Without impalas and hyenas, the lion cannot be the king of the jungle. The state of the translation industry in East Africa


Without impalas and hyenas, the lion cannot be the king of the jungle
(African Proverb)

The translation industry has been dominated by huge players from Europe, North America and East Asia overshadowing important translation initiatives in other parts of the world. But in the rapidly developing region of East Africa (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan), translation has been a booming industry for years.

Alfred Mtawali
Alfred Mtawali

In an effort to shed some light on the state of the translation industry in East Africa, I’ll be talking to Alfred Mtawali, Founder and Director of CAN TRANSLATORS from Nairobi, Kenya and current Chair of the East Africa Interpreters and Translators Association. Alfred, who is an English- Swahili, English – Giryama translator started his translation career, back in 1992, as a Bible translator translating the holy scriptures in his native Giryama, a coastal Bantu language spoken in Kilifi. He has since then gone on to co-author books and train translators in both Kenya and Tanzania.

Are there many professional freelance translators working in East Africa?

Yes, there are many freelance translators in East Africa some of whom even advertise on proz.com and Translatorscafe. Only very few of them though are registered as paying members on those two sites.

How many commercial translation companies are there in East Africa?

I cannot tell you exactly how many there may be but I would put the figure at around 30. Most international clients use companies from Kenya and Tanzania, however.

East Africa is a multilingual and multicultural region. How many languages are spoken among its countries?

East African languages are divided in the following language families: Bantu, Nilotic, and Cushitic. Kenya has a total of 43 languages, Tanzania has 126 languages (according to Ethnologue). We estimate the languages spoken in East Africa to be around 300.

What are the most common languages Eastern African professionals translate from or into?

The most popular working languages in the region are: Swahili, Kinyarwanda, Luganda, Kirundi, Somali, English and French. Swahili is East Africa’s lingua franca. English is an official language in East African countries and a source language in most projects we work on.

There is English-speaking Africa and French-speaking Africa but even French-speaking countries are slowly beginning to embrace English, like Rwanda.

Do East Africans generally speak a lot of languages and can you learn those languages at school?

All East Africans speak 3 languages: the language of wider communication, one European language and their mother tongues. In the present context, these would be English, Swahili and their mother tongue. Only languages of wider communication are formally taught in schools. These are Kinyarwanda, Swahili and Luganda.

Where do professional translators train? Are there university courses for translators in East Africa?

Some professional translators formally train in university while others learn on the job. Several universities teach translation and interpreting in East Africa, among which the University of Rwanda, the University of Nairobi, St Paul’s University (Nairobi), the Africa International University (Nairobi) and the University of Dar es Salaam.

You are the current chair of the East Africa Interpreters and Translators Association (EAITA.ORG). What does it aim to achieve?

We aim to promote the interests of our members in the region by giving them more visibility online and organizing empowering events and conferences to help them get more skills. In some cases, we even follow up payments from non-paying clients on their behalf. We also form partnerships with CAT tool developers so that our members can purchase CAT tools at subsidized rates. As of now, we have members from Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi and the DR Congo.

EAITA African Translation
From a translation event in Nairobi with some EAITA members

What type of companies are interested in translation services in East Africa?

Translation buyers include banks, non-governmental organizations, international corporations, individuals, religious and development organizations. Governmental agencies are also translation buyers. They usually request translations of important government policy documents and laws. As there are many African refugees around the world, foreign governments may also request translation services such as the translation of medical prescriptions and personal documents.

Finally, East African translation agencies often collaborate with translation agencies from Egypt and South Africa too.

Do you work with non-African companies as well? Can you give examples of non-African companies which translated their products and services in East African languages?

Microsoft is one company that has translated its products into Swahili and other African languages. Mobile phone companies, especially, want to reach clients in their local language. Uber and Facebook also provide work for East African translators.

Do translators in East Africa need a license to operate?

Translators in East Africa do not need a license to operate, however those who join the EAITA have a better chance of recognition than those who are not members.

How do East African translators get paid?

