Investing in Translation Beats Treating it as a Cost

Whenever you spend money on something it could either be regarded as a cost or an investment. There may seem to be little difference between these terms, but in reality there is. Basically, if you view expenditure on an item as a cost, you are not expecting it to enhance your business. The expenditure is merely designed to maintain the standard or quality of the service as it is.

This difference in meaning applies to translation tasks as well. You could either view the amount of money you pay for translation as a cost or as an investment.

How can you tell the difference when you engage professional translation services to complete a translation project? Does the cost of not translating a website (for example) outweigh the cost of translating it? Is the cost of localising marketing material expected to bear fruit in terms of greater sales because the language is adjusted to a greater population size? If you use professional medical translators rather than a generalised translation agency that is not specialised in medical terminology will your sales of medical equipment be more likely to meet local requirements?

There is no easy answer to any of these questions as every situation is different and unique for each business opportunity. In many cases, there will be no real answer to whether an extra investment in translation will pay off, but that is one of the gambles that any business has to make.

There are some generalisations that can be made which should be born in mind whenever the cost of translation is justified in terms of investment in a better return in the future:

  • Professional translation is better than non professional translation
  • Reliance on machine translation without human input is likely to be a mistake
  • New technology such as CAT (computer aided technology) has revolutionised translation tasks and has led to the ability to handle far larger amounts of data as well as a greater consistency.
  • Translators that are capable of effective localisation, known as transcreators, are better than more general translators
  • The more languages that potential customers are able to access on a marketing website the greater the potential for transforming this into genuine sales.
  • Technical translation, particularly of legal, medical and scientific documents is better done by translators who have in-depth knowledge of the subject matter.

A Global Economy Needs Expert Financial Translation

The flow of money and financial transactions are probably more global than any other sphere of human activity. For these transactions to occur as speedily and as seamlessly as possible, it requires professional translation agencies to employ translators with expertise in financial translation.

Financial translation can be challenging, not least because of the need for speed. Many financial transactions are made swiftly in response to shifts in the world financial market. That means that translators are often asked to complete a translation as quickly as possible. There has to be a corresponding balance between accuracy and speed.

English language speakers are lucky in that English remains one of the most important languages used for financial transactions although other languages are growing in importance. The language dominance of English tends to relate to the dominance of certain economies. For example, it’s hard to argue with understanding English when it comes to interpreting and communicating about the New York Stock Exchange, valued at $13.4 trillion and the NASDAQ (another U.S. financial institution) valued at $3.9 trillion. Following the money trail, other key languages in finance are the Tokyo Stock Exchange of $3,8 trillion, the Euronext Exchange with $2.9 trillion and Shanghai’s Stock Exchange with $2.2 trillion. That makes Japanese, French, German and Chinese important for translators of financial documents too.

It might seem that financial transactions are devoid of nuance and must be entirely straightforward, but there are pitfalls as there are with any other type of translation.

One of the easiest pitfalls is the use of numbers and punctuation. In the English language speaking world, for instance the comma is used to separate thousands, while in many other countries, it is the full stop. In France, for instance, €1.500 means one and a half thousand Euros, while in England or Australia it means 1 and a half Euros! Quite a difference!

Even between countries with the same language there can be number differences too. For instance, an American billion is a thousand times smaller than an English billion, which perhaps explains why there are so any more billionaires in the U.S. compared to Britain! Then there are different units which need to be calculated and converted, even if most of the world has adopted the metric system, there are significant sectors of the world and that includes the business world stubbornly sticking with imperial measurements.

Financial translation has its challenges but translators are much in demand in an increasingly globalised financial world.

Translating for the International E-Commerce Market

Online shopping has been a rapidly growing phenomenon, both internally and externally across borders over the last decade. In fact, e-Commerce, as online shopping is also called, is regarded as having a detrimental effect on traditional shopping done in physical stores. High street closures have been blamed, for instance, on the growth of e-Commerce giants like Amazon and Alibaba.

The international e-commerce market depends on its success on the abilities of professional translation agencies to effectively communicate a huge variety of products in a number of different languages. Alibaba, the Chinese based e-Commerce giant, has learned that despite the fact that the internal Chinese market is growing rapidly as the Chinese population becomes ever more affluent, there are huge profits to be made by selling online all over the world.

Alibaba has become a very successful online sales company but it has only been able to do so because it learned the hard way that badly translated marketing of products wasn’t going to work. The main disadvantage of online shopping is the uncertainty about what you are buying: the quality, the size, the colour and so on. All of these details have to be communicated through the e-Commerce company’s public website. If consumers don’t trust or understand what they see on that website because the language used cannot be understood, they will turn elsewhere, or not bother with online shopping at all.

