Guide to planning a translation project

Translation is both an activity, a product and a process. As an activity, translation is a complex act that requires thorough reading of a text in the source language to understand its meaning and create an equivalent text in the target language. The word “translation” also refers to the product of this activity, i.e. the final text in the target language to be published or distributed. This guide aims to identify the elements necessary for planning a translation project, so that the reader becomes aware of the means and resources necessary for its implementation and above all is able to make thoughtful and informed decisions when choosing a supplier of reliable language services.


1. A definition of translation

Before delving into the topic, it is good to clarify what exactly is meant by “translation”. To do this, let’s help ourselves with the following definition: translation is the process by which a text written in the source language is communicated clearly, completely, accurately in a target language. The term “process” refers to the steps that a translator, or a group of translators, must follow to produce a good translation. Our definition also includes some characteristics that every translation must possess to be considered good, namely:

Good writing: all good quality writing adheres to grammatical and spelling standards, uses appropriate terminology and expresses concepts clearly.

• Precision: Several factors can contribute to an inaccurate translation, such as misinterpretation of the source text, choice of inappropriate or incorrect terms, and addition or omission of key concepts from the translated text.

Completeness: a translation may be incomplete due to the omission of concepts, phrases, words, symbols, etc.

• Adequacy: the translation must be suitable for the public who will use it and the context in which it will be adopted, without discarding cultural aspects. Note that the following activities do not conform to this definition of translation, although they may be an integral part of the process:


The simple replacement of words from one language with words from another language: translation is a complex act that requires in-depth reading of the source text to understand its meaning and produce an adequate version in the target language.

Automatic translation: automatic or computerized translation is a tool that can be used in the translation process, but fails to produce a final product that meets the expectations of adequacy and accuracy that we have for a text translated by professionals, at least with the technology that currently exists.

Summarize or paraphrase: although these activities can be useful for communicating information from one language to another, they do not, strictly speaking, conform to our definition of translation.

Interpretation: translation must be distinguished from interpreting, which consists in conveying the spoken word in another language.

Translation differs from most other products and services in one fundamental respect: it is impossible to fully evaluate the quality of a translation if you do not know both the source and target languages.

A translation may be accurate, but have spelling errors in the target language. It is also possible that it is beautiful from a stylistic point of view, but does not faithfully communicate the meaning of the source text. Your direct participation in the translation process and the relationship you establish with the other people involved in it will allow you to understand and trust the final product more. An informed consumer can avoid unpleasant surprises.


1.2 Details of the translation process:

A single person can translate a text for information, but multiple participants are usually needed to create a final translation of the quality needed for publication or distribution. The translation process also includes several stages that incorporate a certain degree of repetition and redundancy. We can divide this process into a series of general steps, namely:
1. Translation:
The initial phase of the translation process involves creating the initial text in the target language.

In general, it is best to have a single translator or a small team of translators who are used to collaborating translate all the material. While this isn’t always the case, most professional translators only translate into their native language; in addition, it is assumed that the translator is also an expert on the topic of the text to be translated. Since this is not always possible, in these cases it is strongly recommended to involve a subject expert in the proofreading phase, to resolve any doubts or questions about the content.

2. Review or correction:


Revision is understood as the process of carefully checking the translated text with the original in order to eliminate any possible errors, ambiguities and omissions. All terminological changes must be made while maintaining internal consistency, both in the
text than in the project glossary. This task is usually assigned to a translator who works in the same language combination as the original translator. However, it may be useful to assign it to a native speaker, as this person can sometimes spot errors resulting from the translator’s misinterpretation of the source text.
3. Final check:
This last phase of quality control allows you to clean and refine the text, correct small errors in punctuation and style and smooth out the last spelling imperfections. At this point it should not be necessary to consult the source text, except to clarify the final doubts.

4. Maintenance:
Although it is not part of the translation process itself, it is an important step so that the material does not become obsolete. Whenever the source material is updated, the translated versions should also be updated.
Simple updates can be entrusted to a single translator, but more complex updates involving many editorial changes may require a final review and correction.

It is worth remembering that professional translators normally perform the first three steps before handing over their work to the proofreader and that the proofreader will in turn repeat the second and third steps of the process.

2. Plan a translation project:

Correct preparation and good management are two aspects of fundamental importance for a translation project
successfull. Below are some of the activities that should be part of your translation project:

1. Identify the person or people who will oversee the translation process.

2. Define the scope of the project, the materials and languages ​​into which they will be translated, evaluate their content and technical characteristics (file types, accessibility, formats, etc.).

3. Establish the budget to be allocated to the project.

4. Copyright Consider copyright laws.

5. Identify the resources to employ, whether it is a translation company, freelance translators, internal members of your organization or a combination of these alternatives.