Translators get paid via PayPal and Skrill, however not all East African countries support these as very few banks allow you to withdraw funds from PayPal and Skrill to your bank account. Where the service is not available, international payment can be done via Western Union, MoneyGram or Kenya’s innovative mobile phone-based money transfer app, M-Pesa.

What tools do East African translators use to do work?

A lot of translators are well-versed in a number of CAT Tools such as memoQ, Trados, Wordfast and DeJa Vu. The majority use Office suites and mobile phones to communicate with their clients.

What are the biggest challenges East African translators face on a day-to-day basis?

Technological challenges such as poor internet connections in some countries but also high-priced CAT tools, low translation rates and bad paying clients. Local clients, for example, expect us to charge them by the page, when everywhere else rates are usually set by the word.

Translation company near me. Does it make a difference?

The Internet has fundamentally changed the way we shop and the way we do business. No doubt about it. People are spending less time going to stores and more time shopping online. The geographic location of a business and its proximity to your home or office has become much less significant than it was in the past. Whether you are shopping for groceries, shoes or travel services, getting it online can save you time and effort. And the goods can usually be delivered to your doorstep.

The same holds true for translation services. Everything is done online today and rarely do you need to physically go to the translation office yourself. Everything is delivered by email and if something needs to get delivered in hard copy, there are overnight courier services for that.

Having said that, some people still seem to prefer to order translation services locally. They want to call up on the phone, perhaps even visit the office. Pick up the translated documents in person. That’s why keyword searches like ‘translation companies near me’ and ‘translation agencies near me‘  are very popular in search.  According to SEMrush (a popular SEO and digital marketing tool), these two searches alone are made over 1,000 times a month. In addition, there are thousands of monthly searches for phrases like ‘translation agencies in NYC’ and ‘translation companies in Atlanta.’

When is it to your benefit to order translation services locally?

If you have an important document and only have one copy of it, like a birth certificate or a last will and testament. And if you are worried about sending it via courier because it may get lost or damage. Then it may make sense to take the document yourself to a translation agency.  Or if you are computer illiterate or have a fear of the Internet. Getting into your car and driving downtown to the translation company office may be more convenient for you.

Of course most hard copy documents can be scanned into an electronic file and sent via email or uploaded to the Internet. No travel time or paying for a parking spot is needed.

If you need a signed translation certificate or affidavit, then using a translation agency near you may be beneficial as well. Some authorities will not accept a digitally signed translation Statement of Accuracy and want a signed, original hard copy. In those cases, using a local translation company may be better since you can stop by and pick up such certificates yourself. Many online translation companies do not offer physical delivery. And even if they do, they will probably charge you a handling and delivery fee.

When is the location of the translation agency irrelevant?

When you need to order any document that it is an electronic file format, like a PDF or Powerpoint file. Especially if it is not a scanned document. Then the location of the translation agency makes absolutely no difference.  If you need to translate a brochure,  a technical manual, a legal contract, a patent, an informed consent or any document which was created in software-then it makes 100% sense to order it online. It is faster, easier and cheaper. Because you are not limiting yourself to a translation company that is located in your city or state, the competition for your business becomes much larger which means better prices for you as a customer.

GTS Translation is an online translation agency with customers in every state in the US, in every European country and in most Asian countries as well. No matter where you are located, GTS delivers your translation services quickly and efficiently. Translation agency near me? Order translation services from GTS.

How to start a translation business

The translation and localization industry is one of the fastest growing business-to-business (B2B) market segments. International companies know that language services play a key role in global expansion and translation budgets are growing. More and more content is being translated more than ever before and into an expanding array of languages.

The Slator Language Industry Market Report 2019 provides a comprehensive view of the global language services and technology industry, which, according to Slator was a USD 23.2bn market in 2018 and projected to grow to USD 28.2bn by 2022.

With such a large and growing market size, opening a translation business makes sense. There is a lot of money to be made if you know what you are doing. So how can you start your translation business and make a good living? As someone who has been in the translation industry for over 20 years, I think I am qualified to provide some insight into this and would like to impart some of this knowledge to our readers.

