Overseas DTP Client Education Series: Four Factors to Consider before Buying a Translation

You need a translation? Go out and ask several agencies how much they charge for a word and hire the one offering the lowest figure. End of the story.

If only it were as simple as that.

Just as you will not buy a car solely based on its colour; companies and clients who care for their brand don’t buy a translation based on price alone. They consider other factors.

In this second part of our Client Education Series, we will share with you four criteria you will want to consider before entrusting your company’s reputation in the hands of a translation services provider.

Language Pair and Direction

This should be the First and for most important factor to be consider before buying a translation for your company. It’s so obvious that some of you may be genuinely surprised at finding this criterion in the list. Why did we choose to write on such an obvious subject? Trust us, it’s important.

We can cite many occasions when clients didn’t take it seriously to hire a suitable professional for a language pair and direction. Indeed, we mentioned a case in an October post last year.


In 2016, the City of Cartagena in Columbia planned to translate into English the signs on the streets frequented by international tourists. They got the language pair right (English-Spanish) but the direction was wrong. The woman who translated the signs was an English to Spanish translator; and the city needed a Spanish to English translator.

The public relations disaster that ensued was covered  in Colombia and abroad. If you can read Spanish, you will want to have a look El Universal’s coverage of the fiasco.

Genre and Subject-matter Expertise

An airline will not even consider hiring  an automobile mechanic to repair a Boeing 747 engine. But for some unfathomable reason they will not bat an eye if a translator with little or no expertise in technical writing translated their instructions from English into, let’s say, Hausa.

That example is probably extreme because airlines are tightly regulated; but the point we are trying to make is not. Consider the genre and the translator’s subject-matter expertise before hiring him or her. Both are crucial for a legible translation.

Attention to Detail

There are more than 400 million native speakers of Spanish. Some of them speak passable English. It’s easy to hire one of those bilinguals save hundreds (or thousands) of dollars that would have gone to a translation agency. Except that you shouldn’t do it.

Your translation agency does more than render a text from one language into another. It proofreads the text, ensures the text fulfils the requirements for style and correctness, and conveys the intended message. Peel away this protective layer of professionalism and you will be up for a huge surprise.

David A. Ricks of the University of Missouri cites several humorous incidents in his book Blunders in International Business. In one of them he recounts the tale of a US company wanting to wish their Mexican employees a happy new year. They translated the greetings and pasted them on balloons. No one noticed there was a tilde missing from “año” (year). The Mexican employees saw the balloons that were proudly announcing the coming of a new “ano” (anus). No one was impressed.


A more serious incident of non-professional translation involves Mead Johnson Nutritionals of Indiana. The company had to recall 4.6 million cans of Nutramigen Baby Formula because of misleading Spanish instructions on bilingual labels. There was no translation agency to quality check the labels in Spanish. The recall must have cost them a fortune.


We have many polyglots on the Overseas DTP translators’ team; fluent in more than two languages. A German-English translator knows French and Czech; and a Russian-Japanese translator knows English. They are capable for translating a text into more than one language if the stakes are low.

For instance, if you have to invite your son’s friends to his Bar Mitzvah ceremony, you can ask your local rabbi who knows Hebrew (and probably) Yiddish to add some flavor to your English text. A mistake here is unlikely to occur because the rabbi will know the subject and the language. Even if it does occur, the stakes are low. There will be some smiles and everyone will go home.

Most of us know the notorious speech of former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in which he called Israel be wiped out of the map. It was a case of mistranslation. What he really said was, “the regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time.” The correction came later. The damage had been done.

So you can’t ask your local rabbi to accompany you on a tour of Israel if you intend to sign a business deal there. That will be too much of a risk. Hire a certified professional when the translation is important to you. You will never find heads of states with non-certified translations; the stakes are just too high. So that why we consider this as last factor you should check hiring a translation service provider.


Don’t hire the cheapest or the first freelancer who happens to offer a translation service. Consider their expertise in language and the text’s subject, editorial policies, and the importance of text to you before taking a decision.

With its team of certified professionals well-versed in law, science, and literature, Overseas DTP can be your ideal partner in legal, technical, and literary translations.

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