Finding the best translator

6 questions you should ask your language provider to make sure you get the best from their service

choosing a translator

Anyone considering communicating with foreign clients in any way – marketing campaigns, correspondence, legal documents, meetings – should have full confidence in their freelance translator or translation agency. 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 credential to avoid major mishaps. Read on to make sure you know what to look out for.

If you're not sure whether to work with a freelance translator or a translation agency, read my article on how to choose the best language provider for your project.

Should my translator be a native speaker?

Yes, it is always best to work with a person whose native language is the target language (ie the one they’re translating into) because growing up speaking that 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.

Should my translator be local?

It is sometimes argued that translators should be based in the country of their target language, but this is a flawed argument: 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.

Should my translator be specialised?

Think of a translator’s specialisation as their second set of skills. Being able to speak and write in more than one language is essential, but they also 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, ask them if they have translated anything similar before, how much they know about your industry or how they go about researching jargon.

Should my translator aim to translate my copy literally?

Short answer: absolutely not.

I have had clients who tried to second guess my translations by looking for the source wording in the target sentence. They never find it and they always end up questioning whether I’m saying exactly the same thing. And the answer is invariably: “Almost”.

If you want a literal translation, you don’t need a translator – any machine translation will do the job - but you might as well not bother at all. There is a lot more to translation and copywriting than words: local jargon, cultural knowledge, industry research, tone of voice - all of this falls under the term “localisation” and basically implies that the translation will convey the same meaning, in a similar tone as the source text, but no, it won’t say exactly the same. I often use the example of the expression having a frog in one's throat. In France, the equivalent is actually a cat in one's throat, and that’s how it should be translated to avoiding sounding odd. See? It’s almost the same, but not quite.

Should my translator be qualified?

It is tempting to consider anyone claiming to be bilingual capable of doing the job – after all, it’s likely to be cheaper. But since you won’t have any way of checking their work, the only guarantee you have is their qualifications. In the UK, look for the CIOL Diploma in Translation, or a degree in translation.

Should my translator sign a non-disclosure agreement?

It should go without saying that any document entrusted by a client to their translator should not be shared with anyone else. That said, and if your content if sensitive or highly confidential, you can ask them to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement for added peace of mind.