Cost-effective translation for international education

“Translation is, after all, at the core of the international education experience”

International education is all about teaching and learning across national and linguistic borders. How can institutions and teachers best overcome language barriers and communicate better with foreign languages audiences? 

We consider the different options available: working with professional translation agencies, working directly with translators via freelance networks, and “doing it yourself” with Artificial Intelligence-powered machine translation software. We will consider the pros and cons and relative costs of the various approaches along with best practices, tips and tricks for improving outcomes.

International Education Becomes Domesticated

Translation is, after all, at the core of the international education experience. Dealing with language difference is part of the everyday lives of educators, administrators and students. Increasingly, too, there is a need to translate within national borders, as immigration waves change the demographic and linguistic landscape.

In the United States, there is an increasing need to translate English to Spanish and to hire Spanish translators in localities in which they never were before needed. English to Spanish translation is becoming a core competency in many US cities. The same applies to Arabic in many European locales, in education, commerce, and government. How are educators and other authorities coping as the challenges of international education are becoming increasingly domestic issues as well?

Seeking Out the Language Resources You Require

The first consideration is gathering the professional language resources which will enable you to even address the question competently. The increasing demand for skilled translators and interpreters. Before launching your next job search, consider the diversity within this field and try to narrow your focus to the specific translation knowledge and skills you truly need, above and beyond mere mother-tongue language abilities.

Depending on the project or curricula, you will want to seek out linguists who also are domain experts or, perhaps, domain experts who are also bilingual or trilingual. Be careful to ensure that a candidate’s skills are really 100% in the target languages, not just at the conversational or casual level, backed by tests and accreditations.

Related article: Key Skills to Look for in Translators and Interpreters

It’s no secret that the supply of foreign language teachers or teachers with truly bilingual abilities does not meet the worldwide demand. Inside the United States, that need is growing by leaps and bounds, prompting massive recruitment efforts, as this article in the Huffington Post attests.

There is no shortage, however, of online recruitment resources and job search sites that will help you locate qualified professionals in the languages you require, covering most spoken languages. They are found in international newspapers like The Guardian or accreditation organization like TOEFL and its foreign language counterparts.

Here, however, we’d like to focus on project or task-oriented engagements, not the recruitment of full-time or part-time staff. There are many instances in education where, for budgetary or HR reasons, it makes more sense to contract professional translation services on a project basis rather than as a salaried position.

Happily, there is no shortage of translation agency options. A translation company typically supports dozens if not hundreds of translation language pairs, with many of them geared, in terms of staff and experience, to provide world education services.

The advantages of professional agencies are many. They support multiple languages so you can consider them as “one-stop-shops” for your translation needs. They often offer service level agreements and enforce strict delivery commitments so that you can count on getting content delivered without delays. As a rule, you will be assigned an account manager who serves as a buffer mediating between the client (you) and the linguistic resources of the agency.

Pros and Cons of the Freelance Translation Option

The cost of agency services, not surprisingly, is higher than freelancers. You may be tempted, therefore, to go directly to the freelance marketplace. These days networks like Upwork, Freelancer, and Fiverr are doing big business because their costs may be a fraction of those offered by translation agencies. But let the buyer beware: while these networks offer profile, ratings and reviews of freelancers, there is much less quality control once you contract a resource.

One way to reduce your risks, especially at the outset of an engagement, is to hire two freelancers, one to do the heavy lifting in translation, with a good perceived value-to-price ratio, and a second “expert” resource to serve as a final editor, auditor and proofreader of the first, doubling also as an insurance policy in case the primary translator disappoints or goes AWOL.

The Rise and Risks of Machine Translation

Another risk that you should mitigate is that your translator will use machine translation. With the quality of such resources as Google Translate, DeepL, and Microsoft Translator ever-increasing, some translators have been known to get lazy and to rely on these third-party helpers to let them get more done and more money with less effort. Prohibit this practice contractually and always compare your translator’s work with what software delivers.

But don’t discount the value of the ever-improving, AI-driven neural machine translation services out there. Use them for foreign language research and for producing rough drafts of content and curricula.

This will save you time and money and, if internal, doesn’t put your reputation at risk by publishing something that is linguistically sub-standard or downright embarrassing.

Best practice translation bottom line

Use translation agencies when you can afford them, create tag-teams of freelancers as second-best when on a tight budget, and rely on machine translation as low-cost translation insurance.

About the author: Ofer Tirosh is the founder and CEO of Tomedes, a language service provider. Tomedes has rendered translation and interpretation services in more than 100 languages to diverse clients and industries.