Choosing the right language service provider for your localization needs
The process of taking your content to a wider audience is challenging but rewarding. The value you get from additional customers in other parts of the world, however, can be tested by the complexities of ensuring that the right message is delivered the right way to a group that, by definition, you are not very familiar with. So how do you know you are talking to them in the right language? Hiring a localization vendor is certainly the best way to reduce risks and increase your company’s ROI. But, if you don’t know what kinds of vendors are out there, or how they can streamline and automate your work, you could jeopardize your localization efforts. Ultimately, this means more time, more money and more risk to your brand reputation.
Before launching your vendor search, understand first that localization goes beyond the mere translation of content into another language. While translating the content is a large aspect of the work, engineering, project management and cultural adaptation complete the process. Similar to Harry Potter’s wand, your needs as a customer must match the skill set of a vendor for the magic to happen. The services and strengths a localization vendor brings to the table will vary according to its size, location and capabilities. For instance, while freelance professionals may provide the best price-quality ratio, they may not be able to provide complex desktop publishing or multiple language support. A large language service provider, on the other hand, can and will certainly provide localization into multiple languages, but unless your account is worth seven digits, you may find their customer service lacking.
So, to deploy a completely successful localization effort, you need to know the types of vendors that are available and which one can be the most beneficial to your project. Let’s take a look at the types of language service providers and some detail on what services they offer.
Ah, Those Acronyms…
Language service providers, or LSPs, vary in size and capacity, ranging from individuals to small, medium or large corporations providing a variety of localization services. Language service providers fall into one of four categories: freelance localizers, single language vendors (SLVs), regional language vendors (RLVs) and multi-language vendors (MLVs). Each focuses on a different array of language and technical requirements and levels of service.
Me, Myself and Irene: The Freelance Localizer
You may want to work with either an individual managing a small group of professionals or a freelancer who focuses on smaller-scale translation needs. The freelance localizer, one person who knows two languages, tends to deliver personalized attention to his or her customers and is an excellent option if you are looking for a translator that will make you the top priority. Freelance localizers may focus only on translation, or they may go a little further and offer one or two specialized services beyond translating text-based content, such as desktop publishing, translation memory management, style guide and glossary development, or quality assurance.
One Source to One Target: Single Language Vendors
A single language vendor provides translation services into one language, often from English as the source language. The smaller size and single-language expertise frequently allow for more specialized attention during the translation process. And smaller scale projects using smaller vendors often mean lower costs. However, if you anticipate the needs for your company will change in the near future (for example, needing to translate into two different dialects of Spanish), you may discover that the benefits of an SLV are short-lived.
Typically it is mostly small companies that rely on a single language vendor, but sometimes a very large corporation that has reached the Transparent Level of the Localization Maturity Model switches back from a larger vendor to a single language vendor to receive more individualized attention and direct access to the vendor’s team.
Similar But Different: Regional Language Vendors
A regional language vendor (RLV) provides expert translation services in the languages and dialects of a specific region. Examples include the CCJK (Simplified and Traditional Chinese, Japanese, and Korean) market, Eastern Europe and Latin America.
A relatively recent addition to the scope of language service provision in the industry, regional language vendors provide a unique opportunity to localize while benefiting from the best of two worlds. They combine the capacity to deal with more than one language with the rich attention to differences in local and regional dialects. Because of the narrower focus of regional language vendors when compared to multi-language vendors, you can more easily ask the right questions and find a reliable partner. Since they have the experts in their own team and do not have to rely on other language service providers, you will get the right answers more quickly. On the other hand, regional language vendors frequently have a better project management structure and larger service scope when compared to single language vendors, and can therefore decrease the time from project inception to market.
One such example is a regional language vendor with expertise in the two main languages in Latin American countries—Portuguese and Spanish. (Take a deeper dive into the differences between languages and countries with our article, The Localization Triple-Edged Sword: Managing Brazilian, European and African Portuguese Translations).
Many Languages and Robust Services: Multi-language Vendors
When the localization needs involve a number of markets and languages, companies turn to the larger and more robust multi-language vendors. Multi-language vendors (MLVs) provide a full range of services and language combinations, and can provide automated workflows, often using proprietary technology. An MLV usually works with large corporations and provides a level of streamlined localization into multiple languages that would be a project management and logistical nightmare for smaller vendors. However, you may sacrifice the individualized attention or relationship development in favor of speed and capacity, not to mention the higher costs when compared to the other language service providers.
Vendor Services and Selecting the Right Fit
Your localization partner should provide the appropriate range of services to ensure your localization effort is successful. Vendors have expertise in many of the following areas, and you will need to determine which are most important to your own company and projects.
