4 Questions to Ask Translators before Hiring Them

If you’re in need of a translator for your business, you should probably take the time you need to make sure that you are hiring the best professional for the job. There are many things that you should take into consideration before taking the final decision and actually hiring the person, but if you’re new in this you might not know what you should look out for.

When you are interviewing a potential employee for a translation position, there are some things that you can ask them which will help you decide if they are the right choice for your company. Here are a few questions you should always ask a translator before hiring them.

  1. What is your native language?

While this might be one of the things that many people consider something that is essential for every translator, you won’t easily find translators who are native in more than one language. This happens because many professional translators have learnt their second language either while they were in school or during their university years.

The ones who are native are less likely to seek independent work and usually prefer to join various translation companies as they believe that without a degree, their skills will be put to better use there. In any case, it would still be best for you to work with a bilingual native speaker as they will be able to translate all the native phrases and words in order for them to make perfect sense to the native speakers.

  1. What language do you think in?

While a translator might be perfectly fluent in one language, they will definitely have a mother language in which they will be most likely be thinking in. While that is perfectly normal and understandable, this might not benefit your blog or your creative articles in the long run.

A person who thinks in their mother tongue will find it a lot more difficult to stick to translating native words and phrases accurately and they might make simple mistakes which will be noticeable by the natives. It would be best if your translator thinks in the language they are trying to translate in as they will make the least amount of mistakes.

  1. Have you worked in this industry before?

If your company is running a blog for a particular niche and you wish to find a translator who will be able to keep up with difficult types of texts and technical terms such as medical terms and vocabulary, you should probably not forget to check if your potential employee has worked in this field before.

Even though the translator might be an experienced one, you should make sure that they have experience in your particular field as this will not only help them produce good quality translations but they will also be able to get the job done a lot quicker and more efficiently.

  1. Would you be able to start working right away?

This is a question that can truly help you see in a translator is actually experienced and knows what he’s doing. The only answer you should be expecting at this point is for them to want to take a look at the proposed text and let you know.

A translator who is experienced will know that there are quite a few things to take into consideration before accepting a job, like the complexity of the text and the amount of technical terms in it. You would be better off working with a person who knows what they should look into before accepting a job.

Finding the right professional for your business

Hiring a translator can be difficult if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for. If your business is still new and you’re still experimenting with promoting your content to other markets abroad, you won’t have to be looking for strict professionals and you could definitely start working with a translator with a lower rate who probably has less experience.

The more expanded your business is and the more difficult the niche, you will have to keep in mind that working with a professional translator will not only help you make the content that you translate more appealing to the local markets, but you will also be able to keep your content looking professional, free of simple mistakes and as appealing to your customers as possible. The questions mentioned in this article will help you get a better sense of the person you are intending to hire and help you make that final decision.

The file to be translated

  • Send the final version of a text

Make every effort to ensure that the text you send for translation is the final, revised version. If that’s not possible, the least you can do is to highlight any last-minute changes or make them visible by using a word processor tool that tracks changes made. Expect to be charged accordingly and, depending on how much of the text has been altered, to renegotiate the deadline.

What you definitely should avoid is an endless back-and-forth of emails with various versions of the same text, especially after the translator has started his/her job—this is the perfect recipe for wasting time and, most likely, wasting money.

  • Send editable files

Translators translate. Simple, right? Yet, some people think they can send a translator an image and have it back with everything exactly the same, except for the language. Well, it’s totally feasible, but this is another service your translator can offer you—and not all translators do. Some of us love desktop publishing and have a great time formatting texts, making charts, preparing tables, creating images… whereas others aren’t very good at it, don’t like it, or simply think it’s not worth the time it takes them. They’d rather focus on what they do best: translations.

Most translators will ask you for an editable file. That said, editable PDFs are OK but not ideal. Sometimes it’s also possible to copy the content from a given file and paste it into a word-processor file, but some of the formatting might be lost. This happens especially when the document has other than plain text.

The best file format can not only be edited, but is also supported by the computer-assisted translation tools (CAT tools) that your service provider uses. Now a brief parenthesis is crucial here: CAT tools and, more specifically, translation memory software, are NOT the same as machine translation tools (more on these two subjects in the future). In a nutshell, a translation memory is a file that stores the sentences/segments translated by the user. So if your translator comes across the same or similar content, the software offers a prompt of whatever s/he has written in previous texts, helping to maintain consistency. One of the advantages of such tools is that the formatting is usually left untouched.

