Translation agency – a knowledge base
A significant number of people may have had contact with a professional translator or a translation agency – we sometimes need to translate important documents or simply want to know the content of an old family letter written in a foreign language. The role of a translator is commonly understood. But what exactly does a translation agency do?
We have prepared this knowledge base as a reliable source of information on the inner workings of a translation agency. In this article, you’ll read about:
A brief(er) history of translation
As an activity, translation (or perhaps interpreting, i.e., oral translation) is as old as the civilisation itself. Even in the most primal human communities, there had to be people who knew different tongues and were able to convey the meaning of a person’s utterance for other peoples to understand. Most likely, the first piece of writing referring to interpretation comes from 3,000 BC – ancient Egyptians would use a hieroglyph denoting “an interpreter”. The art of translation is woven into human history, as exemplified by the fact that the International Translation Day is celebrated annually on the feast of St Jerome, the patron saint of translators.
More often than not, written translation was a task performed by individuals who, while performing their job, had little to zero contact with others from the same profession. Scholars, authors, monks and philosophers translated important works on their own initiative or when ordered by representatives of the state or clergy. Nevertheless, joint endeavours weren’t non-existent – the evidence being, for example, the King James Version, an Anglican translation of the Bible prepared by a panel of experts.
Nowadays, both freelance translators and translation companies (usually called translation agencies) are equally popular choices when it comes to the task of translating content other than books (the latter almost always is done by individual translators hired by publishing houses).
Interestingly, the first entity that could be described as a translation guild was the Toledo School of Translators (Escuela de Traductores de Toledo), which during the 12th and 13th centuries included scholars and translators (hired and paid by the Castilian Crown) who translated philosophical and scientific books. In a way, then, we can trace the institution of a translation agency back to them.
Translation agency – a well-oiled machine
A translation agency is an enterprise that performs translations and usually provides other related services (such as revision and proofreading or even transcreation and copywriting). It is an intermediary between the client and a translator, which makes use of its network of linguists to offer the services of specialists suited for a particular kind of job. Its employees include both linguists – whether freelance or in-house ones – and project managers, who relay received tasks and communicate with the client. Medium-sized and big translation companies may also have their own marketing team or one dedicated to SEO research. That is the case at LOC AT HEART.
Depending on its size, an agency may be divided into departments, such as a linguistic department, a project management department or an SEO department. If the agency handles numerous projects from different categories (e.g., subtitling or fashion), project managers may even belong to different departments. Let us now focus on what various employees do and how their work impacts the operation of an agency.
Translation agency in-house linguists
While not a necessity – an agency can employ only one project manager who relays all tasks to freelancers – it is a good practice to hire exceptionally skilled specialists as in-house linguists. With most of the tasks assigned to freelance translators, in-house linguists review their work and apply all necessary corrections before the task reaches the client. On rare occasions when their work calendar has empty slots, an internal team member may translate a text by themselves and have it carefully checked by a colleague.
Another task entrusted to in-house linguists is preparation of reference materials for other linguists or even the client – whenever the latter wants to create a glossary for their project, it’s typically an internal linguist that draws it up. Alternatively, if a project is allocated to many freelancers and there’s a risk of inconsistencies, such an employee of the agency decides about guidelines for the contractors. An example of such a resource is KNP sheets for audiovisual content.
While one can come across agencies that hire internal translators, reviewers, proofreaders and copywriters separately, they frequently look for experts who combine all the necessary skills and can adjust to all sorts of tasks coming their way. We have already mentioned their types, so let’s now explain what they entail in detail.
(Please note that we use terms that we employ at LOC AT HEART ourselves.)
This type of assignment is rather self-explanatory. The linguist must translate a piece of content from one language into another. It may be a document, a board game, a manual, or a series’ episode – the important thing is that the translator is in this case the first person to have contact with a given source text. Therefore, they should convey any remarks they might have to the reviewer, as they may be of huge importance for the proper understanding of a text. It’s worth emphasising that while the translation will, ultimately, be checked by a reviewer, the translator should perform self-revision as well. Double-checking one’s own work is an important piece of the puzzle – it guarantees that even if the reviewer does a poor job, the text will still be of good quality.
Good translators have perfect knowledge of the target language they translate into, even more so than that of the source language.
Sometimes also called “editing” or “verification”. During this task, the linguist looks at both the original text and the translation and checks whether there aren’t any mistranslations. What is more, they correct all other mistakes and, if possible, add preferential changes which bring the text’s quality up to eleven. Before sending the reviewed file back to a project manager, they re-read it to make sure that they haven’t accidentally introduced minor mistakes such as typos during the verification.
Apart from exquisite command of the language and knowledge of even the most minute of rules, reviewers must prove their attention to detail and a good eye that catches the tiniest of flaws.