Consulting and Strategy
A localization vendor helps you map out your content development, delivery and evaluation criteria before you initiate a project, so that you can minimize potential rework. During this process, you create an implementation plan with milestones, deadlines and checkpoints to map out the entire localization project. With the help of your localization partner, you prepare your team members to manage the changes and organize the actual content to be adapted.
When you select a language service provider, make sure the translators are native speakers of the language you need to translate and that they actually live in the region or country of your target language. A translator who has been away from their native country for too long loses contact with the language and its evolution. Likewise, if your chosen vendor does not have a presence in the region for which they offer language services, you may want to reconsider your choice. Understanding regional dialects, cultural expectations and local regulations is paramount to quality service.
Localization engineers have advanced expertise that allows them to pull information from a system, modify it, and put it back into the system as new localized content. Their work goes beyond basic text translation, and language service providers such as the regional language vendor and multi-language vendor will be able to provide this level of service to companies that need it. Instead of just translating text and handing you the translated files, localization engineers can adapt various types of media and deliver them back into the corresponding systems. This process allows you to publish in all desired formats without having to manually export the source and import each piece of localized content.
Quality Control and Testing
Beyond validating the accuracy of translated text, technical requirements and regional adequacy, quality assurance in localization can be applied to multimedia products such as videos and online learning content. Quality can be validated in captions, dialogue, date and time stamp preferences, even pronunciation of terms and acronyms. Testing processes validate that the products (content and media) function as intended. The localization vendor can verify that the products will work the same way each time to create a consistent experience, whether for software products, web pages or interactive media.
For more insight on multimedia and website localization, check out our multimedia localization best practices and tips on how to avoid common website localization mistakes.
Turnaround Time and Time-to-Market
Before you select a vendor, define your scope and needs under a defined timeframe. A structured language service provider and larger vendors (RLVs or MLVs) should handle the full range of localization tasks and move the project along at a quicker rate. However, the speed may increase the cost or reduce the quality, so understand the tradeoffs—the more people involved in a given project, the more difficult it is to maintain consistency. Yet this is where a language service provider’s project management skills come in handy. Make sure your agreement with your partner delineates the deliverables and the level of quality you expect.
Project Management and Customer Service
Effective project management establishes the timeline for deliverables, outlines the communication channels and expectations for response times, and adheres to the budget. Each type of language service provider offers varying levels of project management; select a vendor based on how much help you need and what you expect the customer service terms to be. An individual translator likely has fewer clients and more time to devote to your company’s needs. A multi-language vendor can manage all areas of the localization efforts, but depending on your localization budget, and especially if it is not in the seven-figure range, you may not be among the high-priority customers.
If your company is in a highly regulated industry, such as automotive or life sciences, you should select a vendor that is certified in that industry to make sure your content adheres to legal requirements. Like any industry standard, however, certification does not guarantee quality. While it ensures that the processes are followed rigorously, if the resources are flawed, the results can only be consistently bad.
The price for localization services varies according to which type of language service provider you select, where they are located and the scale of your project needs. Prices typically increase as you move up the “LSP ladder” and vendors based in Europe and the US tend to be more expensive than those is emerging economies. Before you select a vendor, determine the acceptable levels of quality, reliability and service you want for your project. Keep in mind that not all products need the high quality required for customer-facing marketing materials. So consider the value you receive for the time and money when determining the level of quality for the products you need to localize.
Each localization vendor has strengths and weaknesses, but only you can determine how they fit into your company and project needs. For smaller-scale needs, you may prefer an individual translator or a single language vendor based on the personalized attention and expertise in just two languages. If you take a regional approach, you should select a regional language vendor to ensure the expertise with regional dialects, communication preferences and the right cost for your quality expectations. For large-scale projects requiring translation into multiple languages and automated processes, your best bet is for sure a multi-language vendor.
Trade associations offer excellent resources when you need independent advice. As the largest association in the language industry, GALA is by far the best choice for your globalization and localization resource needs, with its repository of expert articles, webinars and multimedia content, its annual conference and regional events, and a number of other resources.
Ultimately, you need to have a good comfort level with your localization partner. Before you select a partner, research the company’s quality and reliability. Talk to the actual vendors to determine the level of project management, customer service, quality and engineering expertise you can expect. Get recommendations and feedback from other clients whenever possible. Above all, understand your localization project goals, and the tradeoffs you can make to ensure the right balance of service, quality and timely delivery. And be honest about your needs and possibilities. The relationship with your language partner must be one that is based on transparency and trust.
Fabiano Cid is the Managing Director of Ccaps Translation and Localization, a company that supports the language needs of global brands in Latin America since 1999. With over 15 years of localization experience, Fabiano has served as the chairman of the board of Milengo and of the Globalization and Localization Association (GALA). An active member of the language industry who is frequently invited to speak at conferences and write articles for specialized publications, Fabiano is the co-creator of Think Latin America and a member of the Advisory Board for the GALA Think! Series.