If you ever searched the inernet looking to translate something, you’re probably already lost in the myriad of options available: agencies, freelancers, machine translation tools… Not sure what type of service works best for your needs? Don’t worry, we’re here to help you figure it out.
When we speak about a translation service we usually mean some company but there are many more options out there. Though not all of them can be called fully fledged services, we still can divide them into four key groups:
Translation engines. Software able to translate texts to different languages using a proprietary technology like Google Translate.
Translation platforms. Software that includes one or several translation engines and has extra features that let you edit machine translation results, create multilingual projects, create glossaries, collaborate with your team, and more.
Translation agencies. These are companies that provide translation and localization services. They usually have a team of in-house translators as well as a network of freelance translators.
Freelance marketplaces. There you enter your requirements and get a list of people ready to do the job for you with their rates, ratings, availability, and so on.
Which one is better? It's up to you to decide. We're here just to show you the pros and cons of each option and guide you to an informed choice.
How to select a translation service provider
The choice depends first and foremost on your project criteria or simply put your needs but there are also other factors to account, so here's a list for you.
Capacity. No matter whether you are looking at a human or a machine you need to understand how much you can translate in a given length of time, if your target language or languages are covered, and so on.
Covered subjects. Some texts are more complicated in terms of specifics than others. There are also sensitive subjects like law or medicine where the cost of a mistake can be too high. So, you need to make sure the service provider has enough experience in your translation area.
Availability and turnaround time. There might be situations when you need translation asap, not to mention that time has been one of the key success metrics for any project. That's why you'd better pick a provider that can be accessed 24/7 and has a strong respect for deadlines.
Cost. Finding the ideal balance between price and quality can be tricky, so act wisely. invoke by your budget and don't let suppliers lure you with unprecedented discounts as long as you plan to use the service more than once.
Quality. Quality assurance is an integral part of the translation process. Otherwise, how would you know the translation is coherent and accurate? If your potential service provider has an integrated solution for that, it's a definite advantage.
Workflow management. If you look at translation as a single step process you're probably looking to translate just a few sentences. In the rest of the cases translation is a workflow, which involves at least some information exchange and progress monitoring. Try to find a service that has everything to streamline these processes.
Project management. Any big translation is also a project that may have multiple touch points. If you don't want to be the only communication node for the people involved, you should consider it when selecting your solution.
Customer support. Things usually go wrong at the worst possible moment and it would be nice to know that you won't be left alone.
Security. The last but not least point is your data protection. Even if the information you plan to translate is not sensitive you'd definitely want to be on the safe side when communicating and sending payments.
Now let's try to look at the different types of translation services available on the market today from this point of view.
If you decide to trust your translation to an agency, you'll definitely benefit in terms of capacity, project and workflow management, as a good agency will take care of all routine tasks like task assignment, deadline setting, and progress checking.
And there's more to that:
Agencies can provide a full range of services. In addition to translation, most agencies offer project management, desktop publishing. For that matter, they can also do MTPE if you don’t feel like you have the resources to manage it yourself.
Agencies can handle complex projects. If you need to translate a website or localize marketing materials, an agency is probably your best bet. These types of projects are usually too complex to handle on your own unless you have an in-house localization team.
However, working with an agency has its downsides too:
Agencies can be inflexible. The bigger the agencies, the more set-in-stone its workflow and processes are. This can make them inflexible when it comes to accommodating your specific needs, requirements, and unexpected deadlines.
Agencies are more expensive than other options. As agencies have overhead costs, they are obviously higher than any other translation service provider has and its still a question what is comprises.
Takeway: If you want to take most management tasks off your shoulders and can afford to pay extra, why not.
Most translation platforms use machine translation + human post-editing (MTPE or PEMT), a type of translation where a machine translates the source text and then a human editor reviews it to improve accuracy, fluency, and style.
Currently such platforms are very popular as they offer the capacity and cost close to machine
MTPE has a number of advantages over other types of translation:
It’s faster than human translation. As the machine does most of the work, MTPE can be completed much faster than human translation.
It’s more accurate than raw machine translation. As a human translator edits the machine-translated text, they can improve its accuracy and fluency.
