Finding the right translator can be a daunting task. To many, the translation industry is unknown territory – or even an unknown industry. That is why end users often look for providers in the wrong places. Some try free, online machine translation and get frustrated at the results. Others try a bilingual coworker, a language teacher or a language department at a college, an employee with a foreign country’s embassy or consulate, or anyone else who happens to speak the language. Unfortunately, neither of these options is likely to result in an accurate translation. When you need a professional translation, you need to hire a #professionaltranslator or a translation company.
What is a translator?
Translators work with written language (as opposed to interpreters, who work with spoken language). This article deals with translation, though the same concepts apply to finding an interpreter.
Dispelling the Myths
Machine translation - you get what you pay for:
Google Translate and similar machine translation (MT) services are not reliable sources for accurate translation. Furthermore, any text you enter in Google Translate and similar services becomes searchable on the Internet. That’s probably not where you want to paste a confidential document. Briefly stated, with Google Translate you get the gist; with professional human translation, you get the message.
In fact, with MT there are times when you don't even get the gist, let alone the intended message. Just last week, Japan's #Osakametro had to shut down all foreign language versions of its website after some strange English translations showed up. Thanks to a "Microsoft translation program", the Sakai line became the "Sakai muscle", among other oddities. Apparently, the Osaka metro had hoped to translate its website for free. The result: nonsensical and laughable.
The bilingual coworker:
All translators are (at least) bilingual – but not all bilingual people are translators. Fluency in two languages is one thing; accurately translating from one language to another takes it to a whole different level. Bilingual coworkers often lack industry-specific vocabulary in one of the languages; they may know business speak in English, but not necessarily in Spanish. Moreover, they are not familiar with – let alone proficient in – CAT tools, terminology management and research, or the various translation techniques.
A marketing firm would never hire a copy writer based solely on the fact that the person speaks English. The same concept applies to translation.
The college professor:
What about the language department at the university?
Language professors and teachers specialize in teaching a foreign language. They apply teaching techniques and in-depth knowledge about language acquisition. Often, they are well-versed in literature written in a particular language. Obviously, they are fluent in the language that they teach and have in-depth knowledge of its grammar – but that may not necessarily hold true for the teacher’s second language. While some language professors may perform an occasional translation, it is not the focus of their professional career and does not occupy any significant portion of their time. Expertise in translation comes, among other things, from years of experience in the field.
In a similar way, now that tax season is upon us, I do not run to the office of the university’s math department to have them do my taxes, even though its professors are really good with numbers. I turn to my accountant, because his specialty is taxes and financial statements.
The embassy or consulate:
Embassies and consulates represent a foreign country. Their staff includes diplomats and employees who specialize in a particular aspect of the diplomatic service: government relations, immigration and visa processing, humanitarian aid, etc. While many speak the language of the consulate’s home country, they are not professional translators and do not spend their time translating.
Interpreters interpret; most interpreters don’t translate (though some do).
Though the professional duties of translators and interpreters intersect in many areas, translation and interpretation are two distinct professions that employ vastly different skill sets. Most interpreters do not spend much time translating, and vice versa. Interpreting a court hearing and translating a contract are two different things. True, both disciplines involve legal terminology and knowledge of two different legal systems. But in this case, translating a contract requires expert writing skills and familiarity with contracts; interpreting a court hearing requires mental proficiency in simultaneous and consecutive interpreting, among other things.
In my case, I am a federally certified court interpreter and an ATA-certified translator, and I exercise both professions, but that is not the norm. Interpreters interpret; translators translate. A select few do both. Personally, being a translator has made me a better interpreter, and vice versa. But that’s a topic for a different discussion.
Professional translators hold a degree in translation or in one of their fields of specialization, coupled with years of translation experience. Professional translators seek and obtain translator certifications and credentials that are relevant to (and when available in) their working languages. Personally, I hold a master’s degree in translation from New York University, and I am certified by the American Translators Association as a Danish-English and Spanish-English translator).
Moreover, professional translators specialize in specific fields in which they possess particular expertise, such as law, finance, medicine, engineering, etc. A translator who specializes in translating culinary texts may not necessarily be qualified to translate a real estate contract; a legal translator may not be the best choice for translating software strings. Translators who boast 25 areas of expertise ranging from accounting to zoology really specialize in nothing at all. Ideally, translation customers should look for a translator with expertise in the type of document that they need translated.
Accomplished translators use CAT tools when possible, which includes a translation memory (™). CAT tools (not to be confused with machine translation) are the tools of the trade. In the hands of a savvy translator, CAT tools enhance consistency, quality, and efficiency when translating.
All translators are at least bilingual – but not all polyglots are translators. A thorough knowledge of both languages involved is essential, but a professional translator possesses additional expertise and experience necessary to render a faithful, accurate translation in a particular area of specialization.
How do I find a qualified translator?
One good source for finding an individual translator is the American Translators Association’s directory of translators or an equivalent institution in another country. Most translators translate into their native language. Search for someone specializing in the type of material that you need translated. For example, if you need a legal translation, look for a #legaltranslator.
Another option is to use a translation agency. Translation agencies have access to translators worldwide. In addition, translation agencies typically use some type of quality assurance process, which should involve the use of a second translator to edit and proofread the translation.
At WTS Translations, we make sure to use the services of experienced, professional translators who specialize in specific fields. Click here to learn more about our services.