How To Save Money On Your Next Translation Project – Part 2

More tips and ideas to help you save money on your next English-Malay translation project.

  • If you choose to do it on your own, using Google Translate, know that there is a difference between machine translation and human translation. Know the risks and consequences associated with machine translation especially if you have no one to help you review the final translated text.
  • Many business people take shortcuts and approach foreign language departments of their local university or language schools. They think it’s acceptable to have students translating their sales and marketing documents. This is at best a foolish mistake because these students aren’t translators, and they’re not going to be embarrassed when mistakes arise. You’ll be accountable to your company and your boss and risk your company looking sloppy!
  • Your employee who is bilingual is not necessarily someone who can translate your text professionally. Don’t risk your business reputation – when in doubt, look for a professional translator who is good in her source language or is a native speaker of the language that you wish to translate to.
  • If your company is looking to expand its global market share in specific countries, start looking for good quality translators now. When you find them, give them adequate time to produce good work for you. Don’t rush a translation job. Also, the wider the audience, the more you should consider getting a top translator.
  • If your brochure or company profile needs translation, ensure that every word matters. Plan your text for the translator. For instance, who is the target audience for the text? Give her enough background information so that she can do an excellent translation for you.
  • When writing, pay attention to active voice. It’s easier for translators to understand and much easier to translate!
  • When you work with a translator like me, know that we have a common goal. I want to help you communicate your message to your audience. If you can provide me adequate references and resources, I can do a much better job. The more background materials or context you provide me, the better the quality of the translation!
  • Make your document as clear as possible and this means free of mistakes and avoiding the use of jargon, slang, idioms and abbreviations. When your document is ambiguous or unclear, it is more challenging to translate and this means longer time and increased costs. Contrary to popular belief, translators do want continuous working relationships with their clients.
  • When you work with me, I will help you create a glossary (list of terms or words relating to a specific subject or text). This creates consistency across translated documents and results in fewer revisions and higher accuracy, thus benefiting all of us in the long run.
  • Agree on reasonable time frames so that you can get the best work out of your translator without compromising on quality.
  • If you think that hiring a translation agency is better than hiring an independent translation professional like me, think again. Many agencies outsource translation jobs to people like me. You might as well work directly with me as I am 100% responsible for the work!
Let me assist you with your next translation project. Check out why I could be a good partner for you.

How To Save Money On Your Next Translation Project – Part 1

You’ll save money on your next translation project before you hire a translator with these tips and strategies. Read this before you hire your next English-Malay translator or proofreader.

  • Before you give your text to the translator, read through and make sure the text doesn’t contain ambiguous sentence structure or long, complex sentence structures. The clearer your text, the easier and faster the translator works.
  • Keep your sentences short and to the point. This helps with readability and comprehension and makes my turnaround time faster which means you get the work done quicker! Use simple words to convey your complex ideas. It is possible to be clear and straightforward.
  • Decide which parts of the documents need translation. Sometimes, you don’t need to translate an entire document. What is truly important? Are there paragraphs that can be shortened or summarised without losing their meaning?
  • Review and finalise your content before you send it to your translator. It will be a waste of time, effort and money if you make changes in the midst of translation!
  • English text is shorter than Malay. When I translate English to Malay documents, there is an expansion rate of 20% so be aware of this if you intend to use the translated text in a mobile app or website where space is limited.
  • Always use the same term for the same concept. Changing terminology will complicate matters and slow down a translator’s speed. However, if you’re using technical terms, make sure you use them consistently to prevent confusion and misunderstanding. Mark out technical terms if needed.
  • Synonyms may be interesting to the reader but it can be difficult for a translator. Keep your terminology consistent which means please use the same term for the same concept throughout your document. This affects the quality of translation as the translator needs to keep checking if the different words are referring to the same concept. The same goes for cultural expressions which can be tricky.
  • Avoid long sentences or re-write them if you can. If you have to re-read a sentence to get its meaning, imagine the agony the translator has to undergo to translate the long sentence!
  • Ask for customers’ reviews and look at translation work samples when you’re choosing a translator.
  • Avoid professional jargon and abbreviations. If you’re using acronyms, spell them out or make it clear to your translator that you’re using these terms. If titles/positions and names of organisations need to be translated, provide full information. Keep dates and numbers consistent. If in doubt, spell out the month!
  • Translation is a teamwork effort between you and the translator. Don’t dump your technical document onto the translator without communicating clearly about your expectations, background information, and specific terms. Work with her so that she can produce successful outcomes for you and your company.
  • As there is an expansion rate of 20% when it comes to English-Malay translation, inform your translator what the document is for and what you hope to achieve with your translated document. A professional, experienced English-Malay translator will be able to choose words, sentence lengths, and even style to match your needs.
  • If your document is complex, have you considered turning it into a graphic or visual diagram? This helps lower your translation costs and less risk of mistranslating a technical term.
  • If your budget doesn’t permit you to use a professional translator, you may want to revisit your marketing objectives. When you work with a translator, you save hundreds of hours of work but a good quality translator comes with a price.
Love these tips? I have more for you in Part 2 of this article.

