What to look for in a translator

translator

What to discuss with your language provider to make sure you get the best from your translation service

Anyone considering communicating with foreign clients in any way – by means of a website, advertising campaign, social media, PR, blog or any form of commercial activity – should have full confidence in their language provider. Since you will be leaving them in charge of talking to foreign clients on your behalf, it goes without saying that you should check out your translator’s credentials in order to avoid major mishaps.

Read on to make sure you know what to look out for.

Where are they from? Where do they live ?

It’s not rocket science, but we’ll never say it enough : it is best to work with a person whose native language is their target language, ie the one they’re translating into, because growing up speaking a language is the only way to fully grasp it. This is the number one industry standard that you should adhere to, even if you decide to ignore every other piece of advice.

It is sometimes argued that translators should be based in the country of their target language, too, but the argument is a little flawed: it would be difficult, at best, to reach a decent grasp of another language without spending sufficient time reading it, listening to it and speaking it with native speakers. And where is the best place to do that?

It is true however that translators should keep in touch with their native language, so you might want to ask them how they go about that (for example, I live in the UK, but I read in French, watch French TV and listen to French radio, and I speak French to my kids).

Are they qualified ?

Seems kind of obvious now we mention it, right ? Believe it or not, being bilingual doesn’t make someone a good translator. The specialist skill of translating is learned through studying, experience, mentoring, or a combination of all of the above. In the UK, you can look for qualifications such as the CIoL’s Diploma in Translation or the ITI qualified membership. In the US, the ATA’s certification is the most common qualification. If they’re not qualified, how much and what type of experience do they have?

Are they specialised?

Think of a translator’s specialisation as their second set of skills. It’s all jolly well and good being able to speak and write in more than one language, but you need to have an idea of what you’re talking about. The clients’ requirements and objectives are not the same for a legal document as they are for a marketing campaign or a book. So, have they translated anything similar before and how much do they already know about your industry?

SEO

If your copy is written with the objective of influencing traffic towards a website, the translator needs to have a reasonable understanding of how search engines work and they need to know what keywords you’re banking on. So, look for a translator / copywriter who knows how search engines work and is experienced in incorporating keywords to their copy in a natural way.

Quality control

Even the best translators can get square-eyed from looking at the same text over a long period of time, and they’ll be the first to admit the importance of proof-reading. Proof-reading is best done either after a few days not looking at the copy, or by a different reader. It’s a good idea to discuss options with your provider. If you’d like them to proof-read their own work, make sure they have enough time to do it properly. They may suggest their own proof-reader (make sure you clarify who is paying for their time) or leave it with you to manage (read my article on the challenges of proof-reading someone else’s work).

Confidentiality

It should go without saying that any document entrusted by a client to their translator should not be shared with anyone else but for added peace of mind, you can ask them to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement.

Urgent, large translation projects

Urgent translation
Why you should avoid urgent translations

…and why you should try and avoid them

In our incredibly and increasingly fast-paced business environment, one of the first words many of my clients pronounce is invariably “urgent”. Associate it to “large” and, why not, “cheap” and you have found the ultimate recipe for disaster.

Admittedly, it is not unusual for a badly planned project to require an urgent solution to avoid missing out on major opportunities or wasting copious amounts of cash, and I for one have often been known to work late nights or weekends to help out desperate customers: last-minute customs requirements, unexpected opportunity, human error. It happens.

However, if you’re looking for a quality translation of your marketing material, contractual documents, book or magazine or anything that you have the chance to plan ahead, give your translator the time they need to think. Remember, their main working tool is their brain. Putting too much pressure on it is not a good way to extract the best results out of it.

Translation agencies often claim to be able to deliver enormous amounts of work and to meet impossible deadlines. More often than not, the way they achieve this is by splitting the text in several chunks and by assigning each chunk to a different translator. Even with the best procedures in place, consistency of terms and writing styles is highly likely to be a problem.

In the translation industry, projects are quantified by their wordcounts. As a ball park, any translator claiming to be capable of handling more than 3,000 words per day is either working very long hours or working too fast and they’re certainly not allowing any time for proof-reading – all scenarios likely to result in poor quality copy.

As goes the saying « I can’t afford to do things badly the first time », there’s little point in commissioning a translator if you’re not going to give them the chance to produce a quality translation likely to give you the results you hope for.