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outline of translation project flowchart

It’s not always comfortable to send your documents out for external handling, is it? Even sending a simple stamped letter can wrack your nerves, once you start thinking about what the letter goes through between leaving your hands and reaching its destination… because once you start thinking about it, you realize how little you know about it, which leads to doubt and anxiety (if you’re prone to those things). What if the address gets smudged? What if it gets stuck under the seat in the mail van? What if it gets mixed in with the junk mail, or goes to the wrong apartment?

And that’s just for a basic postal delivery. What about an involved, multi-step process like translation?

This week, we thought it would be useful to write something educative to alleviate these worries, should you have them – a closer look at the life cycle of a translation project.

Why? It’s just turning one language into another, isn’t it?

No, it’s not as cut-and-dried as that. Let’s go through it stage by stage, from first contact to final delivery.

To start with, we’ll need a hypothetical project for translation. Let’s say: a manual about an expanding ISP, complete with graphics and artful layout. Format: Adobe InDesign. Word count: 6000. Source language: English. Target languages: 6 in all (Spanish, French, Portuguese, Arabic, Vietnamese and Japanese). Now, let’s begin:

Step One – Analysis and Estimate

Before anything else can happen, we’ll ask you to send us whatever it is you need translated. Our pricing depends upon the languages you need, the nature of the text, and any reasonable budget and time constraints. For accuracy in analysis, it’s best for us to have access to the actual file (in this case, the source InDesign file) from the very beginning. However, for various reasons, you may be hesitant to let the source file out of your hands until you’ve decided to proceed with the translation project; in this case, you may send a Word version, or even a PDF if that’s all you have. If necessary, we will convert the document into a format that our software can read. Next, we will run the text through one of our translation management tools, ending up with a total word count with all internal repetitions and matches noted. If you’re a standing client with us, we will also compare the text to your translation memory at this stage, to see if we have any previous translations that could be applied here (FYI, if you weren’t already aware: repetitions, high-percentage matches and pre-existing translations are billed at reduced rates). And if we haven’t already asked you questions about additional needs (desktop publishing, review, and so on), this is where you can expect another call from us! Once we’ve got all the info we need, we will prepare your quote and send it to you.

Why can’t you tell me what the languages cost before you prepare the quote?

For one thing, not all text is created equal. Specialized subject matter and content will affect the cost. For another, we’re always open to working with your budget and timeline after you’ve seen our estimate, so if our quotes should be a little too high for you, just talk to us! However, I can say that our least expensive language is Spanish. Slightly more costly are the other major languages of Western Europe and the Americas (French, German, Portuguese, Italian, Dutch). As you move further north and east in Europe, and then as you leave the Latin alphabet and move into different writing systems (like Arabic, Cyrillic, Hebrew, and most Asian languages), the translation and typesetting process becomes more involved.

loc processWell, the price is good, but it looks like this will take longer than I thought. Why is that?

That’s a good question. Like the cost, the turn-around time for translation and proofreading is based on the word count, which you can see in the quote for yourself. Speaking safely and conservatively, you can count on a professional translator getting through 2000 words a day; for proofreading, we generally allow half the time of translation. The number of languages doesn’t matter at this point – all translations will be taking place concurrently. So, for 6000 words, we would quote 4-5 business days for translating and proofreading alone. Any additional steps, like typesetting, review or special file preparation, will require their own time. We also work with a vast network of freelance translators and proofreaders, who all have their own assignments and schedules to juggle. And if at all possible, we like to allow a cushion of time for any incidental slowdowns or obstacles (system outages that impair our Internet access, for example).

Okay, that makes sense, but what if I need it sooner than that?

We’ll get to that later. Let’s assume that you accept our quote and give us the go-ahead. Now we go to:

Step Two – File Preparation and Upload

Plenty of translation projects don’t need this step. Plain Word documents and text files without graphics won’t need special treatment before translation begins. But your manual with graphics and artwork will! This is where your source InDesign file will be cleaned up and converted into a translation-ready format, and then uploaded to one of our translation management tools, where our translators can get to work on it in:

Step Three – Translation and Proofreading

At this stage, it’s best for us to let the translators do their work in peace, so now’s a great time to relax and think about how you’ll use your new foreign language manuals! Do keep an eye out for messages from us, though. Our translators may have queries about the text, which we will pass along to you as soon as they come in. Remember, your text is being worked on by two professionals with native-level proficiency in the target language and specialized subject-matter expertise. When they’re done, it’s time for:

Step Four – Content Review

Again, depending on the nature of your project, this may not be necessary. Documents for personal use, or documents that will only be used within your business, can probably do without this step. But again, not your translation project! Since you’ll be sending these manuals out to your growing client base in six foreign markets, it is highly advisable to have your new translations checked by native speakers of the target languages on your end. You won’t hurt our feelings – in fact, we really want you to do this, and let us know of any changes your reviewers request!

What if I don’t have reviewers on my end? What can I do?

Not to worry, this is something we can help you with, too. We may have to discuss this in a future blog.

Is there a shorter-term solution? It could take a while to find reviewers that I trust.

One good way to reduce the short-term need for internal review on future projects: setting up glossaries in your target languages. We and our resources can work with you to create official term bases, so that all translators in all languages will be on the same page with your company-specific terms. We can also work with you to create style guides for translators, to preserve the desired attitude and tone of voice in all of your translations.

I want to see what my manuals will look like now. Can’t we do this part later?

Yes, we could do that, but you might regret it badly, especially if you’re on a budget. Let’s discuss that in:

editingStep Five – Typesetting and Final Proof

With your approval, we will move your translation into typesetting, and soon we’ll have beautiful, laid-out PDF proofs of your manual in all languages. We will go over the proofs in-house, looking for any formatting adjustments that need to be made. If your source language is English, you can almost always count on some expansion in your translations. For instance, you can expect a French translation to be about half again as long as the English source, on average. If after content review, the text is still too big for the set parameters of your manual, some formatting tweaks may be enough to fix it. We will then send our corrected proofs back to the translators for approval, and then on to you for the final OK.

Now, if you come to us with changes to make once the translation has been typeset, it’s not the end of the world! This is something we can do with no problem. But, it will be much easier on your budget to make any changes when we’re still in the translation/proofreading stage. Post-typeset changes mean more billable typesetting hours – that beautiful document will need to be reopened, changed, reformatted and saved in every language. Depending on how the project had to be typeset in the first place (different file types require different methods), those hours can add up in a hurry. And you never want to spend money you might not have had to!

In any case, after everything is nice and approved, we move on to:

Step Six – Delivery

Not much to say here – after you sign off on the proofs, we will send you final, translated InDesign files, shortly followed by our invoice, our thanks, and our hope to work with you again soon. Delivering projects of different natures will include further elements. A legal translation project or a personal document (like a birth certificate or a diploma) will need certification, notarization, and possibly a hard copy delivery; for such a project, we’d have asked about this stuff back in the quoting stage. One note: unless otherwise instructed, we always deliver translations in source format. If you send us a Word file, that’s what you’ll get back. If you need delivery in a different format, or in multiple formats, be sure to let us know.

That’s all for this week – be sure to check back with us next week, when we’ll talk about the answers to the questions raised above, and how we can work together to make your translation experience as smooth and effective as possible. À la prochaine!