Determining The Quality of An English-Malay Translation

A good translator is a good communicator with an insider’s view of the culture, history and beliefs of the people who speak the source and target languages.

That said, translation is a very subjective business! Different people will perceive different quality levels of translation. Bear in mind that no two translations will ever be exactly the same.

A good translation needs to carry the meaning and the tone of the original text, while still remaining culturally sensitive and appropriate to the target audience. This is to avoid a lacuna problem (a linguistic gap where the reader does not understand target text).

Translation theory has three principles (based on “Essays of the Principles of Translation” by Fraser Tytler):

  • A translation should retain all the meanings contained in the source text.
  • Style and flair of target text must be identical in character with the style and flair of the source text.
  • The effect of a translation must be perceived as a genuine essay.

So how do you identify if a translation is of quality?

1) Accurate
Examples of inaccuracy include mistranslations, missing words/sentences, bad grammar and spelling errors. This underscores the need to use translators with a thorough knowledge of both languages, not merely two years of high school language.

It takes experience and research skills to choose the correct terminology. If correct terminology is used, you do not need to explain the terms. This is a two-for-one savings.

For example, a Malay sentence such as: ‘Ikan akan menyedut air ke dalam badannya untuk mengambil oksigen’ is usually (wrongly) translated by amateurs literally as ‘Fish gets its oxygen supply from water’. The correct Malay-English translation should be: ‘Fish gulps water to get oxygen’.

2) Clear
A translation has to be easily comprehensible and well written, regardless of how poor the original document may be. Good translations commonly read much better than the originals. In short, you cannot determine that the document was a translation as it sounds and flows naturally in the target language.

For instance, ‘smart learning’ is not translated as ‘pembelajaran pintar’ in Malay because ‘pintar’ is used to describe students. The correct match is ‘pembelajaran bestari’.

3) Culturally appropriate for the target audience
References to religious figures, sports or country–specific items may confuse or offend the reader.

Such references either need to be excluded in the source document before translation begins, or be culturally readapted into the target language.

For instance, ‘the government of Malaysia’ is translated as ‘kerajaan Malaysia’ because we have ‘raja’ or king/monarchy. But if we were to translate ‘the government of Indonesia’, it is not ‘kerajaan Indonesia’. It should be rightly translated as ‘pemerintahan Indonesia’ because Indonesia doesn’t have a king (not a monarchy).

4) Audience
The audience needs should be considered during translation. Sometimes this is a broad group of people, but more often, it is a narrow, targeted audience.

A text written for a group of scientists needs to be translated at a much higher reading level than consent forms for newly arrived immigrants.

For instance, ‘tiger’ is translated as ‘harimau’ when used for adults but ‘pak belang’ for children.

Discover the steps I take to ensure my translation meets your quality requirements.

Overcoming English-Malay Translation Issues

English-Malay translation poses its own translating problems because these two languages don’t come from the same language family.

The main issue is non-equivalence where the target language has no direct equivalent for a word or a phrase in the source language.

Among the challenges are:

– Inappropriate equivalent word (collocation aspect). E.g corporate development is ‘pembangunan korporat’ but language development is ‘perkembangan bahasa’.
– Equivalent word according to field. E.g Search- ‘periksa’ for people and ‘geledah’ for premises.
– To match cultures  e.g lawa is ‘cantik’ if used in Selangor but refers to ‘sombong’ in Sarawak.  

Many theories on overcoming the issue of translation non-equivalence abound. I prefer to use the dynamic equivalence approach by Eugene Nida which aims at complete naturalness of expression. This approach prioritises the importance of translating something well enough that the message is communicated and received well by the reader. If communication fails, then language is useless.

Inevitably, what distinguishes professional translators from amateurs is their understanding and use of translation theory fundamentals. Among the techniques used are:

Direct translation

  • Borrow – word transfer from source language into target language without any changes, usually borrowed until they become target language words. This is divided into three categories:
    – Borrow permanently e.g bank, afidavit, forum, pneumonia
    Calque/loan translation e.g technical aspects/aspek teknikal, milkshake/susu kocak, fried rice/nasi goreng
    Borrow and modify/transliteration e.g collaboration/kolaborasi, transplant/transplan, innovation/inovasi
  • Literal – word for word translation, which fails to convey correct meaning. E.g He got the news straight from the horse’s mouth becomes ‘Dia menerima berita itu dari mulut kuda’ (which is wrong).

