How to choose the right translation company?

How to Choose the Right Translation Company in 2021

Choose the right partner and avoid charlatans.

Understanding how to choose the right translation company is not easy, and the stakes are often high. So, we decided to break the process down. Read on to learn more!

These are companies that will either: just use Google Translate (and charge you a premium fee), or will use substandard translators because they are cheaper. The result is that you receive an inferior product than what you paid for. Oftentimes, as one cannot understand the target language, this may go unnoticed until it is too late. Clearly, we want to avoid fraudsters, so read below to find out how.


Below offers a much more detailed explanation of each of the above.


1. Specialist Translators (native in the target; credentials in the field)

This is absolutely key; the most crucial thing in understanding to how to choose a translation company.

Even if you are selecting a Neural Machine Translation (NMT) option, the reviewer must also have these credentials. Ask the translation company in question, what their protocol is for hiring translators. During their response, be on the lookout for two things:

a. Not natively fluent in the target?

This is ‘make or break’ for the quality of the output.

Put simply, without native fluency the product will not sound right. This becomes ever-more true, the more complex the content becomes. The bigger the structural differences between the languages in the language pair — English & French compared to English & Japanese, for example —  the more difficult it is to transmit meaning. Machine translation alone can rarely perform an adequate job.

b. Not an expert in the field?

Most fields contain very complex & technical jargon. Jargon that takes an expert to understand, never mind translate. If the translator does not understand exactly what is being said, then he or she has not got a hope in reliably creating perfect translations.

This is especially pertinent when the subject in question has high stakes.

For example, it could be a legal document, where a faulty translation could result in serious repercussions. Or, perhaps, with an instruction manual for hazardous equipment (such as a defibrillator), whereby the instructions need to be crystal clear. The stakes could be no less than someone’s life.

These two are indispensable and must come in conjunction with one another: the translator needs to be an expert in the field in that given language. If the product does not sound right, or misinterprets a key piece of information, then your communication will be substandard. Your reputation and intent are left diminished.


2. The right language combinations

Perhaps the most obvious thing on this list!

This is certainly something that you need to think about ahead of time. Before committing to a translation agency, it is crucial that you brainstorm all possible language combinations. There is very little point in sending half of your work to one company and the rest to another.

The main reason for this, is that it undermines the effectiveness of Translation Memories (TMs). These are storage banks of translated segments that will save you time and money, as repeated words do not cost as much as new words. The more work you send to one company, the larger the TM you will generate, and the more money you will save.

Also, one extra tip:
Language combinations also need to be localised. What? Well, Spanish, for example, is not the same all around the world: Spanish, Spain; Spanish, Mexico; Spanish, Latin America, and so on.


If translation companies offer differentiation within languages, this is a good sign. With the above example, there variations in the word for “peanut” across different Spanish speaking countries: “Cacahuete”, “Cacahuate”, and “Maní”, for instance. If one is translating an allergen list, one better know the local term for the word!


3. Qualifications (e.g., ISO 17100)

If the translation company in question does not have all of the qualifications, is can safely be discounted. So, what are these qualifications?

One prominent example, is the ISO 17100. Others include ISO 9001, ISO 13485, or ISO 14871. A company does not need all of these to be worthy of consideration but should possess at least one from this list.

These are not just for show, but are important indicators of the level of service. In knowing how to choose the right translation company, this is a fantastic way to cut the wheat from the chaff.


4. Dedicated Project Manager

This is not strictly necessary but very important, nonetheless: a dedicated project manager will make the collaboration so much more seamless and enjoyable.

The project manager is your specific point of contact, and the conduit for all of your projects. In terms of “seamlessness”, having the same project manager means that there is no getting anyone else “up to speed”. This saves time, energy, and mistakes.

Secondly, a dedicated manager is also far more enjoyable from a client’s perspective. On a personal level, it is far easier to build a trusting collaborative partnership with one individual, rather than multiple.


5. Do they have other clients in the field (social proof)?

Once you have found a potential collaborator, we would recommend that you check them for social proof.

This can be done in two ways: (1) check their client list; or (2) check your network for recommendations.

As for the former, a check of their client lists will quickly show if others in your position have trusted this company. If you are a technology company, for example, and Apple use this particular translation company, this company has very good social proof.

The latter is the same as the former, but instead you can ask fellow companies in your field. Translation is often a recommendation-based business, and so this can be a reliable method to avoid getting stung by a bad translation.

If the company passes one of the above tests, it is highly likely that they have a good service on offer for a good price.


6. Confidentiality (secure workflows, legal protocols, etc.)

This is a no brainer.

If one is sending confidential documents to translation companies, then one needs to be assured of their security. This can take two forms: (1) software; and (2) contracts.

As for software, it is key that the systems in place are up to scratch. Do they use online editors, for example, rather than sending entire documents to multiple translators? Or, does the translation company in question have dedicated local servers to house the confidential documentation? What protocols does the company have in place to stop a breach of firewalls?

