The barriers to international communication and commerce have never been smaller. Company offices worldwide can communicate seamlessly. Individuals can buy foreign products, visit foreign countries, watch foreign television and more without much effort.
Despite the simplification of once-difficult or impossible tasks that have accompanied globalization, language can still present an obstacle.
This is particularly true if you are a company doing business overseas, or an individual trying to visit, study in, or put down roots in a new country.
You’ve probably guessed the solution already: Translation.
But there’s one problem:
Not all translations are created equal; and many translations are not accepted by clients and shareholders, educational institutions, consulates, embassies, and myriad other official entities if they are not completed by a professional translator.
In this post, we are going to navigate the situations, on both the business and personal side, that call for a professional translator, and explain the overall importance of professional translation.
Let’s get started!
This is a crucial question we’ll need to tackle before explaining the importance of professional translation.
Let’s start with what professional translation is not.
Now that the disqualifiers are out of the way, let’s talk about what professional translation is.
We would define professional translation as a translation that is produced either by a credible and reputable translation agency or by an accredited freelance translator (more on accreditations later).
Translation agencies often have a combination of full-time translators and freelance translators in a variety of languages, and are able to show evidence of success through a variety of means, such as:
After all, you wouldn’t want to end up with a debacle like this one.
Professional translators working for an agency or on an independent basis often have specific industry expertise that may or may not lend itself to the type of translation you need to have completed.
Before choosing a translator or a company to work with, you should share a bit about your project and ask about the specific translator’s industry expertise. In other words, a professional Italian translator who specializes in legal translation may not be the best fit for the translation of a marketing brochure.
If your conversation with a potential translator goes anything like this ...
You: “Hi, I need to translate 20 pages from English to German.”
Translator: “Okay. That’ll be $1,000”
… choose someone else.
While the above example may seem exaggerated, it’s common for less reputable translators to charge flat rates without inquiring at all about the nature of the subject matter.
A professional translator will almost always ask to review the document in need of translation. It's crucial for translators to review documents before providing quotes because pricing, timelines, and even their ability to successfully translate the document will depend on the contents of the document.
And there are countless other reasons. Moral of the story: Be sure any translator you’re considering asks the right questions. If they don’t, it’s a red flag signaling inexperience or malicious intent.
“I did two years of Spanish in college” doesn’t count.
A professional translator is either a native-speaker of the target or source language, or has spent years learning it at a high level.
Only native speakers or semi-native linguists have the ability to understand not only the ins and outs of the language in question, but also the nuances of the culture behind it.
Translation is about more than swapping words from one language to another. It requires a vast and contextual understanding of culture. Be sure your professional translator is a native or native-level speaker.
Note that this also works the other way around:
Just because someone is a native speaker in the target language of your translation, that does not mean they automatically qualify as a professional translator. Any professional translator needs to check all four of the above boxes, not just the last one.
Feeling equipped with the knowledge you need to choose a professional translator?
Let’s move forward!
Now that we know what constitutes “Professional Translation,” we can identify the situations in which professional translation is necessary.
Let’s split it up based on whether you are searching for professional translation services on behalf of a business or are looking to have something translated for yourself.
Sales reps using what they remember from their old College Spanish course to translate a brochure because the company wants to save money.
Marketing departments finding an inexpensive translation service overseas only to find that their final product is riddled with errors.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Companies that engage in successful communication with global customers, shareholders, and employees understand that translation is more than transliteration (the transfer of words from one language to another).
These global companies make a serious commitment to investing in the accuracy and cultural appropriateness of their company’s internal and external messaging.
Here are some of the situations in which businesses, large and small, may need to engage the services of a professional translation company:
Let’s take another look at the four identifiers of a professional translator from the section above (listed below):
With these in mind, it becomes quite clear that all translation at the business level needs to be professionally done, no matter the size of the business.
Large companies may have in-house teams or benefit from established relationships with specialized professional translation agencies. Small companies may work with freelance professional translators or smaller agencies.
But the common thread is a need for all of the work to be completed by a professional, or a group of professionals, in order to be reliable.
On the individual side, you will find that things are quite similar.
While individuals don’t need to portray accurate marketing or sales messages to global audiences, they do need their personal documents and/or vital records to be translated accurately in order to be admissible.
Let’s first take a look at the the situations in which an individual might need professional document translation:
It’s important to understand the situations in which such translations are needed, because once we understand this, we can look at the requirements set by the institutions that are requesting such documents to be translated in the first place.
Jenny is a U.S. college student in California who wants to study abroad in Spain. The Spanish university requires her past transcripts to be translated in order to determine whether she meets the academic and course requirements for admission to the program.
Joe is a U.S. citizen whose father is a first-generation immigrant from Italy. Joe lives in Minnesota, but he wants to get Italian citizenship. The Italian Consulate of his jurisdiction requires that all of the pertinent vital records be translated into Italian and their accuracy certified by a professional translator.
Anne was married in Argentina but now resides in the U.S. and is filing for divorce. The courts in New York, where she lives, require accurate, certified marriage records translated into English in order to move forward with the process.
In all of the cases above, there is one common thread:
The institution in charge of validating the desired result, whether it is citizenship, a term abroad, or a divorce, needs an accurate translation of the documents from the source language.
Some even require certification, which can only be provided by a professional translator.
In essence, translations done on the behalf of an individual are just as likely as business translations to require the engagement of a professional translator or agency.
