Making the right choice when purchasing a translation can save you a lot of problems.

For that reason, we have brought together some questions and answers here to serve as a guide and help you to confidently consider your project which might be a new website, communications for your associates or a contract with a foreign client.

How do I choose a translation service?

An attractive brochure, and a smooth sales pitch say nothing about the quality of the work the translation company will deliver. Foreign translation companies will often provide rough translations executed as fast as possible at lower cost.

A freelance professional translator can provide a good translation that needs to be checked by a second linguist to compare and proofread the text. Translation agencies can provide a complete service with costs tailored to your needs – choice of a good translator and good proofreader, coordination of the project, compliance with corporate vocabulary and consistent application, integrating the translations into the desired format and tailoring their presentation, quality control … All these services make up their added value.

What level of quality do I need?

“Work as fast as possible, but as slowly as necessary.” This famous phrase from federal councillor Alain Berset is also valid for translation which takes more or less time depending on the level of quality required. From machine translation to Swiss finish quality, there is a vast range.

Simple, not revised translation is the basic level and is suitable for minor internal documents. Good quality translations proofread by a second translator are usual and transcreation, which transfers your advertising campaign to other cultures based on the know-how of journalists, terminologists and other specialists, is essential for an international communication strategy. Therefore, for an advertisement in a large circulation financial magazine or your website, there should be no skimping.

Translation? Interpretation? What’s the difference?

Translators translate written texts into other languages. They consider a variety of criteria such as the desired result, regional adaptation, target audience, and publication format. The subtleties of language is their daily bread. If the work of translators is still poorly understood, it’s because they often work in the shadows, at the end of the creative process. Translators are essential for translating your professional documents and getting your message out correctly.

In contrast, interpreters’ work is very different. They translate in real time while speakers are speaking. In that way, they enable interlocutors or the audience to understand the discussion. The job is very demanding, which is why interpreters work in pairs, often in booths.
To find out more, visit the University of Geneva website, www.unige.ch.

Translation rates in Switzerland

Between a basic translation “for information” and a text intended for publication, there is a range of services which we cannot list here. The prices in our market vary widely, sometimes by as much as double.

Before choosing a translation company, you should therefore ask yourself a few questions. If you pay the lowest price for the translation, the translator will not be a qualified professional and will not be able to make a living from their job. In fact, they will be paid less than a cleaner. Do you think they will be motivated to help you win over your clients? Preparing the texts for the translator, choosing the qualified, experienced mother tongue translator who will take the time to adapt your business letter for German-speaking Switzerland into German and for Tessin into Italian, following practices in the target country are just a few of the tasks in the process of a good translation agency which are its added value.

I am bilingual, therefore I can translate

Speaking a foreign language in daily life or at work is a good thing. Translating communications for your company into a language other than your own could be risky. An accent in the wrong place, a mixed up letter and you could get into a lot of trouble.

An American CEO commented on the poor results of his company a few years ago, saying “We let our shareholders down”, his comment was taken up by a French financial newspaper where the journalist who claimed to be bilingual, translated it as “Nous avons laissé tomber nos actionnaires” (We have dropped our shareholders).
Being bilingual does not guarantee the fluidity of a good translation, nor does it replace a translator’s expertise.

I am in a hurry, why does it take so long?

It is tempting to want to save time by demanding delivery deadlines that are very, or too tight. In contrast, by inserting translations into the planning at the start of your project, you will reserve sufficient time to avoid your language provider from having to work in haste and you will often gain in quality.

It is also worth finalising your text before starting with the translation. But if the volume is significant and the deadlines very short, you often don’t have any other choice than to start having it translated. In these cases, several translators will work on the translation and one proofreader will read the entire text.

My friend teaches languages, he can do my translation

The instinct to call upon an acquaintance or friend is widespread. For the purpose of understanding the text or using it in a SME, that might be enough. But, if you want to address your clients, something completely different is at stake.

Teaching a language requires specific skills. Adapting your text to a fluid, elegant translation requires different skills. Translation is a separate profession. An agency has the translation checked by a second translator to eliminate mistranslations, typos and other issues with the translation. And if your text is going to be published, it even goes through several inspection stages.
In the same vein, there is the solution of translation students – friendly and not expensive. Would you be just as delighted to be operated on by an unsupervised medical student?

The translation company is offering to re-read my final proofs. If it has done good work, why is it offering to proofread again?

Checking proofs (final proofs) before printing is an absolute rule. Even if your agency is reliable and knows your company well, the best documents will lose their value with additions or errors made by third parties who have handled the documents.

One day, after we insisted, we received final proofs for a last minute check. That was when we found out they included translations done with a translation tool which had been inserted during the page layout of the brochure and which had not been replaced with our translations validated by the client. An oversight which can easily happen, nobody had thought about replacing these unsuitable machine translations. It came very close to being put on display to the general public.

And how much is a machine translation worth?

Would you prefer a dish of “butter with carrots” or “buttered carrots”?

If you want to sell your products in Switzerland, machine translation will hardly work. ‘Mary Deepl’ and similar are useful in certain language combinations and for well-defined objectives, such as for colleagues to understand, for example.

The style, words and fluidity of the text are all important factors in the communication.
Reading in large letters on a tour-operator brochure that its cruises are “On human-sized vessels”, makes you wonder.

The fact that your translation agency asks you questions is a sign of professionalism. The company will ensure that the adaptation to the desired languages will have the best impact.

Certain companies teach a software programme their corporate jargon. It is a laborious, long term process managed by their own translation department, often in collaboration with external professionals.

If you do not work in such a structure, you should know that a translation done by a machine is often recognisable as such and often has errors, mistranslations or added or forgotten elements.

Textes et illustrations

For easy communication with the largest number of people, pictograms are undeniably valuable, thus proving that words are not always essential. In a technical description, diagrams are often more eloquent than explanations. You will facilitate the work of the translator who will not have to conduct lengthy terminological searches for a word and you will be better understood by the reader. And you will also save on the cost of the translation.

In marketing, however, it is better to consult with your translation agency at the design stage of a new project. That great image which illustrates your new slogan can become a tough one for the translator!

Make sure in advance that your message will be well understood in the target culture. Purely Swiss references should be avoided if you are targeting globally and sending a universal message. The translation can then be done without any pointless difficulties.

English to French or French to English translations – my assistant can do it

If your aim is to persuade and to sell, then entrust your texts to professional translators, even if you or your assistant can easily have discussions in German, French and Italian.

The reader will soon feel that your translation has not been done by a professional, mother tongue translator: lack of fluidity, a translation that sticks too closely to the original text or which has false friends, that is, terms which exist in both languages but with different meanings… The list of sources of errors is a long one, and your associate will be grateful.

Does everything have to be translated?

Do you really have to translate the whole 450 page technical handbook or can you shorten it and remove passages which do not provide any real additional information before having it translated?

A professional translator can help you proofread your documents and remove redundancies and formulations that are too technical and that your clients will not read. You will save time and your clients will thank you for it.