To Translate or Not to Translate

Balancing the budget

If you own or work in a small company with products or services for export, you probably already know which markets you want to reach, and how to handle sales when potential customers from that market contact you. But have you decided if you want to use your existing online marketing and printed materials in English, have it rewritten in the local language, or have the English text translated and adapted to the local market?

Marketing and sales budgets have often been spent or allocated to other activities at that stage, so providing marketing materials that are targeted at a specific audience in an export market can be a challenge.

But they understand English

What do you do? Keep the text in English? That is an option, but you risk losing customers because they don’t understand the details that make your product or service stand out. Could you leave it up to Google? It is a quick solution and it is free, but a great deal of meaning in the technical content will most likely be lost. Besides, incorrect sentence structures and out-of-place metaphors can give potential customers the impression that you are not serious about wanting to do business with them.

Confused manIn a country like Denmark people understand English, but they will most likely turn away and go to competitors if they don’t understand how your product or service differs from the alternatives. It is easy to lose readers if they don’t have a very profound knowledge of English and are familiar with all the technical words or the English jargon in your subject area.

But how do you produce targeted text in the local language without having to wait until the budget allows it?

Choose a professional small vendor or a freelancer

A small professional translation firm or a professional freelancer, who also lives in the country and fulfils the criteria below, will be able to adapt your English text so it matches the target group. They are good at fulfilling the needs of small companies because small companies are important customers, so even if the volume to be translated and adapted is relatively small, you will get their attention to your needs. Here are some suggestions as to how to find the right translator for the job. Look for translation vendors or freelancers who can meet these criteria:

  • A small local firm or a freelancer with translation as the core business
  • The translator has one of the languages as the native language, and an MA in the other language in the language pair
  • The translator has experience in translation within your subject area and in translation of marketing text

Direct communication with the translator is important

With a small vendor or a freelancer you will be able to communicate directly with the translator. This will speed up the translation process, minimise the risk of misunderstandings, and save costs.

A professional translator will send you a quotation with a price and ask for your acceptance before the work starts. So before you give the translator the green light to go ahead, you can make sure you have a clear agreement about:

  • The total price
  • The scope of the job
  • The delivery time

This helps to ensure there will be no hidden costs. 

The right timing and professional quality

Another advantage is that you can always expect to receive the translation at the agreed time and date. If you ask someone to translate the text as a favour, a delay may occur, and it can become a tricky matter to discuss. Professional translators know in advance how long the job will take. And the quality will stay at the same, high level right to the end of the text. You will receive a text that is ready for use, and your text will fulfil its purpose when it is published.

More information

If you want to know more about how to buy translation, you can download Getting It Right. It is a very good guide, brief and to the point. It is relevant both if you are considering buying translation for the first time, and if you have done it before.


  • 25. September 2014 - 08:30 | Permalink

    I couldn’t agree with you more about the importance of translation, even for target markets that “understand” English, and about the advantages of choosing a small supplier. However, in my experience, choosing a translator who lives in the target market is not always the right solution. As a native English translator of creative texts, such as marketing material, translators living in the US or the UK tend to be too far removed from, say, the Danish culture and so often misunderstand the nuances of metaphor, humor and modern cultural references that bring a text to life.

    • 25. September 2014 - 10:18 | Permalink

      Yes, you’re right. It is easy to keep your English language alive and follow British and American culture in Denmark because it is everywhere in the media. I had actually at first written “preferably lives in the country”, but for a translator with Danish as the native language, I think it must require quite an effort after 10 – 20 years abroad to keep following what various groups think, write and care about in Denmark, and use that style in your translation. In technical fact sheets, instructions, etc. it doesn’t matter so much, but in marketing, style and tone of voice is essential.

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