Why don’t companies invest in translation? | July 2016 | Translation Journal

July 2016 Issue

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Why don’t companies invest in translation?

Soon after I got my degree in Translation, I began working in the marketing department of a software development company. Language skills, one of the job requirements, were used to develop international advertising campaigns, to organise and take part in international trade shows and to translate all the software-related documents. So far, nothing new, and I'm sure this career start was very similar for many other graduates in this area. I tried to combine my translation work with other "more valuable" tasks as best I could. I have very happy memories of that time and it was certainly a very rewarding experience. However, because I didn't know much about the translation tools around at the time, I kept thinking that there had to be a way of optimising the work.

Looking back at this business context from ten years on, with the filter of someone who has been totally and exclusively immersed in the translation market, I can see that the reality is still very much the same as it was then.

Alexandra Albuquerque, a professor at ISCAP, made a very interesting point on this matter, in her doctoral thesis, whose main aim is to "understand how companies manage specialised terminology and languages in multilingual communication contexts, particularly when mediated by translation."

The information collected on language practices in a number of companies led her to conclude that "hiring staff with foreign language skills is one of the strategies used by companies to deal with multilingual communication situations, where ad hoc mediation skills (translation or interpretation) are expected." The same study also shows that "although companies do not invest much in "translation", except when strictly necessary, they are aware of the importance of speaking the client's language."

So, if companies understand its importance, why do so few of them invest in translation services?

  • Cost reduction: there is an illusion that by giving this work to a member of staff, who is already being paid for the other work they do, the company will be saving as they won't have to use external service providers.
  • Confidentiality: when content is translated in-house, it is assumed that there will be no transfer of knowledge and no danger of leaks.

But is that really the case?

Another study, by Jukka-Pekka Peltonen, concluded that:

  • A considerable volume of translation is carried out by in-house employees, but this work is not included in their workload.
  • The employees do the translations without the necessary skills or resources, which means the quality of the final product is not as good as it should be, while also affecting their performance in the other tasks assigned to them.
  • Without a terminology management support system, when in doubt, the employees use social media inside and outside of the company, trying to find out the right term from colleagues or friends who are familiar with the area in question. This method, in addition to being rather unreliable, is a breach of the confidentiality that was thought to be protected.
  • There is also the emotional impact that comes from carrying out a task without the necessary skills, taking up more time than necessary and causing employees to feel anxious and taken for granted.

Therefore, it is up to companies to make decisions and implement a language management strategy with the best benefit-cost ratio.

What advantages does accurate and efficient communication bring to companies?

  • It reinforces the company's image and credibility.
  • It reduces the cost of not doing business (with clients not attracted or lost due to inefficient communication).
  • It eliminates errors and possible consequences, which can be more or less serious (losses, in legal proceedings, policy issues or fatal error, as well as other problems).

And our role, as professionals? Is there any way we can develop our value proposal for these companies in a way that we can create a culture where this accuracy is actually valued as a critical factor in the business of any company.

About Teresa Sousa


With a Master's Degree in Translation Studies and over 10 years of experience in the translation industry, Teresa Sousa currently works as a freelance translator from English/German into European Portuguese, mostly in the technical fields, but she is also a transcreator in fashion and tourism fields. An active member of the translators' community, she regularly attends industry events, both as an attendee and as a speaker and provides training and mentoring to translation students and fellow translators. Co-author of Beggining, Middle and End: How to Be a Managing Translator and Deal Effectively With Your Projects, an e-book about translation project management.

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