Knowing and loving languages helps. Being a polyglot is not a prerequisite, but it can help you start your translation business. If you yourself are a translator, then it will be easier for you to hire good translators, check the quality of translations and manage quality control of projects. You can then also translate materials yourself, but that is not recommended if you want to have your own translation business. Better to farm out the work and leave your own time for managing the operation.

Translators, translators, translators.  As a translation company owner, one of your greatest assets are the translators and reviewers who will do the actual work. So it is key that you get your hands of good professional translators who will turn in good work. Once you identify a good translator, make an effort to nurture that relationship and keep them happy. They will help you make money. Whether it is a freelance translator or an in-house staff member, make an effort to keep these people happy and working for you.

How to recruit translators? There are numerous ways of doing so. One easy way to seek out freelance translators online is via websites such as Proz and Translator Cafe. If you are looking for in-house staff, you can also use conventional hiring practices like wanted ads and headhunters.

Quality, Quality, Quality. This is the cardinal rule-always deliver the best quality work. Quality complaints will kill your translation business so avoid them at any cost. Review the work you deliver rigorously. There is no excuse for turning in poor work. Reputation is everything in this business so keep yours clean.

Customers, customers, customers.  Need I say more? Your customers are the lifeblood of your company. The translation business is all about service. As in customer service. Give your customers great service and they will keep on coming back with more orders. Repeat customers is what will make your business. Does your customer need the translation first thing in the morning? No problem. Do you guys do Norwegian too? Of course we do, thanks very much. Can we get a discount? Sure thing. Get the idea? Learn to say the word Yes and remove the word No from your vocabulary.

How to get knew customers? Not an easy task but not impossible either. If you have your own connections, get them involved. Your uncle is Operations VP in some company? Your aunt is a partner in a law firm? Why wouldn’t she/he want to help his favorite niece/nephew? Tell all of your family and friends that you have a translation business. Network with people and spread the word. The beautiful thing about the translation business is that every company and business needs translation services from time to time. Tell your next-door neighbors that you have a translation business and who knows, maybe a few years down the road they will get you a killer lead. It happens, believe me.

Project Managers. PMs are a very important part of a translation business so recruit good ones. PMs provide the interface between your customers and your translators. PMs will get to know your customer’s preferences and will provide the customer service that will keep your business going. Larger translation companies will also have vendor managers and customer sales reps to grow and establish new accounts. Very large translation companies will also have M&A people to buy other translation businesses in order to grow market share. But as a new translation company you won’t need some of these activities. But in time you may do.

Position your translation business. There are many verticals in the translation industry. Medical translation. Legal translation. Business translation. Official translation of documents for immigration. Translation for the automotive industry. Each vertical has its own requirements and possible forms of certification. Equip your translation business with the resources needed to service your chosen verticals.

Know your competition.  Find out of who you are competing against and try to outperform them in some way. Better prices? Better service? Think out of the box on this one and try to snare away some of their business. Or if you don’t want to step on any toes, at least find out which customers they are serving and see if there are some opportunities that they are overlooking.

Advertise your business. There are various ways of doing this. For a translation business, digital advertising online is key and probably the most cost-effective form of advertising. Establish an online presence by creating a website, a Facebook page, LinkedIn, Instagram. The returns on this activity will take some time (even years) but will prove to be worthwhile. Start writing good content and circulate it online. Trade shows are always good as they will put you in direct contact with buyers and competitors. At first, if your budget is modest go on your own to a industry conference and give out business cards. Once your business gets bigger, get a booth and staff it with your sales people. Spread it all out as you never know where your next lead will come from.

Bill Gates

Keep expenses low. At the beginning, you will need to develop your company and the revenues may not come pouring in right away. Bill Gates is quoted as saying that he always had enough cash on hand to run Microsoft for one year without one penny of sales. This is good practice for your business too.

Keep your nose clean and hope for the best.  I myself am a religious person and believe in prayer. But even if you yourself don’t, it can’t hurt to hope for the best. Luck never hurt anyone but ultimately a person creates her/his own luck. Work hard and don’t give up. Success is right around the corner.

