How to Choose Translation Software and Services

By Matt Alderton,
Dec 08, 2019
Image Credit: fizkes / Getty Images

  • 96% of small businesses say they are confident working internationally.
  • To find the right translation service, you'll not only need to look at costs, but also look for American Translators Association accreditation and a dedicated project manager.
  • Before you get translation software, ask for a free trial.

When Walt Disney unveiled his transnational musical attraction "It's a Small World" at the 1964-65 New York World's Fair, the world still felt large. Commercial aviation was young, international phone calls were brand-new and expensive, multinational corporations were relatively few, and the internet wasn't really available.

Today, however, the world really does feel small. The internet, social media, mobile devices, video conferencing and countless other modern innovations have blurred borders in ways that make it as easy to do business with people on the other side of the world as on the other side of town.

Doing business abroad has become so simple that an overwhelming majority of small and midsize businesses (96%) now say they're confident conducting business overseas, according to a survey by foreign exchange company USForex. But global expansion isn't just easier than ever; it's also more important than ever. Wells Fargo reports that 81% of U.S. companies believe international business activity will become both more important and more prevalent in the future.

And yet, important barriers remain. Whether they want to buy or sell products and services, establish strategic partnerships, or recruit talent, companies that want to expand abroad must contend with challenges such as foreign regulations, tariffs, exchange rates and supply chain risks, not to mention one of the most fundamental challenges of all: communication.

Fortunately, communication challenges – including language barriers and cultural illiteracy – can be easily solved with the assistance of translation software and services.

Indeed, finding the right translation tool is a vital task for companies doing business globally. While good translation services can simplify and facilitate international business communication, poor ones can lead to incorrectly translated contracts and messages, which can be awkward, expensive or downright catastrophic.

From international search engine optimization (SEO) tools to multimedia translation, various services are available to global businesses. This guide can help you evaluate them successfully by explaining what features you should look for, how much you should expect to pay and which tools are best suited to the most common translation tasks.

Editor's note: Looking for translation software or services for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you with free information.

What do translation software and services offer?

Communicating with international employees, customers and suppliers can be stressful for small businesses that hope to cash in on the global market. The right translation service or software can alleviate that stress by breaking down language barriers, giving you and your staff the tools to communicate in a timely and effective manner.

To find the right solution for your business, the first question you must answer is, "Should I purchase translation software or commission a translation service that uses human translators?" Buying and installing translation software is typically best either for businesses that engage in routine, low-stakes global communication (e.g., if you have employees or suppliers in different countries who you need to communicate with in a casual manner to discuss everyday business) or for businesses that want a fast, easy tool for conducting first-pass translation (e.g., if you have written documents that you need to translate, where the translation does not need to be perfect). This software typically includes context dictionaries and translation memories, which allow you to save perfect translations and use the same terms again in the future. Most translation software can integrate with email and Microsoft Office applications.

If it's more important to have a quality translation than a fast translation – if you're working on a high-stakes deal where mistakes can be costly, for example, or translating materials that can make or break your reputation with customers, such as marketing materials – you should probably consider translation services instead of translation software. Providers typically employ native language speakers who understand local languages and cultures, and generally hire translators who are accredited by the American Translators Association or another reputable organization in the industry. Businesses can choose human translators for their knowledge of specific industries and specialties. Translators can translate documents, websites, campaigns, phrases or words in context. As relationships develop and mature, translation services become more accurate.

How much do translation software and services cost?

Pricing structures vary widely. For translation services, pricing is typically quoted per project, and quoted prices depend on the size and complexity of the translated document. For example, the average price of a 250-word English-to-French translation is about $50. The cheapest quotes are less than $40, while the most expensive are more than $100.

Pricing for some translation software is broken down into tiers, with monthly or annual costs increasing as more features are offered. Packages range from free software for basic translations to $16 a month for features such as context dictionaries. Other translation software is available for a one-time price that could range from $39 for basic services to more than $1,000 for advanced features such as integration. When evaluating pricing, you should consider which features you need so you can decide whether the basic service tier will meet your needs or you need more advanced offerings.

Before purchasing a package or making an agreement with a provider, try negotiating to ensure you're getting the best available deal. For example, find out if the provider offers a discount if you pay for the tool annually rather than monthly. Ask if the provider is willing to match the price of a cheaper competitor, or if it offers a bulk discount for multiple projects at a time or for multiple projects in a given month or quarter.

Before signing on the dotted line with any provider, make sure you understand exactly what you are buying and what features you'll get for your money. The contract should clearly state the scope of services offered, the price you're paying, and any stipulations or contingencies.

What to look for in translation services

No matter what type of translation project you have, finding a reputable and reliable translation company is critical. Even a single mistranslated word or phrase could cost your company money, customers or credibility.

As with most types of services, you should evaluate companies based on their responsiveness (the speed at which they return project estimates and price quotes) and the quality of their customer reviews and references, which should be posted on their website or provided on request. But that's just for starters. Here are four other key factors to keep in mind when you seek out a translation agency.

1. Translations services offered

When selecting a translation service, you're limited to companies that offer the type of translation you need. A translation agency should boast a range of services that go beyond basic document translation. The best companies, for example, also provide language translation of web content and multimedia.

