By John Brewer, Member, Huntsville/North Alabama chapter, October 2005
Over the past two years my team conducted an extensive review of translation process and costs, and we found a lot of ways to reduce translation time and costs. This including exploring use of machine translation.
In the end, we found that machine translation created more hassles than it fixed. It was hard to explain to upper management, but the concept that helped most was explaining that translators aren’t translating word for word, they’re translating thought for thought. They are essentially rewriting the manual. When you take that along with how seriously our Japanese customers take translation, machine translation can even be detrimental to marketing efforts.
We were able to reduce time and cost in other ways.
Preparing for translation, project management, desktop publishing
A considerable amount of translation cost fell into the areas of preparing for translation, project management and desktop publishing (DTP). We worked with our translation vendor to move some of this work over to our side of things. We made more rigid templates and implemented some structured authoring tools.
We looked into ways that we could do some of the “prep” work before we sent the document for translation. For instance, to input a FrameMaker document into TRADOS (a translation tool), it has to first be converted to a .MIF file. We eliminated DTP time by sending the document as close to ready for TRADOS as possible. Your translation vendor can probably provide you with a list of steps that come before translation.
Getting the text from TRADOS back to Frame is also time consuming. If your Frame document has a tight template, more of the text will fall into place on import. This will allow the person doing the DTP to move faster. Avoiding hard returns and style overrides helps here as well.
Writing for translation
One of the first things was bringing in a couple of localization professionals to talk to our writing team about how to write for localization. Once the writers understood how the translation process worked, we were able to add measures to our style guide that would save time in translation.
For instance, we used to use the words server and computer interchangeably. By always using the word computer, the translation memories would translate that word globally and more reliably. The tools that our translators use are very good at anticipating changes. Reusing the same words and phrases cuts down on time needed.
Another measure was to be more mindful of phrases that don’t translate well. One example was a sentence from a troubleshooting section. “Mouse hugs the side of the screen.” You might imagine how that translates. When translators came upon this sentence, they have to stop and query us. Eliminating those queries can go a long way in saving time and cost.
Evaluating translation vendors
We evaluated several translation vendors and found that time, cost and quality varied greatly. One vendor promised a 3-day turnaround on a 200 page document. It took them 5 days to quote it. They didn’t get the job.
Shop around for different vendors. We have a list of criteria for prospective vendors. They have to use translation memories and glossaries. They must use only native speakers. When a prospective vendor meets the list of criteria, we send them a manual for quotation. We always use the same manual, same version, so we can compare later. This is a pretty telling step. If a vendor comes back with two quotes, one for translating as is and another if you can make some changes, they’re a keeper. You’ll be amazed at the difference in different vendors. If the quote looks good, get some samples and have an in-company native speaker review them.
We found a vendor that made a point of advertising how much of the process they automated. This cuts a lot of time. We moved everything to one vendor. It’s tempting to use the one that gives the best quote that day but I think it’s better to train one vendor on how to localize your product. We brought some of the translators in for training sessions on our equipment and worked to give them an education in our products. This understanding cuts down on the number of queries that they have to forward to us.
Moving closer to single source, translating in phases
We use FrameMaker for our technical documentation. Migrating all of our documentation to two platforms, FrameMaker plus Webworks and InDesign, saved us some trouble. We were using RoboHelp, and needed extra steps to get online help from a manual. We changed over to RoboHelp for Frame and later to Webworks. This was a big time and money saver since it was closer to a single source.
In order to cut down on translation times we’ve sent almost completed manuals to translation and stopped the job before the DTP process. Then, when the fast track manual is ready, we compare the translation memory on the first doc to the second and only the additions have to be translated. Depending on document size, this can be pretty helpful. It is expensive though.
One thing we’re trying to put in place now is a more phased approach to translation. Instead of waiting until an entire manual is complete and approved for release before going to translation, we approve the manual by chapter. When a chapter is complete, we send it to translation as one project. When the whole manual is complete, FrameMaker is pretty good at taking the individual chapters and knitting them together as a book regardless of language. Our translation vendor then runs the whole book against the translation memories for the combined chapters and edits the deltas. This might incur a bit more cost, but could cut the time from completion to release considerably. By running the translation in parallel with development our translation time is only as long as the last approved chapter. This is still experimental, but we think it will work. It requires a good measure of discipline though. When a chapter is approved and in translation, any changes you make take you backwards.
Project management and continuous improvement
We meet with our translators about once a year and see what we might do to streamline further. So far they’ve always had something for us to implement and it’s always worked.
Our vendor has the OTTO tool for translation management: http://www.merrillbrink.com/eng/otto.html.
Your vendor should be really good at working with you. They should do a lot toward automating anything that could reduce time and cost.
About the author
John Brewer is the Publications Manager for Avocent Corporation. I’ve been working with translation firms since 1996 when a company VIP walked in and told my manager “We need our manuals in 12 languages. Here’s a list. See what you can do.” Since that time, we’ve added 3 more languages to that list. Avocent manufactures KVM switches that allow you to connect multiple computers to one keyboard, monitor and mouse and access them from anywhere in the world.