Ready, Set, Translate! But First, Answer These Questions

Picture this: You’ve launched a successful brand domestically, along with a website, commercial video and printed promotional materials. Now you’re considering expanding your product beyond your country’s boundaries, to the global marketplace. You’ve researched the competition, identified your target consumer, and the most effective channel to deliver your product to that consumer. Your goal is to skyrocket sales and become a global success. But is your message ready to launch?

When you engage a translation agency to translate your source materials, you trust your project to a group of experts who specialize in handling a large amount of languages, complexity and volume. Such an agency typically has a wide network of tested resources.

Use the questions below to ensure that you put the needs of your audience first, and help guide your process.

1. What category of content do you need translated?

  • Written document translation: does the entire document (including any images containing text) require translation? If so, do you have editable image files to replace any text they contain with its translation?
  • Audio file translation: does it require transcription, written translation and/or voice over into the new language(s)?
  • Video file and e-learning: Would your target audience need the file voiced over or subtitled? On-screen text needs to be considered in the scope of the project as well. Its translation is typically delivered as an image file of your choice that is added to the video.
  • Presentation: is the presentation simply visual or does it include audio? If audio is included, does it require written translation and/or voice over?
  • Meeting, group discussion or conversation, including phone conversations: these cases usually call for verbal translation or “live interpretation” so that each participant can understand all content in real time

2. What is the length of the source content?

This is a key factor impacting your project timeline.

Ask for an estimated turnaround time. A professional translator typically translates up to 2500 words per day, which does not include a second review cycle, any special formatting, and the final product check.

Keep in mind that rushing a project can impact the quality of the work. For longer content to be translated quickly, it would be best to engage multiple translators who work well together.

3. What is the format of the source file?

The format impacts the amount of work involved.

Word files are usually preferred for text files, though other common formats are PPT, XLS, PDF, WAV, MP3, MOV, WMA, and SFX files.

If the source file cannot be overwritten, (such as a non-editable PDF), its content must be transferred to a different, editable format for the translator.

Formatting the translation can be challenging, as most languages are longer than English. But experienced professional can accomplish this and sometimes even improve the look.

4. Who is your target audience?

If the audience is internal to your organization, clarify:

  • Is the translation simply for a general understanding of the source or will it be distributed?

If the audience is external, pay close attention to the following:

  • Your audience’s exact geography and regional linguistic nuances. German speaking newscasters on Swiss TV sound different than their Austrian or German counterparts.
  • Your audience’s profession and educational level, so that you use appropriate industry-specific terminology (or not). A medical company would speak to potential patients differently than to medical professionals.
  • The most appropriate register for your target audience. This will be determined by the target culture and by the group that you are addressing. Many languages have a formal ‘you’ and an informal one: a translator needs to address your audience in the best fitting way.

5. Do you have a glossary of terms from previous projects in the same language pair?

A glossary ensures consistency, which is key if there are recurring terms in later translation projects.

Professional translators and translation agencies often work with translation memory software that stores previous work for a specific client and creates a glossary or term base.

These platforms are NOT auto-translation products: the translator goes through every word of the source file and provides the best fitting target language equivalent based on what the software suggests.

6. Is the translation for print or digital?

If the translation is for print, it is crucial that it be error-free.

As for copy written in any language, this will require several review cycles.

Some translators and most translation agencies offer desktop publishing (DTP) services, which can be especially beneficial for languages with a non-Latin alphabet or languages written from right to left.

Print customs also vary by language and culture. (Fun fact: Germans rarely use the often-popular CAPS).

7. Is the translation for subtitling?

Have you ever been to a movie where there is just not enough time to read the subtitles—or worse yet, when the subtitles did not seem to match the image above?

Translating for subtitles requires a specialized skill set: the translation needs to be kept in readable length and in an order that goes with the corresponding video.

Look for translation companies that also offer subtitling in their menu of services and discuss your technical requirements before committing.

Key Benefits That Professional Translation Agency Can Provide:

  • Provides more specialized services and resources than simply one main translator (examples include desktop publishing, voice overs, or subtitles)
  • Handles complex files and a variety of formats
  • Translates projects into a variety of languages
  • Can provide certified translations. Government agencies can have strict certification requirements for certain types content for the purpose of protecting the audience
  • With aggressive timelines, clients can outsource project management tasks to the agency team.

I wish you great success as you prepare for translation “liftoff”– high quality, engaging translations that help you sell your product and grow your business.


Uta Nelson is Founder of Tell Language Solutions, providing expert-level translators, voice talent, subtitling professionals and layout specialists in over 100 languages for clients of all sizes.  Learn more at