A Guide to Selecting and Working with Professional Translators
What is translation?
Translation is the rendering of written material from one language (the source language) into another (the target language). Professional translators, unlike people who are simply bilingual, have the ability to link the two languages, in effect to rewrite the source text as if it had been originally written in the target language. This skill is acquired though extensive training and practice.
Interpreting, although related to translation, refers to rendering speech from one language into another, in conference or court settings, for example.
What should I look for in a translator?
There are no government licensing requirements for translators in the United States. Anyone can set up shop and solicit translation work. Therefore you want to be selective when looking for a provider of translation services. Look for individuals who present themselves in a professional manner and whose services meet your needs.
- Does a prospective translator know the subject area well enough to produce a good translation of your text?
- Is he or she willing to provide references, lists of prior projects, or samples of previous work?
- Will the product be provided in the form that you need (camera-ready copy, computer file)?
Many users of translated material prefer to work with a translation bureau, a company that works with many different translators. Some of the advantages that bureaus generally offer are:
- Faster turnaround time for lengthy assignments
- Ability to handle numerous languages and subject areas
- Full coordination of major projects, including graphic design, typesetting, printing, and binding
Other users find it more advantageous to contract directly with an independent translator. An independent can usually offer you:
- Lower fees, due to reduced overhead
- More control over the final product through direct consultation and feedback.
- Greater consistency for long-term projects, due to familiarity with subject matter.
Translators exhibit their commitment to the profession by joining a professional association such as the Carolina Association of Translators and Interpreters (CATI) and/or the American Translators Association (ATA). ATA also offers professional certification in certain language pairs based on examination. The Find a translator or interpreter
link on this website or the annual CATI Translation Services
directory can help connect you with translators in the Carolinas.
Finally, be skeptical of claims relating to the wonders of computer-generated translation. For now at least, there is simply no substitute for the "human interface" in producing top-notch, professional translations.
What can I expect from my translator?
There are certain obligations that you as a consumer have a right to expect from a professional translator. A translator should be able to give you a firm estimate of cost and delivery time after examining the text to be translated, and should notify you promptly of any unforeseen changes in these terms. He or she should respect and honor confidentiality requirements. A translator should consult you about any problem areas and unknown terms encountered in the source text and be willing to work with you in finding solutions. Finally, if an assignment is outside the translator's range of expertise, he or she should indicate this to you and refer you to another qualified person if possible.
What does my translator expect from me?
Your translator also expects certain things from you. Allow for reasonable deadlines. Translation is not simply "bilingual typing"; it often requires digging through several dictionaries and other resources to find the right technical term or colloquial expression. Give your translator enough time to provide a high-quality product.
The translator's task is aided immeasurably by any background and support material (pictures, related articles, previous translations, etc.) that you can provide on your subject matter. Such material can save the translator time and thus get the finished translation into your hands sooner. Feedback on completed jobs is also extremely helpful in maintaining a positive and productive relationship between you and your translator.
Finding the right translator need not be a frustrating and intimidating task if you keep these guidelines in mind. The Carolina Association of Translators and Interpreters is committed to fostering good relations between the translation community and users of translation services. CATI members will be glad to provide further information.