Carlie Sitzman MA, CT
Translation Services for Documents: Freelancer or Translation Company?
If you are looking for translation services for documents that need deciphering, you may have noticed there are two options available. You can obtain services from a translation company, otherwise known as a translation agency, or work directly with a freelance translator. It can be difficult to know which one to choose. What is the difference between the two? What will work best for your project, working style, and end use? Let’s take a look at the advantages of hiring a freelance translator vs. the advantages of hiring a translation agency to make the decision easier.
Advantages Shared by Freelancers & Translation Companies
Both freelance translators and translation companies are typically capable of delivering high-quality work. Forming teams to ensure that your document is properly translated, edited, and proofread should be second nature to both of them. The biggest differences you will find between the two are in the mode of operation, the nature of the collaboration, the work volume handled, and possibly the inquiry response time.
Advantages of Freelance Translators
When you hire a freelance translator, you can be sure the same translator is working on your project every time. This means that as soon as you find someone with a translation style and writing style you like, their fingerprint will be on every document you commission. Working directly with a freelancer also allows you to coordinate schedules, so you know when your favorite translator will be gone and can plan accordingly.
Translation companies make this harder to do. They will generally have a small team of perhaps three to five freelance translators performing your translations. You can definitely ask them to have the same translator perform the translation every time. If that translator is unavailable for some reason, however, another of their freelancers will probably end up doing it. Keeping tabs on your favorite translator’s schedule is generally much harder to do or perhaps even impossible through a translation company. Project managers are in contact with far too many different translators to keep track of when everyone will be in the office. They rely heavily on their large network of translators to fill in the gaps when someone takes vacation time.
When you work with a freelance translator, you are working directly with the person who is translating your document. This can help forge a stronger relationship, so the translator better understands how you communicate and you better understand how the translator is conveying that in their language. Any time the translator has a question about the document, they can talk with you directly. And it goes both ways. If you have a question about the translation, it is easy to contact the translator and discuss the thought process that went into certain decisions. Translation quality always benefits from this type of connection between client and translator.
Translation companies will usually put you in contact with one of their project managers. This person will mediate all communication you have with the translator or anyone else involved in your translation project. This extra layer of separation tends to discourage collaboration, reduce involvement of the client, and inject a bit more guesswork into the process. Questions from translators will frequently go unanswered or receive a delayed response after running through the chain of command. This can often make asking questions and getting usable answers impossible for the translator.
Experienced translators tend to forge close partnerships with other experienced translators. This makes them adept at putting together teams of experts who can work together like a well-oiled machine to satisfy a variety of linguistic needs. In addition to having contacts who translate in the same languages as themselves, freelance translators often also cultivate relationships with translators of different languages.
Freelancers are in the habit of telling their collaborators everything the project entails, so everyone on the team knows the lay of the land. Such an overview allows collaborators to work and communicate with foresight, to pave the way for other collaborators in future stages of the project. It is common for everyone on the team to be in constant communication with one another. Freelance translators can thus deliver a high level of quality and consistency on projects involving multiple languages, high volumes, or an array of different translation-related services.
Translation companies are also very good at putting together teams to meet a wide variety of needs. The difference is that translation companies will often pull team members from their large database of freelancers. This makes it highly unlikely that collaborators know each other. As a matter of fact, it is very common for members of a company team to be completely unaware of the other team members. They might not even be aware that the client has requested additional services. This compartmentalization hampers communication and reduces overall project quality.
When you hire the translator, you choose how specialized you want to get. Let’s say you are having documentation about floral arrangements translated. You could go all out and pay a premium price for a great translator who’s been doing floral arrangement translations her entire life. Maybe you care more about writing style or you want the person to have a more scientific background to make the facts behind your flowers really shine through. You can choose the degree of specialization and also the specialization type your translator needs to have in order to get just the document you want.
If you go to a translation company, the degree of specialization a translator must have in order to translate your document will be determined by the project manager at the agency. You can certainly tell the them what you are looking for, but there is no way of knowing how they will interpret your needs.
The project manager may see floral arrangements simply as a hobby and choose a generalist who loves flowers to complete the task. If you ask for someone with a scientific background, they might simply hire their favorite chemistry/botany/physics/biomechanics translator, regardless of whether this person actually knows anything about floral arrangements. Highly specialized, experienced translators also tend to be too expensive for most translation companies, so the translator who has been translating about floral arrangements her entire life is likely to be outside of the project manager’s budget.
Advantages of Translation Companies
If you have 300 pages of thick legal text that need to be translated within a week, the translation company may be the way to go. They usually have sizable databases of translators they can contact on short notice to put large teams together. They could have a team of ten translators working away on your project in no time. This would decrease translation consistency, but at least it would get the job done.
Some translators may also be able to handle high-volume projects. It is common for good translators to network within the translation community and have a group of other translators they regularly collaborate with on projects. They just tend to do this on a smaller scale than a translation agency would.
Many translation companies have multiple offices located on various continents. This ensures that there is almost always someone in the office to handle your request. They also tend to be in contact with pools of freelance translators located all over the world glad to assist with your project. If you have a lot of last-minute rush projects or want to have a translator available constantly, this is the perfect setup for you.
Freelance translators tend to have set business hours during which they answer the phone and emails. If you need something outside of those office hours, you are on your own. When a translator goes on vacation, you may not be able to reach them while they are gone. Some translators have colleagues who fill in for them while they are away, but even the substitute will have set business hours.
If it is common for you to have one document you need translated into ten different languages, a translation agency is probably a better choice for you. This is especially true if you require languages spanning several continents. Translation companies maintain large pools of translators who speak various languages. It would be much easier for them to put together a team to translate something from English into French, Spanish, Swahili, Chinese, Japanese, and Italian than it would be for a translator.
Some translators do maintain a multilingual network of colleagues they work with, so they can accommodate these requests to an extent. If you have a document in English that needs to be translated into German and Spanish, for example, a translator might be able to put together a team for you. The range of languages a freelance translator offers is probably going to me much more limited than that of a translation company.
I hope this has made translation shopping easier for you. If you happen to need an experienced German into English translator, contact me for a free quote!