When Not to Translate Content into Other Languages

Creating excellent marketing content could take months for a solid and intriguing campaign.

It involves your marketing, sales, operations and executive teams.

Now that you have your content ready in English, you are thinking of translating it into other languages.

You then decide to reach out to a language service company to discuss your project and get a quote.

But what if that’s not necessarily the best approach?

Let’s discuss why.

Timing and planning are critical when it comes to content translation, just like with any other component of a well-executed marketing campaign.

If you haven’t planned for your content to be translated and thought of it as a post-marketing campaign activity, you might be in for a surprise.

Since timing is essential in marketing, I am going to focus on the when instead of the why.

Here is when not to translate content into other languages, as it may hurt your overall marketing efforts.

1. When you are not sure about the difference between translation & interpretation.

Yes. There’s a significant difference between the two.

The overall concept is the same, as it involves converting one language to another. However, when we in the industry talk about translation we generally refer to translating the written word.

You wouldn’t have your content interpreted, but rather translated. Now on the other hand if you really need your content “interpreted”, then I recommend having a professional interpreter assist you with the task. Interpretation refers to communicating orally or using sign language.

Now you know the difference between translation & interpretation and can figure out how to integrate either or both into your marketing campaign.

My recommendation: Study up on the basic language service industry terminology so you know exactly what to ask for when procuring language services.

A good language service company will guide you along. A not so good one may take your request literally and deliver unexpected results.

When to do it: Before you contact a language service company to engage them to work on your project.

2. When you’ve not thought about translating your content at all.

I’ve seen thousands of content translation projects in the past 10 years. More than half of those projects fall into this category.

The content was originally created in English and it was later needed to be translated into other languages.

There are a few issues when approaching a translation project in this matter. Perhaps the biggest one is that the content was written in a way that can only be understood by an American target audience.

The language and concepts used in the English copy did not translate well into other languages. This is because those concepts don’t exist in those cultures.

Another issue is being overly verbose. I’m talking about cramming as many as 1,000 words on a single page without any graphical elements.

While the document looks fine in English, it may not look as good in Spanish. The reason – Spanish expands by 20% to 25% in volume of words compared to the English source.

All of the sudden you have 1,250 words you have to fit nicely on one page. This makes it really difficult to read without a magnifying glass.

Remember: White Space is Your Friend

There are many other issues that are worth mentioning, but they would require their own blog article. So, I will just focus on these two for now.

My recommendation: If you can do two things when you are creating the English source, do these. First, make sure your text is easily translatable. Use clear and objective writing style without any jargon or slang.

Finally, remember that large fonts and white space are your friends. Stick to 300 to 500 words per page and use plenty of white space. For more information, check out the best practices for easy reading.

When to do it: While creating your source documents.

3. When you don’t know your target audience.

English into Spanish is by far the most common language combination for language service companies in the United States.

With so much supply and demand, it must surely be easy to integrate in your content, right?

This is true as long as you know your target audience. Whether it’s Spanish or any other language, the same concept applies.

For example, your Spanish-speaking target audience could be from Mexico or Puerto Rico. Some live in the Pacific Northwest, others in New England.

Or you might be planning an expansion into Europe and require Castilian Spanish.

7up targetting the wrong audience

The reading level is also good to consider. How literate is your target audience?

It’s important to establish and clarify the reading level while scoping your project out. Are you targeting scientists or high school students with your efforts?

Your English copy may work well for English-speaking audience, but if the translated copy inadvertently changes the reading level, you may not get the results you expected. Or worse, you may completely alienate your target audience.

My recommendation: Understand who you are targeting and make sure your language service company does to. Consider the variations in languages, including common ones such as Spanish and French. Make sure your intended reading level is conveyed in the translated text.

When to do it: During the project scoping phase.

4. When you’re not prepared for the costs associated with translation.

If you are serious about producing quality content in other languages, you should start thinking about how it will impact your budget. Quality translation and related language services will come at a price.

The question is, are you ready to pay that price?

Are you prepared to invest in quality translations?

Here’s a suggestion to help you prepare for costs associated with language translation services.

The way most language service companies charge for their services is per word. The more words your English copy contains, the higher the translation cost will be.

One way to reduce the costs is to prepare your content in a TM-friendly format.

TM stands for Translation Memory. It’s a tool that human translators use to help improve productivity, consistency and quality, while leveraging the text that’s already been translated.

The more text a translator is able to leverage, the more cost savings you can take advantage of. MemoQ is a great TM tool if you are looking to deploy one in your organization.

My recommendation: Budget for translation services in advance. Be prepared to describe what you need done, so a language service company can provide you with an appropriate quote.

When shopping for translation services, keep in mind that there will always be a company out there that can do it for less. Going with the cheapest alternative now may cost you more in the long run.

