Why and when to use a professional translator

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How to decide when to use a professional translator

As you might expect, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to using a translator and so the following points are our attempt to help you decide why and when you might need to hire a professional linguist.

The most important thing to think about is why do you want the work translated? If you understand the impact or the purpose behind your project, you will be in a better position to decide how you want to deal with translating it.

Is the translation just to get a basic understanding?

If you simply need to translate the gist of what a document says, try great online translation sites like Babelfish or Google Translate. They are better than dictionaries, as they will translate whole sentences and paragraphs for you. However, as you probably know from using sites like Facebook, they are hit and miss with sentence structure, and slang is never quite right. Neither do they pick up on spelling mistakes, which simply get left in their original form.

Is the translation for low-impact internal business use?

If the document or project isn’t of major importance, it might not be vital to capture all the detail or nuance. You want to understand it properly, but smooth, native-sounding language isn’t particularly important for your purpose, and it won’t matter if some aspects get ‘lost in translation’. In this case, you could potentially use a bilingual colleague or friend to translate for you (We’ve written about the pros and cons of doing that here). You might already speak the language yourself, and be happy to spend your time translating the piece.

Of course this isn’t necessarily a long-term solution if you have more than a one-off need, and so you might want to start thinking about investing some money into finding a viable solution. At this stage, you could potentially hire a translator to provide one of their more basic services.

Is the translation for high-impact business use?

If the people reading your document or project need to receive the piece of work exactly as it was intended by the author, meaning in the same format, language structure, level of formality and so on as the original, then it is definitely time to hire a professional translator to provide the translation.

Safety reports or instructions are a great example of this, where a person’s life or death could literally be affected by the quality of the translation of your safety documentation (see here for more about this). Likewise, annual reports, customer briefings etc. need to be accurate, or they will not convey the intended professionalism or detail to the people reading them.

Is the translation for customers or other external contacts?

If you need your customers or stakeholders to access your project in their own language, it is vital that the translation is done by a professional. You have presumably spent considerable time, effort and money into creating the right copy for your market or your contact. Now is not the time to undo it all by using an unqualified translator, or worse, none at all.

Contracts or legal documents for example, need to be translated accurately, or you will be signing something that doesn’t say what you think it does. Product brochures and technical specifications also need to be accurate and read as though they are written by native speakers.

Research proves that customers are more likely to respond if they are talked to in their own language, and it follows that this applies to business contacts as well. In the UK, we are taught to recognise phishing mails and spam by their lack of fluency or by spelling mistakes in the text.

Professional translators pass exams and undergo regular training to ensure that their work is accurate and fluent, and you should be able to find one who specialises in your field.

Your website and online content also need to be accurately translated if you want your key words are searchable for example, and make sure your content phrasing is relevant to your market and branding.

In summary, the most important thing is to understand the impact that your work has on the recipient of it. Once you understand that, you can use our above suggestions to help you decide whether or not you want to invest in finding a professional translator. Good luck!

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