Monday, 26 January 2015

What to Look Out for When Choosing a Translation Provider?

In recent years, translation has become a part and parcel of the global business world. In fact, the very existence of many companies depends on translation. Yet, with such a variety of translation providers on the market, many clients struggle to make the right choice and fall into common traps set by incompetent translation companies. This gives them the wrong impression of the translation industry and makes them look for other unsuccessful solutions.

This post will tell you what to look out for when choosing a translator, how to make an informed decision and avoid any traps along the way.

Translation agency or freelance translator?

This is one of the key decisions you will take in the process of choosing your future translation provider. Unfortunately, there is no straightforward answer, and everything depends on your actual needs.
Let's just take a glance at pros and cons of each type of translation provider:

Translation Agency
Freelance Translator


- better for multilingual, complex projects

- quicker turnaround for big projects

- higher availability, a project manager will quickly find an available translator

- better for more tailored projects

- more personal service / customer experience

- easier to check credentials/testimonials

- you know exactly who is working on the translation (better confidentiality and consistency)


- you don't know who is working on your document, it could be more than one person, which could result in inconsistencies

- the quote for translation includes overheads and other extra costs

- less personal service

- might be a less efficient option for multilingual projects

- longer turnaround for larger projects

As you can see, a translation agency might be a better choice for you, if you are looking for a company to translate a large number of documents into many languages, and if you need it fast.
However, if you require a more personal and tailored translation service, and you care about the credentials of the translator and high level of confidentiality, then a freelance translator will be perfect for you.

Please note that this is all simplified and generalised. I am not trying to say that large translation agencies do not care about confidentiality or credentials of their translators. Obviously, there are some that do and some that don't. What I am saying is that with freelancers, you are more in control, because you know exactly who works on our document.

There is also a middle ground, i.e. small, boutique translation agencies which - depending on their size - share some of the pros and cons of both types of translation providers.

I want it done well!

Many clients who contact me complain that their previous translator has not done a good job and that they were disappointed. The fact is that while 90% translation companies market their services as top quality, some of them provide nothing more than a poor end product. How would you know which ones will give you the quality you expect?

Well, unless you try, you probably won't be 100% sure, but there are some indicators that will give you a hint as to whether it is worth going ahead with this translation provider.
  •    They ask questions - it means that they care about the project and you as their client, they want to know more about your company, who the document is for, and what is its purpose. They will ask if you have any specific requirements and they might even make some valued suggestions on how to improve the original text.
  •     Communication should be a pleasure - see if they reply in a timely manner, if they are polite and write well (!). Even initial email exchange will give you a taste of what future collaboration would look like. If you are not happy at this stage, it is most likely that it won't get any better once the project is underway.
  •     Testimonials - there is nothing more reassuring than reading positive opinions of other satisfied clients, who were happy with the service and come back regularly. If you can't find any testimonials on their website, take a look at their social media profiles and see what  people say about them. You might want to ask around on Twitter or LinkedIn as well.
  •    A second pair of eyes -  translation is a process that involves a few stages. Only when all of them are properly carried out, you will receive a good quality translation. Two of those stages are editing and proofreading, i.e. checking for inconsistencies as well as stylistic, spelling and punctuation mistakes. For more on editing and proofreading and the difference between them see "Translation Quality Assurance - what you can expect" 
With translation agencies this should be a given - before you receive the translation, it is first checked by an editor and a proofreader to make sure it's faultless. Freelance translators do not always work with a proofreader, so make sure they find someone to check their work, this might cost you extra though. A good translation agency always ask another linguist to review the translation, but watch out for those that don't.

I want it done quickly!

Very often you need a document translated asap, and you want it done fast, well and cheap. If a translation provider assures you that they can easily do it quickly, professionally and for a competitive price you should be seeing a red light flashing in your head as this is one of the most common traps translation buyers fall into.

It is understandable that when you are short of time and have thousands of other tasks to be done by the end of a business day, the last thing on your mind is to spend hours on looking for a top quality translator with perfect testimonials and credentials, who will give you a quote that is way above your budget.

The thing is, if you want a service done fast, you certainly won't have time to rescue a project if things go wrong. Therefore, it is worth spending a little bit more time to find the right translator and  a little bit more money to have a peace of mind that things will go smoothly.

Why is it so expensive?

Another common trap among translation buyers is to ask a few translation providers to give a quote and choose the one who offers the lowest price. Translation is a highly specialised service that requires great skill, extraordinary linguistic abilities and a good deal of knowledge. This is why, those who are good at it will charge a price that is proportionate to the value of their work.

The price alone should never be a determining factor when choosing a translation provider. 
A cheap translator who does a poor job will cost you much more than a good but expensive one.
If you have a very tight budget, look into other ways of saving on translation costs.

Choose a specialist

To get a top quality translation you need to choose a translator who specialises in your field. So for a legal contract, you'd need to find a legal translator, and if you need a translation of a leaflet, you should hire a translator who specialises in marketing. The truth is, there is no translator who is an absolute expert in every field, just like there is no doctor who will treat you for every disease.

Again, there are some differences between translation agencies and freelance translators. Agencies ideally should choose a translator who specialises in the required area and they usually do, so you shouldn't worry about it, because it is their job to find the right person for your project. However, some agencies choose a translator based on the rate they offer rather than their expertise, so watch out for them. A very low quote might be an indication that this is actually the case.

With freelancers you are more in control and thanks to a few indicators, you will quickly see if a given translator specialises in your field:

- website - solid translators specify on their websites what fields they specialise in,

- blog - some translators run a blog where they write about various industries from a linguistic point of view,

- Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media - many translators post and share a lot of industry-specific  content, and you will quickly notice that a legal translator will belong to a few legal groups on LinkedIn and tweet on legal issues.

Checking if a freelance translator specialises in a given area is very important - it won't take up much of your time and is truly worth your effort. Never trust a translator who says they can translate everything.

There. A few tips on how to choose a good (but not the cheapest) translation provider. This should give you an overall view on what to look out for, what to ask and how not to get into common traps. If you want to know a little bit more or have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments or contact me on Also, subscribe to this blog to get more tips on how translation can benefit your business.

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