1. Do yourself a favor: Hire a professional. What is a professional translator? Someone who has majored in language studies or has a translation degree and has been trained as a translator and can show credentials for it. Someone who is actually currently working as a translator. No, your bilingual niece or friend cannot do the job. Being bilingual is not enough. Translators are highly trained, often specialized professionals who offer expertise. If the documents you need translated are to be published, handed over to authorities, or serve professional purposes, you’ll be much better off hiring a translator that has some accreditation or certification.
2. Where to find a professional translator: Online directories of professional associations of translators such as ATA (American translators association), NOTIS (Northwest translators and interpreters society), IAPTI (International association of professional translators and interpreters). Those organizations have a listing of translators by language combination, with their credentials, specialty fields, and contact information.
– Professional online profiles such as LinkedIn.
– Remember that this is computer and cyberspace age, therefore the geographical location of your translator does not matter. Especially if you live in a rural area, don’t limit your search to your little town or county. Nowadays most translations are sent and delivered electronically.
3. What kind of translator do you need? Do you need to translate a birth certificate for immigration purposes, or your website, or a PowerPoint presentation for a lecture or conference you’re giving, or the manuscript of your novel, or some highly specialized medical or technical translation, some training materials, or do you need your corporate video to be subtitled, the type of translator you’ll hire will depend on that. So when you start your search, your first criteria will be:
– the language combination (for example Spanish into English) and then
– the specialty field. If any translator can translate a simple email or press release, the translation of a medical device manual will require someone specialized in that field.
– Another thing to remember, to get the best results, it is preferable to hire somebody who translates into their native language. If you need a translation of a medical device manual from Spanish into English, you want to hire preferably a translator whose native language is English.
4. Establish contact and be as specific as possible about your needs
So you’ve been on one of those online directories and you found a translator who seems to correspond to what you’re looking for. You email the translator, or call, about your translation project.
What your translator needs to know:
-The language combination, the volume (approximate word count, number of pages) the format (Word doc, Excel file, PowerPoint, PDF file, etc.) and your turnaround time. Then your translator can give you a quote/estimation of the cost. Yes, if it’s a rush job you may be charged more.
What may help your translator serve you better:
– Purpose of the document (for publication?)
– Target audience (i.e, if you want a translation from English to French, will that be French for France, or for Canada? And more specifically, who is going to read or use the document: students Physicians? Immigration authorities? Readers of a popular magazine? Consumers?
– Reference documents? You or your organization, corporation, may have similar documents previously translated or even glossaries of preferred terms, in which case you may want to provide them as well.
5. Negotiating etiquette
Now let’s come to pricing. You have received a quote. You may not have been aware of the cost of translation services. But in this industry as well as in many others, the “you get what you paid for” principle applies. Just remember what you’re paying for is expertise. For example, hiring a bottom feeder translator, or using machine translation for your website translation may ruin your chances of expanding your business. I have seen many instances of websites in two or three languages where the result was at best hilarious, if not incomprehensible, and therefore those customers you were hoping to reach abroad, gone! You don’t want
to hire an amateur electrician to wire your house, well it’s the same for translation jobs.
So, negotiating price is often not a good idea, especially if it’s your first contact.
One sentence that serious, professional translators don’t want to hear:
“Would you translate a sample for free?” Seriously, when we go, to the doctor let’s say, do we ask him/her to provide us with our first consultation for free? Or to reduce the cost for that X Ray? Do we ask a licensed plumber to fix our kitchen faucet for free “to test his skills” before to entrust him with redoing all the fixtures in the house?
On the bright side, translators will often be more than happy to provide you with existing samples of their work. I always have some ready just in case, it’s like a portfolio.
6. Questions or doubts. better ask than be sorry!
And this goes both ways, if you have any doubt or question, ask, ask, ask! Don’t assume anything. There is no such thing as a stupid question. Clear communication and understanding lays good foundations for a good collaboration. So you’ve hired a professional translator with some accreditation or certification, congratulations!