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How to Fail at Translation

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"Fail" by Chris Griffith (Flickr)In a TechCrunch article entitled "You Don’t Know Anything About Other Countries," Christian Springub, the co-founder of website-building site Jimdo, recounts what his company learned from their own launch into 11 different countries. Among his key lessons on "how not to fail" this one jumps out:

No translation agency can help you and no two-week vacation will give you the necessary insight to understand the people who live there.

While we may agree on the two-week vacation tip (thanks, Christian!), we respectfully disagree with the notion that a translation agency is no help. Not only does a professional multilingual translation agency have the experience to guide companies around the most common pitfalls, their on site, in-country resources - native speaking translators working in their home markets - *are* the people who live there. Moreover, these translators work with teams that offer greater value, e.g. expert guidance on how to write software code that is ready to handle specific regional and country-specific currency formats, language characters, and other standards.

Now, we're talking about professional translation agencies like us. (Number 17 of the world's top agencies, in case you missed that news.) We're not talking about an "agency" that is staffed with the equivalent of a friend of a friend's son who studied French in undergrad and is now ready to help your company take on Paris. We agree - bien sûr! - that would be a recipe for disaster.

What do you think about the rest of Christian's tips? Give him a read on TechCrunch and come back to us with your comments.


Most of the tips and facts mentioned are right. 
Not sure about finding the right person easy - it can be rough. If you really want to rely on this person and stay back - he has to be loyal and realible. 
Disagree that translation agency can't help because there are lot more people then just translators. For example, there are project managers and designers who really can help a lot esspecially if they have done business with marketing campaign localization.
Posted @ Tuesday, June 12, 2012 1:15 AM by Guntis
It's not a matter of size, Renato, as we both know well. Agencies - of all sizes - can indeed play the critical role you describe; one of the best I know has ten employees on a good day, and I wouldn't trust many of the Top Ten agencies in size to walk my dog, much less translate my documents. 
When one considers the steady increase of "red light" practices at large translation agencies, with any number of translations of dubious qualification planting their bits in the translation memories and tasks being allocated to the cheapest "first responders" in too many cases, it is very clear that no sane client should simply turn a job over to an agency and trust that it will be done right. 
Most agencies will tell you how much effort goes into QA and content localization, but in most cases that's just a smoke screen. Nothing can substitute for client involvement and monitoring of the processes, and frequent translation buyers should seriously consider developing project management resources for translation in-house, then choosing the most appropriate mix of individual service providers and, where unavoidable, translation brokers.
Posted @ Tuesday, June 12, 2012 6:24 AM by Kevin Lossner
Congratulations, Mr. Beninnato! I just wanted to respectfully give you the perspective from the "other side". Perhaps agencies can guide the companies to find a competent interpreter/translator. However, as a translator myself, I agree with Mr. Lossner. More and more of us are moving away from agencies. I still get contacted by agencies and most of them don't even interview me enough to know what my credentials are. Obviously, they are not agencies like yours. Like I said, I just wanted to contribute with the translator's perspective. Good day everyone!
Posted @ Tuesday, June 12, 2012 7:59 AM by Claudia Marchena
You're right that agencies of course can help in those areas. But it's my believe that a company shouldn't only trust an agency with going after a market. You could hire one person you trust and then this person could work with an agency to scale. But I think it's important to have someone in your company who you trust with a market.
Posted @ Wednesday, June 13, 2012 4:36 AM by Christian Springub
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