Friday, March 29, 2019

Translation for Global Trade: How to Choose a Language Partner

by WTC Guest Blogger Myriam Siftar, President and CEO of MTM LinguaSoft  

A relationship with a translation and localization partner is an important ingredient for a successful export program. As your global footprint grows, customers will expect content in their own language. In addition to translation for supporting sales and marketing, you may need packaging and labeling, safety information, manuals, regulatory documents, and even mobile apps and machinery interfaces.

A look at the language services landscape reveals an array of very different options, and it can be difficult to decide where to start. 

If you need translation for only one language in a limited subject domain, you could work directly with one or more freelance translators on a contract basis. Screen freelancers carefully: translators face no official licensing requirements in the US. You do not want to entrust a technical translation project to someone who runs it through Google Translate and calls it done. 

A good source for freelancers is the American Translator’s Association directory. This professional organization tests and certifies translators in most business language pairs, so ATA certification is good proof of competency.

Subject matter knowledge is as important as linguistic skills. Look for a technical translator with a graduate degree and/or demonstrated experience in your area of expertise; check references to make sure they have the right experience.

You should also ask whether the translator uses the latest CAT (Computer Aided Translation) tools. CAT tools ensure consistency across translations and create “translation memories” to cut the costs of future updates.  SDL Studio and MemoQ are industry leaders, and most professionals have experience with one of these.

There are four issues to keep in mind when working with freelancers:
  1. If you are translating into more than one language, the administrative work of managing multiple freelancers will increase exponentially.
  2. You are working with a technical translator and you need marketing copy as well, one person might not be skilled in both. As with technical vs. creative writers, translators tend to specialize in one or the other.
  3. You’ll need a back-up plan in case your translator runs into trouble meeting a deadline.
  4. If you need additional language-related services like DTP, software localization, or subtitling/voiceovers you may need to contract separately for these with someone else.

Language Service Partners (LSPs)
A language service partner typically draws on a network of translators in many language pairs and subject domain specialties, with in-house bilingual project managers and a dedicated vendor management function for vetting and testing linguists. Because of the technical demands of digital platforms, an LSP should have a strong information technology infrastructure and knowledge base. They also tend to offer a variety of language related services beyond translation.

How do you find an LSP? 
There are many, many independent language service partners in the US, from SMEs to multinational corporations.  If you search Google using “translation services in Philadelphia,” you are likely to find the largest international translation companies. The question you should ask yourself is whether the size of your export program warrants top-shelf treatment from a company whose clients include 3M, Northrop Grumman, and Toshiba.

It may make more sense to partner with an LSP who provides guidance and consultation as you grow your export program. You might not find them on the first page of the search listings, or even the second. Asking for referrals from colleagues is a more effective search method if you are looking for a partner who is familiar with your industry and will take the time to understand your needs.

The World Trade Center and other professional organizations exist to help members share information.  Asking here would be a good first step. LinkedIn is also a resource for finding out whether your business network connects to LSP personnel.

What should you ask an LSP?
Most LSPs can put together a translation team for any language and do a competent job on a translation project. The main differentiator between LSPs is what they bring to their relationships with their clients. Your expectations for an LSP should be similar to your expectations for a creative agency or marketing firm. They should have an established record of doing good work, and they should know your industry and be eager to learn more about your export program and translation needs.

Like any business service vendor, an LSP should be able to provide names and contact information of references in your general business domain (law, manufacturing, pharma, etc.). If they refuse, or if their contacts are less than enthusiastic, keep moving!

Finally, an LSP should play nice with others. If you intend to localize a website or translate marketing content, you want to work with project managers who can communicate clearly with your developer or creative team. If you are localizing digital media like e-learning, software, websites, and mobile apps, you’ll want a project manager with the relevant technical expertise.

What should an LSP ask you?
When you contact an LSP for a particular project, or to establish the groundwork for an ongoing partnership, you should pay attention to what the LSP asks you.  Their questions should include:
  •          Who is the audience for the translated materials? What is their level of technical  sophistication?
  •          Do you need translation for publication or will it be used in-house?
  •          Do you have previously translated materials that can be used as references?
  •          Do you plan to re-use content to publish on different digital platforms?
  •          Do you have a list of approved terminology for your English language publications and a style guide?
  •          What are your timelines?

In conclusion
Every translation job is different, and every translation client has different needs. During the first few translation projects, you should expect a lot of requests for clarification from your project manager. They’ll want to make sure the deliverables are exactly what you need, and you’ll be educated on localization workflows. However, as time passes, your language partner will understand your requirements and preferences and the process will move smoothly.  

MTM LinguaSoft is a language service partner providing translation services for international business. Located in Philadelphia, they can be contacted at  215-729-6765, or

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