Is it an informal email to communicate back and forth with a potential client? Is it a sales brochure, an employee manual, a website, etc.?

Like I said before, if it is an informal email a simple machine translation will do. You and your potential client will get the gist of what is being said and it will help you communicate efficiently and fast. This is very economical way to communicate because it doesn't cost you anything and you can be translating back and forth as you communicate with your client. Although emails also reflect on the image of your company, we believe that most people understand that they are an informal way to communicate and concessions are made because of time. We offer a very good free little machine in our website: http://www.strictlyspanish.com/resource.htm. Feel free to use it.

If you intend to publish the document, then you must definitely use the services of a translation company because of all the reasons explained before. Respect your client, your employees, and your image by having the Spanish translation of your documents done by professionals.

Should you use a freelancer or a translation company or even a teacher or a student at a local university? Without a doubt there are some excellent freelancers out there, and we certainly are staffed with some of the best there are. And there are some excellent teachers out there, too. Teaching a foreign language requires a specific set of skills. These are seldom the same skills needed to become a translator and to produce quality translations. And if you are thinking about students, would you allow a medical student to operate on you? Again, your image is your biggest asset—don't place it in the hands of non professionals.

As far as using a freelancer, my opinion is that just like you don't publish something without having many sets of eyes looking at the document and expressing their opinions, why leave your very important documents in the hands of just one person, when you can have a professional company provide you with Spanish translations that would have been checked by at least three people? Your image and any possible legal liabilities are worth the extra cost. In my 30 years in this business, I am yet to have a translation done by one person that can be sent directly to a client without any additional editing and proofreading. So, my feeling is that when you publish the translation of one person, you are publishing the mistakes of that person and no one has checked their work. At Strictly Spanish, we guarantee our quality control. I am not going to go into it here but you can check our website to see all the steps we go through to make sure the translations we provide to our clients are among the best in the industry.

Once you decide which way to go, get involved, research, ask questions. Just like with everything else in life, remember that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If a cost is too cheap, your translation might also be cheaply done. Good translators charge a lot more than bad translators. That is because good translators never have to worry about having enough work—bad translators will work at any cost to get jobs because they are bad. Think about that when making your decision. Quality has a cost, just like the products and services you sell. Don't settle for anything less than the best—avoid the legal liabilities associated with bad translations. Your image and your bottom line depend on it.

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How many qualified people in your company look at and change an English document before it is suited to be distributed or published? Shouldn’t your Spanish translation be handled the same way?