How to find the best translation agency for your next project

Translation is a big business. According to the localization industry research firm CSA, the global market for outsourced translation services in 2017 was US$43.08 Billion.  That’s a lot of money! Nearly every business in the world needs translation services. Whether you are a restaurant owner who needs to translate your menus, an airline that needs to translate it’s in-flight safety videos or a chemical company transporting chemicals to another country-you need professional translation services for your business. Many private individuals will also require translation services at some point. This includes professionals who wish to relocate to another country, hospital patients who were treated abroad and people involved in divorce proceedings.

Once you have realized that you need professional translation services, you can start looking for a suitable translation agency. But there are thousands to choose from. A daunting task no doubt. How should you start? This post will try to help you sift through the noise and find the right translation agency for your needs.

High-End Translation Companies

The biggest companies in the world, like the Fortune 100 companies, will need a high-end translation company. These companies include Transperfect, Lionbridge, Welocalize and SDL. These and other large LSPs (Language Service Providers) have the resources to carry out large scale deployments of product releases, global Internet sites, software releases and social network campaigns.

Tech giants like Microsoft, Apple, Adobe and Facebook maintain a presence in every country in the world. So when they release a new product or update an existing one, they will need to localize and translate the materials in as many as 100 languages at the same time. This requires the deployment of a massive team of hundreds of translators, editors, project managers and software engineers.

Such efforts also require very advanced technological capabilities: such as integration with internally developed Content Management Systems (CMS), use of online translation aids and content sharing by many people at the same time. Only translation companies with significant resources can work at that level. The annual localization and translation services budgets for these companies will run in the millions of dollars.

Industry-Specific Translation Companies

Some types of translation requires advanced specialization and in-depth capabilities in not only the translation work itself, but in other aspects of the work in general.  This includes translation companies that specialize in patent application filing, in medical device translation, aerospace industry and automotive industry translations. So if you work for an auto company (like GM), there are companies that specialize in translation of the car owner manuals, assembly instructions, parts maintenance and such.

In today’s translation industry there is a consolidation of companies, and  many of the industry-focused companies have been acquired by the big LSPs. For example, Transperfect acquired a company named Crimson Life Sciences in 2005, integrated its activity into its own operations and re-branded it to Transperfect Medical Device Solutions.

If you are working for one of the leading companies in one of these areas (e.g. Boeing, Medtronic, Pfizer, Ford Motor company), chances are that you will be in touch with one or more of the large LSPs mentioned previously. Here too the budgets will run in the hundreds of thousands or even millions annually. If your budget is less than that, your best bet is to find a small of medium sized LSP with relevant industry-experience. That should narrow down the field considerably.

Language-Specific Translation Companies

Single language vendors (SLVs) are companies that focus on one language, or the languages of a specific geographic region. For example, Sandberg Translation Partners specializes in the Nordic languages like Swedish and Danish. Or Middle East Localization, a translation company that specializes in Middle-Eastern languages like Arabic and Farsi.

These companies tend to market their services in the relevant countries in which these languages are used most; or to other LSPs that lack the resources in that specific set of languages. If you are running a multiple language translation project, chances are that one or more SLVs are being used without you even knowing it.

Local Translation Companies

These companies are throwbacks to the translation agencies that were dominant 40 years ago. Before the age of the Internet, translation companies would advertise in the Yellow Pages and the local newspapers to local businesses. They would provide a full range of translation services from restaurant menus, to immigration papers, legal court documents and other business documents. In large cities like New York and Chicago, the local translation companies sold their services to the large companies located in that city. Because email and the Internet did not exist, much of the work was physically delivered in hard copy. Obviously being local gave you a big advantage.

Even today with email and everything, being close to your customers can be of significant importance. Some customers, like private individuals, want to visit the shop in person. Some papers still need to be notarized and delivered in hard copy; and even though Fedex can get to any location in the USA within 24 hours, being local gives some customers that warm, fuzzy feeling that they need to do business. One of the biggest translation-related terms in Google search is “Translation Services near me.”

