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Professional Translation Services: The 5 Main Benefits for Businesses

“Our bilingual intern translated our website last year. Could you have a look at it, please? I think we may need professional translation services.”

This type of enquiry isn’t as rare as you might think. Many businesses attempt to make their products and services more accessible by relying on either machine translation tools or bilingual employees. However, there’s much more to a good translation than hiring someone who’s bilingual or using Google Translate. 

This article will show you what businesses can and should expect from professional translators (either self-employed or via a high-quality translation agency), and when amateur translators or machine translations may be sufficient.

In this post:

What are professional translation services?

Professional translation services are those offered by a trained translator and experienced subject expert who either translates into their mother tongue or has native-level proficiency in the target language. They may be freelancers who work with direct clients and translation agencies, or they could be working in-house for a business.

The UK’s Chartered Institute of Linguists’ (CIOL) professional code of conduct principles gives us a good overview of what qualities professional translators and other linguists should possess:

Qualities of translators offering professional translation services

Sound professional judgement

A high-quality translator will only accept work they’re fully competent to take on and that isn’t against their professional association’s ethics guidelines. So, look out for translators who are registered with a professional translation association, e.g. the CIOL or the Institute of Translating and Interpreting (ITI) in the UK. They’ll be qualified and usually specialise in certain subject areas.

Excellent linguistic competence

Professional translators typically will only translate into their mother tongue. However, there are exceptions to this rule: for example, there are high-quality translators who’ve been living and working in a country where the target language is spoken and who’ve passed relevant translation exams in this language.

Solid subject knowledge

Would you trust a medical translator to take on legal translations? You shouldn’t, unless they’re qualified and/or truly experienced in doing both. According to CIOL, qualifications can take the form of “translation qualifications, experience, research, self-guided learning or training (informal and formal)”.

General professional competence

Translators should only take on work in which they have “the necessary professional, technical, practical and theoretical knowledge and skills”. Good subject knowledge isn’t enough here. An understanding of translation theory and practical experience in using certain Computer Assisted Translation (CAT) tools is often essential.

Commitment to continuing professional development

Continuous training is a must for any professional translator, as they need to stay up to date in their chosen subject areas. For example, marketing translators based in the UK also may be members of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) and complete relevant CPD training there each year.

Integrity when dealing with clients and colleagues

It’s important to disclose any conflicts of interest or potential breaches of ethics codes before starting a translation. Translating with integrity also means remaining impartial and unbiased, keeping documents confidential, protecting data, and taking responsibility for the overall quality of the translation work.

Responsible behaviour towards their professional association(s)

Professional translators deal with both clients and colleagues politely, with integrity and honesty. They’ll be careful not to discredit their profession or their professional associations.

High-quality translators often display the logos of their professional associations on their websites, so they’re easy to spot.

Professional translation services vs amateur translation services

Now, let’s go into some details of what else businesses can expect from a professional translator and how they compare to amateur translation services in terms of cost and value.

How much does a professional translator charge?

The short answer: it varies, but professional translators may not be as expensive as you think! Generally speaking, the cost of a professional translation depends on a few factors.

  • Subject area and specialisation: legal, marketing, complex technical and medical translations are usually more expensive than a “general” translation would be. That’s because it takes time to become an expert in these areas.
  • Type: is it a website translation or a technical document? Do you need a certified translation of a legal document or a transcreation of a slogan or brochure? All of these will have quite different prices.

    A marketing slogan of 5 words won’t necessarily be cheaper than a standard blog post translation. To come up with a creative slogan that works well in the target market can take many hours and should be compensated accordingly.
  • Deadline: a good translation takes time and effort, so businesses should expect to pay extra for tight turnaround times. However, it’s best to give your translator enough time in the first instance, so they can be sure to deliver a high-quality service to you.

Many professionals charge per word, per line or per hour, though specialists may also quote per project. Don’t forget that quotes typically take into account not just the translation itself, but additional research into a certain subject area, competitor analysis, turnaround times, proofreading, and edits.

Are amateur translation services a risk worth taking?

An amateur translator may be bilingual and feel they can offer a translation service (sometimes at a vastly lower cost than professional translators charge). You can compare this to someone more or less competent in using Canva, who then offers “professional graphic design services”. For basic purposes, this level of expertise may be sufficient. Most of the time, sadly, it isn’t.

Amateur translators are unlikely to use professional CAT tools to help with the workflow, spelling, and standardisation of their output. They’re also not bound by any professional conduct rules.

This can lead to disastrous (and, sometimes, funny) results

So, if you a) want to get value for money, and b) expect a high-quality translation of important public-facing content, don’t opt for an amateur translator.

Machine translation: is it worth it over professional translation services?

