The top performers in our review are Straker Translations, the Gold Award winner; inWhatLanguage, the Silver Award winner; and One Planet, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a service to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of ten services.
With problems as various as incorrectly translated contracts and misconstrued marketing messages, the fallout from translation mistakes can be embarrassing, costly or downright catastrophic. While simple translation software has become a ubiquitous part of using the internet – even social media allows you to request a translation of local language postings – translation service offerings take another approach and are more useful to business audiences and for ongoing or higher-volume translations. Here is an overview of translation tools from the simplest to the fullest translation services we review here.
Simple Machine Translation
Most online translation tools, like the one on Facebook, only work for casual conversation. They use one-word-at-a-time machine translation. You'll see these applications on many websites. They are the simplest form of translation tools and they are free. Single words or phrases may be translated adequately, but such tools just as often serve up translations that are unintelligible or downright hilarious.
Google Translate and Other Online Translation Tools
Google Translate and BabelFish are examples of the next level of translation – simple online translation software plus crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing encourages the translation community to look over phrases or entire documents and provide, submit and rate the best phrase translations. When you request translation of a submitted phrase, these free online services offer the crowdsourced phrase for your consideration. Once enough people have expressed a preference for one phrase over another, it becomes the default translation.
These online machine-plus-crowdsourcing services are often surprisingly good. In our translation tests, we took the same simple documents that we used to test our lineup and ran them through Google Translate. The Percentage Translation Accuracy results compared favorably to our lineup with a score that placed them about two-thirds down the lineup. However, there are many downsides to these tools. Good translation services improve vastly over time. This is because translation agencies keep records of your company's most used vocabulary and preferences – commonly called translation memory – and work hard to provide translators who understand your area of business. While a translation from Google Translate may work well in an emergency, there is no way to specify a particular type of translation or to request the same translator. Translations also will not improve over time, because there is no translation memory tied to your company.
Another language conversion option is to buy and install translation software. Translation software is better suited for businesses that engage in day-to-day global communication or first-pass translations. It usually includes context dictionaries and translation memory so that you can save a perfect translation and use the same terms again. You can also integrate translation software into your email and MS Office applications. To help you understand the different processes involved in translation software, you can check out our Top Ten Reviews translation software lineup or articles on translation services.
Translation services are the Cadillacs of language conversion and typically superior to all other options. They usually employ native language speakers with an intimate knowledge of local languages and cultures. You can also choose these human translators for their knowledge of your area of specialty. Because translators tackle entire documents, websites or campaigns, phrases and words are reviewed in context. In addition, all translation services become vastly more accurate as the translation relationship develops. Translation memory captures ways you have said things in the past and applies that knowledge to new documents. Translation services also provide many specific services, like translating your website in real time or localizing an entire software package. Together, these are the factors that enable governments, companies and individuals to translate vital records, marketing materials, software interfaces, advertising campaigns, entire websites and other business collateral in a more accurate, effective and localized way.
Unlike machine- or computer-generated translations, human-powered translation services understand the subtle cultural nuances of local languages that can alter the meaning of your translation. To assess the companies on our lineup, we ran multiple tests to determine the accuracy of translations. For example, in one test, we took a 250-word page in English and asked for a translation into French. In another test, we asked for a 275-word page written in Spanish and asked for a translation into English.
We also asked for quotes for these translations. Quoted prices varied widely, with an average of around $50 for a 250-word English to French translation. Gengo, EDGE Professional and InWhatLanguage offered the most reasonably priced quotes at less than $40, while Dynamic Language was the most expensive, at over twice the average price.
However, the results of our tests concluded that price did not predict translation accuracy. Straker Translations, while priced lower than our average cost, scored highest overall in accuracy. Gengo also did well in accuracy, speed and overall value, and One Planet was right behind them. We also combined translation price and service to form a Translation Value score. We scored for how many sets of eyes checked or edited our translation and how many services, like desktop publishing for instance, were included in the quoted price.
