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  • Writer's pictureCarlie Sitzman MA, CT

The Perfect Request

The time has come. Having chosen a translator, your hands hover over the keyboard as you compose your first translation request. Suspended between contemplation and resolve, you realize you have no idea what will happen next. What information should you be sending the translator in order to get a speedy quote back? Should you attach pertinent files or preserve the shroud of mystery surrounding your document by leaving it out? The answer is that every situation is different. You may have to discuss your needs with the translator in a few e-mails before they can even offer you a quote. Offering the translator vital information in the first e-mail and attaching the pertinent documentation will definitely speed up the process though. This month’s articles explore how to compose an initial request e-mail that sets your translation up for success! The first thing the translator will see is the body of your e-mail, so let’s start there. Besides introducing yourself and your company, you’ll also want to acquaint your translator with the project by answering “The 5 W’s of Translation” for them: what, when, who, where, why. Let’s take a more in-depth look at each one.

What do you need translated?

Just as a professional cleaner would have no idea how much work awaits them if a complete stranger were to call in stating “My living room is messy; do you think you can clean it up? How long would it take and how much would it cost?” A translator will need a lot of information about the document before they can offer a quote. Start off by giving the document type (diploma, contract, bank statement, website, etc.), the language it is written in, the language you want it translated into, and perhaps a rough idea of the project scope. Such as: “Dear Alex, I have 300 college diplomas written in French that I need translated into English.” This gives the translator a starting point.

When do you need it back?

Timing is everything, yet customers sometimes fail to mention a desired due date or timeline when contacting a translator. At the same time, it is of course important to leave a reasonable amount of time for the translation and it certainly doesn’t hurt to ask the translator if you are unsure. As a rule of thumb, it is usually reasonable to allow one business day for every 5 – 6 ½ pages or 2,000 words. Even if you need the translation faster than that, however, it pays to inform the translator of your schedule. Allowing enough time for a single person to complete the translation is of course the best-case scenario, since it ensures that the writing style and wording in your document remain consistent. If you let your translator know that you’re in a rush though, they may still be able to help. Many translators have a network of other translators at their disposal and can divide up your document among a team of their colleagues to achieve faster completion. Only if you tell them your time constraints though, so don’t leave them in the dark!

Who needs the document?

This helps give the translator context and informs their vocabulary choices. If it is a technical document that will be read primarily by engineers, the translator can and should use technical vocabulary from the field of engineering. If it is a technical document meant to be read by laymen, it might be better to use more common or descriptive translations of technical terms so it is more easily understood by the target group. It is also important for the translator to know how formal the document should be. This enables them to choose whether to use colloquial phrases or formal expressions for example. For translations into languages other than English, a translator may also have to decide whether to use the formal or informal version of the pronoun “you” in the target language. This would be impossible without a knowledge of the target audience.

Where will it be used?

Specifying where the document will be used gives the translator vital context to inform the way the translation expresses its content. Whether you are aware of it or not, every document is an inextricable part of a greater cultural and social context. Not only will your translator use the document’s current cultural content as a backdrop for understanding its meaning, but they will also be creating a new document in a different language that will have to be woven into the social, cultural, and linguistic fabric of that language. It is therefore paramount that the translator knows which country the document is from and which country it is destined for. Take the translation of a clothing catalogue from German into English for a jean company as an example. Let’s say you ask a US-American translator for a translation into English and don’t tell them you will be using it in Great Britain. You are likely to get a text with ample discussion of “pants”. A pair of jeans would be referred to as “pants” in the United States and “trousers” in Great Britain. The term “pants” actually refers to a type of underwear in Great Britain. Without context, you could end up with some very puzzled customers wondering why the text sounds more like something from a lingerie catalog than a booklet containing a selection of jeans.

Why are you having it translated?

Answering the question of why something is being translated gives the translator an idea of what services they should offer you. It can also save you money by allowing the translator to offer only the services you actually need. If you merely need a summary of what’s in the document, for example, the translator can read through and write you a summary. This is likely to cost a lot less than a full translation. If you will only be using the document for informational purposes, a carefully crafted translation completed by one person might do the job. If you plan on publishing it, the translator may offer to have the final translation reviewed by a second translator in order to give it the extra polish required for published documents.


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