Or live with the consequences. As many conversations as we had on content, I don't believe we talked about developing marketing content in different languages. Although a few times I hinted at how little consideration translation and interpreting work get in the US, at least in my experience.
Which is the reason why as an English major, I decided that becoming a translator was not going to be viable business option early on. Think about the argument people make for creative writing, and add the perception that if you speak two languages, translation is not that big of a deal.
You know you get what you pay for in that case.
If you pick cheap
Since enough agencies tried to haggle on rates with me and so called proofreaders saw an easy way to make money by tweaking my translations saying the same thing, only a bit differently -- and getting paid more than I in the process -- I'll address the cheap part first.
In a recent post, Umair Haque mentioned MyGengo, a company that "offers a simple way to get good-quality, low-cost translation services." Dave Davis makes some really good points about that business model in an extensive comment, which I hope you will read.
Artificially low "market rates" for labor (below living wage) drives those with that skill out of markets by necessity. In many areas, we're losing expertise, skills and ideas as the best drop out or retire. So the newcomers are forced to reinvent wheels, and necessarily drop balls. Everyone suffers until they get up to speed, at which time someone cheaper shows up and it all starts again.
Tell a person that the experience and skill they put into creating marketing content in another language is worth pennies. In that case, it's not worth the effort.
Some may make the argument that there is free with Google translate. Yep, there is that. Good luck with it. Let me know how it goes. Bootstrapping surely has a base limit no-one should attempt to lower.
The most advanced automatic software translation tool available now for freelancers and agencies is Trados [hat tip Michael Walsh] and even some of its web pages and the results are always a complete nightmare.
Can good and fast coexist?
It depends on your goals. When you have a really skilled interpreter, that translation is coming out fluidly, and creative copy that sells needs to be fluent in the language it sells into. In the same way as you pay for a winning creative concept and writing, you should be prepared to pay for that skill in another language.
MyGengo does seem to put control in the hands of the buyer. You can buy good enough for a bit less. With the understanding that if you want the very best, that takes more thought and time -- both of which cost more.
I've been in enough project overruns to know that saving a few dollars may end up costing more in lost business in the long run.
Knowledge and value
To write about a topic knowledgeably, there is a learning curve. Who pays for it?
This is the reason why often companies that have offices abroad have their own staff do the translation, instead of farming it out. Being in the business helps with understanding how the business works locally, how locals talk about it, what they search for, etc.
The best translations take into consideration the concepts you are trying to get across and carry those over to the other language with the characters, and words they need to connect with intended audiences.
Examples where human skills are critical
Let's start with the organization's Web site. This is the marketer's main conversion hub. Crisp copy that gets the point across when people land there from searches shows whether you're a global company, or just a multinational.
A multinational would take you to a Web site that may or may not look like the main business site, possibly with a different URL, and the looks and feel and navigation decisions of a different marketing team. Your customers and prospects may know both languages, and be more comfortable completing a transaction in Spanish vs. English, for example.
Think about contract or joint venture negotiations, research and development (R&D), proposals, distribution deals in other countries, even press releases with partners abroad. I worked with Swiss German, French, Japanese, and British companies -- yes, even Britain and the US have their language differences -- a human gets the job done without costly misunderstandings.
How about social media?
Content in social media is often conversational, and while you can plan much of it wit the help of an editorial calendar, some of it will be spontaneous and opportunistic. You may plan the blog post, and have it translated. What about the comments?
Think @ replies on Twitter, or initiating tweets in a foreign language. There's a good discussion here about Twitter and translation. If you find it challenging to tweet in your language, what will you say in a foreign one?
Automation tools will get the context wrong. There are nuances in conversation that dictionaries don't pick up. Trust me, after 1,200 hours of simultaneous interpreting, 7,000 hours between written and consecutive translation, I can tell you that dictionaries are useful when you know how to carry across the meaning.
Then there are false friends -- words that sound the same in different languages, and mean something completely different. For example, you can say you're embarrassed in English, be careful about being embarazada in Spanish, though. Tone will get you in Chinese.
For years, I worked alongside an American lady who translated from and into Italian. She was by and large alright. However, not being native, she stumbled with simultaneous interpreting a little. During a medical lecture on nutrition, she used the Italian word "preservativi" to translate preservatives. Thankfully, the audience was game for a good chuckle (as will Italian readers of this blog) and no puppies were hurt in the process.
My money is on developing a relationship with translators who understand or are willing to learn the business, and have enough experience under their belt to know how to do that efficiently. Consider them copy writers, because that's what they'll do. Depending on what you need translated, you may go with good enough. I vote for human.
Where are you putting your money?
[no sock puppets were hurt in the making of this vignette]