Interpretation Companies

Some language providers specialize in on-site interpretation, simultaneous interpretation and phone interpretation services. LanguageLine Solutions provides interpretation services over-the-phone (OPI) when needed by hospitals, courts or in video conferences. CyraCom International, Inc. is an company that provides over the phone and video interpretation services. Some companies provide simultaneous interpretation to venues like the UN where a speakers words are translated in real time and delivered on headphones. These interpretation companies will have a large staff of interpreters as well as the equipment needed for this kind of work.

Website Translation Companies

Publishing a website in multiple languages requires both language expertise and technological capabilities. Many companies offer website translation services. But there are companies that specialize in translation of websites and that have made this their predominant line of business. Examples include MotionPoint and Smartling. Translations.com (owned by Transperfect) is one of the leaders, if not the biggest, in this area. Here too, the Fortune 100 companies are going to be using one of the large LSPs or one of the large website translation companies.

If your budget for website translation services is not in the hundreds of thousands at least, you will need to find a small or medium size translation company. Try to find a company with relevant experience, a company that has IT people that can oversee the integration of the translated content in the CMS that your company is using.

Online Translation Companies

These companies are the best option for when you need quick delivery of documents like a contract, a technical manual, a consent form, web content or a marketing brochure.  These companies provide an instant online price quote, online payment and fast online delivery. The prices will be considerably lower than those offered by the medium to large LSPs. And there is no minimum budget required to work with these companies.  Some of the online translation companies include OneHourTranslation, Gengo, rev.com, Straker and GTS Translation.

What are the benefits of using a professional translation company

If you need to translate a document or text into another language, there are several options available:

1. Use free translation software
2. Hire a professional translator
3. Hire a professional translation company

Using free Machine Translation (MT) software

Almost everyone has used Google Translate at one point in their life. There are also a number of other free online translation platforms: Bing Microsoft Translator, DeepL Translator, PROMT, and SDL Free Translator are some of the other applications.

Free translation software is a good option for translation of text that you need for internal use. Like if you received an email in a different language from a colleague; or basic instructions for a cellphone app. MT is not perfect but it will deliver the job in a basic way. Since the translation is for internal purposes, slight inaccuracies will not be that damaging to the business at hand. Free translation can be an excellent option if you yourself (or someone in your organization) are fluent in the target language. So you can run the text through an online translator, edit the outcome and fix any inaccuracies yourself.

Hiring a professional translator

Go straight to the source. This is a good option indeed. Finding freelance translators online is easy. Here are some of the leading websites for finding a freelance translator: Proz, TranslatorsCafe and TranslatorsBase. You can also find translators on the websites of the various translation guilds like the American Translators Association and the Japan Association of Translation.

The advantages of working with a freelance translator are obvious. You will save money since you are cutting out the middleman. What are the disadvantages?

Lack of quality control. Unless you are fluent in the target language, you will not be certain that the translation is of good quality. Even the best translator can have an off day; or be uncomfortable with the text you have assigned to her/him; or be unaware of the correct subject-specific terminology to use; or be in a rush to complete the translation and assume that it will be reviewed prior to delivery.

Inconsistency of service. Let’s say that you found a good translator and are happy with the work that she/he turned in. But since that translator does not work for you on a full-time basis, there is a good chance that the translator will be unavailable for the next project. Sick, vacation, other work, etc. There are a 100 reasons why the freelance translator you hired may not be available for the next project.

Form of payment. The majority of translators in any given language tend to live in the country where the language is spoken. The translators you want to work with may live in Russia, Thailand, France, Egypt or any other country on the planet. So how will they get paid? Check in the mail? Not feasible and most translators will not be interested. Credit card? You will find that most freelance translators are not set up for  credit card payment. Wire transfer (ACH)? This is a good option but (a) international wires are costly ($30-$40 for each bank wire) and (b) can be a hassle if you are not setup to execute this form of payment. Online payment platforms like Paypal and Skrill are good but may also require some time-consuming configuration on your part.

Multi-language projects. If you require a translation into several languages, you will need to negotiate with multiple translators. This will be a time consuming effort.

