Client Education Series: 4 Things to Know about Translation Agencies

One of our New Year’s resolutions was to work on a series that will serve as a guide for our clients, to get accurate, timely translations for less price. We are in the first week of March and proud to be sticking to the resolution. This post is the third blog in Client Education Series. Today we are going to talk about four things you will want to know about translation agencies. Read on because the information here can give you leverage the next time you negotiate a contract with a translation agency.

Big isn’t always Better

Translation agencies range from a one-person office to large, multinational corporations; with Overseas DTP falling somewhere in the middle. Amid such diversity in size, it will be wrong to assume that bigger is always better.


The quality you will get really depends on your project and the relationship you seek with your vendor. Generally, large agencies tend to provide language services to multinationals and while smaller vendors focus on personalised services to small and medium enterprises.

Unless you are a Fortune 500 company, teaming up with a mid-size agency will provide the most value for your money. The agency will be just large enough to deliver a complex product and sufficiently small to provide personalised attention.

But Sometimes Bigger is Better

The number of people fluent in Pirahã—an indigenous language of Brazil and currently at the centre of a storm engulfing Noam Chomsky’s theories of Universal Grammar—can be counted on your fingertips. Most of them are likely to be academics; not on the payroll of a multinational translation agency. As a buyer, you will have to seek them out. Then, they will either work alone or in a small group.

At the other end of the spectrum are large translation agencies, ideal for solving complex projects involving multiple languages and products. Consider the translation of the Windows operating system into Mandarin. The task would have been huge, necessitating dealing with a large firm.


Technology is Useful

Sometime in 1882, Friedrich Nietzsche bought a typewriter. His vision was failing and he didn’t want to give up writing. Touch typing allowed Nietzsche to continue to work but the machine had a subtle effect on his prose which became tighter and more telegraphic. Technology affects translation somewhat in the same manner.


In an ideal world a translator would transform a piece of text from language A into language B, with little regard for history or concern for the future. The text to be translated would exist in its own universe. The real world is different. Each text has a history and a future. So tradition is important.

An English-Russian translator cannot replace “глобальное потепление” with “всемирное потепление,” even when both terms correctly capture the idea of “global warming.” For historical reasons, “глобальное потепление” is popular and a professional agency—unless the prose is to be used for humor or non-conventional purposes—will use it. It is even mandatory in legal, medical, and scientific translation where terms are precise. Technology makes it easier to follow the tradition.


Overseas DTP and other language search providers use computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools. CATs are essentially databases where previous copies of your work are stored. The copies can be reused wholly or in part, resulting in quicker, less expensive, and more consistent translation across similar projects.

The process is more Important than Product

When selecting a translation agency, the key is to inquire on how they come up with the final product than solely focus on the finished product. Some agencies may subject initial translation to additional proofreading and let quality suffer afterward. You would not want that. A way to ensure consistency in quality is to ask the agency how they produce a translation and what CAT tools they use.


Here is a short checklist you can use:

  • Are you translators native and certified for the languages they work in?
  • How they verify translation’s quality?
  • Do you have subject-matter experts on board?
  • How many rounds of revision are there in the process?
  • Who does the proofreading?
  • How does the agency ensure quality?

A translation agency that can answer satisfactorily is more likely to have a quality process than not, thereby increasing the chances of you getting a polished product.


You can get quality translation in time if you choose the right vendor using modern tools for producing translations.

Return to us in April for more advice on buying translations. You can read the old blogs by clicking the Client Education Series.

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