There are many reasons why you might want a translator for your business. Maybe you're looking to expand into an international market and want to write marketing copy in another language. Perhaps you're already in an area where the population is largely bilingual, and you want to cater to both languages. Maybe you need a translator to work on communications with a manufacturing facility in China or Vietnam.
Whatever the case may be, you need to hire a translator, and you need to make sure you make a good decision.
Before we dig into specific tips about hiring a translator, let's address the elephant in the room.
Machine translation (whether it's Google Translate, a dedicated translation app, or a machine learning process) is going to be fine for something and very much not fine for others. It depends on two things:
Translating a sign that says "Buy One, Get One 50% Off" may be pretty trivial for a machine learning app to handle, depending on the language. Translating a user guide to a technical piece of machinery can be much harder, and translating complex medical journalism even more so. The more unique, complex, or varied the terminology, the harder it can be for a machine to handle.
The complexity of the languages involved is important as well. Many languages have words or phrases that are spelled in similar ways and have very different meanings. Alternatively, they may have multiple words that have the same meaning but different connotations.
A generic example might be content that talks about an expiration date being translated to use "death date" because expiration can mean death in certain usage. These kinds of relatively minor mix-ups can, nevertheless, dramatically change the end result of the translation.
The trouble with machine translation is that it has no way of handling or identifying these issues, short of experience in its learning data set. As time goes on, these tools will grow better and better (and things like Google Translate are already leagues better than they were a few years ago), but they still aren't good enough for most purposes today.
CAT Tools are Computer Assisted Translation tools. At first glance, this sounds like machine translation, but it's not quite the same.
They have some useful features, such as:
A good modern translator should have some experience with some kind of CAT tool and may even be able to make it accessible to you for team collaboration. There are a variety of different tools out there, so it can behoove you to ask what tool your prospective translator uses, so you can research it yourself.
Now, let's get into specific tips for hiring translators now that the software elephant has been ushered out of the room.
The first thing you want to do is figure out just how much or how little translation you need to be done. The scale of your needs will help determine the kind of person you hire down the road. If all you need is a few lines of ad copy or a brochure translated, that's a very different kind of project than translating multiple lengthy blog posts, an entire website, or a whole book.
Consider factors such as:
All of this information is used in two ways. First, it helps you know who to look for when seeking a translator. Second, it serves as a project brief when you approach a translator. Both are important.
The type of employment will matter when seeking a translator. Some translators prefer the stability of an ongoing relationship, while others prefer the flexibility of freelancing with multiple clients. You should have some idea of what kind of translator you want to hire.
Hiring an individual to translate puts all your eggs in one basket. This is fine for longer-duration, smaller-scale, or lower-need translation projects. However, it might fall flat if you need faster turnarounds, large volumes, or specific kinds of expertise in your translations.
Contracting with a translation firm can be a great idea to get consistently good, verified, and accuracy-checked translations, but it is likely going to be the most expensive option. You also don't know which of their staff of translators is working on your project and may need to verify consistency on your own.
If you're hiring an individual, you have the choice of hiring an employee or a freelancer. Freelancers are best for short-term projects, one-off translations, and sporadic needs. You can find them on general freelancing sites like Upwork, as well as translation hubs like TranslatorsCafe or ProZ. Using a freelancer hub helps you locate translators and verify their quality through other client reviews, as well.
On the other hand, hiring an employee is best if you have ongoing needs, want one employee to handle all of your translation consistently, and don't mind hiring someone on for a full role in your organization. The advantages and disadvantages of an employee relationship are well-documented, so be sure to do your research first.
Unless you're extremely generic, chances are pretty good that you're going to want to find someone who is familiar not just with the languages you're translating to and from but with the industry you're writing about.
Consider how difficult it is to write accurately about a subject you're not familiar with. A clothing retailer isn't going to be an authoritative voice on biohazard cleanup, a materials engineer isn't going to write well about childcare and education, and a theoretical physicist isn't going to be a deep well of knowledge on dog training.
Every specialty has terminology, phrasing, common knowledge, and turns of phrase that end up worked into writing on the subject.
Your translator needs to know when to translate, when to localize, and when to leave as-is.
A specialist will be able to adapt their translation style to your needs. Moreover, they will know when a word, phrase, or process needs to be kept as-is in the destination language and when it can be localized instead.
Translation can be done by someone who is simply fluent in two different languages, but that's far from all there is to it. Proper translation, especially in certain industries, may need further verification and certification.
For example, the American Translators Association (ATA) has a certification that translators can earn. This is a "live" certification, meaning it requires ongoing education to continue to keep translation expertise alive. If you're hiring a translation expert, you may want to check to see if they have this kind of credential and verify it.
As for industry expertise, you may want to check for various industry accolades, certifications, and credentials. For example, maybe you work in healthcare, and you need someone who can be HIPAA compliant in their translations. Maybe you're in a government position and need to hire someone with a security clearance. Maybe you want someone with some level of tech or IT certification. There are many possible options, which will vary depending on your circumstances.
When a translator submits a translated piece of content to you, you may also want to use a third party to verify the accuracy of that translation. Sometimes, this can be as simple as a native speaker of the destination language you can trust to verify accurately. Other times, you may want to pay another translator to verify the accuracy of the initial translation.
Translation is a complex and critically important role for an organization working in more than one language, and that means it's worth the money you pay for it. Unfortunately, all too many businesses look to hire cheap freelancers and end up getting what they buy.
General translation rates tend to range anywhere between 9 cents to 40 cents per word translated. Why so much variance? All of the factors listed above have an impact. The difficulty and complexity of the topic, the complexity and rarity of the languages involved, and the turnaround time can all impact pricing.
Sometimes, you can negotiate a lower rate for "repeat" translations. For example, if you have a bunch of different advertisements with similar ad copy but enough difference that you can't reuse the same text, you may be able to pay a lower rate for all of it than normal because it's so similar.
Per-hour payment is relevant if you're hiring an employee but is rare for freelancing and agency work. A low per-hour rate can look enticing, but an inexperienced translator can take a long time to perform a project, and that can cost more than the translation normally would. It also tends to undervalue skilled translators and hinder those who gain experience working with you.
Per-page rates are very rare and almost never used.
So, there you have it; just about everything you need to know to get started hiring a translator.
Have any questions? Feel free to ask in the comments or drop me a line. I'd be more than happy to answer any questions you may have!