When to do it: At the time you are planning your overall budget.

5. When you don’t have a post-translation strategy.

You had all of your content translated and published.

What’s your plan now?

This is where the post-translation strategy comes in play. You’ve got to be ready for all the incoming business that you’re projected to get from non-English speaking customers.

The problem is that those customers don’t speak English and will be contacting you in their language.

If you had your materials translated into Spanish, make sure you at least have bilingual staff on your team to handle inbound Spanish requests. If you don’t, it will certainly cause a frustrating customer experience.

Same applies to inquiries that come in electronically or in writing. Do you have a plan to have those back-translated into English?

Be ready for inquiries in other languages because they will come.

My recommendation: Plan on handling inbound business in foreign languages. Include a communication plan in your post-translation strategy.

Think beyond the translation phase and how you will handle all the inbound business. This could be as simple as hiring bilingual employees to interact with your customers.

Alternatively, you can partner with a language service company to assist.

When to do it: Before you publish your translated content to the public.


Whether it’s a marketing campaign or a simple brochure that you need translated, consider these concepts when approaching your next project. They will help you get the results you want.

You now know when not to translate content. Plan things out first and do it the right way!

Share your stories about content translation strategies gone wrong (or right) in the comments.

Why International Translation Day is Important

If you look at a calendar of holidays, you will find at least one to celebrate every day of the week.

There’s practically a day of celebration for just about everything.

September 30, is the International Translation Day that also shares the spotlight with the Ask a Stupid Question Day and a few other interesting ones. For the purpose of this article, I’ll focus on the former.

A Brief History

The International Translation Day is celebrated once a year on September 30 on the feast of St. Jerome. St. Jerome translated the bible back in the day and is considered the patron saint of translators.

In 1991, the International Federation of Translators (FIT) proposed an idea to officially recognize the International Translation Day to show solidarity in the language services industry and to promote the translation profession across the globe.

The translation profession is one of the oldest in the world. Ever since human beings started to communicate using language, a need for translators and interpreters came about.

The International Translation Day recognizes the importance of the profession and celebrates it every year.

Why is this Important

Translators and interpreters are professionals and it’s important to recognize this fact.

When you have mission-critical content that you need translated, you wouldn’t trust just anyone to do it, or would you?

Here in the United States we’re used to a fairly stable economic and social life. You may engage a translator to help translate a few documents here and there.

Some may be more complicated than others, such as a one page letter or a patent filing.

You will often find interpreters help patients communicate with doctors, as well as students with instructors.

All of these are complicated language translation & interpreting scenarios that require a professional linguist, but they’re are done in stable and reliable conditions.

Creating Awareness

What we don’t often see is the work that translators and interpreters do in conflict zones around the world.

To recognize their efforts, FIT passed a resolution this year to recognize the dangers professional linguists have to go through to guarantee at least a minimum of communication between otherwise “speechless” parties in the conflict.

Interpreting in a hospital has a different level of risk associated with it than interpreting in a war zone.

With the resolution, the 2014 FIT Statutory Congress calls upon national governments and the international community to:

  • protect the local translators and interpreters in conflict zones
  • ensure a life in security during and after their work in the conflict zone
  • respect the impartiality of the work of translators and interpreters
  • work for a UN Convention and/or an international safety document for the protection of translators and interpreters in conflict zones during and after their service.
How You can Help

There are two great non-profit organizations that focus on improving multicultural communication around the world, while protecting the health and safety of the interpreters & translators.

  • Translators Without Borders – Focuses on increasing access to knowledge through humanitarian translations.
  • Red T – Is dedicated to the protection of translators and interpreters in conflict zones and other adversarial settings.

The International Translation Day is about creating awareness of the language services industry.

I encourage you to learn more about both of these organizations as they play key roles in facilitating global multicultural communication.

17 Attributes that Make a Good Translator

Your company is about to expand its operations into other countries and you have a localization project in the pipeline to go along with the expansion.

You are now ready to build your localization project team. Project managers, translators, proofreaders, editors, and desktop publishing specialists are just some of the key people that may be included on the team.

Working with a language service company would ease the burden of putting such a team together, since the company will handle most of the sourcing.

However, there may be a time where you need to work directly with a professional freelance translator.

Finding a good freelance translator can be just as hard as finding a quality employee. Maybe even harder, because the interviewing and vetting portion is modified at best, and eliminated at worst.

Here are the 17 attributes you should look for when recruiting a new freelance translator for your localization project.

1. Native Speaker

This is perhaps the most important thing to look for in a translator. The translator must be a native speaker of the target language. This ensures a thorough knowledge of the language’s culture.

The art of translation is not limited to linguistics. It also requires cultural adaptation that only a native speaker can provide.