The final stage of work on a translation project before it’s delivered to the client. The linguist no longer has to look on the source text and focuses specifically on the target. They mostly search for typos or punctuation mistakes, which may have been overlooked by the reviewer. Proofreading is also part of single-language content revision – if there is no original to verify a text against, the content is sent for proofreading without any intermediary stages.
Similarly to reviewers, proofreaders are masters of paying attention to detail.
This acronym stands for “linguistic sign-off” and it could be defined as proofreading performed on the final form of a file – e.g., a PDF or live website. It allows to eliminate errors that may have been overlooked at earlier stages. Moreover, it gives linguists the opportunity to review the ready product in context. Apart from linguistic issues, some DTP-related checks may be performed as well, e.g., related to the layout or aesthetics of the pasted text.
Alongside the skills typical of reviewers and proofreaders, those who perform LSO must also have at least basic knowledge of typography norms.
The most creative type of task. It consists in writing articles or other content on a given topic, with the use of reference materials and adhering to the client’s guidelines. By far the most time-consuming kind of assignment, it requires the linguist to have perfect command of the language and a great writing style.
Linguistic wizards of LOC AT HEART
The Gdańsk-based translation agency LOC AT HEART also employs an internal linguistic team, around which most of the company’s operations revolve. This department has been present for almost the entirety of our history, ranging in size between one employee in 2016 and five employees in 2022. All internal linguists need to pass a demanding test in order to prove their skills as far as the knowledge of English and Polish is concerned. Anyone with adequate qualities may qualify but so far all employees have had a degree in either English or Polish philology. At our company, internal linguists perform all the tasks described in the previous section, and more. However, each one of them is related to translation. Such unique assignments include:
- Technical check of subtitles in foreign languages (note that this pertains solely to technical aspects, as all linguistic matters are taken care of by respective native speakers).
- Preparation of English master versions for subsequent translation.
- Preparation of reference materials for both in-house and freelance linguists.
- Evaluation of tests performed by Polish freelance linguists.
- Creation of content for our company blog and website.
- Support of communication between project managers and clients when linguistic information or research is involved.
We have dedicated a blog entry to our in-house team, where we describe their duties (and personalities!) in more detail. You are cordially invited to meet our translation team.
Who’s in control of processes at a translation agency?
While linguists are the beating heart of a translation agency, project managers are its veins and arteries. They are a prerequisite for the existence of any translation agency (the use of this word should now be obvious), and are usually the most numerous among all employees in such companies. Project managers (or project coordinators) are intermediaries between the clients and the linguists. They are the main contact people of any translation agency, possess exceptional communication skills and can manage teams of linguists and their capacities. The main tasks of PMs are:
- Contacting the client, receiving their enquiries and answering all their questions.
- Processing the client’s files so that they are linguist-friendly – meaning that their format can be easily read by specialised translation software.
- Evaluating the costs of translation and providing all the necessary data in this regard.
- Receiving purchase orders from clients and preparing invoices for them.
- Drawing up reference resources based on the client’s materials.
- Communicating with linguists (both internal and external), arranging their workflow, providing them with additional information and sending them purchase orders.
Currently, PMs belong to two departments of our company: one focused on game localisation and subtitling and one dealing with e-commerce, fashion and beauty, and marketing projects. Those project managers who boast solid experience at LOC AT HEART and extraordinary leadership skills work as team leaders. Apart from managing projects, they coordinate the work of their junior colleagues. Projects from a particular category are continuously managed by the same person, thanks to which all updates are provided regularly and there are no delays related to the necessity of adjusting to a new client’s expectations. When a PM is on leave or vacation, they delegate the work to a person who is already fully briefed about the details. If you wish to learn more about project management at LOC AT HEART – including how PMs deal with cutting-edge technologies necessary in modern businesses – read our article on that topic.
What tools does a translation agency use?
Long gone are the days when translators used typewriters and browsed bulky dictionaries. Similarly, translation agencies now must employ professional solutions that are the industry’s standard in order to stay competitive. For the sake of this section, we may exclude freelance translators’ tools – although these largely overlap with agencies’ ones – and focus on software commonly used by translation companies.
Computer-assisted translation tools (CATs) are for translators and translation agencies what Photoshop or InDesign are for graphic designers. They streamline translation processes by enabling text segmentation, the use of translation memories and creation of projects and glossaries. The most widely used piece of software from this category is SDL Trados Studio. Others include memoQ, Memsource, and Wordfast.
Quality assurance (LQA) tools
While most reliable CAT tools have modules allowing for quality assurance (LQA), it is good practice to also use dedicated programs built specifically for this task in mind. QA tools provide top-notch quality in terms of consistency, terminology or technical aspects of translating files (e.g., relating to the use of tags). Perhaps the best known software of that kind is Xbench. Other popular programs are Verifika and QA Distiller.
