Why should I use the services of a professional translator?

In a shrinking business world, more and more companies will encounter the need for translation, by which we normally mean the transfer of meaning between the written or printed forms of languages.

This could range from the need to understand the meaning of incoming correspondence or printed matter in foreign languages to the need to produce material (e.g. promotional or technical) in the language of foreign clients or associates.

The effects of inadequate translation can vary from laughter to serious misunderstanding and even offence on the part of the recipient. While we may relish the 'howlers' perpetrated by translators of foreign language notices and instructions into English 'We take your baggages and send them off in different directions…', we are often unaware that reciprocal errors are amusing, baffling or enraging our customers!

Whom should I employ and on what basis?

Depending on the frequency of this need and the level of technicality required, you might either employ competent linguists as in-house staff translators or buy in the services of a freelance translator (whom you might contact personally or through an agency) or a translation company. Translation companies (rather like large law firms) can collectively offer a wider-ranging service than individual translators (who may nonetheless be excellent in their chosen areas.)

Translation companies, because they employ their staff on a regular basis, are more likely than agencies to be able to vouch for the competence of the staff they offer you. If you deal with either an agency or a company, it is worth enquiring what quality assurance systems they operate with respect to their employees. Do they insist on the employee having a diploma in translation or an NVQ in translating ? (The latter soon to become a recognised qualification.) What is the minimum required level for any language from which they translate.

Competence, in the context of business or industry, may often be best provided by a fluent or native writer of the target language who is also experienced in the specialist field in which you want them to work.

You will of course need to specify from what language to what other language you require translation. It is customary for professional translators to translate into their mother tongue rather than into a language which is foreign to them.

Once engaged, the translator must be clear about the nature of the task and the required outcome.

What does the translator need to know about the translation task?

Apart from the obvious matter of which languages are involved, a translator must be briefed as to the purpose, the target readership, and the required quality and style of the translation. It can be very helpful to the translator if reference material in the form of prior documentation can be provided (e.g. earlier technical specifications in the language of the intended translation). If they are given a regular contact person in the company who is familiar with the material, a lot of time can be saved in clarifying problems arising.

What practical issues need to be made clear?

The translator must know whether they are required to incorporate any layout and typographical features into their finished version and in what form they should submit it (e.g. in hard copy or on disk and if the latter in which word-processing or desktop publishing application).

Delivery dates and legal and financial matters regarding the translation should be discussed and fully agreed before the work is undertaken.

How can I have any idea whether I am engaging a competent translator?

Translators have their own qualifications and professional associations. The best known of these are listed below. It should also be apparent when you talk to a translator whether they are organised and systematic in their approach to your requirements. They will probably be proactive and suggest helpful approaches to the task.
One way of making contact with a range of professional translators is to use the CILT, the National Centre for Languages, BLIS Professionals database. This will enable you to locate the translators in a given area who are most likely to be able to handle the languages and specialisms you require.

Other useful contacts:

Here are the web sites of professional associations whom you might wish to contact for further advice.
The Institute of Linguists http://www.iol.org.uk/
The Institute of Translating and Interpreting http://www.iti.org.uk/

Membership of the above is normally associated with recognised translating qualifications:

· As a general principle anyone aspiring to work as a translator would have a minimum of a good honours degree in the language from which they translate. (The above professional bodies might accept on application one of a number of acceptable alternatives judged on individual merit.)

· Additionally, it would be normal for the individual to have followed a postgraduate diploma course or a course leading to the Institute of Linguists' Diplomas in Translation. The Institute of Translation and Interpreting requires those with qualified member status to have passed a membership test, in addition to having practised for a specified time. For full details of professional bodies' requirements, see their websites. 

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