6. Create a project plan.

7. Set a schedule for the project.

8. Run and manage the project.

9. Create a maintenance plan for translated materials.

2.1 Identify the leader or team responsible for the project:
Managing a translation project must be tailored to the size of the organization and the resources at its disposal. Project supervision can consist of simply handing over materials to a translation agency (also called a language service provider) or managing the entire project, including choosing translators and proofreaders. For an internal translation program to be successful, it is essential that it is managed by someone with experience in organizing and administering complex processes.
2.2 Define the scope of the project:
It is important to identify from the outset the specific needs that your organization wants to meet through translation and set realistic goals to meet these needs within the specific constraints of your budget. A key aspect of this task will be the evaluation of the materials to be translated to ensure that they can adequately meet current professional training needs and have a good chance of remaining relevant for a long time to come.

3. What does it really take to translate?:
Organizations need to be efficient and make good decisions about which materials to translate. Depending on the needs of the organization, a complete and accurate translation of materials is not always necessary.
Careful analysis of the original can reveal parts of the translation that can be shortened or omitted, reducing the amount of work required and ultimately the cost of the translation.
For example, let’s say you’ve been given permission to translate a lesson on a particular scientific concept that includes text and illustrations that you don’t need, such as the history of the group that created the original document or a historical account that isn’t relevant to your audience. In this case, you may choose to summarize or even omit these sections of the translation altogether.


As mentioned above, summarizing is not the same as translating. However, a summary of a document in the target language, for example the results of a research study, can be useful for communicating some specific information. If you decide to adopt this strategy, you need to ensure that the person in charge of creating the summary is qualified to read the source text and summarize it in the target language.
Sometimes it can be helpful to summarize a document, lesson, or other material to help you make certain decisions. For example, when identifying documents that would be good candidates for full translation, it may be useful to have a description of their content to decide whether the material actually meets the needs of the program. This strategy can help those involved in the selection process make more informed decisions about which materials to source
translate and save on translation costs of superfluous materials.

3.1 Source materials


In addition to their relevance, the selection of translated materials requires careful consideration of other factors, such as quality, effectiveness, ease of use and format. Assessing your training needs is an important aspect of the selection process. It’s a good idea to have the person responsible for your organization’s training program involved in these decisions and help identify the most relevant materials to effectively communicate the concepts you want to present.


A well-written document that presents concepts clearly and concisely will be easier to translate than a document with a detailed and intricate style. If the original is not well written, the translation may take longer and the final product may reflect the poor quality of the source text, a wording that facilitates and supports subsequent translation or adaptation.

Consistent use of terminology, clear wording that avoids jargon, use of examples from different geographic areas, and consistent application of international units are just some of the features that can make translating the source text easier.

3.2 Formats: types and suggestions:
We can look at the format in two different ways:

Deployment Format:
refers to the way the material will be presented to the end user. For example: a printed textbook, a web-based lesson, a presentation, or a webinar. All of these delivery formats present their own challenges and need to be handled in a particular way for translation.

Translation format:
this is how you will work with the content during the translation process. For a webinar, for example, the translation format could be a text file containing only the transcript of the translation. For a web-based lesson, the format might be an HTML file.

An important consideration must be made regarding access to source files.
Formats designed for the distribution of material, such as PDF, make the translator’s job more difficult. The process will be much easier if the source files are in MS Word, Excel, etc. This also applies to the illustrations that accompany the text: it is much easier to generate the translated images when you have the original source files containing the text layers. The translation process will be streamlined by the availability of the source files.

Here are some general recommendations on the format:

  • Avoid formats that limit page length or number of characters depending on the source language, such as when a window or button fits the size of the original and can’t be enlarged. Often a text in English takes up less space than the equivalent in another language, such as German or Italian.
  • Choose materials available in text format or in an easily convertible format, without the need for specialized programs.
  • Obtain the source files and, if necessary, ask the organization that created the source materials.
  • Check that you have the resources necessary to extract the text to be translated from a program that does not facilitate translation, such as Adobe Flash, or to work with graphics or audio files.
  • Consider the formats you and your translators can use. Today, the tools used by most translators allow them to work with a wide range of formats, but not everyone has these specialized programs at hand. For example, if you handle HTML files but your translator only works with MS Word, you will need to convert from HTML to MSWord format.
  • Do not assume that the translator and other participants will be able to work with a file format other than MS Word. Find out before starting a project.
  • Checks whether images and animations contain text.
  • Images with labels, captions and explanations need to be handled specially with graphics software and require access to the source files.
  • Consider the impact of narration and other audio elements. If the final product will include narration in the target language, significant resources may be required to process the material, which increases the cost and time required to produce the translated version in the target language.
  • Consider using cloud-based software options. Today, many software providers offer access to sophisticated programs in the cloud at an affordable price. Your budget may allow you to provide access to specialized tools for your translators at a relatively low cost, and perhaps even provide the training needed to learn how to use them.

