There's no denying that the global economy is increasingly interconnected. (Of course, right now, in the midst of the US Government shutdown and the pending debt ceiling deadline as of the time of this writing, it’s a somewhat sad acknowledgement that the world’s economies are intertwined inexorably.)
Despite the current crisis, most of the time, having a business without borders is a great thing. More and more businesses are being operated by teams spread across the globe -- here at PandaDoc, we have team members in the U.S., the Philippines, Belarus and Spain. Even better, customers are also everywhere you can think of – and even some places you’ve never thought of.
Distance is no longer a major barrier for most businesses. Not only is the Internet reaching more people than ever, but 1.2 billion of those people are accessing the web via mobile devices. The Internet puts nearly instant connectivity in your hands and you can do business with anyone, anywhere, from the customer in the Australian Outback, to the supplier in Shanghai. The world of business, at least, really has become a smaller place.
That is, until you run up against the brick wall that is a language barrier.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though. With innovations like cloud-based storage and apps making it easier for you to negotiate in the digital space, shouldn’t business operate without borders in most parts of the world? If only you could overcome that pesky language barrier…
Thankfully, it’s getting easier than ever to do just that. If you’ve ever used Babelfish to translate a word or phrase, you know that automated translation is possible, albeit that particular resource hasn’t always been the most consistently reliable for getting a decent translation (though it has improved considerably over the years).
Let’s take a look at how far online translation services have come and explore the possibility of making your business run without borders.
Mobile translation apps
There is a growing selection of mobile translation apps coming out for Android and iOS devices. As with Babelfish, you can expect some errors with mobile translation apps. No matter how complex the technology under its hood, no app can fully “understand” human languages the way we do.
That being said, the technology is really getting good, and you can safely rely on automated translation in many situations.
What’s more, there are some noteworthy mobile translation apps that you can consider when it comes time to translate your docs, including:
One of the best is Google Translate, a free app that works on Android and iOS. Google Translate offers translation between more than 50 languages, voice input, and limited support for reading non-Latin scripts, among many other features. Google Translate gets extra points on Android because users of that platform get robust add-on language packs and offline operation. Did I mention that it’s free? (BUT, it's also imperfect. English is easily translated into than out of, what with 6,000+ phrasal verbs and our complex meanings.)
Perhaps the most ambitious mobile translation app around is VerbalizeIt, which is described as “human-powered translation and interpretation services.” The app works by connecting you with a live translator, through your phone. VerbalizeIt promises to help you deliver your business documents to any language in the world, but it’s a relatively new service and how effective it really is remains to be thoroughly attested to by the reviewing masses on the Internet. VerbalizeIt does have an associated cost of around $10 per five minutes of talk time with a translator, meaning it can get expensive. Still, there’s no denying the convenience of having a dedicated translator on-call when you need one.
Another free mobile translation app is Babylon Translator. It integrates with your email, browser, or just about any other online content, and it can create translations of terms or full texts on-the-fly. Babylon also offers an app called Babylon Touch, which lets you scan a physical document and translate a word or phrase from it. Babylon offers a variety of services, including human translation and desktop dictionaries at varying price points.
Professional translation services
Sites like One Hour Translation offer professional translation of documents based on word count. Similar services come from Pro Translating and Be Translated. All these services provide exceptionally high quality translations, though they are probably among the most expensive options available.
Using services such as these, you should expect to pay around $75 per 1000 words translated, not including proofreading. Also, expect larger projects to take considerably more than an hour to complete. Nevertheless, you can generally expect to get top-notch results from a professional translation service, so when every word is important, choosing from one of these services may be your best bet.
Freelance translation services
Perhaps the best option for getting your documents into other languages, short of hiring a native speaker in-person, is to use a freelance translator. Sites like Elance and Odesk (full disclosure: I’m a big Elance user and our company uses both actively) have plenty of freelancers who specialize in translating text documents accurately.
While many processes can be automated in our digital world, translation is one of those things that require a human touch. You’ll find many freelance translators willing to translate from one language to another on a site like Elance. But that doesn’t mean that all translators are equally as good at what they do.
Look for freelancers with great feedback and high client ratings. Read the reviews of each freelancer you are considering and ask them a few questions before sending them your documents. One thing to watch out for using freelancers for translation is that sometimes, the freelancer will speak your language as a second language. While they may be perfectly able to write with correct grammar in their language, they may not understand yours as well as a native speaker would, leading to minced words and mistakes.
It’s easy enough to offer a translation job on a freelance website, but if you’ve never hired a freelancer before, you’ll want to vet the candidate thoroughly to make sure you can rest easily that they have accurately translated your words. You don’t want to send a document to a client that has silly mistakes throughout it. To get a reliable freelance translator, expect to pay well over $10 per hour, and be suspicious of anyone willing to translate your documents for less.
Crowd source your translation!
We did this with our sister site
Quote Roller. For our two most popular subscriber languages after English -- Dutch and Spanish, respectively -- we simply reached out to our customers in those two languages and asked them to translate. The result was about 10 versions of each of the two languages, from which we used the most popular translations of each phrase. None of us speaks Dutch, so this democratic way was the best way to assure at least an almost perfect translation, that helps us attract more customers, while better serving the ones we already have. Then, since we are a WordPress site, we simply searched for and tested plug-ins to
localize the site to automatically pop up in the native language of a country. Easy-breezy and free.
Is your business reaching the world?
It’s pretty simple to get a document into the hands of someone halfway around the world, but getting your message across is a bit more challenging. Online translation services have improved since the early days of tools like Babelfish. Still, there’s room to grow -- there's still too much humanity in it to be automized just yet -- but the general consensus is that online translation is “good enough” now to be a practical option for most business documents.
The truth is, you may wind up using two or more of the online translation tools available to double-check the translations you procure. (Again, democracy is a great way to approach translation.) If you’re going that route, consider using one free option and following up with a paid option that hammers out the mistakes. Of course, the difficulty in translating your documents comes down to their complexity, so if you’re keeping it simple, translating your documents may be easier than you think.
Are you running a business without borders? How do you get past the language barrier?