Indirect translation

  • Transposition – changing word class or word structure without changing meaning.
    E.g We must do our homework in order to do well becomes ‘Untuk berjaya, kita mesti membuat kerja rumah’.
  • Modulation – describe different points of view in looking at objects and phenomena in the real world. In short, manipulating perceptions, not grammar.
    E.g non-polluting is not translated as ‘no pollution’ because ‘pollution’ sounds negative hence ‘mesra alam’ is more positive which may change the reader’s perception.
  • Equivalence – a situation that can be conveyed using two different ways while retaining its meaning. E.g ‘Rice’ can be ‘beras’ or ‘nasi’.
  • Adaptation – the most complex method ever. Re-adjustment for purposes that are not in accordance with the customs and religious beliefs and cultural goals.
    E.g ‘Touch Me Skin!’ is not suitable to be translated ‘Sentuhlah kulit aku!’ as this marketing phrase will offend Malays hence it was adapted and translated as ‘Lembutnya kulitmu!’
  • Expansion – provide further information to clarify its meaning.
    E.g ‘Mereka membeli durian semasa menuju ke utara’  becomes ‘They bought durian (a type of Malaysian local fruit) as they travelled north’.
  • Omission/ generalisation – eliminating some of the messages in a text.
    E.g. ‘You have the choice of begonia, tulips and roses from the roadside florists’ becomes ‘Anda mempunyai pilihan pelbagai jenis bunga daripada penjual di tepi jalan’.

Apart from the methodology above, there are also other factors such as:

  1. There is NO equivalent translation for preposition. Prepositions must follow semantics. (Semantics is the study of meaning).
    E.g ‘You can find doctors and doctors’ is translated as ‘Anda boleh jumpa kawan dan lawan’ since ‘doctors and doctors’ refer to friends and enemies.
  2. Translation for figurative language also must follow semantics.
  3. Euphemism – a translation method to transform negative words into positive such as confirmed bachelor/gay, women in sensible shoes/lesbian, mentally challenged/cacat, pornography/adult entertainment, etc.

Of all possible methods, there are still words that cannot be translated well from English into Malay, especially in technical fields whereby we will ‘borrow’ plenty of English words.

Borrowing English words into Malay is not an easy process. It has to go through 4 steps before English words can be considered.

Rules On Word Derivation When Translating From English To Malay 

  1. First, search for the commonly used Malay word for this English word.
  2. If none, look for a word in the Malay language that is no longer used.
  3. If none, look for a word in a related or cognate language that is commonly used.
  4. If none, look for a word in a related or cognate language that is no longer used.Even then, there are a few exceptions to borrowing:
  • Borrowing from English word is not applicable when source word is created by our own people such as ‘tanjak’, ‘kukur kelapa’, etc.
  • The sound of the borrowed word does not match the way we pronounce such as burette, pipette etc.
How do you determine the quality of an English-Malay translation? Here are some pointers.

Challenges of English to Malay Translation

  • The Malay language belongs to Austronesian Language Family while English is an Indo-European language.
  • The strength of English lies in its prepositions. The strength of Malay lies in its affixes.
  • As English and Malay are two languages not closely associated, there remains great grammatical and heritage divides thus English to Malay translation is very challenging for translators!
  • While English values gender to distinguish between male and feminine, Malay makes none. If the translator is Malaysian converting for an English-speaking audience or vice versa, she should make this mental adjustment when translating from a gender specific to a non-gender specific dialect.
  • Malay does not use plurals, while English relies heavily upon the singular and dual not only in nouns but in the way that nouns and verbs connect.
  • The lack of plurals in Malay represents an even larger challenge when converting from Malay to English. As a translator, not only do I have to understand by inference and syntax (is it referring to a singular piece or a group of pieces), I have to make the needed adjustments in English to ensure the verb conforms to being either singular or plural!
  • The most important dispute to English to Malay translation is the distinction in the way each dialect expresses tense or time. English verbs are highly inflected for time, meaning they change: i.e. I am, I was, I will be.
  • Making the difficulty even more demanding is the detail that English furthermore employs supplementing phrases, for demonstration: I run, I have run, I will have run, I will run, I ran.
  • In Malay, tense is demonstrated by the use of adverbs such as tomorrow, now, some time, or not ever.
  • In English, we would state ‘I ran yesterday’. A literal Malay translation would be ‘I run yesterday’. The Malay language doesn’t correspond to the English language in terms of simple past tense and present perfect tense.
  • There are other more subtle differences between the two dialects engaging syntax (word order) and sentence structure.
  • For example, let’s talk about copula. The copula ‘be’ is vital in English to connect the predicate with the subject of a sentence (three forms of copula ‘be’ in present and past tense, where ‘is’, ‘am’, are used for third person singular and ‘are’ function for the plural ones).
  • Changes occur when the tenses are in the past, where ‘was’ is used for singular subject and ‘were’ is for plural subject. This language and grammatical complexity does not apply in the Malay language as the syntactic structure does not exist in the Malay language.
  • In Malay, there are two forms of copula which is ‘ialah’ and ‘adalah’ which looks similar to English copula but they are unnecessary because they bear no relationship to the tense or aspect feature.
  • The formation of copula ‘be’ in Malay and English is a ‘divergent phenomena’ where one copula ‘be’ in Malay is applicable in various forms of copula ‘be’ in English in different complexity level.
Check out my English-Malay translation examples where I explain how I tackle some translation challenges.