 3.3 Audio:

Converting narrated lectures and recorded webinars into other materials is a complex process. Recording material in the target language increasingly involves more work and the use of additional resources, such as hiring narrators, producing and processing soundtracks, and incorporating them into the final lesson delivery format.

Depending on whether you or a contractor performs these tasks, they can add significantly to your costs. One option to reduce this is to offer only the text of the transcript or include subtitles if possible. Some web video distribution tools, such as YouTube, offer closed captioning capabilities.

3.4 Images and animations:

Many training materials include illustrations, animations, and other graphics that contain text. Graphic formats commonly used in lectures and presentations (such as .jpg, .png, and .gif files) do not contain text layers that can be edited. It will be easier to create translated versions of images if you have the source files in a format that preserves text layers, which in turn can be translated with a graphics program such as Adobe Photoshop.


Even if you can’t get the source files, in most cases you will still be able to place the text
translated onto the image, although the process will take longer and the quality of the final image may not be optimal.

Animations present additional challenges.
As the animation progresses, labels or explanations may appear at different times, or the text in each frame may be slightly different, as is the case with data product animations. It’s a good idea to evaluate animations before submitting them for translation to detect any technical or text-related issues.

In general, unless the translator can work directly on files in graphics or animation format, and is willing to do so, which is rare in the industry, it will be necessary to adopt a strategy for working with graphics elements. One possibility is to fill out a document with a screenshot of each visual element and tell the translator to write all the
text elements it contains under each image or animation.

The translator is the person who will create the translated images and will have to pay particular attention not to make mistakes, especially when inserting text into images and animations.
One way to save time and money when creating graphics and animations is to leave them in the source language and include the translation or explanation of the labels in a caption at the bottom of the image or directly in the body of the translated text.

3.5 Distribution Format:
Translated material can be distributed in a variety of ways: from the simplest, as a PDF file accessed via a link on a web page, to the most complex, as an interactive website, changing the distribution format for technical or other reasons .
If you need to translate a complex section such as a website, but you have few technical resources or a limited budget, instead of converting the HTML files to MSWord and then rebuilding the website, you could choose to distribute the material in a PDF file.


4. Translation technologies:

There are two technologies widely used in the translation field: machine translation and translation memory.
Machine translation (MT) is the use of computers to automate the creation of a translated version of a text.
Google Translate and Babelfish are the two most popular machine translation systems, but there are many others. Machine translation is very fast, but computers lack the human ability to understand context, infer meaning, decipher confusing sentences, or detect errors in the original text.

While incorrect machine translation can convey the overall meaning of simple text, no automated system is currently capable of producing results acceptable for publication without human intervention. Machine translation can be a good alternative when all you need is to know the general content of a document.

Translation Memory (TM), also known as computer-aided translation (CAT), it can identify instances of previous translations that match the current text, allowing the “recycling” of previously translated texts. Translation memory programs also allow you to maintain electronic glossaries and can alert the translator to the existence of terms in the glossary. Unlike machine translation, the translator uses the program to create the target text, which is stored in a database in the form of pairs of segments, which are usually sound.

When the program detects a correct match with one of the stored segments, it is presented to the translator, who has the option of accepting it as is or modifying it. The use of this type of specialized software is very popular among professional translators and helps improve productivity, internal consistency and the quality of translated documents. It can also reduce the cost of translation if the original text contains many repetitions or when updating previously translated materials.

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Translation memory technology is available in specialized translation software packages (e.g. SDL Trados Studio, MemoQ, Wordfast, etc.) that perform several functions designed for professional translators and project managers, such as file format conversion and terminology management. Today, most translation memory programs also allow connection to a machine translation engine that can present its own suggestions for correction by the translator.

Another widely used tool is specialized terminology software. The simplest form of this software maintains a terminology database with correspondences between two languages, which can be queried manually or automatically by translation memory software or used as a standalone tool. Terminology management is an integral part of the translation process, regardless of who is responsible for this task and how it is carried out.

It may be important to know whether the translators or the translation company providing services to you use these tools. For example, if the text you want to translate contains sentences that repeat multiple times, you may find it useful to use translation memory to reduce costs, since you will only pay once for the translation of identical repeating segments in the text. Translation memory software can also save you money when updating previously translated text by speeding up the update process.

