Should You Build An In-house Translation Team?

Most of the world’s top brands are experiencing a broadening of their international customer base. More and more domestic competitors are springing up in overseas markets, challenging global brands.

Having good quality foreign language content has never been more important for serving the customer and maintaining a competitive edge. How to deliver localised content is an important question that touches on brand management, speed and of course, cost management. Multiple business stakeholders will be impacted by the resulting choice, including Marketing, PR, Customer Service, IT, Production etc.

To help you decide what’s best for your business, I’ve summarised the pros and cons of the in-house vs external localisation models below:

In-house Translation Teams

Pros:
  • Brand Protection: Permanent staff live and breathe your brand. They develop a deep understanding of your culture so are likely to better communicate it. For sensitive communications or launches, it can also be reassuring to keep the content in-house to avoid leaks.
  • Focus & Accountability: Having a fully-committed team also means their capacity is under your control and they will not be distracted by working on multiple clients. Your own employees should be easier to hold to account, so any issues with the localisation process should be more transparent and within your power to fix.
  • Market Intimacy: With in-house linguists, it’s also easier to create unique content straight into the target language without an English source, tailoring it to specific market needs.
Cons:
  • Limited Flexibility: With fixed resources, it can be hard to handle peaks (e.g. a new market launch) and troughs in volumes of content requiring localisation. If volumes exceed capacity, this can lead to burnout and quality issues. Likewise, dips in demand can result in unnecessary staff costs accruing. This can be a big issue if you need small amounts of lesser-known or isolated languages on an ad hoc basis.
  • Quality Assurance: If linguists are not situated in the local market (e.g. they sit in HQ in London), and are not speaking their native tongue all the time, their fluency and vocabulary can suffer. This so-called “language interference” can impact authenticity and tone, even if technically correct. This is a key consideration for marketing content, which by its very nature needs to be extremely current and engaging.
  • Team Development: Managing linguistic resources requires a different skill-set and organisational structure. If you don’t have somebody in-house who understands the translation business, it can be hard to hire, develop, and retain the team. This is particularly the case when working on a small scale.

External Language Service Providers (LSPs)

Pros:
  • Highly Flexible: LSPs are highly agile when it comes to changes in content volume, as they normally have a huge database of linguists, meaning somebody can always be found. They can provide localisation services for most languages, not just the largest ones, and often on an ad hoc basis or as part of a wider contract. Partnering with an LSP, though normally requiring some kind of commitment, is not as permanent as hiring staff.
  • Subject Matter Expertise: Not only do LSPs provide highly qualified linguists who are experts in their language and can ensure linguistic quality, but they can also provide technical expertise for legal terms or search engine optimisation (SEO) that you may not have in-house.
  • Efficiency: Most LSPs have linguists across the globe so they can be always available and working 24/7, meaning they can facilitate quick turnaround times. They also often provide access to software that has been tailored to the process of translation project management, offering the chance to automate or at least speed up delivery
Cons:
  • Brand Intimacy: If you do not have consistent, large volumes of content in the same language, it is likely multiple linguists will work on your content, which can lead to inconsistencies. There are standard tools to enhance brand intimacy and facilitate consistency such as tone of voice documents, brand guidelines, and style guides, that a good LSP will encourage you to produce in the target languages.
  • Relationship Management: As LSPs have multiple clients, naturally they will sometimes have conflicting demands. As with any service supplier, there is an element of relationship management and negotiation that may be time-consuming. LSPs who build their commercials on word counts will always be keen to localise more content for you, so you need to be rigorous in assessing if you really need that content. Some LSPs may also integrate with your systems e.g. CMS (Content Management Systems), so this can require technical support from your in-house IT team and may make it hard to change supplier quickly.
  • Relinquishing Control: At the beginning of a project, it’s normal to want to review some deliveries, especially if you have linguists in your organisation who are able to do so. However, to really benefit from the efficiencies offered by an LSP, you should aim to reduce or remove this completely. If not, additional rounds of checking can become significant bottlenecks, and may not drive any value if the feedback is subjective. This can be a hard adjustment, particularly for brands that are particularly exacting about their content.

Conclusion

As you build your international business, production of multilingual content will become an increasingly important consideration. It is important that you assess what your needs are in terms of the type of content, languages, volumes, demand, and the specifics of your industry. When you reach a certain consistent volume of words, then it’s time to look at establishing an in-house team, but this should be done with the same amount of care that you would give to establishing any new department. LSPs provide value in their flexibility, expertise and efficiency. It is worth considering a hybrid solution where LSPs work with your in-house team to support more uncommon languages, or specific types of content until you reach a large enough scale to make it worth bringing those in-house too. Lastly, having a mix of content providers helps keep both teams (in-house and external) on their toes by developing healthy competition and having options to review each other’s quality.

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