English-Malay Translation Examples

English to Malay translation isn’t just converting word for word. Here are some examples to show you the differences between machine translation versus human translation.


Idioms are the hardest to translate and are impossible when you rely on machine translation. Good quality translation is based on the translator’s personal experience in target language.

Don’t wash your dirty linen in public.
Incorrect translation (using Google Translate): Jangan basuh kain kotor anda di khalayak ramai.
Correct translation: Menconteng arang di muka/Membuka pekung di dada.

Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched.
Incorrect translation (using Google Translate): Jangan mengira ayam anda sebelum mereka menetas.
Correct translation: Mendengar guruh di langit, air di tempayan dicurahkan.

No pain, no gain.
Incorrect translation (using Google Translate): Tiada kesakitan, tiada keuntungan.
Correct translation: Kalau tidak dipecahkan ruyung, manakan dapat sagunya.

Mass Communication

Sample 1

Source text:
Obama, US First Lady, who attended Grammy Awards last week, has been hailed as a style icon by fashionistas around the world since her husband was elected president. (AFP, 15 Mei 2009)

Incorrect translation (using Google Translate):
Obama, Wanita Pertama Amerika, yang menghadiri Anugerah Grammy pada minggu lalu, telah dinobatkan sebagai ikon gaya dengan fesyen di seluruh dunia sejak suaminya telah dilantik sebagai presiden. (Utusan, 16 Mei 2009)

Correct translation:
Michelle, Wanita Pertama Syarikat (AS), yang menghadiri Grammy Awards minggu lalu, telah digambarkan sebagai ikon fesyen oleh tokoh fesyen di seluruh dunia sejak suaminya dipilih menjadi presiden AS. (Utusan, 16 Mei 2009)

Fiza explains:
– Her name has to be translated based on target readership in that Obama is translated to Michelle as Malaysians don’t address people by their first names.
– Translation for First Lady based on ‘matching culture’.
– Complete sentence for US with acronym in brackets and subsequently only the acronym is used.
– Event name is maintained as it is understood better in source word.
– telah, pada, bahawa, oleh, tahun – these words CANNOT be used in the news-related text.

Sample 2

Source text:
Yudhoyono, who is also a member of The U.N High Commissioner For Refugees (UNCHR) tipped in polls to win re-election. He recently made comment on problems revolving Islamic extremist. (AFP, 16 Mei 2009)

Incorrect translation (using Google Translate):
Yudhoyono, yang juga ahli U.N Pesuruhjaya Tinggi Bagi Orang Pelarian (UNPTBP) disebut-sebut dalam pemilihan untuk memenangi semula pilihan raya. Beliau baru-baru ini membuat komen mengenai isu-isu pelampau Islam. (Utusan, 16 Mei 2009)

Correct translation:
Susilo, yang merupakan ahli Suruhanjaya Tinggi Pertubuhan Bangsa-Bangsa Bersatu Bagi Pelarian (UNCHR) diramalkan memenangi pilihan raya. Beliau memberi pandangan mengenai masalah berkaitan pejuang Islam baru-baru ini. (Utusan, 16 Mei 2009)

Fiza explains:
– As explained about, the name is translated based on target readership.
– ‘Matching culture’ is used for institution/organisation – UNCHR is obviously more well-known than UNPTBP.
– Pelampau is provocative/sensitive to the target audience.
– telah, pada, bahawa, oleh, tahun – these words CANNOT be used in the news-related text.


