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Finding the Right Translator: Know Thyself




At first glance, the translation universe may seem like a vast firmament inhabited by a diverse array of planets, stars, and unidentified objects. Most successful translators possess a unique blend of enterprising spirit, rampant curiosity, linguistic prowess, cultural sensitivity, professional expertise, and attention to detail born of years spent traversing the demands of living, working, and learning in various countries and languages spanning multiple continents. Seeking the translators with just the right combination of skills and expertise for your projects may seem like a challenge with so many different choices at hand. To help simplify the process for you, this month I will be sharing some of the criteria I use to populate my teams with good translators working in languages I do not speak and cannot directly evaluate. Before you can search for a translator, however, it is important to “know thyself” as Socrates famously said. So I will kick off this week with tips for assessing your own needs.


Synchronized Dance of Time and Volume

Many companies will create schedules for their projects, rife with follow-up meetings and deadlines. If this is you, figuring out how much time to plan for translation should be as much a priority as achieving the milestones in your project. Take some time to assess the timing of translations as well as one major factor with a direct impact on timing: volume. Ask yourself questions such as: Are your project deadlines generally very tight, with everything seemingly happening at once or at the last minute? Do your projects tend to have a more relaxed pace? Do you foresee yourself dealing with high volumes or will you need multiple small texts translated? Will you be expecting the translator to be available on weekends? These are all things you should take note of so you can find a translator to accommodate them. Some translators will work over the weekend, for example, then take two days off during the week to accommodate clients with a lot of weekend activity. Other translators will refuse to work over the weekend. Yet others will work over the weekend when they are available, but charge an extra fee.


Volume may also be handled differently, depending on the translator. A single translator can usually translate a little over 2,000 words or 5 pages per day. If you will generally have documents under five pages in length to be translated within one or more days, this is easily manageable for one translator. Large volumes exceeding five pages per day, however, may require additional manpower. In cases such as these, it is important to ask the translator if they offer project management. If they do, then they should be able to put a team together to take care of your translation within the time necessary. If they don’t, you will either have to hire multiple translators yourself, or find another translator that does offer project management.


Location, Location, Location

Unlike your local car mechanic, who by necessity must be located minutes from your residence or business, translators can serve their clients effectively from virtually any place with an internet connection. Your translator may be working from an office three blocks down the street or from a mountaintop in Peru. Before you embark on a collaboration, consider if you will need the translator to work on-site for any reason. Most clients have no need for their translator to be within driving distance and will collaborate effortlessly with a translator in a different city or on a different continent for many years. Remote collaboration will only become a problem if you have top secret documents that cannot be entrusted to an internet platform or email service or if you need on-site interpreting and consulting. Take time to assess your needs and if location isn’t an issue, you are free to hire any translator in the world!


Hiring a translator located in a different time zone can even be an advantage in some cases. Clients living in Europe who often generate urgent translation requests late in the day that they need back the next day could benefit from working with a translator in the United States. While Europeans are well into their afternoon and looking to go home in a few hours, American translators will just be opening their emails and ready to start a fresh new day at work. European clients can therefore conveniently send day-long projects off to America in the afternoon and have the finished product in their inboxes the next morning. Similarly, a company on the East Coast of the United States might prefer to work with a translator located in California, since the day starts 3 hours later there, giving eastern clients more time to put together translation requests before half of the work day is gone in California.


Several Languages – One Document

Devote some thought to the countries you will be trying to communicate with as well. Will you be needing documents translated into multiple languages now or in the future? And how much time do you want to spend managing your translations? If you regularly need documents translated from English into Spanish, French, and Italian, for example, you can either hire multiple translators or hire one translator who offers project management services. Each option has its advantages and disadvantages.


Working with multiple translators will place higher demands on your time, but will allow you to establish a close collaboration with each person. Such a working relationship generally has a positive impact on translations, since you will be able to engage directly with the translator to address ambiguous meanings and other questions arising from the translation. Such engagement takes time though. Time that is multiplied by however many languages you need translated. Once the project is finished, you will also need to pay several different invoices separately, depending on how many translators you hired. This approach is best used when you only ever need the document translated into one language on each project. You may have a ten-page document translated into French one week, then a different five-page document translated into German the week after that.


Hiring one translator who offers project management services is a good way to streamline your translations. All you have to do is hand the document off to the translator with the request to have it translated into four different languages. The translator will put together a team of their colleagues, set a deadline, and field simple questions. Once the project is finished, you can pay a single invoice and the translator will take charge of distributing payment out to their team. With this approach you may not have all the advantages of working directly with each translator, but you will definitely save time on large, complicated projects.

Questions:

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