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The translation manager's dilemma

The translation manager's dilemmaSusan Otterson of Carl Zeiss Meditec posed the following questions on LinkedIn:

What to you do say when project managers ask "Why do the translations take so long, and why are they so expensive?"

You've probably heard this a thousand times. "We're only changing a few words here and there, so why do translations cost so much and take so long?" I try to educated people on the process, but it's like it goes in one ear and out the other. They never learn from one project to the next. They also don't understand why we can't make changes in the middle of the process without incurring extra cost and delays to the schedule. Any suggestions?
This does, in fact, come up regularly, particularly in small and medium-sized medical device companies. When we run into this challenge, we encourage clients to try some of the following:
  1. Develop an internal translation request form (can be offline or online) that includes minimum charges and turnaround times. This way, internal customers see the impact of the volume of changes first-hand.
  2. Ask your supplier to organize lunch-and-learn sessions with your internal constituents. We have found that the more that engineers, writers, marketers and RA folk know about translation, the better.
  3. Quantify the volume of changes (actual # of changes x target languages) to establish objective categories for "small", "medium" and "large" updates. It can also be good for the authors to know that their "small" update is, in fact, a 40% re-write.
  4. Consider developing different processes (and timelines and costs) for different sized projects. That way you can avoid the time and expense or re-editing and re-formatting unchanged text.
  5. Track metrics to show that projects without "changes in the middle of the process" get done faster and for less money. Make sure your regularly communicate internally around these metrics.
Despite all of these though, some companies' corporate culture simply can't (or won't) work this way. In that case, rather than fighting windmills, clients should search for a supplier who can work in this environment.

Do you have any other suggestions that would help clients?


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3 Comments:

  1. Ana said...
    In Spain the situation is even worse. They want professional results but they don't want to pay for them. I think outside the translation world, of course, people think that translation can be done by anyone. In the US there's not even a Translation degree...
    Barbara Thomas said...
    Good point and recommendations.

    With pretorian control of source documents and translations, the problem is relatively manageable and, consequently, less expensive. Writers, for instance, can mark the changes to be made and translators can introduce them. A per change fee can be levied and we have a happy customer.

    How often does this happen? Not nearly often enough. Clients introduce undocumented changes or switch language service providers between documents. In the best of cases, we have the source document for the last translation and the revised source document for comparison. Under less favorable circumstances the translator for each language has to scrutinize the document to detect all the undocumented changes that have crept into the text over time and costs steadily creep upwards.
    Johanna Schels said...
    In the US, there is the Master in Translation Studies which is offered by a few of the elite universities like Kent State. There is certification through the American Translators Association. This exam is a very, very challenging exam which can not be passed by a bilingual person without significant experience in translation. The pass rate is approx. 30% or less. Greetings, Johanna Schels

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