Standing between coins and words: where is the value of translation?

Business insights
Posted by Athena Parthenos

Last week, I attended a conference in Vienna, and during a coffee break with another attendee, I discussed one of the most common situations that translation agencies encounter when selling their goods to companies—translated words are considered too expensive. I think this stems from the fact that the costumer doesn’t see how the value of translations justifies the cost. So how do agencies handle this problem most of the time? Option 1: the company decides to handle it as an inside job and forwards it to an intern currently working who studied foreign languages. This worker usually relies on Google Translate and on personal interpretation of the text to complete the job. Option 2: They have a single foreign-language version of the document, most likely in English, and will use that one as an adaptable version even if the end-user’s mother tongue is not English. So translated words are a luxury good. But why? Because people think that paying for a translation is not essential—they can easily solve the problem within their own company, as illustrated above. Often, people believe that they can easily achieve the same results by paying less (or not paying at all). Therefore, relying on a translation agency becomes unnecessary.

Does this line of thinking really work? Are those options really a solution? No, they are not. Most often, people don’t consider that professional translations are the gateway to opening and maintaining foreign customers and markets. I have had clients say that if they had purchased a product and the instruction manual was not in their language, the next time they had to purchase the same product, they would opt for another brand. The same thing would happen if they had to spend three hours trying to decipher a poorly translated document and still weren’t able to understand any of it. These customers would talk about their bad experience with friends and family, discouraging others from buying that specific brand. Would they really do that? Yes! Because that company failed to give appropriate attention to the end customer.

What good would such a poorly done translation do for a product if the words weren’t able to convey the item’s quality? Say you just purchased a very expensive television—one of those super high-tech models that records movies, can connect to your Wi-Fi, is 3D-compatible, and so on. You get back home with your new purchase, open the instruction manual all excited to boot the thing up, and you find that it’s in Italian. You speak English. Would you be satisfied with that brand? Next time you go shopping for another tech product, would you buy something from that brand again? I surely wouldn’t. What if the unintelligible instruction manual was for the crib of your newborn baby? Would you be confident about the safety of the crib?

I can agree that if you are not a business insider, it is harder to see the value of translated words compared to that of the raw material used to build products. However, you pay certain attention to the material used for your products, and you should devote the same attention to the words used to market it. It is important to rely on a company like Athena Parthenos because we put value into words; we take all the benefits of your product and transfer them into another language so that customers around the world can understand the work you have done.  Sometimes even luxury goods are worth it—over time, the money spent will prove to be a great investment.

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