3 reasons for and 2 against translating from English

Published on 23/04/2021

One of the principles taught in translation faculties is that you should always translate from the original text. This is a reasonable idea , because in general nothing is more accurate than the original.

However, the translation market reality is a little different. That’s why we as translation companies often recommend our clients to work from English. In many cases, it is the best way to get better translation quality translation at lower price.

1. Reasons why translation companies recommend translating from English

1.1. Not all translators are equally professional

Not all translators are equally professional

All of us who collaborate with other people know that some people work very well, some work well and some not so well.

The more options we have to choose from, the more likely we are to work with good professionals, with the right training, tools, conditions and attitudes.

Nowadays, English the first working language. For this reason, there is an increasing number of professional translators working from this language (see our blog Why is English the most widely translated language?)

The ability to work with the best professionals will be reflected in the quality of our translations, but being able to choose from a wider range of translators will give you access to more competitive rates.

In relation to this last point, I recommend my blog: "Why are some languages more expensive to translate than others?

1.2. Searching in English is easier

Searching in English is easier

Not only are there many more professional translators to choose from for translating from English than from other languages (German, Spanish, Italian, Arabic, Chinese...), but they can also work under better conditions.

English is the language of science. In technical translation this means that a technical neologism may not have an equivalent translation in Russian, French or Arabic.

Thus, if we look for technical glossaries or specialised bilingual dictionaries, most publishers will start with the English version.

In short, translators working from English have greater access to quality reference material, which inevitably improves the quality of their work.

1.3. When words count in translation

When words count in translation

Did you know that when translating from Spanish to English we can have up to 15% less words?

If you are familiar with the world of translation, you will know that translators and translation agencies use the word count for calculating the cost of a translation.

This means that if we translate from English we can reduce translation costs up to 15%. Sounds pretty good, right?

It seems a good argument for translating from English, especially if we have to translate into many different and maybe even more exotic languages. However, all that glitters is not gold.

2. Risks when translating from English if it’s not the original text’s language

2.1. Translations are not perfect

Translations are not perfect

Gerardo, my former English teacher in high school used to tell us: “Traduttore, traditore”.

Without going in too deep into the meaning of this well-known Italian word play, the truth is that when translating there is always a possibility of making more or less significant mistakes.

That way, when we translate from English without it being the original language, we run the risk of repeating the same translation mistake in all the other languages.

To reduce this risk, it makes sense to make an extra effort when translating from English. For example, we recommend to have translation with a second editing/revision step for English that complies with the ISO 17100 standard on translation services.

The best way to avoid this risk is to do for your translation process what the big multinationalsdo, no matter if they are German, Japanese or Chinese.

The usual strategy is to create all technical documentation and other texts in English directly. This ensures that the translation of our manuals, catalogues and websites is done from the original.

2.2. English is not always necessary

English is not always necessary

Although it is difficult to imagine a situation in which an international company would not need to translate its content into English, it is a situation that may arise depending on the company's target markets.

On this occasion, the translation of the texts into English will involve an additional cost in addition to the risk explained in the previous section.

However, depending on the number of languages we need and the language combinations we are dealing with, it is possible that going through English may be the best translation strategy from both an economic and quality point of view.

My recommendation in this case is to request a quote from your translation agency translating directly from the original language or from English. You may be surprised!

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Josh Gambin's picture
Josh Gambin

Josh Gambin holds a 5-year degree in Biology from the University of Valencia (Spain) and a 4-year degree in Translation and Interpreting from the University of Granada (Spain). He has worked as a freelance translator, in-house translator, desktop publisher and project manager. From 2002, he is a founding member of AbroadLlink and currently works as Marketing and Sales Manager.

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