How to Give Translation Instructions for Results That Sell

Last updated Jan 22, 2024
By Gwenydd Jones

Detailed translation instructions help a professional translator understand what you need. The more you tell the translator, the better they’ll be able to adapt. In this article, I’ll tell you about different ways you can instruct your translator. To get the best possible results at the best price.

Instructions when you ask for a translation quote

It can be difficult to trust a service provider when you first start working together. But, the more you tell the translator when you ask for your quote, the easier it’ll be for them to give you an accurate price. Read my useful customer guide to getting a translation quote.

One of the most important instructions to give when asking for a quote is the level of quality you want. That way the translator will be able to price accordingly. Otherwise, the translator may make assumptions about quality.

The same document can have lots of different prices. For instance, the basic contents of a contract could be translated over the phone, or the translator could summarise the contract, within an agreed time limit. The translator could render the contract very literally, for internal purposes. Another possibility is a higher quality translation when you want to use the contract with customers. If you’re going to use it extensively, as a framework agreement, a proofreader could be included in the project. Perhaps you’re required to make it an official, sworn translation. All these scenarios need different instructions and have different prices.

The quality level is an important instruction in the translation process. Because it can make a massive difference to the price and results. Related to this are your financial and time expectations. If you have a set budget, telling the translator this at the start could be a good move. When customers give me budget information, it lets me see if I can adjust my prices to their expectations. This saves a lot of time and messing around.

Telling the translator your budget for a job can save a lot of messing around. Click To Tweet

Being clear about the deadline is another important part of giving translation instructions. I add a surcharge for urgency and will sometimes give discounts for long deadlines. See my quote guide.

Translation instructions that affect quality

1. Tell the translator what you’re going to use the text for. A professional doesn’t translate a blog post in the same style as a journal article. Also, internal documents need fewer quality checks than published ones. This can reduce the translation price.

If you want the translator to adapt the text to the new audience, then have that conversation.

2. Tell the translator who your target reader is. A professional doesn’t use the same style in a letter for a lawyer as in a letter for a customer. Remember the translator may have no background information. This means the target reader isn’t always obvious.

3. Give instructions related to images. Do you use images as part of your product descriptions? Are you writing an illustrated book? If yes, tell the translator where to find the images. Without them, it can be hit and miss on whether the translation is accurate enough. To give you an example, both of these products can be called botines in Spanish. Without an image, the translator’s imagination may take them down the wrong path. And the resulting product description won’t sell.

4. Style guides or style guidance. This can be particularly important in academic texts and journalism. If the publication follows a style guide, the translator needs to know about it. But, even basic translation instructions make a big difference. Like whether you want them to capitalise every word in titles.

5. Reference translations. If you want the translator to use company terminology, include reference texts. Even if the texts aren’t related to the one you’re translating, they can still be useful.

6. Company voice. In transcreation, tell the translator if you want them to use a certain tone or register. Reference texts and brand guides can be very useful for this.

7. Tell the translator which language variant you want. Translators make different choices for British or American English. If you say you want neutral international English, this will affect the words we choose. Sometimes customers say they want British English when all they mean is they want British spelling. It’s important to be clear with the translator on who the new readership is going to be. So, we can create a text that does what you want it to.

8. Company jargon. If your text is packed with acronyms and jargon, the translator will need your help. These kinds of terms can lead to a lot of wasted time for the translator. It takes a while to get to know a text, and a simple acronym can take 30 minutes of research. When a translator dedicates time to a term, and later finds out it’s internal jargon, they feel frustrated. We may also accidentally choose the wrong translation without realising. You can avoid all this by providing clear translation instructions.

If you have a set budget, telling the translator this at the start could be a good move.

Translation instructions related to creativity

Translators are normally freelancers who work alone in their home offices. We may have lots of different ideas for your text. But we have no way of knowing whether you’re open to us being creative. Making changes to a text is not in a translator’s gift. So, if you want the translator to adapt the text to the new audience, then have that conversation. If we know you’re flexible, and to what extent, then we’ll produce a better translation.

Transcreation isn’t black and white. You can ask the translator to highlight any changes they make for you. You can ask them to limit themselves to making changes only when they think it’s necessary. If you want a strong marketing text in the new language, it’ll pay to discuss a more creative approach.

A good marketing translator can help you internationalise your content, so it sells. Click To Tweet

When you ask a marketing translator to be creative, make sure they understand who the new audience is. Tell them the reason for the translation, so they can help you sell in the new language. A transcreator is like a copywriter. A clear brief helps make sure they convey the right image for your company, in the new language.

Other important translation instructions

1. Give the translator any SEO information. Tell the translator if the writer has made specific choices related to keywords. Otherwise, they may choose a wider range of synonyms and dilute the keyword density. Also, understanding the writer’s intent can help them select the best term for the text. At The Translator’s Studio we offer a keyword research service.

2. Tell the translator if the job forms part of a bigger project. Many of us use translation software. I sometimes use this tool to save the work I do for certain customers. That way, I can offer them discounts on similar future projects. This also helps me make sure I use consistent terminology and style. It makes a big difference to quality.

3. If part of the text has already been translated, say who did the translation. Knowing whether it was a professional translator helps us make decisions. If it was a non-native translation, we can also add revision onto the quote.

4. Give the translator instructions about asking questions. Tell us who to contact and their working hours. If you’re happy to get a phone call if something is urgent, let us know. If you speak the new language and can help with specialist terms, that can make a massive difference. These kinds of instructions are a great way to start forming a team with the translator.

5. Your plans. Advance notice is brilliant for freelance translators. Projects come and go on a daily basis and it’s hard to plan. If you know you’re going to send us a 5,000-word text on the 14th of the month, tell us. With these instructions, we can reserve time for you. For a translator, urgent means in the next 24 hours. If what you really mean is in the next week, then it pays to be clear on these instructions too.

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Written by Gwenydd Jones

Gwenydd Jones is a Spanish- and French-to-English translator, an SEO blogger and a course creator. She is the founder of The Translator's Studio and the lead teacher on its courses. Connect with Gwenydd on LinkedIn or contact her through this website.

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