Translation Guy’s Secret Sauce: Effective Language Management

by Translation Guy on October 26, 2011

Next couple of posts we are going to get down to translation business. I had Kevin, my web writer, pull together this how-to on language management from all the proposals and memos I’ve been writing on this for my biggest clients over the years.

They say the secret to growing a business is to find a profitable transaction and repeat it endlessly. Well, this is mine, my one trick, my secret sauce. If we can get our clients on this track, then their translation problems disappear, and in their eyes, we will be the best in the business, which we are already, which helps me to sleep at night.

Translations for a multilingual enterprise must be accurate and of high quality. But even leading firms often struggle to manage language effectively. They fail to organize their translation work. As a result, they waste money, experience delays and produce sub-par content. Yet there are guidelines that can help avoid these problems.

It can be hard to know how much an organization spends on translation. Departments may be keeping track of direct costs; but other vendors such as lawyers, creative agencies and production houses buy translations on behalf of their clients, so that translation isn’t recorded as a line item when expensing.

In-house spending can be just as tough to assess. For example, you may have bilingual staff who volunteers for translation work. Do you know how many hours they spend on this?

But, as the saying goes, to manage, you’ve got to measure. Uncovering these hidden numbers can sometimes reveal expensive translation problems.

A further concern is translation quality. This can vary widely. You need to review translations to be sure that your audience understands your message. Quality is key, and as the old saw goes, to manage, you’ve got to measure.

Quality is also a problem with free Internet translation tools such as Google Translate. The standard of such tools is improving, but our tests show that such translation fall far short of usefulness for anything other than gist or internal review. Without a human check, a machine translation may not say what you intend.

And it’s worth remembering too, that when you use a free Internet translation tool, you are broadcasting your content to the World Wide Web. Confidential information is available to anyone, thanks to machine translation spiders, which recycle translations as they improve their own engines.

Finally, without language management, you run the risk of duplication. Different staff in various locations may translate the same content. And if you compare these translations, it’s likely they won’t agree.

Language management uses best practice to resolve these problems. The key of all such systems is a robust translation memory-based system. This cuts out duplication, maintains quality and consistency, and ensures confidentiality.

And this is just the beginning. Next, the one correct way to do a translation. One way only!
Let’s call it “Translation Guy’s Secret Sauce: On Holding the Chopsticks of Translation”


  1. Liz Pascaud says:

    Really enjoyed reading this. As a supplier of translation into all world languages I could not agree more that large multi nationals effectively waste stacks of money on inefficient in house translation processes. We save our clients time and money by handling all translation and localisation processes from A-Z. It allows them to concentrate on their core business, whilst we concentrate on what we do best – language management. Great blog – will be checking back in.

  2. I toured Asia a few years back. I must have taken a dozen photos of poor translations in public areas. Nearly every thing that was translated into English had mistakes as well. It just makes me wonder how well the recipe was followed on some of the food items that couldn’t even translate the ingredients on the package correctly!

  3. When I worked in China I was given a translator that I was a bit skeptical of. After a few translations I started to get a second opinion and then after a while I got a third. Sometimes all three memo’s were translated so differently that the message was changed. Frustrating.

  4. Penny Rowe says:

    It’s not just ketchup and mayo is it? :)

  5. All good business have a secret sauce – hopefully, one ingredient in it is quality. Just with anything else, a quality translation gets the message across. Don’t skimp!

  6. Cora says:

    I never sent out a translated item that wasn’t reviewed. I learned this early on and it saves money, if not a little embarassment, too.

    • Ken says:

      Shame is highly motivating.

  7. Brett Branch says:

    I, too, agree that a lot of money is wasted on poor translations. But isn’t that how the business world works?

  8. Pay the money and get the best people and the best job. Sending the wrong message because of a poor translation is bad for business.

  9. I also tried the Google translate but it didn’t do very well. I tried to translate a birthday card for my wife into Slovak (her native language) but every other sentence in the translation made no sense to me.

  10. Guy McIntosh says:

    When I went to work in Canada a few years back I had to supply police records for all of the countries I worked in. I had to obtain Polish, German, and French certificates. I had no idea what they said, but when I had them translated into English they were fairly broken English. Not the best quality, but they got the job done. And heck, what kind of quality does one expect from the government anyway?

  11. FranKllr says:

    Now I don’t feel to good about using Google to translate things. I just thought that what I typed in was only seen by me.

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