Source text:
Lose weight, trim away bulges and sharpen your mind with de-oiled lecithin!

Incorrect translation (using Google Translate):
Kurangkan berat badan, mengurangkan jauh bonjolan dan menajamkan fikiran anda dengan de-mabuk lesitin!

Correct translation:
Kurangkan berat badan, hilangkan bonjolan-bonjolan lemak yang hodoh dan tajamkan minda anda dengan lesitin yang dinyah-lemak!

Fiza explains:
I added an adjective relative clause of ‘yang’ and adjective ‘hodoh’ to characterise unsightly fat bulges, since persuasion is an important criteria in marketing. Adding ‘yang hodoh’ brings forth a negative connotation hence the reader is more likely to be persuaded that she needs to find a solution to her weight problem.

Social Science

Source text:
In 2007, Iraq ranked 178th out of 180 countries worldwide in terms of corruption. Only Somalia and Myanmar (formerly Burma) were worse. Furthermore, al Qaeda militants targeted most of the villages in Iraq, killing Iraqis, torching homes, and forcing hundreds of families to flee.

Incorrect translation (using Google Translate):
Pada 2007, Iraq kedudukan 178th daripada 180 buah negara di seluruh dunia dari segi rasuah. Hanya Somalia dan Myanmar (dahulunya Burma) adalah lebih buruk. Tambahan, militan al-Qaeda mensasarkan kebanyakan kampung di Iraq, membunuh rakyat Iraq, membakar rumah-rumah, dan memaksa beratus keluarga lari.

Correct translation:
Pada tahun 2007, Iraq menduduki tempat ke 178 daripada 180 buah negara di seluruh dunia dalam indeks rasuah. Somalia dan Myanmar (dahulunya Burma) mengatasi kedudukan Iraq. Tambahan pula, militan al-Qaeda menyasarkan kebanyakan kampung di Iraq, membunuh rakyat Iraq, membakar rumah dan memaksa beratus-ratus keluarga melarikan diri.

Fiza explains:

– ‘Tahun’ must be used every time.
– ‘mensasarkan’ is wrong.
– ‘Homes’ is plural but as a translator, I must use words suited to the Malay context (Malay language only has singular).

General Health

Source text: 
In dry air, sound travels at the speed of approximately 1920 kilometres an hour or 331 metres every second. In its simplest form, sound can be described as a sensation or variation in pressure which enters, and is detected by the ear. The level of pressure variation per second is called frequency and is measured in terms of cycles per second, or hertz (hz). The ear is sensitive to an enormous range of pressures which are compressed so that the entire amplitud range is contained within a sequence values from 0 to 160.

Incorrect translation (using Google Translate):
Dalam udara kering, bunyi bergerak pada kelajuan kira-kira 1920 kilometer sejam atau 331 meter setiap saat. Secara mudah, bunyi boleh digambarkan sebagai sensasi atau perubahan tekanan yang memasuki, dan dikesan oleh telinga. Tahap perubahan tekanan sesaat dipanggil kekerapan dan diukur dari segi kitaran per saat, atau hertz (hz). Telinga sensitif kepada julat tekanan yang sangat besar yang dimampatkan supaya seluruh amplitud terkandung dalam urutan nilai-nilai sifar ke 160.

Correct translation:
Dalam udara kering, bunyi bergerak pada kelajuan kira-kira 1920 kilometer sejam atau 331 meter sesaat. Secara yang paling mudah, bunyi boleh diperihalkan sebagai kederiaan atau ubahan dalam tekanan yang memasuki, dan dikesan, oleh telinga. Aras ubahan tekanan per saat dinamakan frekuensi dan diukur dalam kitar per saat, atau hertz (Hz). Telinga sensitif kepada julat tekanan yang sangat tinggi yang diringkaskan supaya keseluruhan julat amplitud terkandung dalam jujukan nilai 0 hingga 160.

Fiza explains:
– Under translation occurs when translate ‘simplest form’ to ‘secara mudah’. It should be ‘secara paling mudah’.
– There is comma after ‘dan dikesan’ because compound sentence even though there is already existence of ‘dan’.
– In science text, if symbol is named after an individual, the first acronym must be in capital hence the correct one is Hz (even when the source text itself is wrong).
– For pressures, they come in a range hence it should be ‘tinggi’ atau ‘rendah’, not ‘besar’.
– In general text, numbers below 10 must be spelled but in science, it must be numbered.

Have you checked out the multiple ways you can save money on your next translation project?