If you’ve never had a need for localisation services before, you might be tempted to lean on your own employees to get a translation done. This option seems appealing at first – no need to hire an external supplier, after all – and you might even save time and money? In fact, using non-professional translators is a false economy, and more often than not creates more work and headaches for you down the line.

Here we look at a handful of reasons why working with a professional translation provider just makes sense. There are plenty more, of course, but let’s start with the ones that matter the most.

1. Translation is a specialist skill

It’s extremely easy to fall into the trap of thinking that someone’s ability to speak more than one language means they’ll make a good translator. In many situations, like ordering a meal at a restaurant abroad or giving a friend the basic gist of a sign, being bilingual is enough. Translation, however, demands more than just being able to understand two languages.

Like any kind of writing, translation is a specialist skill, often requiring a specific degree in the source language, time spent living in the country where the language is spoken and years of on-the-job training and development. Think about content production in your company’s first language – would you trust just any employee to write your marketing copy or product manuals? In these cases, it’s best to get experts involved, and the same goes for translation.

As a rule, professional translators only ever translate into their native language. If you don’t have the right combination of languages amongst your employees, then this means people could be translating into their second or third language – bringing us neatly to our next point.

2. It’s impossible to know the quality of your translation

If you don’t personally speak the languages you need to translate into, how will you assess the quality of your employees’ work? Can you check whether the tone of voice, brand positioning or even spelling and grammar are correct? This is doubly important if you’re asking someone to translate into a language that isn’t their native one.

Let’s take English as an example. The Nordic countries all feature highly in international rankings of English ability. After all, children learn the language from a young age at home and at school, and often get excellent grades in the language before going to university. Studies in Norway have shown, however, that many Norwegian school-leavers lack the English skills required at university level, where much teaching material is in English.

When it comes to using English in the workplace, they also face challenges, such as a being perceived as rude when speaking English due to a lack of awareness of cultural differences and the appropriate expressions to use in various contexts.

If you’re a Nordic company exporting to an English-speaking country, relying on your own workforce for English-language content is risky. As we’ll see below, the risks of an inaccurate translation can be severe.

3. It’s not a good use of your time and money

Often employees asked to translate have to fit that work in around their everyday responsibilities. Their core role might not have anything to do with translation or even content production. This means that the translation might not be given the time and focus needed to produce a professional result, and increases the workload and stress on employees who are asked to do the work.

You also need to consider the cost impact for your company. A non-professional translator may take much longer to produce a translation than a professional (time they could spend doing other work) and getting access to linguistic resources like dictionaries and specialist glossaries means more expense on your part. Professional translators who do this on a daily basis will have all the resources at their fingertips.

4. Translators have tools to speed up their work

A translation company has the scale and time to invest in solutions that improve translation quality and consistency and speed up overall production times. Professional translators use specialised CAT (computer-aided translation) tools that allow them to focus on the text without affecting the formatting of the document. These tools also give translators access to two powerful features that help massively with consistency: translation memories and term bases.

A translation memory (TM) stores all previous translations on a particular topic – take finance, for example. If you regularly translate the same type of document – say a quarterly report where only some numbers and a few lines of text change – then a TM will massively cut down on time spent and avoid repeating work as much as possible. Translation companies invest in the infrastructure required to host a TM so you don’t have to.

A term base (TB) serves as a highly specialised glossary. Translation companies might maintain term bases on a specific domain, e.g. finance or medicine, to save the translator time looking up words in the dictionary and maintaining accurate, consistent use of terms. Translation companies can also create a TB that’s specific to one client, which means that your internal terminology and tone of voice will always remain the same.

These resources need maintenance to remain effective – something that translation companies consider a worthwhile investment – but that might be prohibitively costly or complex for you.

5. Internal translation doesn’t scale

If you decide to expand into a new region and none of your employees speaks the language there, how will you deliver a translation? You’re effectively faced with two options: turn to an external supplier or hire an employee who speaks that language. If the work volumes are low, this is unlikely to be a shrewd investment. Translation companies have vetted, trusted internal and external linguists standing by that can provide almost any language you require, removing the headache of recruiting your own translator.

The other consideration is growth in volume of content. If you experience a sudden upswing in the volume of content requiring translation, for example manuals, support articles and marketing collateral for a new project launch, translation could turn into a full-time job for the employee you’ve delegated it to. If after the launch volumes fall, your employee will return to their daily duties which have been neglected in the meantime.

As well as being a financially unwise decision, this fluctuation in workloads and responsibilities can create work-related stress and anxiety and negatively impact other employees who have to cover for your translator when they’re away from their day-to-day.

6. Mistakes can cost you customers and damage your reputation

We’ve all experienced poor translation – the menu at the foreign restaurant promising delicacies consisting of testicles and bits of old tyre, for example. Think about how this was for you as a customer. You probably laughed at first, but were you able to actually decipher what was meant? Did you order that item in the end that the menu claimed to be made from fish slime?

In other situations, the implications of translation mistakes can be more serious. Inappropriate tone, for example using profanity or informal language in the wrong context, could offend your customers and drive down sales. On social media, being too formal could actually lead to disengagement amongst your audience.

By neglecting to use a professional translator, you’re giving users outside of your home market a second-class experience.

Mistranslations of terminology can confuse users (we’ve probably all tried to follow a poorly translated electronics manual at some point) and increase support requests as customers aren’t given the tools they need to help themselves.

Fuzzy or poorly worded contract clauses can lead to differing interpretations of terms and conditions, potentially increasing costs for you and straining relations with your clients or suppliers.

In the worst-case scenario, poor translations can lead to serious safety risks if dangers associated with your product aren’t clearly explained. These errors may lead to injury or damage to property and may expose you to significant legal risks.

Professional translators know the right terms to use to match your customers’ expectations and ensure legal compliance. If customer experience is a core value at your company, by neglecting to use a professional translator, you’re giving users outside of your home market a second-class experience.

Translation is a sometimes overlooked step in the process of creating a great experience no matter where your customers are based. To avoid the pitfalls mentioned above, think about localisation early and consider enlisting a trusted supplier to take care of the translation work for you. As well as protecting your brand and keeping your customers happy, you’ll end up saving time and money in the long run.

Industry issues, Project management, Translation tips