Lack of buying experience. If you are first time buyer, you may not be aware of the price levels and can overspend on your project. Unless you are a translation industry professional, getting to know the prices requires a time investment on your part. So the money you save on translators costs may be offset by the time that you spend doing the due diligence. As an inexperienced buyer, you may be missing some price discounts that an experienced buyer would take advantage of.

Hiring a Professional Translation Company

Hiring a professional translation company will definitely cost more than using free machine translation, and will probably cost more than hiring freelance translators. The advantages of working with a professional translation company are the reverse of the disadvantages listed previously for working with freelance translators:

Guaranteed Quality Control. A good translation company will always deliver work which was reviewed by a second linguist. Additionally, a seasoned translation company Project Manager will know which translators to assign the work to based on the type of text and availability of resources. Most good translation companies have a Quality Management System (QMS) in place which is designed to deliver consistently good quality. And a good translation company will have a proven team of translators who will consistently deliver high quality.

Consistency in service. Professional translation companies will have the resources you need to deliver your translations on time and at the desired level of quality.

No-hassle payment. Translation companies are usually set up for all forms of payment and will be happy to accommodate your preferred method of payment. This includes payment after delivery.

Buying experience. Translation companies have professional buyers who know the business. They will know how to get you the best prices for reviewed, high quality translation. Some of these buyers purchase thousands of dollars of translations a day, which means that they get better prices than you would get from a freelance translator.

Translation Certification. Some translations, like immigration documents, medical device instructions and clinical trials documents, need to be certified. A professional translation company will have the experience and backend required to get you the necessary translation certification papers.

Top Sites for Translation Company Reviews

Customer reviews are an integral part of the due diligence people perform before buying a product or service online. For example, before going to a hotel I will usually check the online reviews. If a hundred people are saying that the hotel stinks, it is probably a good idea to stay away.

Last year I reserved several nights at the Boston Harbor Hotel. The reviews for this hotel were incredible (and indeed the hotel was amazing). But one week before we went to the hotel, I found out from reading the online reviews that the hotel’s indoor pool was closed due to maintenance. Now I myself am a swimmer and booked the Boston Harbor hotel with the knowledge that I would be able to perform my daily swim routine.  Had I read the online reviews more carefully, I may have booked a different hotel. As it happened, and since I was unwilling to forgo my exercise, I found a public pool nearby the hotel called the Mirabella pool. Since I enjoyed the outdoor, Olympic-size Mirabella pool the story had a happy ending.

Before buying professional translation services online, there are a number of review sites you can check.

GTS Translation Google Reviews

Google My Business. To check user reviews on any business, including translation service agencies, just do a Google search on the business name and the address of the business. For example, do a Google search for “GTSTranslation, 4747 Collins Ave, Miami Beach, FL 33140, USA.” Then click the reviews link to read the customer reviews.

Clutch – B2B Ratings and Reviews is an online review platform. You can find translation company reviews on this website.

Pickwriters is an excellent resource for translation agency reviews. It has numerous lists categorized by industry (e.g., top legal translation companies, top medical translation companies, etc.).

ConsumerAffairs is a well-established reviews website that has been in existence for 20 years. ConsumerAffairs offers custom partnerships that start with proactive review collection by phone or email. This allows them to gather authentic, useful feedback from verified customers. The problem with this website, from a user perspective, is that translation companies that are listed on ConsumerAffairs must pay thousands of dollars a year to get listed on the website. So this review board may be skewed in the sense that 98% of the translation agencies are not mentioned here.

Goodfirms has a list of translation companies and collects reviews for each one.

Trustpilot is a company that collects online reviews for its customers and places the rankings on its own website as well on major search engines.

Yelp is the modern, online version of the Yellow Pages. This is a ‘catchall’ reviews platform with no specific industry focus, certainly not for the translation industry. Yelp seems more suitable for local retail businesses and not so much for B2B segment.

G2 provides fair listings of companies ranked in order of their review quality/quantity. Categories like G2 document translation reviews receive thousands of visitors hoping to research a market unbiased from a third party. Individuals can request to contact said organizations through G2. They provide both free and paid options (the paid option provides review generation campaigns using by-hand techniques and/or automated software outreach.

Click to read online reviews for GTS Translation on Google My Business.