More and more of us need translation solutions for our businesses. The development of the global economy means we are increasingly working across language barriers. We may buy goods from China, sell to Brazil or hire people from Russia; as a result the demand for translation services and/or products have dramatically increased. The machine translation industry alone is set to $7 billion by 2019.

For those looking to buy translation, especially for the first time, there are a lot of mistakes people make based on a poor understanding of how translation works. Many businesses entrust their translations with “someone we know who speaks Spanish” or even to free online tools like Babel and Google Translate. If they do approach a translation agency or a professional translator, much of the time decisions come down to costs.

Prices within the translation industry can be dramatically different from one agency or translator to another. To fully understand the costs, it’s important to always appreciate what value is being added to your translation.

  • Will your translation be carried out by a pro?
  • Will a machine translation be used initially and then tidied up by a translator?
  • Will your translation be proofread?
  • Will there be editing?
  • What about after sales care and service?
  • Does the company have accreditations?

Cheap doesn’t always mean poor quality. However, cheap can mean that there are gaps in the translation process which either need to be filled by you or involve further expense.

The European Commission’s Directorate General for Translation recently published an in-depth report on the costs of poor quality in translation. Within the report, the authors use the definition and arrangement of the various kinds of quality costs according to American businessman and quality control expert Armand V. Feigenbaum.

He notes four different stages of the supply process where a business either pays for good quality, or is forced to spend money rectifying the consequences of poor quality. When applied to translation services these offer some interesting points for consideration when thinking about hidden costs.

The Four Hidden Costs in Translation

1. Prevention Costs

Prevention costs refer to those hidden costs that accrue when preventing negative quality issues. Nobody wants a poor quality translation to represent them on their website, in some marketing materials or even in some correspondence. So what can be done to prevent such a poor translation happening? Depending on who you are and what you do, this may involve a selection and recruitment process for translators or agencies; it may mean hiring in-house bilingual staff to organise and check translations, investment in training or even some bespoke software. Any spending carried out in the way of preventing quality issues with your translation will fall into this element of hidden costs.

2. Appraisal Costs

These costs are associated with any measures taken, often in conjunction with preventative ones, to make sure products are produced flawlessly first time. Within translation, this often refers to the costs of having the translated text proofread by a second translator to check for errors or make improvements. This proofreading or checking is either done in-house or by the translator. Whichever way you decide to check the translation, there will be a charge whether to the translation agency or by using someone bilingual within the company.

The appraisal stage requires investments of time and money, but bear in mind these costs can be lessened if your prevention measures are good – e.g. a robust system for dealing with translations or always using a single trusted translator. Appraisal costs are critical in translation as they help reduce internal failure costs.

3. Internal Failure Costs

An internal failure is when a something is found to be faulty  before delivery to the customer. So for example, realising printed t-shirts have a misspelling on them or that your boxes of oranges are actually full of apples – or when a translation is delivered full of mistakes. Internal failure costs are much more costly and damaging than prevention and appraisal expenses. New problems and expenses are caused such as missed order deadlines, retracted orders, complaints from clients, extra staff time devoted to solving issues, bad PR and  reputational damage.

A cheap translation service could result in your product, service or website not being ready for launch simply because the translation is not up to scratch; and if you were to use the translation it would lead to external failure costs.

4. External Failure Costs

This is the “OMG” of all the quality costs; this is the one no company wants to deal with. This is where the customer receives the product/service in a faulty state. The costs associated with external failures are numerous – customers may demand refunds, a customer may put up with the flaw but never buy from you again, your reputation becomes one of shoddy quality, orders slow down, bad PR online, etc. Every company knows what the market’s reaction would be to poor quality.

It is important to also bear in mind that the costs associated with external failures can also be terrifyingly large. If you sell any faulty product that reaches customers and causes harm or damage, you could be looking at legal action, seven-figure sums in liabilities as well as product recall. All it takes is for the translation to be missing one word such as “never” in “Never use on children” and your business could be in big trouble. Besides the possibly disastrous consequences of a poor translation, poorly-translated instructions and the like can also lead to customers not getting the most out of their product, believing the product is faulty when in fact they simply misunderstood a step in the instructions, or at the very least, feeling the frustration we’re all so familiar with when faced with horrendously written (or drawn) instructions. External failure costs are the last thing any company wants to deal with.

“You get what you pay for”

…is an old adage that will ring true for eternity across cultures. Translation is no different. Cheap translations are cheap for a reason; it’s important you find out what those reasons are before deciding on how to accomplish your needs, as it’s clear that if the translations are not spot on the first time, they can end up costing more in time and money you thought imaginable.

By investing in preventative and appraisal measures, which act as a kind of insurance against internal and external failures, you are protecting your business against all kinds of financial risks later on. If you do use a free or cheap, unaccredited translation service, or try to use non-qualified people rather than professional translators, you might get away with it; but you could also face much bigger problems later on.

“It’s unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money – that’s all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do. The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot – it can’t be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that you will have enough to pay for something better.” John Ruskin