Don't Bite Off More Than You Can Chew: What Needs to Happen First in Translation

Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew: What Needs to Happen First in Translation

Don't bite off more than you can chew: What needs to happen first in translation
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As the song from Sydney-based alt-country rock band Chuck’s Wagon goes: “If you bite off more than you can chew, you know you gotta chew like hell!” When tasked with a project that requires translation into multiple languages, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. For a quick start and successful journey, it’s about finding the right size bite – in this case, striking a careful balance between organization and execution.

As a result of the global pandemic, companies of all kinds and in all sectors have reconsidered their reach and shifted their focus towards international markets with fresh eyes. For any global adventurer, this is great news.

But as much as international adventures are often more exciting without a solid plan (letting serendipity bring discoveries and new experiences), it’s important to pack your suitcase right when you head off into the unknown – even if your trip is virtual.

This is especially true for professionals charged with brand advancement, e-learning localization, or even DEI initiatives. When faced with the challenge to match the diverse values, preferences, and expectations throughout multiple markets, projects need to align with other global initiatives. A roadmap is in order – one outlining a clear plan of how to get from A to B without detours or delays.

A best practice approach to starting any international project includes gathering all important information, data, sources, and details so it’s easier to move things along quickly for all language solutions.

Don't bite off more than you can chew: What needs to happen first in translation

You might have heard the famous Dale Carnegie saying: “An hour of planning can save you 10 hours of doing.” There are varying degrees of how much planning yields what volume of time savings, but regardless of the calculation, the point is the same: planning pays off, both in saved time and avoidance of costly mishaps. 

On the other hand, while acknowledging that comprehensive planning is as important as careful execution, it’s also true that planning has the potential to slow down the start of a project unless the process is streamlined. Even with the wonders of technology, the intricacies of conducting projects on an international scale in different languages with different customs and cultures can make it tricky to connect all the dots.

When you’re doing any project that involves another country (or even several countries), don’t make the mistake of waiting until the last minute to think about the key role that language will likely play. Whenever possible, engaging your translation services partner in the early stages of your project planning is optimal – the earlier the better! 

A good rule of thumb is to add one week to your process for each of the translations needed at every point. This is because it’s not just the original, one-time translation of material you need to consider. Each translation will need to be checked (and sometimes re-checked), just as you will be checking (and re-checking) all materials in the original English-language.

It makes sense if you’re translating your materials into multiple languages, you wouldn’t want to manage the process one by one. Centralizing the workflows with one agency is best practice, giving you one point of contact and coordination for different types of translation services. Project management can be exciting enough in terms of keeping all the details straight while you’re simultaneously actually executing the work!

What the pros say needs to happen first in translation 

We asked a few professionals in the industry, “What stands out as the factor from early project planning that has the greatest impact on success?” Here are their answers: 

From my perspective, the greatest challenge for development teams who are starting a project is the lack of common understanding of the precise goals. This means that everyone on the team needs to fully understand the exact features being planned, the scope, the development timeline, and so on. The responsibility for establishing the foundation for a clear and common perception really lies on the top managers who are leading the development effort. 

Kate Edward

Geographer, CEO & Principal Consultant, Geogrify 

In my experience, the most important task to start any localization project is requirements gathering. I always request a kickoff meeting with the project owner to gather information and take notes in a project requirements list. Colleagues are many times not informed on how translation works, do not know localization best practices, have incorrect notions or no idea of industry standards; so spending time getting to know project needs can make all the difference between a successful translation project and one that is an error filled, financial disaster!

In the kickoff meeting, I find it important to ask questions that seem obvious but are frequently overlooked… such as what are the file types to be used, how will the translated files be used after delivery, and who will handle the translated files. 

These items are important to capture in a requirements document:

  • Project Name (A unique identifier for life of the project)
  • Files List (List file names and file types, with linked assets, of the source/editable documents)
  • File Types (List the file types so that the project can be routed to the appropriate workflow: documentation, software, video, elearning, etc.)
  • Languages List (Languages needed for the project)
  • Level of QA (LSP internal vs. in-country review)
  • Delivery Dates (Dates of full project or stages such as QA etc.)
  • Invoice Info (Contact name and email address of who will create the PO, approve and pay invoice)
  • Style Guides (Are there special styles or standards, or terminology needing to be followed by translation team) 
  • Special Notes (For example, words to stay in English, acronyms to be translated or special instructions)

Marina Gracen-Farrell

Localization Manager & Consultant

First, I believe is fully understanding the scope of the project for all types of translation services. Especially with projects that go outside the usual translation-editing-proofreading scope, and include either creative elements or cultural consultation, it is of utmost importance to understand what is the requested deliverable, and what is the end goal the client is looking to achieve. You’d be surprised how often I hear “I don’t really know what to expect!” from clients – and that is a red light for moving forward. Clear expectations at the get-go are crucial, otherwise, you will end up with endless follow-ups, or delivering something completely irrelevant.

Paulina Makles


To the pros, the most important aspect across the board is understanding the expected requirements as a collective team. A language barrier can be a challenging aspect of working with international clients, but a team with misaligned expectations or a lack of a true understanding of the project goals can dismantle an operation. Ensuring that all team members possess an equal understanding of the project goals is time consuming, but implementing these best practices will mean the difference between obtaining meaningful insights. 

Planning frameworks don’t need to be complicated to work

To prepare you for your grand adventure, we’ve outlined a framework for any type of translation, transcription, or even transcreation project. Regardless of the service, you’ll find these management basics create a solid roadmap for project success:

  • Define goals
  • Assign teams and primary points of contact
  • Set communication guidelines
  • Establish timeline
  • Monitor
  • Review

One point is key: The sooner you can involve your translation partner in the process, the better their ability to help you manage costs. It’s not just about having advanced time itself (which is important); it’s also about supporting you as you think through the details of timing and deliverables before the project starts.

In fact, working backward with timing and deliverable goals in mind is a good practice, allowing for adjustment of the number of people working on a project for faster delivery, or even finding translators who are willing to work over holidays.

The more you can do in the beginning to prepare yourself and your team, and then work with a provider who’s on top of logistics and the ‘how’s’ of execution, the better chance you’ll have of your research coming off without a hitch in a foreign land or culture!

Regardless of the type of language solutions, sourcing reliable translation across multiple markets has become a core need for international-minded businesses that are increasingly managing globalization.

Need a roadmap? 

We’ve developed this downloadable guide to help you navigate any type of translation or transcription project. 

Want to stay connected?

We periodically share news and updates around translation, language and culture. Rest assured we’ll never share your contact information with anyone!