We live in the era of AI. Google Translate, DeepL, ChatGPT, and other machine translation programmes (MTPs) have certainly changed the translation landscape. For example, in 2017, there were only nine commercial MTPs available globally. In 2022, this had risen to 45 commercial and 4 open-source/pre-trained programmes. Let’s have a look at if tools like these may be an option for your business.

When to use raw machine translation

Raw machine translation is the unedited output you get when you type in a word or phrase into a machine translation tool. While this can be helpful in quickly getting the general gist of a business email, letter, or internal memo, its use isn’t without risks.

None of the AI tools on the market is perfect, and mistranslations are common. For example, puns and humour are likely to be lost in translation, and machines don’t reliably know which word to use in a specific context. Be aware that in some languages, there could be issues if there are mistakes in formal/informal address or gendering

Some businesses may opt for automatic raw machine translations of chatbot content or customer reviews on their website, as users’ expectations may not be as high for these text types. However, depending on the tool used, this could still lead to low-quality or misleading output.

When to use post-edited machine translation

A translation agency may not just work with human translators, but also use machine translation to pre-translate documents. Human translators then review and edit this output, a process called “post-editing”. Neural machine translation tools like DeepL and ChatGPT learn from their mistakes and become better (though not perfect) over time. 

Some businesses may want to use post-edited machine translation in copy they need very quickly, or if they deal with large volumes. This could be internal messages or emails, for example, or a long but fairly simple technical document that would take one human translator days or weeks.

Businesses should bear in mind that post-editing isn’t always faster from a human translator’s point of view. Depending on the quality of the machine translation tool, it can be easier to start from scratch than to try to edit a mediocre grammar structure or a translation that’s too literal.

When to stick to professional translation services

It’s crucial to invest in high-quality translations in specialist areas. Normally, documents and other content in the following subjects are aimed at a very specific target audience and require a qualified translator’s subject expertise, cultural knowledge, and sensitivity.

  • Marketing: copy such as websites, brochures, and leaflets generally should be handled and localised by a professional marketing translator/transcreator. Like copywriters, they’ll use a brief and a mix of copywriting techniques and translation to get the text just right for your target audience.
  • Medicine/ health information: medical and health-related documents use specialist terms and need an expert translator to avoid serious, and in some cases, life-threatening, mistakes.
  • Technical documentation: similarly, complex, confidential or sensitive technical documents are better placed in an experienced human translator’s hands.
  • Legal documents: businesses shouldn’t trust machines to get the nuances of legal terminology right. There are already some examples where this has caused serious issues. Plus, some clients need certified translation services, which can only be done by qualified human translators.
  • Financial text: again, specialised financial translators can avoid pitfalls that could cost your business or your customers a lot of money.

Five reasons to hire professional translation services for specialist and marketing content

We’ve seen above how important it is to invest in professional translation. Let’s summarise the main five reasons why you should hire human experts for your specialist and marketing content.

           1. Quality

Translation experts will take your original document and turn it into an excellent, tailored product for your target audience. To do this, they often use paid CAT tools to help them build a reliable translation memory. They’ll also have practical experience and will normally have translation qualifications in specific subject areas. 

           2. Accuracy

The use of the right terminology and a thorough editing and proofreading process are part of a good translation. As we’ve seen, it’s critical to overcome any cultural barriers and to correctly localise the text for international markets, so accuracy is key.

          3. Industry-specific knowledge

Industry-specific expertise is crucial. Qualified translators will make sure your text is right for your specific target audience and market.

For example, a medical text aimed at the public (e.g. an information sheet for medication) and one for medical experts (e.g. an academic medical journal article) will need to use different terms and wordings to be clearly understood.

          4. Consistency

Sticking with the right terminology in a document is important. To do this, most professional translators keep their translated copy consistent with the help of translation memories. This ensures the consistency of your business’s brand voice and messaging – even in multiple languages.

          5. Efficiency

Many translation projects are most efficiently handled by expert linguists. Yes, machine translation may save time in some cases, but it’s often not the most efficient way of handling a project in terms of quality and value for money. Plus: if you need certified translations, only a qualified translator will do.

Professional translators help you

Whether you work with a self-employed freelancer, hire an in-house translator or use a high-quality translation agency: there’s still a place for human professional translation services. Machine translation has its place in certain contexts, but it certainly isn’t perfect enough (yet) to replace the human touch.

So, if you have a high-value translation project, don’t go for cheap or free machine translation or low-quality translation companies. A professional translation company or qualified self-employed translator is more likely to provide reliable language services. 

Finally, if you’re not sure whether your machine-translated content is good enough, please check with a reliable human translator. They’re happy to help!

Claudia Kozeny-Pelling

Authored by: Claudia Kozeny-Pelling.

Claudia Kozeny-Pelling is a marketing translator and bilingual SEO content writer (English<>German, DipTrans MCIL). She focuses on working with ethical and sustainable brands.

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