Next, it is also crucial that the company is able to get their (or already has) translators to sign non-disclosure agreements. This, clearly, is the legal side of security. This does what it says on the tin and gives you a legal layer of protection. This may not be needed on all occasions but is an important signal of professionalism.


7. Request a test translation

This is a rather self-explanatory point but worth noting, nonetheless.

This, essentially, just makes absolutely sure that this is the company for you. If the test translation (one that they will be paying extra attention to, in order to secure your business) is not up to scratch, then you can be sure that future work will not be, either.

Simply submit a relevant technical document (we want to test them, after all!)  that has already been translated, or one that you could verify (a colleague speaks both languages, for example).

Make a note of:

  1. The customer service
  2. The time taken
  3. The cost
  4. The quality

If you are not suitably impressed by the test translation, you will not be satisfied two, or three years down the line. Always have this question in mind: “Is this a service that I am willing to consistently pay good money for?” Hesitation in this regard, answers the question for you.


8. Check if this company has multiple service options

Penultimately, we have a keystone in terms of speed & cost: multiple service options.

This allows you to save time and money where you can, adding up to big sums year-on-year. So, what are they?

  • Neural Machine Translation (NMT) with post-editing

The first, NMT, uses AI machine translation tools and is then ‘cleaned up’ by a specialist after-the-fact. This is incredibly useful, when the client needs to translate text quickly & cost-effectively. Oftentimes, NMT is used for internal communications, as these are not highly specialised translations, and there are no stakes for slight missteps by the AI.

  • Specialised Human Translation

The second on the list, acts as a half-way house between those above and below, bridging the gap between the most rapid and the most precise.

  • Specialised Human Translation with proofreading

On the opposite end to NMT, one has the ISO 17100 standard ‘Specialised Human Translation with Post-Editing’. A bit of a mouthful!

This is the Rolls Royce of translation, with documents being: initially translated by an expert in the field, with native fluency in your target language; then, reviewed by another individual of the same calibre, with the two discussing any possible corrections & changes; before, lastly, the entire project is then checked by the project manager.

These are for those documents where there is absolutely no room for error. This could be an instruction manual for a dangerous piece of machinery, the translation of a food allergen list, medical, or legal documentation.

These are the three tiers of translation, that reflect differing needs on behalf of the client.

Lastly, check what the pricing options are for repetitions! Repetitions, logically, are cheaper than fresh translations; they have already been translated! The longer the document/the more words you send for translation, the more that repetitions are going to bring down the total cost. CAT tools are fantastic for reducing time & cost: make sure that you get a cut of the savings!


9. Best Practice Technologies

The last step to knowing how to choose the right translation company? Technology. We have touched on this briefly, in parts, earlier, however we feel that this deserves its own section.

  • Computer Assisted Translation (CAT) tools.

This tool is a translator’s best friend. Translate quicker, more accurately, and more consistently (same use of terminology), by leveraging existing translations. Rather than repetitively translating the same things over & over, a translator can focus on untranslated material.

A great example for where this technology comes into its own, would be a big ‘update’ project. These types of projects are exactly what they sound like: modifying an already existing document. Rather than having to retranslate every character of ‘version 2’, one can leverage the identical elements between the two, and focus your translator on the additions. One can only imagine how useful this is concerning projects upwards of 10,000 words!

  • Servers

This has already been mentioned but deserves reiteration. It is absolutely vital that the company in question has a secure place to store your documents. These servers can be local, or cloud based – both have different pros & cons – but all should have a comprehensive security strategy surrounding them.

  • Online editors

Online editors are fantastic; they make the translation process so much easier. One can work from anywhere with an internet connection, and from any device.

The main benefit with an online editor, is that everything is kept in one location. This means that there is less bureaucracy by way of sending projects here-there-and-everywhere, with the accompanying email barrage. Everything is kept on one interface, accessible by translator, reviewer, project manager, and client, alike.

With regular systems, you the client, have no access to the translation until completed & delivered to your inbox.

Another aspect of everything being kept in one place: security. As all those preoccupied with security know, things are most vulnerable when on the move. Online editors stop any movement! Experts come to the translation, rather than the translation going to the experts. We would recommend that you inquire about their online editor capabilities.

Just as a quick example in terms of our workflows, we use SDL Trados GroupShare:

GroupShare Example

As one can see from the above image, the file never leaves the GroupShare cloud server; it is simply moved from one phase to the next. Another advantage of systems like these, is that one can restrict unnecessary access to the file. When moved from “Translation” to “Review”, the initial translator can no longer access the document unless specified by the project manager.

  • Firewalls

One small, but very significant, step that we take here at McFelder, is the simple use of a VPN. This encrypts data to and from the server that one is connecting to, thus guaranteeing online privacy and anonymity. We are acutely aware of the dangers of cybercrime, especially as we have been entrusted with private client documentation.


That’s all! This is a lengthy guide, but we want to leave no stone unturned.

We genuinely hope that this will help in understanding how to choose the right translation company, and that we have helped demystified things, somewhat. Translation is crucial to international success; success that we hope you will attain.

Should you be interested in our services, please find them here.

Best of luck in your global ventures!


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