How to translate text into a different language?
5 options to choose from
I used to work as a translator. As I speak several foreign languages, friends, colleagues and “friend-of-a-friends” — heck, even total strangers — would often approach me asking to translate “just a few sentences”.
I have translated for clients, for friends and for my own needs. And I can tell you: there are several ways to get your text translated.
How do you choose the best one? Well, it boils down to the famous “time — cost — quality” triangle. And normally we get only two of these three at a time…
Let’s weigh up the pros and cons of each method. I hope to save you a headache next time you’re translating something into another language :)
First off, answer 3 simple questions:
1. Do you want to get “just the basic idea” or a precise, accurate translation?
2. Does the translation have to be flawless or are minor mistakes okay?
3. Is the translation urgent?
Now let’s take a look at our 5 options:
1) Google Translate needs no introduction; free, instant translation into a hundred languages.
I bet you’ve tried it several times, huh? However, many people still question it: “How accurate is Google Translate?”
Not very accurate. It has come a long way in recent years, but still, its quality varies greatly from perfectly acceptable in some cases to gibberish in other cases. Sometimes a few mistakes creep in — and the meaning is lost! You don’t want that in important texts.
For example, it translates correctly the Chinese set phrase 吃醋 (= to be jealous; literally “to eat vinegar”).
Okay good, now let’s use this phrase in a sentence…
Oops! This awkward moment when “Are you still jealous of your ex?” turns into “Will you still eat the vinegar of his ex-girlfriend?” …
From my experience, it’s a horrible choice for language pairs like “English-Chinese”, “Russian-Japanese” and other languages that are very different from one another in grammar.
And common European languages like Spanish or Italian suffer too: gender is important for these Romance languages, and, say, if you are a female, Google Translate might let you down translating “I am tired” with a masculine gender instead of a feminine one.
I’ve actually known people to use Google Translate to exchange messages with customer support (like Amazon Germany) or an overseas seller — well, with limited success. One must simplify sentences and run the translation back and forth to make sure the result is comprehensible.
If you are low on cash, you can try it — at your own risk :) but please — don’t ever use Google Translate for anything important! Websites translated with Google Translate often look like a joke:
2) Asking a polyglot friend is another way to get your translation for free. Or almost for free.
But don’t turn to your polyglot friends with urgent translations. And don’t expect them to do the translation at all. Why? People speaking foreign languages get lots of spam “please-translate-this-sentence” requests — and don’t feel like bothering. Trust me — I am one of them.
3) Freelance translator vs. 4) Translation company
A freelance translator may be a budget-friendly option when you need a good quality translation. Not all freelancers offer affordable prices though: it depends on the translator’s experience, their expertise, the language pairs they specialize in and a couple of other factors.
Also, watch out for too-good-to-be-true prices: it might just be a beginner translator and you may not be happy with the result.
Translation agencies charge more than freelancers. They are a bit more reliable as they cannot just disappear like some freelancers do. But not all of them employ native-speaker translators. And not all of them deliver high-quality translations.
You might have an issue if your translation text is not very long. Translation companies often require “a minimum fee” — say, if your text is less than 250 words, you’ll still be paying the price for 250 words. Freelance translators might not want to bother with short texts at all.
It is okay if you already have a reliable translator that you’ve been working with long-term.
But what if you have an urgent translation and your translator isn’t available?
Or what if it’s your first time choosing a freelance translator? Oh, what a pain in the neck!
The main problem with either freelance translators or translation companies is TIME. It’s the time that you spend finding a reliable person/company and waiting for them to get back to you.
Seriously, while there are plenty of people willing to jump at the job, not many are actually ready to get started immediately. And that’s the problem. You don’t want to wait till they finish watching the final episode of “Game of Thrones” or whatever the rage is now.
That is not to say freelance translators and translation agencies are not a good option. Some freelancers are fast and perform good-quality translations. Translation companies might take a bit longer, but they can offer more language pairs and are sometimes more reliable.
Still, I wish there was a more convenient way to get text translated. Something that is fast, reliable and requires minimum effort from my side. And it seems I have found a happy medium between a translation company and a freelance translator…
But first let me tell you about a friend of mine who is an active user on Airbnb.
What kind of translation might one need? With so many people travelling the world, most of your guests might be international. How can you explain your house rules clearly if your guests don’t speak good English?
The language barrier makes it hard to communicate the details especially things like a tricky shower, parking or multiple doors and keys.
So that’s what my friend from the UK did: as he gets many guests from Hong Kong and Taiwan, he translated his house rules into Traditional Chinese (Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau uses Traditional Chinese, while the Mainland China uses Simplified Chinese).
He sent the translated house rules to his guests before their arrival and everything went smoothly: no more problems with the trash cans, the keys and other things.
He didn’t feel like picking a decent translator/translation company out of hundreds of offers, nor did he like discussing the details with a manager.
What did he do then? He turned to the professional online translation service called Nitro.
This is option #5 and I find it the most handy.
70+ languages beat most traditional translation agencies.
Translation speed is what you expect from fast freelancers (or even faster): 60% of the orders are completed within 2 hours, 98% are ready in less than 24 hours.
Translators who are all native-speaking professionals. No amateurs.
And the best part: you can send your text for translation with just a few clicks!
No miracles though, it’s not an instant translator — because it’s a HUMAN translation. Still, it’s pretty fast. Today I’ve placed two orders, a sentence each: English to Japanese translation. The first one was ready in 40 minutes (!), the second one — in four hours.
This is a short demo of how it works:
How can it be fast yet maintain the quality?
Nitro was designed for shorter texts: it has a team of native-speaker translators (all professional translators) who work from all over the world. So normally there is always somebody to take up your order. All of them are professional translators, no amateurs.
Is it a typical crowd-sourced translation? No. The drawback of the crowd-sourced translations is the following: there are more translators than work, so many translators end up getting a lousy number of orders. In-between orders they might be doing a different kind of job. In other words, these people might not be full-time professional translators.
How does Nitro avoid this problem? There is a trick here: Nitro is a service from Alconost Inc. Alconost is a localization company that works on large projects on a regular basis. This is where the team of professional native-speaking translators come from. At least some of the translators have extra time during the day and they can tackle short text translations.
Nitro is not super-cheap, but not overpriced either. You pay a little above the average cost of an experienced freelance translator’s work.
You wanted a reliable translation company and the quality of a really good freelance translator… now you have the best of both worlds :)
So, next time you are up to writing an e-mail to your fave K-pop star (in Korean, of course!) or haggle with an overseas seller or translating your CV into another language — you know where to go. Or you can ask a friend who is good at foreign languages (no, just kidding. And don’t ask me — nowadays I suggest to everyone that they “hire” Nitro instead of me).
Proofreading the English lyrics of your new song?
Translating a restaurant menu from English to Spanish?
Or launching your company’s website in German, French and Italian in addition to English?
You can rely on Nitro to take up this task right away. After all, this service has enough translators worldwide at its service (pun intended).
Another idea for those doing business: you can send Christmas greetings to your foreign clients — even if you exchange e-mails in English, this might come as a nice gesture.
By the way, the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival is around the corner (this year it’s September 13): Don’t pass on the opportunity to send them a surprise email with congratulations in Chinese!
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Author: Alconost contributor Margarita Shvetsova