A translation should never sound like a translation – it should sound like it was originally written in the language in which the audience is reading it. A fluent, non-native speaker may be able to produce a “good” translation, but a native speaker will be capable of producing a natural translation every time.

2. English Skills

Assuming English is the source language, it is equally important that the translator have a near-native command of the English language.

Without near-flawless English, a translator may miss some of the nuances in the source text, and thus will leave them out of the translation.

3. Pricing & Rates

You must always be mindful of the project budget. A translator should be mindful of the going rate for their language combination and expertise, otherwise they may price themselves out of work that is suited for them.

It is also important for the translator not to under-value themselves, as a too-low price should make you question the quality of work that the translator might deliver.

Learn more about how translation pricing works here.

4. Experience

A translator’s experience is a factor in deciding if the translator is qualified, and determining a reasonable rate for services. Both years of experience and type of experience are important for you to consider.

Education and work experience related to linguistics, language teaching, and translation are all desirable. Years of experience doing translation work are also desirable, but too many years can sometimes be something to take an extra look at.

Here’s why…

If the translator has been living in the United States and working as a translator for 30 years, for example, they clearly have a desirable amount of experience. But it is important to consider whether they have been able to keep up their language skills after being away from their home country for so long.

If a translator has many years of experience, but have lived away from their home country, they may consider adding a section to their resume or profile outlining how they keep current in their native language.

5. Certifications

Your project may require a certified translator. Collecting certifications from organizations with national or state recognition is a good idea in order to expand the number of projects a translator is eligible to work on.

If there are no specific requirements for certifications for a certain project, a translator with good experience can be considered.

Oftentimes, a more qualified translator can be overlooked in favor of a certified translator simply because of the credentials.

You should be careful to balance the weight of a certification against the actual quality the translator can provide.

6. Flexibility

Once the terms are negotiated, it is important for a translator to be open-minded to a flexible pay-scale for special scenarios. Special scenarios can include high-volume projects and other unique situations.

Don’t be afraid to negotiate with the translator since you’re in a contractor relationship.

7. Location

Although a translator’s location is most likely a factor that can’t be changed, it is something that you may consider when looking for a new freelancer. This can be a logistics issue.

For example, you may have specific requirements for where the translator is located, or you prefer a translator in the same time-zone because of tight deadlines and a need for easy communication.

Location can also be important for the quality of the translations – the translator should be a native speaker of the target language and an expert in the target culture, and familiar with colloquialisms and linguistic standards for the target audience.

For this reason, a Spanish speaker who has never lived in the United States may not be a good fit for Spanish translations for a U.S.-based audience.

8. Knowledge of CAT Tools

If you are working with a language service company, that company will almost surely be working with one or more CAT tools on a regular basis, funneling all their projects through them.

Depending on the size of your organization, you may also have in-house CAT tools, such as memoQ, and have translators logging into it for project work.

For this reason, you should consider a translator’s experience using CAT tools when deciding whether they are a good fit.

As a translator, it can be helpful to have experience with all of the major CAT tools so as not to be eliminated from consideration right off the bat.

9. Specialization

It’s important to have a pool of translators for everyday projects. But many projects require specialized knowledge that a general translator cannot provide.

You should focus on recruiting translators that specialize in your particular field. Having qualified translators is the only way to guarantee high-quality translations.

10. Honesty

A translator shows that they are credible and professional when they only accept assignments that they are truly a good fit for. It is always better for a translator to decline a project if they are uncomfortable with it or do not have time for it than to accept when the circumstances aren’t right.

A project that is rushed due to a translator’s overloaded schedule, or a project that is done by a translator who is not familiar with the topic, will inevitably be of low quality.

11. Responsiveness

After reviewing the content to be translated, it is also important for a translator to promptly respond to you. Your job is fast-paced, and translators who can keep up may be favored over those who must be contacted multiple times.

You may have different expectations for a reasonable response time depending on the project – but faster is always better. A translator should check their email several times a day and should respond immediately to decline or accept a project once they have made their decision.

12. Availability

A translator who is always available moves to the top of the list very quickly. Turning down projects due to heavy workload or not being familiar with a topic is a good thing, but rejecting too many projects may lead you to believe that the translator is uninterested in working with you.

If you are always sending projects for topics the translator is uncomfortable with, the translator should remind you of their areas of expertise.

13. Communication

Translators who communicate well are significantly easier to work with. Communication about availability, such as travel plans, is just as important as project-related communication. Project-related communication should be timely and clear.

If a translator has doubts about your expectations, they should never guess, but instead should ask questions about the project. This type of communication will reassure you that the project is going smoothly.

14. Manners

It may sound like common sense, but it is important to have good manners. If a translator is unpleasant to work with, you may stop sending them projects all together, even if they produce very high-quality translations.

