Getting Your Marketing Materials Professionally Translated

by Francine Brevetti on December 14, 2011

Need to translate your marketing materials into a foreign language? If you plan to use Google’s translation software or hire someone on the cheap, you probably aren’t ready to do international business, the American Translators Association says. Choosing a translator or an interpreter requires an investment of time, money, and care.

Translation, which refers to the rendering of written text in another language, and interpretation, which applies to verbal work, are difficult tasks. Yet all-too-frequently companies try to save money by taking shortcuts. In doing so, they run the risk of ruining their brand’s image in their target countries, ATA spokesman Kevin Hendzel says. For example, companies should generally avoid hiring a native speaker who is not a professional translator (and lacks academic certification), trying to do the job themselves, even if they speak the foreign language. Instead, seek out a language instructor who better understands the subtleties of translation.

“So many people think that if you can speak a language you can translate or interpret. But that’s not enough,” says Nienke Lels-Hohmann, a translator of German and an interpreter of French and Dutch. “This is especially true if you are dealing with material that is legal, real estate, or financial in nature. Google cannot translate this.” Online translation tools are suitable for travelers and casual use, but not for business purposes.

Professional translation agencies and translators generally charge by the word, starting around a few cents. The price may increase with the rarity of language; for instance, Hungarian or Finnish may cost more than French or Spanish. Urgent jobs and technical information also drive the price up. Lels-Hohmann, who works primarily with business leaders, charges $80 an hour, which is on the high side. Translators Café says the average fee for someone translating French to English in the U.S. commands a minimum of $27.87 an hour (or 10 cents a word).

Tips for hiring professional translators and interpreters

  • Look for a certified translator or interpreter who works with a translation company. Or call the nearest consulate or embassy of your target country; officials often maintain lists of qualified candidates.
  • Before you give the original English text to a translator, remove any portions which won’t apply in your target country; this will cut down on your expenses whether you’re paying by the word or by the hour.
  • Make sure your translator has the final copy of the text. This will reduce the need for revisions and potential errors — and also save you money.
  • Adding images, graphics, and maps increases the comprehension of your materials in foreign markets.
  • If you are pressed for time and want to use machine translation, make sure a qualified human translator edits and proofreads the manuscript afterward. Idioms are rarely grasped by machine translation and can make your document incomprehensible if rendered by a computer.
  • If you are seeking live simultaneous interpretation, such as for a conference call, look for an interpreter who’s in your time zone. (“Once I got a request from the U.K., but by the time it got to me that deadline had passed,” Lels-Hohmann says.) Provide the topic of the meeting and a list of industry terminology before the call, so your interpreter can come prepared.
  • Be realistic about your deadlines. Quality translation and interpretation take time. “It’s a challenge because you need to find the exact word,” Lels-Hohmann says.