No matter what type of translation project you have, finding a reputable and reliable translation company is pivotal – your business may depend on it. You may even want to learn more about the vocabulary used when searching for the right translation services. While the type of translation you need is a crucial consideration, here are three other key factors to keep in mind when you seek out a translation agency.
Translations Services: What Kinds of Translations Are Offered?
The translation company you select will largely depend on whether it offers the type of translation you need. A translation agency should boast a range of services that go beyond basic document translation; the best companies provide language translation of web content, multimedia and standard documents. Any translation service you consider should be well versed in the industry your translation falls under. For example, if you need a translation of technical documents, such as manuals or product specifications, the service should have experience translating these types of documents. Likewise, a service should have extensive experience in legal translation if you need legal or certified translation.
Most business translation services offer certified translation of official documents, such as birth certificates and adoption papers. This type of translation is accompanied by an official certification from the translator or translation company certifying that the translation is an accurate and precise translation of the original source document.
The best translation agencies also provide services such as desktop publishing, software localization and language-specific search engine optimization (SEO). Desktop publishing refers to turnkey translation services for printed materials. In addition to actual text translation, the service handles all design elements, such as typesetting and formatting. With desktop publishing, the source files are sent to you complete and print-ready.
Software localization refers to adapting a software application into a different language for a different culture, and language-specific SEO means that the service can help optimize webpages for your target international markets. Additionally, many services provide localization testing and cultural consulting to ensure that your translation makes sense both linguistically and contextually in your target country.
Accreditation: What Helps Determine Quality?
There is no primary governing body over the translation industry, but there are specific industry certifications and affiliations that are relevant to these services. Certifications that are indicative of top-notch translation services include the ISO 9001:2008 and EN 15038 certifications. The ISO certification specifies requirements for quality management systems within an organization. The EN 15038 certification is also a quality standard, but it is specific to translation service providers and set forth by the European Committee for Standardization.
It is equally important to evaluate a translation service's internal quality assurance procedures and translator qualifications. The service should employ translators accredited by the American Translators Association or another professional association. The translators should be native speakers of their target language to ensure both technical and cultural competency. To ensure accurate translations, the service should have multi-level quality assurance procedures and be transparent about what its processes entail.
Many renowned translation services are also compliant with the open standards set by the Localization Industry Standards Association (LISA). While LISA has officially ceased operations, the organization has released its portfolio of copyrighted standards for open use. These standards help promote consistency, interoperability and quality management within the translation industry.
Support Resources: What Kind of Help Should You Look For?
All translation services provide contact information, but what support resources do they offer that are truly beneficial? If you're looking for a long-term relationship with a translation company, it should assign you a project manager to ensure the service meets your company's specific needs.
Another capability you should look for in a translation service is translation memory technology. Translation memory refers to a linguistic database that captures and saves repetitive phrases for future use. It enables translators to work faster and can lower the cost of your translation projects by eliminating the need to translate repetitive phrases. It is important to note that this technology does not replace human translators; it simply augments translators' skills to provide faster and more accurate translations.
Look for services that also provide an online customer portal where you can track the progress of your translation project and contact your project manager. Other resources you should consider include the speed at which the translation service returns your quotes, customer references that are posted or available on request, and informational articles or blog posts to help you become more familiar with the company's translation services.
When you need to translate content as accurately as possible for business, legal or personal reasons, there is no substitute for human-powered translation services. Choose an agency and watch translations improve as the service provider gets to know your company better.
From the results of these tests and reviews, if accuracy and value is your first concern, we recommend top-rated Straker Translations. If a breadth of specialized services will weigh heavily in your decision-making, check out InWhatLanguage and Net-Translators. Both of these companies offer a broad set of services that include features as various as basic document translation, software localization and desktop publishing. However, if your translation needs are more basic, some companies like Gengo or Day Translations did extremely well in accuracy and speed and, depending on your needs, may be an even better and less expensive fit for your company.