It is particularly important to be polite when communicating about contract terms. This topic can be sensitive and uncomfortable for both parties.

It is important for a translator to stand up for themselves and not settle for less than they are worth, but there is a way to do that which will not end a relationship with you.

15. Attention to Detail

Attention to detail is one of the main components of a solid quality assurance process. Things like numbers, formatting and punctuation are paid close attention.

Translators who make mistakes in these areas stand out – in a bad way – and may be excluded from future projects if the mistakes are too frequent.

On the other hand, translators who catch inconsistencies in the source files (such as misspellings & mismatched dates) stand out in a very positive way. These types of details should be brought to your attention.

16. Meeting Deadlines

Perhaps the most important thing a translator can do well to stand out is to meet deadlines. You should always provide a deadline when a project is assigned.

If a translator accepts the deadline, they are expected to meet it.

No excuses.

That being said, if a translator needs extra time, it is always better to ask sooner rather than later.

Best case scenario, a deadline can be negotiated before the translator even accepts the project.

17. Response to Feedback

You may have an internal reviewer check through the completed translations and provide feedback. When this happens, a translator is expected to review the feedback and provide their professional recommendations as to how to proceed.

A translator should be professional and open-minded, but also do their best to persuade you to choose the best option by providing a clear explanation for their recommendations so you can make an informed decision about the final version.

To wrap up, you can now feel more confident in recruiting new translators for your project.

You can also download this article in PDF format for future reference.

If you have additional attributes you’d like to share, I’d love to hear from you.

Why Work with a Professional Linguist

There will come a time when you will need to communicate with someone who speaks another language, whether verbally or in writing.

You have a friend who speaks another language or a bilingual employee.

You quickly reach out to them to help you facilitate the communication.

But is this really the best practice?

Read on to find out why you should always work with a professional linguists as opposed to bilingual individuals.

Bilingual individuals, translators, interpreters – What’s the difference?

It’s true that all three have one thing in common. They know at least two languages.

Translators and interpreters are bilingual by definition, sometimes specializing in more than two languages. They are also professional linguists.

The same cannot be said for bilingual individuals.

Read on to find out why you should work only with professional translators and interpreters on your projects and how to distinguish them from people who merely speak more than one language.


To better understand why you should work with professional translators and interpreters, you must first know what each one specializes in.

These definitions are directly from Oxford Dictionaries online.

  • Translator (Syllabification: trans·la·tor, Pronunciation: ˈtransˌlādər) – A person who translates from one language into another, especially as a profession.
  • Interpreter (Syllabification: in·ter·pret·er, Pronunciation: inˈtərprədər) – A person who interprets, especially one who translates speech orally.
  • Bilingual (Syllabification: bi·lin·gual, Pronunciation: ˌbīˈliNGɡwəl) – A person fluent in two languages.

Expanding on the definitions above, a translator specializes in written communication, whereas an interpreter focuses on spoken and sign language communication.

Why You Should Work with a Professional Linguist
5 Reasons Why You Should Work with a Professional Linguist

We came up with five reasons why you should work with professional linguists, including translators and interpreters.

1. Quality

This is perhaps the biggest reason why you should work with professional linguists. The level of quality a professional translator or interpreter can deliver to you will be superior to what a bilingual individual can do.

If you are okay with mediocre work, then stick to amateurs. If quality is important to you, work with a professional linguist.

2. Education & Training

One of the things that makes a professional is the level of education and training one has to go through. A professional linguist will typically have at least a bachelor’s degree in linguistics or a similar field.

Continuous education and training is also something translators and interpreters must participate to keep current with the latest trends. Such training and education opportunities are offered by industry associations such as the ATA.

3. Professionalism

Just like doctors and lawyers, translators and interpreters are professionals in their field. Therefore, they should present themselves as professionals and be treated as such.

Of course, there will be a few bad apples in every industry, but for the most part you should expect a professional level of service.

Learn about the 17 attributes that make a good translator.

4. Certification

Many translators and interpreters are certified by accredited institutions such as the ATA and CCHI.

Some projects may also require work to be completed by certified linguists.

Certification provides further proof that the translators and interpreters are capable of performing quality work.

5. Liability

According to the Contract Interpreter Information Center (CIIC), over 93% of all translators and interpreters are freelance contractors. This is a generally acceptable business model in the language services industry.

Essentially, this makes translators and interpreters operate as small businesses. Small businesses should, and in some cases required, to carry liability insurance. This will give you a piece of mind that should something go wrong, there is insurance to cover it.


Your take away from this article is that you should always work with a professional linguist on your projects.

To find a professional linguist near you, check out the searchable directory provided by the ATA.

To make your search easier, contact a language service company with your requirements.