Broadly speaking, subtitling tools are also CAT tools aimed at audiovisual translation; however, they are very different in terms of usage. Subtitling tools provide means to add respective translations at given points of time for display. In audiovisual translation, brevity and precision are especially important. For that reason, subtitling tools must provide metrics that measure the length of text and the time during which it’s shown. Another useful feature is the option to automatise (to a certain degree) the adherence to clients’ specifications.
We adjust our communication channels to a given client’s preferences. While we use Discord for instant messaging within the company, we have no problem with relaying information via Slack or Microsoft Teams.
Perhaps surprisingly, we also use Google Sheets for communication. Online spreadsheets allow our linguists to ask questions about any issues with the source text. Likewise, when we are able to answer them, we do so ourselves, while leaving very few issues for the client to reply to – within the same sheet.
Project management tools
Project management tools streamline day-to-day coordination of tasks. Companies from all industries employ such solutions, and translation is no exception. Among the most popular applications are Trello, Asana and Confluence.
Why you should work with a translation agency
As mentioned, translation agencies operate as proxies between their clients and linguists. However, where does the need of an intermediary even come from? After all, shouldn’t freelance translators be able to do the same job? Ultimately, it’s mostly them that agencies hire (as in-house linguists are quite few and far between).
This might be true for individual tasks that aren’t connected to each other. For example, there may be clients who simply need one medical record translated. For them, a freelance translator may sometimes be a better option, as freelancers can be contacted also through social media, on Facebook groups, or similar. (Still, LOC AT HEART is present in various social media: on Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube.)
However, when we look, for example, at a large clothing brand which continuously publishes new content (such as items’ names and descriptions), the reason for the existence of translation agencies becomes apparent. If the company operates in multiple markets, it would need as many individual translators as there are languages that the products should be marketed in. It could work for two or three countries, but with a dozen or so, it would become a mess. Contacting several translators, sending them reminders and settling their invoices sounds like a logistic nightmare.
Luckily, translation companies take care of all that. They do the necessary work related to the communication with linguists, making sure their salaries are paid, and arranging the workload. What is also highly important, they cooperate not only with translators, but also with reviewers and proofreaders. We haven’t mentioned that yet, but in the case of the fashion brand, the client would have to find people to check the work of translators (“bare” translation is more prone to errors).
Another highly important aspect in large-scale translation undertakings is consistency. Having the same term translated differently in different texts (or even within one piece of content!) is problematic for customers. Imagine a customer self-service article on troubleshooting a website problem. If the buttons’ names are different from those actually appearing in the interface, then such an article is confusing at best, and useless at worst.
Thanks to cutting-edge software, translation agencies are able to oversee the consistency of different texts, even when they’re translated by various contractors. Naturally, freelancers use such tools as well – nevertheless, we can easily imagine situations where a freelancer is unavailable (for example, due to an illness or personal matters). In such cases, the project must be put on hold. Meanwhile, a translation agency almost always has a replacement.
Thinking out of the box – why LOC AT HEART isn’t like any other translation agency
While adhering to the industry’s standards and providing a comprehensive set of localisation services, we try to go above and beyond that. We believe that we’ve successfully helped over 100 clients with their multilingual content. However, this wouldn’t be possible without a tailored approach to each client. First, while many translation agencies assign different project managers to subsequent stages of a project, our processes involve the same person looking after a project from its reception up until sending ready files to the client. Thanks to that, the person responsible for a task is always in the know about every update. We could say that the client has their own external linguistic department manned by our employees.
What is more, we don’t translate source content mechanically. When we notice a potential mistake or ambiguity in the original text, we let the client know about it. This way, the translation is devoid of any confusing parts and the original may be adjusted accordingly as well. Often clients who initially only order a translation decide to entrust us with proofreading of the original. If any other changes (not related to the text itself but, for example, to the scope of work) are introduced to a project, we introduce them in a manner that lets linguists continue with their work with the least fuss. We’re not afraid to ask clients questions – it’s for the best for both parties.
We optimise our processes to the client’s expectations. We are happy to use the client’s tools, glossaries, guidelines, and procedures. As an example, have a look at our articles describing cooperation with Ten Square Games and ForeVR Games. There, we describe our story and the way we and the client met somewhere in the middle, having agreed to common principles.
To sum up – if you have any content that could profit from translation, a translation agency such as LOC AT HEART is a good choice. Not only will you receive translated content but also benefit from additional linguistic services, translation memories allowing for lower costs, and the help of experts specialising in your domain. Don’t hesitate – contact us to arrange a free consultation!