New EU translation law offers fairer trials. But at what cost?

A new EU directive adopted by the European Parliament aims to ensure fairer trials for their non-native speaking “accused” in EU member states – by providing language services such as translation and interpreting.  

New EU translation law Eventually it will mean that all EU member states will be required to provide access to an interpreter and translated materials for any non-national who is accused of a crime – if they can’t understand the local language. It must be said that this news isn’t really “news” to us in the UK. The obligation to ensure all non-English speakers can fully understand the crime they are accused of committing is enshrined in four separate statutes, and has been in place for years.

However this law does come at an obvious cost and, as we know only too well, language services that are courtesy of the public purse can be subject to considerable scruitiny. That said, I wonder if the UK Government’s recent move to deny entry to the UK to anyone who marries a British citizen, but can’t speak English, is cost-related.

The argument that such a move is quite hypocritical of us as a nation is a very interesting one (to me). But that’s not the point here. Anyway, as our European neighbours gear up for large-scale commitments to language services, how can they best manage that transition, minimising the challenges of cost and potential disgruntlement? Firstly, I would anticipate that the scale of the cost, and how well the services work, will directly correlate to the intensity of any criticism that may follow. The main issues then are to minimise cost, while maximising value. Sounds easy, right? Well, no. However, there are a few things that can be done in the three years before all member states must put this directive into working practice. They are:

1) Make use of Translation Memory. Now.

Translation Memory (TM) is basically a database of everything you have ever had translated, which, when used properly can be hugely beneficial in saving time and money. It works by aligning your new source text with previous translations that have been carried out.(demonstrated below). The linguist performing your translation – using your TM – approves the various matches, so you don’t have pay for another full translation, just the matches at a reduced rate. This makes the whole process quicker and cheaper each time you have any translations carried out. In addition,  because you’re using the same set of phrases and terms, TM improves consistency and therefore the final quality of your translations. Furthermore, TM remains your intellectual property, so if you ever switch supplier you can still get the benefits. By starting to build up, TM’s, glossaries, key phrases and terminology – now – the respective member states (and subsequent departments) could minimise their translation spend as soon as the translation directive is enforced.This, would be in addition to being ahead of the curve, as the industry incporporates more and more technology into the service delivery chain.

2) Don’t be held to ransom on cost.

What could seem, let’s face it, from me as a blatant “ooh, me, me, me” – I should point out that YBD prides quality over cost, yet works to charge the absolute minimum possible rates for all our services (something to which many of our customers agree). …I had to say that before I continue. The thing to remember is that, despite the many myths that surround our industry (and many of those are actively perpetrated by some operators), language services don’t need to be expensive – as if your choices are either “cheap” or “expensive”. If your supplier is using translation technology correctly, then their prices shouldn’t be towards either extreme. Also, many customers don’t realise they actually have the right to expect their provider to work with them to find solutions that are cost effective. For both parties. They do!

3) Minimise the paper chain.

Historically, our industry – as we’ve said before – has been very slow to adapt to new, smarter ways to work – particularly within the public sector. This has been the by-product of having larger, more “comfortable” language service suppliers being able to count on the majority of the work from big accounts – without needing to be innovative with things like online portals, or incorporating technology into new, cost-effective services and processes. But times have changed (we believe, thanks to companies like us). This has resulted in many companies with large-scale translation needs, unknowingly overspending on translation services for years – only to realise, a little too late, what they could have saved, had their translation processes been a little more open to scrutiny. Before making the switch to a more competitive supplier, of course. Having access to things like online service request portals, post-edited machine translation and instant telephone interpreting can all speed up the delivery process and help to reduce costs. Also, other “novel” things like consolidated invoicing and transparent online management reporting can show, clearly, where savings can be made.

4) Compare suppliers.

Often. Some suppliers are set up to compete on cost, but money isn’t everything after all, and so if you end up having a court case thrown out due to a bad (cheap) legal translation, that cost – however cheap – is wasted. Likewise, others might be “focused on quality” and will charge eye-watering rates, but either way, there is no sense in choosing a supplier based on traditional criteria and leaving yourself stuck with the repercussions later on. By comparing suppliers on the value of their services – not just the cost – and by analysing who has been innovative in reducing waste in the delivery chain and improving ease of access to their services, EU member states can really reap the benefits of language services. So, that’s my penny’s worth. How will the new EU translation directive affect your country? Do you think that, since Europeans are generally “more betterer” at foreign languages than we Brits are (ahem), there will be a great need to outsource services to the same scale the UK does?

bear toys sitting under sunset

You’ve got consistency problems. Your documentation and website use different terms for the same things. Your translators don’t really understand the tone and voice of your brand, so it’s getting diluted and is now indistinct from competitors. You don’t reuse the translations that are already QA’ed and approved. All this is slowing product adoption in your new markets, you get lots of support calls because people are confused, and your in-country partners are always noting errors.