5. Budget and rates:
The cost of translation services (translation, proofreading and final revision) is usually calculated based on the number of words contained in the text in the source language.
Since the final count of the translated text is unknown at the start of the project, using the source text’s word count ensures that charges are easy to understand and calculate from the start. Although the word is the most common unit for calculating the cost of a translation, there are agencies and freelancers who traditionally use other criteria. Some translators, for example, also charge by the hour or by the project.

Rates can vary considerably in the market
translation and depend on a number of factors, including:

  • Translator experience and specialization: Experienced translators who specialize in certain subjects often charge higher rates.
  • Complexity of the material: the translation of a technical and specialized text can cost more than that of a text with general content.
  • Volume: A translator may be willing to offer a discount depending on the volume of the project.
  • Language combination: Translation costs for some language combinations are higher than others, depending on whether they are more or less common or subject to competition.
  • Time: A rush order will likely cost more.
  • Translator location: Translators living in some countries around the world may charge lower rates.

Typically, it is difficult to get pricing information from translation companies without requesting a quote for a particular project.
Below are some of the tasks that are often billed by the hour: creation of glossaries, special research beyond the standard research work involved in the translation process, extensive number conversions, creation of captions for illustrations, formatting that involves more than simple wrapping of text and translation into graphic files.


Most freelance translators also charge a minimal fee for smaller projects, usually based on an hourly rate.
To calculate the cost of a translation, you need the word count of the source material (which can be easily obtained through functions found in most word processors and other types of programs) and the fee that each professional involved in the process charges for word. Remember that you have to add the corresponding fee to each

Suppose, for example, we need to calculate the cost of a 10,000-word translation project from English to Italian. You contact several translators and end up accepting three offers: from a specialized translator who charges 3 euros per word, an expert proofreader recommended by a colleague who charges 0.5 euros per word, and a copyeditor who charges 0.5 euros per word.

Add the three rates, then multiply the flat rate of 4 euros per word by the word count in the source language to calculate the total cost, which in this case would be 40,000.00 euros. To this amount must be added the hourly work performed and any other additional services provided by team members.

Ask what the translator or translation company’s fees include (they may not include any formatting) and about their quality control process. Some translators’ fees include translation, proofreading, and even final layout. If so, make sure a different person with the appropriate qualifications performs each of these tasks. Consider the possible impact of currency exchange between the country you are in and that of the translators.

Consider these pricing factors:

Text type: Is it a simple text or a highly technical document? Higher fees are generally charged for translating technical materials that require research.

You need a special format? You may need to pay extra for the translation of complex tables, graphs, images, etc.

Experience and specialization of the translator: It may be worth paying a higher rate to work with an experienced translator, as this could save you time and resources in the proofreading phase.

Do you need a subject matter expert to handle the review?

Language combinations: you may have to pay a higher rate for a rare language combination.

Urgency: Consider whether there is an expedited fee for quick delivery.

On average, translation work can progress at a rate of 300 to 400 words per hour, proofreading at 600 to 800 words per hour, and final editing at 1,500 to 2,000 words per hour. This means that a translator can typically produce about 2,500 words in an eight-hour workday, while a proofreader can correct about twice as many words in the same amount of time. These are rough estimates, and keep in mind that freelance translators often work on multiple projects at the same time, so translation work may take longer than these rough estimates suggest. Unless you have a very strict deadline to meet, allow, within reason, as much time as possible for each step of the process and build in some flexibility to compensate for any delays that may occur.

6. Copyright:
If the materials to be translated do not belong to your organization, you will need to take into account copyright provisions.
The copyright laws of most countries consider a translation to be a derivative work of the original, so it is not permitted to produce a translation without the consent of the copyright holder of the original document.

Some organizations have very liberal copyright rules and allow free use of their materials for non-commercial purposes, which may include producing translated versions of their lessons. Since this is not always the case, you must obtain permission from the author before producing a translated version of any text or image that does not belong to your organization.
There are other important aspects to consider before undertaking such a project, such as forming an appropriate team, preparing a translation budget, evaluating the materials to be translated, and obtaining permission from the copyright holder. A good analysis of the source materials will help with the selection process and prevent the translation of unnecessary texts. Generally, the cost of translation work is derived from the number of words in the original text.

Translation rates can vary quite a bit depending on factors such as the language combination and the complexity of the material. Reviewing the source text can eliminate some problems that may arise during translation and helps decide which formats to use for translation. Translation can be done in different formats and text
translated can in turn be used to deliver the content to the end user in different formats. The materials with
Graphical or audio components require special attention and the use of additional resources. It is good to be aware of some translation technologies, such as machine translation, translation memory and management systems
of terminology.

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