How to Find a Good Professional Translator

By Marion Rhodes
English-German Translator

Last week, I restarted graduate school to finish my master’s degree in Integrated Marketing Communications, and already, I have gained some valuable new insight: Many people still don’t know how to find a professional translator. During a discussion of the translation industry in our online class forum, one of my fellow marketing students – the director of program services for a large, national nonprofit organization – remarked that she had found herself in need of a translator not too long ago but did not know where to look. So she did what most people in her situation would do: She asked Google.

“I really wasn’t sure where to start and picked a company based on price, turn-around time and ease of process,” she admitted. I realized that in general, laypeople – and that’s most people who need translation services – don’t know where to find a translator at all, let alone how to find a professional linguist who can produce high-quality translations. So, for all you translation virgins out there, here is a brief guide.

Basically, you have two options:

1. Yes, Google

Or Yahoo. Or Bing. It doesn’t matter which search engine you use, as long as you know what to look for. Chances are, if you’re a translation newbie in need of a translator to translate your English website into French, you will enter something like French translator into the search bar. You’ll get about 42 million hits, most of which will be completely useless, and then you’ll spend hours randomly clicking on links in hope of finding a suitable translator or agency that might be able to fulfill your translation needs. If you still have energy left after this endeavor, you might even compare a few websites, maybe get a quote or two, send your documents to the lowest bidder, and hope for the best. Good luck with that approach.

But don’t despair. There is a better way. Here’s how to make the most of your Google (or Yahoo, or Bing…) search.

  • Be as specific as possible. Don’t just search for French translator. Instead, search for English into French “marketing translator” and boom, you just narrowed your options to 13,000 with some very specific leads on page one of the results. If you want to narrow your search even more, you could add more qualifiers, such as a location. A Google search for English into French “marketing translator” Colorado only produces 2,700 results, for example. Still plenty to choose from, but not nearly as overwhelming anymore. 
  • Look for individual translators. OK, maybe I’m biased, being an individual translator myself and all. But unless you’re looking to get your text translated into 15 different languages, you’re probably better off with a one-stop shop than a large translation agency. To find out why, read my previous post on the advantages of hiring a freelancer.
  • Dare to compare. Don’t just decide on the first translator whose website or profile shows up in your search results. If someone sounds promising, take the time to check out the translator’s website and check out their experience, areas of expertise, testimonials, work samples and professional certifications. Anyone can claim to provide “quality translations, on-time delivery and competitive rates.” If these claims are true, you should be able to find substantiating evidence on the website. See if the translator is a member of any professional associations, such as the American Translators Association (ATA) or a local chapter such as the Colorado Translators Association. Membership in a non-translation related association (for a marketing translator, for example, the American Advertising Federation or American Marketing Association) is an even better indicator of the translator’s expertise and professionalism.
  • Consider the whole package. You may be tempted to select the translation provider with the most certifications, the lowest rates, or the fastest service. But remember that when it comes to price, quality and time, there is always a trade-off.

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    Find the compromise that works best for your situation, keeping in mind the purpose of your translation. If, for example, your brand’s reputation is at stake, you don’t want to cut corners in the wrong place and sacrifice quality for cost or speed. A little more up-front investment may lead to higher returns in the long run.

2. Professional Directories

There are numerous professional associations for translators around the world, and most of them provide directories of their members. These are excellent resources for anyone who is looking for a reliable translator. Most associations allow you to set specific criteria for your search, narrowing your results significantly. The directory of the American Translators Association, for example, lets you search by language pair, specialization, certification and geographic location. A comprehensive list of translators associations is available here.

In addition to professional associations, there are other industry directories, such as ProZ.com or Translators’ Café, where anybody who calls himself a translator may create a public profile and offer his services. This, too, can be a good resource, although the free nature of these portals may allow some less reputable translators to try and blend in with the upper ranks. I’m not saying that every translator who is listed in the ATA directory is perfect, but overall, the chances of finding a bad apple are much lower when more barriers (such as association membership fees) are in place.

So now that you know how to find a good translator, what’s stopping you from getting your website, brochures, or press releases translated into another language? And pssst… if you’re looking for a great English into German marketing translator, I’ve heard that this girl here is pretty good…

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