Managing Translation Projects

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Question:
I have to translate my latest docs and we don’t have any process in place. How have you done this in the past?

Answer:
If you have no budget at all, try to find someone at your company who’s a native speaker and who knows your industry’s jargon – in that language. Then, convince them to spend months of their time working on your translation project for free.

You can use Google Translate, a form of machine translation, but know that the result may not be plausible. To test this out, go find a web page in another language, particularly one that is very unrelated to your language, run that through Google Translate, and see how much sense it makes. I’ve tried using Google to back-translate a few of our Japanese-language manuals where I knew the original English-language content, and the results were remarkably surreal. They *almost* made sense, and then there’d be some random, poetically evocative sentence fragment, just floating in space.

The consensus among localization experts is that there’s a time and place for machine translation, and a time and place for human judgment. Read John Yunker’s book “The Savvy Client’s Guide to Translation Agencies”. This book got me through my first Japanese translation meeting and made me look like the expert I wasn’t.

Some companies trying to break into foreign markets will partner with local companies that know the area. These partners may also be responsible for translation, which seems grand – hey, we’re off the hook! – but you lose control over the quality of the outcome. The one time I did this, the Japanese partner had several other subcontractors working for them, and the first phone meeting was like walking through fog. I spoke no Japanese, and only one person on the other end had any convincing grasp of spoken English.

Amazingly enough, the translations came out well. This may be due to a Japanese cultural reverence for quality and attention to detail, or it could be that the Japanese team was just super dedicated. I wouldn’t count on this process working so smoothly in other places or even with other partners.

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