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A man makes a checklist and calculations to try and reduce translation costsWhether you’re a first time or a veteran translation buyer, you may find yourself wondering how you can reduce translation costs. We’re going to lay out some practical steps you can take to avoid additional costs that can add up if you’re not careful. And the best part is that none of these steps involve working with a cut-rate agency who pays their translators a pittance, skimps on quality, and neglects project management!

Provide translation-ready source files

Providing a translation-ready source file involves three main aspects:

  1. File type and layout
  2. Final copy
  3. Fonts

An example of hard returns mid-sentence in a Word documentWe’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: a PDF is NOT a source file. Some examples of translation-friendly file types are Word documents, INDD (or better yet, IDML) design files, Excel worksheets, SRT subtitle files, and HTML files. Once you’ve gotten your hands on the true source file, you can go a step further to reduce translation costs by ensuring that the layout is translation ready. For a Word file, this means ensuring that there are no hard returns mid-sentence (or anywhere else that they shouldn’t be). And we’ve written a few guides for translation-friendly design layouts and how to best prepare InDesign files for translation. If you are cost-conscious and willing to do some front-end work to reduce translation costs, let your language service provider (LSP) know and they can counsel you on the best way to do so for whatever project you’re working on together.

Sending final copy will always help keep your translation costs lower than sending draft copy that will ultimately need to be edited. Even a single round of edits once translation has already begun will generally incur an additional minimum charge for new/updated copy, not to mention the additional time it takes to review, prepare, and get the new copy into the translator’s hands. Depending on your process (for example, if typesetting is involved), sending edits while translation is already in progress can also disrupt the additional processes which results in additional costs. If you practice excellent version control (see more on that later), you can minimize the additional investment that edits to the source copy incur.

Finally, research the fonts you are using in your source files to ensure that they have language support for your target language. In order to reduce translation costs, you’ll want your source document to be in a font that supports your target language(s). If that’s not possible, be intentional about providing your LSP with the fonts they’ll need for each language. An experienced LSP will certainly be capable of finding or suggesting fonts for you to use, but if you want to avoid any risk of going overbudget, you’ll want to do this yourself ahead of time.

Provide a glossary of key terms

The cover of a bilingual glossary from the Los Angeles Department of TransportationProviding a glossary of important terms in the source and target language has a two-fold benefit. It will save your LSP time and potential rework, which can help reduce translation costs. It will also give you ownership over the terminology being used in your translated materials. We are well-versed in terminology mining and management and it’s something we often do for our clients. If your aim is to lower that bottom line, however, doing this prep work can help. Provide your LSP with key terms in the source material as well as the translated term that has been used in your previously translated materials. If you’re new to translation, you may want to avail yourself of the many publicly available glossaries online for industries ranging from healthcare to law. Our translators are experts in their field, but in some cases, there will be multiple translations for the same term or idea and it’s important to remain consistent where key terms are concerned. If you have a reference point that you prefer to use (such as CMS or WHO), go ahead and prepare that glossary ahead of time so it’s available to the translation team before work begins.

Practice excellent version control

A screenshot of a PDF comparison from DraftableVersion control comes into play in two main instances. The first we mentioned above: sending edits to your LSP after translation has begun on a project. Maintaining a copy document and tracking changes in Word is typically a translation-friendly way to send edits. That way they are clear and there is no guesswork on the part of the translation team. If you must make the edits directly in the design file, we recommend running a PDF comparison between versions. Adobe has this as a built-in function, or you can use an online service such as Draftable. Send that PDF compare report to your LSP so they can see exactly where changes were made. Sloppy version control puts the onus on your LSP to find where changes were made which takes time and drives up cost.

Good version control is also important when you’re updating an asset that has previously been translated. The reasons why are generally the same as the example above, but you can read more in our post about content reuse. Content reuse can reduce translation costs over time because if your LSP uses Translation Memory (or TM, which they certainly should be), you get a discount on copy that has been translated before.

Group as much content as possible

We see this all the time – clients who aren’t familiar with the translation industry assume that a “small” translation such as a social media post or a clothing tag will be charged per word. This is hardly ever the case, as translators charge a minimum fee for content of approximately 250 words or less. The good news is that if you can group a bunch of small pieces together, you can benefit from that minimum charge and the more content you send, the more cost-efficient you get. For example, if you have a social media content calendar, you may be able to translate your next 6 months’ worth of posts for the same investment as translating a single post. Repetitive content is also typically charged at a discounted per-word rate, so if you have 50 clothing tags that are all slight variations on the same copy, you can reduce translation costs by having them translated all at the same time.

How not to reduce translation costs

If you’re not familiar with the translation industry, you may have done some research or otherwise come up with an idea of what you think translation should cost. And chances are you can find an agency who will be within that budget. Ultimately, however, investing in the following, which low-cost agencies aren’t including in their quotes, can help you reduce translation costs in the long run.

Project management can mean the difference between smooth sailing and a massive headache. Dedicated project management ensures that certain standards are maintained throughout all aspects of the project and that your budget and timeframe are respected. Translation agencies who don’t charge you for project management are often limited to doing the bare minimum, as their rates don’t factor in the time it takes to troubleshoot issues that come up, incorporate edits faithfully, or do a multistep QA process.

While a multistep QA process initially represents an increased investment, ultimately you may find that it helps reduce translation costs that arise due to mistakes. We run QA on the translation itself in our computer assisted translation (CAT) tool software, as well as doing a proof of the final translated layout against the source document. This ensures no inconsistencies in the translation or typographical errors are made, as well as maintaining visual elements such as font styles and formatting.

Additionally, not all translation providers offer services such as multilingual DTP (or typesetting). As with multistep QA, this represents an initial investment that may ultimately reduce translation costs over time. We’ve had clients send us samples of design file layouts delivered by low rate per word vendors that were clearly not touched by a professional typesetter (or if they were, they certainly didn’t undergo a visual proof afterwards). The translation was broken up willy-nilly all over the page and formatting was not applied properly. Working with an LSP who has experience in multilingual typesetting can save you time and rework that result when the layout wasn’t done properly in the first place.

There are plenty of agencies out there who charge a bargain basement per-word rate. And if cost is the main (or only) factor you’re considering when buying translation, you’ll get what you pay for. If you’re looking to reduce translation costs, you may be tempted by a low per-word rate. We’d encourage you to consider the points presented above as ways to avoid spending more without compromising quality.