As the global village continues to emerge, the Chinese translation market continues to grow at a quickening pace. Despite this surge of growth, the translation market remains relatively unruly. How can one select a suitable translation company, minimizing unnecessary risks and losses? Choosing a good company is imperative for enterprises that regularly require translation services. When selecting a translation company, several things should be considered.
Translation or Interpretation? Consecutive or Simultaneous?
When inquiring about translation services, people often confuse the terms translation and interpretation. This is especially the case with people from English-speaking countries who often refer to both loosely as translation. Translation refers to the written process of converting one language to another, while interpretation refers to the same process for spoken language. Good translators are not necessarily good interpreters, while good interpreters do not necessarily make good translators. Before using any service it is important to keep in mind the difference between these two terms.
There is a distinct difference between the two major forms of interpretation: consecutive and simultaneous. For consecutive interpretation, the interpreter listens to the speaker while taking notes. When the speaker pauses, the interpreter communicates the content of the speech in the target language. Consecutive interpretation is often used for business meetings, multi-party negotiations, press conferences and accompanied interpretation. Simultaneous interpretation refers to the interpretation of a speaker's remarks at the same time and speed at which they are given. Specialized equipment and a team of at least two interpreters are required to ensure a successful session of simultaneous interpretation. Simultaneous interpreters work consecutively in 20 minute intervals, taking turns to minimize the stressfulness of the process and to improve quality assurance. Additionally, the interpreters work in a soundproof interpretation room equipped with a professional transmitter primarily used for simultaneous interpretation. The interpretation is then received by the event participants who can select and listen to a desired language on their personal receivers. Simultaneous interpretation is often implemented during large scale international conferences and symposiums.
A Large or Small Company?
When compared with other traditional service industries, China's translation industry is not especially large, and translation companies are generally not large-scale. Companies with about 20 or more employees can be considered large companies. However, be forewarned that the quality of translation and interpretation services does not necessarily tend to correlate with the size of a company, and companies of different sizes have different advantages.
A strong advantage in running a small company is that they tend to have flexibility in their operations, and clients can easily communicate directly with staff members. Smaller companies prefer to specialize in several specific areas and languages, and as a result can provide more personalized service. The disadvantages are that the languages they work with are limited, and they are often not capable of completing large projects or projects requiring short turnaround times.
Large companies provide services for nearly all major languages and are responsible for large-scale projects, including software/website localization, editing, and printing. Their weaknesses include complicated internal administration, less flexibility in their operations, and fewer competitive advantages in more specialized fields.
A Good or Bad Company?
Most of China's translation companies are concentrated in major cities such as Shanghai and Beijing. There are advantages and disadvantages to the large growth in the number of translation companies. Nowadays, clients have many more options to choose from in a translation company. On the downside, the large number of companies make it difficult to distinguish good companies from bad companies. With a little bit of extra attention, there are ways to tell the superior translation companies from the rest. Watch out for the following:
• Beware of whether companies are accurately describing their size. Almost all translation companies like to embellish their website introductions and will often claim to have dozens of full time translators and over one thousand part time translators. The reality is that very few companies are actually this large. Instead most companies rely on independent translators ("freelancers") for the majority of their work. As mentioned above, the quality of a translation company does not depend on its size. A professional company will not boast about its size, but instead will focus on the quality of its translations and the areas in which it specializes.
• Beware of "jack of all trades" translation companies. This type of company will claim that its full time translators are capable of handling all languages and all types of specialized translation, and will accept any job that they come across. In reality, very few translation companies actually employ such a wide range of dedicated translators. It is common knowledge that most people that are proficient in a foreign language and have a technical background will not work as full time translators for a single translation company. Superior translation companies are more interested in establishing a stable network of part time translators. They will employ a wide range of translators selected on the basis of their expertise in different fields. Good translation companies will never accept projects that they are not capable of completing. Instead they will candidly communicate to their clients that they are not capable of completing a particular type of project, and will recommend another company more suited for the assignment.
• Beware of "middle man" companies. These types of companies do not actually have any translators of their own. After such companies accept jobs they will farm them out at very low prices to any translators willing to take them. These types of companies are not looked well upon by the translation industry, and they often create great losses for their clients. The most identifiable characteristics of these types of companies is that their marketing and advertising capabilities are much greater than their translation skills. It is also likely that their owners and employees themselves do not understand foreign languages. The administrators and coordinators of professional translation companies are almost all translators themselves, they have firsthand experience working in the field of translation, and they better understand the translation needs of their clients.
You may be wondering about how to go about determining whether a translation company is professional. Here, we offer a couple of tips to help you figure this out. If your translation project involves English, and it is a written translation, you might try corresponding with the company in English. If the company responds quickly using very authentic English, at a minimum this indicates that the company is highly efficient and that its employees are proficient in English. If the response is delayed or not in English, it may indicate that the company is not very efficient, and could also mean that the company's employees do not understand English. Consider for a moment--if the employees do not understand English, how can they possibly guarantee a quality translation?
You might also browse the company's English website. If there are grammatical problems with the English on the website, then you may begin searching for another translation company to do your work. Quite simply, if they cannot translate the materials on their website correctly, how can they possibly provide a good translation of anything?
As for interpretation, telling the good from the bad is quite simple. Just give the company a call and speak with their interpreters in English. You should be able to tell right away whether their language skills are up to par.
What is the Client's Role?
When selecting a translation service, communicating as thoroughly as possible in advance is extremely important. Prior to using any translation company it is imperative that a client is clear in communicating his or her needs, the purpose of the translation, and the date by which it is needed. For very important translation projects, avoid looking for a translation company at the last minute, and also avoid using rush services. Many translation companies rely on sales points to attract clients, such as speed of service or the ability to provide quality translations of large quantities of documents. Always be skeptical of these types of claims and know that they are sales points. As for technical documents, if you are in possession of databases of technical terms or materials from previous translations that might be referred to in preparing translations, it is best that you provide these to the translator.
As for interpretation---particularly simultaneous interpretation---be sure to remember not to look for an interpreter at the last minute, as most likely you will not be able to find a skilled interpreter. During the peak season (from March until June), consecutive interpreters need to be booked two weeks in advance, while simultaneous interpreters should be scheduled two months prior to an event.
Pricing of Translation Services
Regardless of whether you use translators or interpreters, you be prepared to pay a relatively high price. In the Chinese translation market, if you hope to get a very high quality translation at a very low price, you are likely to be disappointed. Quite often you can judge how company's level of professionalism from its price quotes. If the quote is far below normal rates, the translation company is not likely very professional.
The rates for simultaneous translation, for example, are typically high. Many clients will collect quotes from every company in the market until they settle on the cheapest. Unfortunately for these clients, these bottom bargain companies have little experience with simultaneous translation, and most of their interpreters are far below par. This type of scenario is a recipe for disaster for the client. Most events requiring simultaneous translation are extremely important, and tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent in preparation for them. If you choose to pay less when it comes to interpretation services, it is likely that your entire event will be "lost in translation".
Translation is quite different from many other service industries. When considering prices for translation services, it is important that you do not apply the traditional thinking that you might to other service industries. To use cliché, you always get what you pay for in translation services.
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