Furthermore, any translation service you consider should have experience in your industry. For example, if you're an engineering firm that needs translation of technical documents, such as manuals or product specifications, the service you select should have experience translating those types of documents for other engineering firms like yours. 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 declaration 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 these:

  • Desktop publishing: This 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: This refers to adapting a software application into a different language for a different culture.
  • Language-specific SEO: This means that the service can help optimize your website for your target international markets. Many services also provide localization testing and cultural consulting to ensure that your translation makes sense both linguistically and contextually in your target country.

2. Quality

Because translations are useless if they're not accurate, perhaps the most important decision point for companies procuring translation services is quality.

Although there is no primary governing body that oversees the translation industry, there are specific industry certifications and affiliations that are indicators of quality. 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's 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 technical competency and based in the appropriate country of origin to ensure cultural competency. The latter is especially important because, for example, the same Spanish word in Mexico may have an entirely different meaning in Spain. To ensure accurate translations, the service should have multilevel 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. 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.

3. Speed

While accurate translation is critical, it's just as important to have said translation delivered to you when you need it. If a translation service can't meet your deadlines, its translations are useless to you. Before hiring a translation service, share your timeline with the provider and obtain a commitment from the company that it can deliver the work you need when you need it.

For large projects, ensure that the service will assign a dedicated project manager to your project to shepherd it from conception to completion. Ask to meet with the project manager so you can ask how they will communicate with you, and what processes and procedures they will employ to ensure the translators on their team meet established deadlines.

4. Support resources

A dedicated project manager is a crucial support service that a translation company should offer when you're engaged in a large project, or entering into a long-term relationship with a translation company that will encompass multiple projects. But that's just the beginning. 

Another capability you should look for in a translation service is translation memory technology. Translation memory is 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. This technology does not replace human translators; it simply augments translators' skills to provide faster and more accurate translations.

Also look for services that provide an online customer portal where you can track the progress of your translation project and contact your project manager.

What to look for in translation software

If you choose to purchase translation software instead of a translation service, you should be just as shrewd a shopper. In particular, keep these four considerations in mind when you're comparing potential solutions.

1. Features and capabilities

The best business translation software recognizes the language you are working with and allows you to convert an assortment of document types to another language. It translates email seamlessly, allowing all parties to write in their preferred language and have the email delivered in the preferred language of the recipient. It likewise converts all Word documents, Excel reports and PowerPoint presentations inside their native applications and from the original languages in which they were created.

Furthermore, the best document translation software includes a variety of features that enhance your translation experience. Particularly useful features include instant language recognition, batch processing of file folders full of documents, text-to-speech capability to help you learn correct pronunciation, and an integrated spell-checker.

2. Available languages

Before comparing other software attributes, determine which software supports the languages your company requires. Some software supports dozens of languages in a single product. Other programs – even those that support a high total number of languages – offer specific language pairs, like English and Spanish, as separately purchased products. The best translation software is multilingual and contains several languages in one program.

3. Supported formats and files

If you plan to translate a wide variety of documents, you need a product that can manage a large selection of file formats. The best software allows you to work inside these various document formats, particularly the popular business programs in the Microsoft Suite. Being able to easily browse internet sites in other languages is also important for research and communication with overseas business partners. You also should ensure software is compatible with the appropriate operating systems – Mac, Windows, or perhaps even mobile operating systems if employees will be using translation software on their mobile devices.

4. Help and support

Most software providers have telephone and email support, but some offer more convenient live chat as well. Each provides various other customer support options, like FAQs and user forums. Make sure the software you choose offers the channels for support that are most important to you and your employees.

Frequently asked questions about translation software and services

In case you're still not sure what type of translation assistance you need for your small business, here are some frequently asked questions, the answers to which might help you narrow down your choices.

How do I ensure accuracy?

Good translation services translate in accordance with industry standards to ensure translation quality. It's a good idea to also ask your translation provider if its process includes multiple rounds of review. After one translator translates a document, for example, it can be a good idea for a second translator to review and double-check the first translator's work. Additionally, you should ask translation services if they will accept liability in the event of an error. Best-in-class companies have errors and omissions (E&O) insurance in the event of costly mistakes.

As for translation software, you should ask for a free trial before you commit to a purchase or subscription. Be sure to test the software with more than just a couple words or sentences – you should translate at least a couple paragraphs – and, if you can, have a native speaker review the translation to assess its quality.

What are common industries that can benefit from translation services and software?

In today's global business landscape, almost every industry can benefit from translation services and software. Some of the most common industries to utilize translation, however, are healthcare and life sciences, software and IT, construction, engineering, manufacturing, sales and marketing, media, legal services, education and training, telecommunications, energy and power, finance, insurance, and aerospace and defense. Because every industry has its own professional lexicon, it's a good idea to work with a translation service that supports the use glossaries – a fixed set of terms related to your business, such as a French glossary of banking terms.

What is a reasonable budget and/or schedule for translation?

Translation costs and timelines can vary greatly depending on the volume of text that needs to be translated, what languages are being translated to or from, and the complexity of the content. That said, expect to pay an average of 10 to 20 cents per word and to allow a full day for every 2,000 words you need translated. Ultimately, it's best to ask translation services for a free upfront estimate customized to your project.

Community answers

Have a translation software or service question of your own?

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