In cases when you don’t have an editable file, reactions will vary from translator to translator. You might be asked to send the material to a professional who can transform it into an editable text before the translator does his/her job. The translator might choose to type the translated text into a word-processor file, and you’ll be responsible for the final formatting. Alternatively, the translator might offer to do the formatting for you (and charge accordingly) or refer you to a colleague who can do this task.

The perfect way to end this part of the discussion is by using an excerpt from the January 2007 section “Business Smarts” of the ATA Chronicle (a journal of the American Translators Association), entitled “Working with PDFs”:

“Some colleagues have established a fixed surcharge for working from hardcopy and PDF documents to compensate for the extra formatting requirements and the difficulty of using computer-assisted translation tools. In many cases, even direct clients will provide an editable copy of documents […] if they are informed that translating a PDF document takes longer and therefore costs more.”

As this article shows, it’s also a matter of reducing the margin for error:

“They [translation buyers] may also be pleased to learn that a translator working from native word-processor files can offer better quality and accuracy, since elements such as tables and lists do not need to be laboriously (and possibly inaccurately) re-typed.”

It should be clear by now that collaborating with your translator is not only about making his/her life easier. Most importantly, it’s about doing what you can to get the best possible end product.

On a lighter note…

By Alejandro Moreno-Ramos

Resources and planning

There’s no doubt that the most interested party in the success of a translation should be the client. However, there are a number of ways in which you might fail to help improve the translation process for lack of information about it. Or, even worse, you might interfere negatively in the outcome.

 

With this in mind, I’ve listed some measures that ideally should be taken by whoever is involved in a translation project, and not only by those specifically assigned as project managers. I emphasized “ideally” because I understand that real-life situations sometimes get out of hand. Let’s just say the following recommendations are the ultimate best-case scenario, in which everybody wins.

There are still many other tips to come, but I hope the few suggestions below are a good starting point.

  • Plan ahead

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of planning ahead and giving translators the time they need to achieve excellence. If you’ve been working with the same translator for a while, you should have an idea of how much time s/he needs to accomplish a given task. Nevertheless, productivity varies from person to person, from text to text, even from day to day. Also, keep in mind that various “obstacles” might get in your translator’s way at any given time: s/he might be booked for another project and juggling with two or more texts, instead of offering you full-time dedication; the content of your text might differ from what s/he is used to, making the translation take longer; s/he might be busy with personal issues or even planning to go on vacation… and so on and so forth.

What I recommend is talking to your translator about upcoming projects as soon as you know about them. If your company deals with routine translation projects, for instance, there’s no reason for not giving timely notices. Of course you can’t effectively book someone until you know more details such as dates, length of the text, contents, etc. An organized translator will be grateful to know something’s around the corner, and will possibly bear it in mind when working on his/her own schedule.

On your end, make sure everyone involved in the production of the original text observes the time frame. The deadlines should consider the translator’s work and a final reading of the translated text by your team. Be careful, though: having your staff “edit” the translation is a double-edged sword and should be done very carefully and responsibly (I’ll come back to this issue in a future post).

Tight turn-around times are usually accompanied by rush fees, and these are expenses you want to avoid. On top of that, keep in mind that hectic schedules might also affect the quality of the final text—this topic will be discussed in more detail soon.

  • Provide reference materials

When talking about ways to avoid mistakes in technical texts, Chris Durban suggests that you “use in-house subject-matter specialists to provide vocabulary and background materials up front.” This advice certainly applies to all types of texts and media. It’s important to make available to translators any sort of material that is somehow related to the text to be translated.

If you have relevant bilingual documents such as previously translated content, don’t even hesitate! Other useful materials include glossaries (monolingual or bilingual), lists of preferred terms, style sheets, lists of acronyms and their meanings written out, etc. Experienced translators are usually trained to spot pertinent terms, expressions, phrases, and other elements of style that are present even in monolingual texts. So go ahead and send out that 2002 report in English, even though you cannot find its Spanish translation. Likewise, any type of relevant text in the target language (i.e. language into which a text is translated) will be highly appreciated.

These supporting materials will help maintain consistency among your company’s texts and assist your translator in providing high-quality services. They might even shorten the turn-around time.

As you can see, we all benefit from these measures. You increase your chances of getting an impeccable final text, and translators appreciate this support and consideration that help them meet their client’s needs faster and more efficiently.