Your brand doesn’t have to suffer this way. Let’s look at five tactics to drive consistency and tone of voice across your content.

1. Guide your vibe

Your brand—your vibe, look, and feel—is who you are as a company. It has to be replicated accurately in each market where you sell your product. You need a style guide to train and guide linguists in choosing language and grammar so their work will match your brand. It’s a reference document—under 20 pages, please—customized for each of your target markets.

Your style guide should cover things specific to the target market and company brand such as:

  • Style and tone. 

What is your company’s personality—formal and conservative because your audience is financial professionals, or hip and edgy because you’re targeting young retail consumers? Provide samples—don’t make translators guess what sentence structures and vibe are needed to express your brand.

  • Audience/target demographic. 

Is your audience young, middle-aged, or senior? Male or female? Many languages have different ways of addressing different types of audiences.

  • Grammar, syntax, and spelling. 

For example, American English “color” versus British English “colour.” Are sentence fragments acceptable?

Key terminology. Highlight any major industry buzzwords or phrases that are essential to your brand. Then, list any terms that you don’t want to use because they are overused or just stuffy: some of ours include “resonates,” “value-added,” and “synergy”. Any product terms should be in your glossary.

More tactical grammar and style considerations should also be in your style guide, such as:

  • Date and time formats, numbers, phone numbers, currency, percentages, etc. Is January 3, 2013 expressed as 1/3/13 or 03/01/13?
  • Acronyms (localized or non-localized). “ASAP” (“as soon as possible” in English) doesn’t mean anything in another language unless it’s a known acronym; you have to make sure linguists know how to convey that concept accurately.
  • Logo usage and colors. No green text in China please!

Tone and vibe are especially important in marketing materials—videos, web content, social media—but can be good for your brand you use them in technical materials as well.

Also, there are a number of good tools that can automatically check much of this, as I describe below.

And there’s more on how to get control of your style via style guides in this blog post.

2. Control your terminology

You don’t want synonyms out there confusing people, and you don’t want your meaning to be misunderstood in any language. Managing your terminology can prevent misunderstanding, errors, and customer service issues. It can also help people to find your product when searching for it by name: branded keywords are big for SEO, and can account for a significant amount of searches and website traffic.

To keep it all straight, you should create a glossary, which would contain any product-specific terms and their translations. We are not talking about industry-standard phrases and terms that would be well-known by translators and users, such as “web application” or “user interface.” A glossary term is a concept specific to your company and product.

A specialized translator would translate your terms, your in-country people would review them, and then those terms would be used everywhere—in both the source and translated versions.

There are tools to help with all phases of glossary management: tools to extract terms from source and target content, manage a terminology database, and automate the use of terms in new translations. Some features of these are described in this blog post.

3. Automate

Humans just can’t do it all: memorize every style and grammar rule, look up and reuse past translations, and catch every mistake in the time they are allotted.

What can be automated? Checking for things like terminology and translation inconsistencies, untranslated segments, identical translations for different source (or different translations for identical source), validation against customer-specific rules, and grammar and punctuation issues.

And if you don’t have a technologist in-house, have an LSP help you build customized automated checks. They should include CAT-tool-specific plugins to make sure the QA process can happen alongside translation.

4. Do a linguistic review

Despite what I just said about humans, only a human can check for vibe and tone of voice. Automations can help compliance with rules, but vibe and tone are the human side of content; a tool can’t understand brand personality.

A human review can help. Yet you can’t have a professional review 100% of your translated content — it would take forever and cost too much. Best to review a sample, such as 10%; more if you have “troubled” languages. Reviews can help you look for patterns and address issues with translators when they come up. Quality problems could also stem from failing to use TMs, glossaries, and automations properly — so check on those processes as well.

Look at how to set up a linguistic feedback loop in this blog post.

5. Reuse your approved content

You’ve spent a lot of time approving and reviewing your translations. Make sure that time wasn’t wasted: reusing them is a must. This happens via the use of a translation memory (TM).

For a quick refresher, or for new loc professionals, a TM is a byproduct of past translation jobs. It’s a database linking a source phrase, or segment, with its translation. That database is then used to “pre-translate” new text.

TM leverage gives you quite a big bang for your buck: marketing materials might leverage as much as 40% of a translation memory, and that figure can jump to 90% for technical documentation for a product with small feature changes.

There are lots of TM tools out there and your LSP can help you choose one.

A caveat: you have to keep your TMs clean, and here is a blog post on how to do that.

Justifying the investment

These tactics will give you higher quality and more consistency—the best ways to maintain your brand in each country, and your brand loyalty as a result.

There’s one other important way these practices can help you: they can reduce localization costs and speed up work. They help linguists work more quickly by reusing content, having to do less from scratch, and reducing the time spent researching and translating terms.

Altogether, a worthy investment of time and money, don’t you think?