Alibaba’s cross-border market is expected to increase fourfold between 2014 and 2020, a figure which parallels the growth of the Chinese internal e-commerce market.

It’s not just China that is selling successfully to the rest of the world. German online shoppers are buying a lot of their stuff from Britain. The U.K. and the U.S., both big e-commerce nations, are selling to consumers on both sides of the Atlantic. Over 70% of British companies that sell online also sell offshore. Of course, selling British goods to the U.S. or Australia is a lot easier than selling the same products to the Chinese as the language barrier is almost non-existent. For many e-Commerce sellers, it is the language barrier that is the most important stumbling block. This presents an enormous opportunity for professional translators and translation agencies that adapt to changes in marketing strategy and present themselves as experts in e-Commerce translation.

What can Translators Expect in the Future?

Tech Comm specialist, Stefan Gentz, summed up some of the translation challenges for the future at the 2015 Institute of Translation and Interpreting Conference.

He came out with the following leading points related to modern translation

  • Translation has gone global and this can be seen clearly by the volume of translation services that are online these days. It is expected that before the next decade has finished most translation will be cloud based.

  • Clients expect translations to be done quickly so that means NAATI translators have to adapt to new technology and use it in order to meet client demands.faster translation.

  • Clients expect the costs of their professional translation services to drop considerably so that they can get their translations done in a cost effective manner especially as the volume of words needing translations often top hundreds of thousands of words and the costs could be prohibitive if they are not lowered from their current rate.


  • Translators need to take on technology more than ever before so that they can meet the requirements for providing cost-effective translations that match their clients content requirements.


  • Each day, data reaching 3 trillion gigabytes is produced, offering endless opportunities for eager translators, but human translators have been slow to respond. Microsoft and Google have taken the largest chunk of the translator market. Google can translate more words a minute than the total of all human translators yearly.


  • Global business would not exist without translations, so the human translation world has to take on this challenge and not sit back and later wonder what happened.

This is the time for human translators to stop worrying about quality and focus on offering a similar service to Microsoft and Google. Machine translations are getting better and better and it is expected within the next 10 years to be at least as good as human translations. Gurdeep Pall, the vice president of Microsoft’s corporate sector, believes that translation facilities should be freely available at no cost.

With the way the access to“Freebies” are just about the norm, such as Facebook and Gmail, there is no telling how far Microsoft and Google are prepared to go when machine translations become as good or even better than human translators, rapidly becoming the norm. The way that the human translation services market could capitalise on trends now and into the future using current machine translation technology is to develop business models that offer various grades of service ranging from free translations through to a standard translation and a more superior premium translation. This will expose translators to all the different possibilities of earning an income from their skills.

How Global Brand Websites are Lost In Translation

It’s quite realistic to assume that when websites are translated into many different languages that sales will be boosted. Consumers are far more likely to buy from a website in their own language and spend longer browsing too. It is taking a long time for global brands to realise the importance of using professional translation services to get their websites and product information translated into global languages.

It is of course not necessarily straightforward when translating brand information as there are variations in the way countries who seemingly speak the same language have local differences that are not necessarily that easy to understand. For example, in the United States, the name for sports shoes is “sneakers” while in Britain the word used is “trainers.” These are two totally different words which only the people from those countries would clearly understand.

Some businesses have begun to learn about these language variations such as Tory Burch who uses different words for his U.S. site and his British site when marketing clothing. He sells “sweaters” in the U.S. and “jumpers” in Britain which are two different words used for the same type of clothing.

Website language is important

If your business fails to take notice of the nuances in a language then sales performance will not be so good. This is partly due to the search words potential customers may use. If Tory Burch used the word jumper on his U.S. site but the term used for this item of clothing in the U.S. is sweater then few people will be directed to his website when they use their specific search term.

Glossaries are built up by translators who work for translation services in Australia so that when they are asked to perform a translation they have a good idea of what terms are used in the country in question for certain words related to the product information being translated. It has taken time for these glossaries to be formed as global brands have only fairly recently seen the importance of translating websites and product descriptions into the type of language used by their potential customers.

Glossaries for Spanish customers from Spain may be different from those compiled for Argentinean customers. This is the same for documents such as legal documents as different terms may be used for legal concepts in different countries so a word by word translation is not possible. Document translation services have slowly built up glossaries so they can better meet the needs of their international clients by ensuring the correct legal terms are used.