It’s more affordable than human translation. Post-editors generally charge less per word than human translators, which makes MTPE more affordable.
Apart from that translation platforms are usually rather secure and offer a wide range of additional functionalities such as:
Integrated quality assurance. There can be many options from a mere spell-checker to a powerful system of human-assisted translation reviews.
Built-in project and workflow management tools. In the modern world automation has the answer for most of your needs and its often more reliable than humans.
Collaboration environments. And its all about automation again. Language delivery platforms like Smartcat have all you need to work on the translations along with just anyone reviewing, editing, and commenting in parrallel.
Are there any drawbacks? Yes, but not too many. There are some types where machine translation just won't help. These may be literary texts, interviews with the people that have a very peculiar verbiage, etc. In this case we'd still recommend going with human translation.
Takeaway: Translation platforms are available 24/7 and can fulfill the majority of translation tasks at a relatively low cost. These also give you a lot of freedom along with some responsibility of course.
The second option for human translation is working with a freelancer. As the name suggests, freelance translators are independent contractors who are not employed by a specific company. You can find them at dedicated marketplaces across the web which are actually quite secure.
Though working with a freelancer is far from secure and brings all workflow and project management tasks back to you, it has a number of strong advantages:
Freelancers are often more affordable than agencies. As they don’t have the same overhead costs, freelance translators can usually offer lower rates than agencies.
Freelancers can be more flexible. As they are not tied to a specific company, freelance translators can usually be more flexible when it comes to accommodating your needs and requirements.
Top-notch freelancers can provide great quality. While it’s true that there are some lower-quality freelance translators out there, the best ones can provide great quality at a fraction of the cost of working with an agency.
As far as disadvantages go, working with a freelancer can be less reliable (lower-tier freelancers) or just as expensive as agencies (top-tier freelancers). Additionally, it can be hard to manage multiple freelancers at once for multilingual projects.
Takeaway: If your budget is not big, and you are eager to invest time in proper communication, hiring a freelancer is a great choice.
If you’re considering working with a freelancer, start with the Smartcat marketplace. This option is especially interesting as the marketplace is focused on the language industry (unlike, say, Upwork) and at the same time can be integrated with Smartcat as a translation platform.
Since it was first introduced in the 1950s, machine translation (MT) has come a long way. Now it involves complex algorithms and AI for higher accuracy. However we still can't call translation engines a service.
Though it would be unfair not to consider machine translation apart from human involvement.
They are restless. Modern machine translation engines can translate entire documents in just a few seconds.
You can translate anytime anywhere. They are easy to find online and many of these are actually free to use.
However, before you consider using machine translation for all your needs just because of its availability, check out the points belo:
MT tools might not be a good fit for specialist topics. As most MT engines were trained on general-purpose texts, they might not be very accurate when it comes to specialist topics such as legal documents or medical reports.
MT output can sound unnatural. This is especially true for older MT tools, but even the best ones can sometimes produce output that sounds unnatural or just plain wrong.
MT can contain hard-to-spot errors. The other side of the coin of “false fluency” is that machine translation can sometimes produce output that sounds natural but contains errors that might evade your eye.
Takeaway: All in all, machine translation is a good choice if you need a quick and dirty translation for non-critical texts such as lists and tables. It’s also worth considering if you need to translate a large volume of text quickly and don’t mind sacrificing some accuracy.
Now you know what kinds of translation service providers you can choose from, how these work and what strong and weak points they have.
But before you make your final decision, just have a look at one more which combines the advantages of all above.
Smartcat is a language delivery platform that offers all the features you need for any kind of localization project, from machine translation and MTPE to working with agencies and freelancers. It also has built-in project management features, so you can manage all your localization projects in one place.
Some other nifties include:
AI translation that learns from your edits to deliver higher quality every time.
A marketplace with over 2,000 agencies and 500,000 freelance translators.
A centralized storage for your translation memories and glossaries, so you can reuse your content and save time — and money — on future projects while maintaining a consistent voice throughout your global content.
Built-in payment automation, where you can pay all your vendors — whether agencies or freelancers — with just one invoice.
That’s it for our guide to translation services. We hope you found it helpful and that you now have a better understanding of the different types of services available on the market.