Let’s learn more about the importance of professional translation.
Now that we’ve defined professional translation, as well as the situations in which a business or individual might need it, let’s dive deeper into the specifics.
Here are 13 reasons why you should choose to hire a professional translator or translation company.
This may seem obvious but it is often overlooked.
It is a professional translator’s job to provide individuals with accurate translations that will be accepted by legal, governmental, or institutional entities, and businesses with translations that will communicate effectively and accurately with their global audience.
Accurate translation goes hand in hand with some other factors that we will touch on a bit later.
Earlier we discussed the fact that translation needs to go beyond transliteration.
A professional translator will be able to provide a nuanced translation that bridges cultural gaps between source and target language documents
This level of nuance and cultural proficiency is almost impossible to find in an inexperienced or non native-level translator.
Just as a translator needs to have native-level cultural proficiency in both the source and target language, he or she also needs to possess specialized knowledge in the subject matter at hand.
In other words, a translator with decades of experience in the marketing field may not be the best fit for a complex legal translation project, or the translation of a highly specialized technical manual.
Specialization is imperative when it comes to translating complex material.
A specialized skill-set, combined with native-level proficiency and sufficient translation experience can only be found at the professional level.
If you are searching for professional translation services on behalf of a business, it’s because you understand that the benefits of hiring a professional are not only related to translation but also to localization.
Consider a U.S. based restaurant chain that wants to expand overseas. Sure, the marketing department could simply hire a cheap translator to translate the menu and marketing content, but will this resonate overseas?
If you’ve been to a McDonald’s in France or Italy or Japan, you know that the menu is different because the cultures and food preferences in those countries are different.
By means of native-level proficiency and experience with localization, a professional translator can help sell these new food offerings to potential customers in the target market.
Professional translation companies are kept accountable by the fact that in order to run reputable companies and continue to earn work of mouth business and good reviews, they need to deliver on time.
Amateur translators are accountable to no such standards, which makes timelines much shakier.
Of course, even among professional translation companies, there will be variations in quality and timeliness, but overall, you’re much safer with a professional.
By nature, the translation industry is prone to concerns over confidentiality because documents with important, confidential information get passed from client to translator, translator to editor, and then back to the client.
An individual who engages translation services may be concerned about his or her legal documents or vital records being leaked, or irresponsibly handles.
A company has even more reason to be cautious, as unreleased products or services could leak, not to mention corporate legal documents or confidential HR information.
Because of this, when confidentiality is at stake, it’s vital to work with either a professional freelance translator or a professional translation company.
Professional translation companies often have measures in place to protect client confidentiality.
These confidentiality measures usually include, but are not limited to the following:
The bottom line?
Be sure you trust who you send your documents to.
If you send your documents to an amateur translator for translation, you will likely get a price and a delivery date, but not much else.
You will be left to wonder what the translation process will be. Does the translator complete one draft or multiple? Is there an editing process? Will they be using translation software?
If you don’t know the answer to these questions, you don’t have a clear picture of the translation process, and a clear, effective process is essential to any successful translation project.
We’ve seen many examples of inconsistent translations. By inconsistent, we mean that the same word is translated in multiple ways in one translation.
There are cases where this may be acceptable: Some languages have more nuanced ways to translate certain words, depending on context.
But consider the situations in which consistency is vital:
“THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES”
What if the name of the above government entity were to show up in two different forms in the same document?
We would be left wondering whether the translation was incorrect or whether there were actually two similarly-named government entities mentioned in the document.
This is unacceptable, yet it happens often among amateur translators.
So how do professional translators address it?
One of the first steps a professional translator does is to create a language guide. This is some sort of document or written note that identifies the most accurate translation for common words in the document and ensures that this word is used in every instance.
Consistency can be the difference between a translation being accepted and rejected. Going with a professional ensures that translations will be consistent and accurate.
You may be thinking this sounds counterintuitive, but trust us, it isn’t!
Over the years, we have been approached by hundreds of clients who have taken the cheap route, received a sub-par product, and needed to re-translate the document in order for it to be accepted.
Needless to say, hiring a professional shaves off the wasted time, money and risk that goes hand in hand with taking the non-professional route.
Working with a freelance translator may not always be the right choice. Often, freelancers and amateur translators get bogged down with projects and do not have time to service more clients.
This can be particularly bad for individuals or companies who are in need of same-day or rush translation services, and don’t have another resource at the ready.
Professional translation companies have the bandwidth to service many projects at once and do so without sacrificing quality.
If you are an individual in need of Certified Translation, you will need to work with a trustworthy, professional translator.
Professional translators are familiar with the process of attaching a signed affidavit of accuracy to their translations.
Inexperienced translators are not able to reliably provide this service.
A professional translator is also attentive to the general look and format of a document. Factors like font, font size, page breaks, and bolded text are taken into account to create the most accurate portrayal of the source document possible.
Professional translators and translation companies are also more flexible when it comes to the file formats used for editing and saving the translation.
Many professional translation companies offer desktop publishing in addition to translation.
Professional translation companies almost always offer multiple language pairs, sometimes hundreds.
Freelancers and amateur translators can only offer translation in one language at a time (and often one language, period).
It simply doesn’t make sense for a company in need of translating something from the source language to multiple different target languages to work with an entity that cannot take on the entire project.
Working with a professional translation company is faster, more efficient, and more consistent. It also eliminates the struggle of finding and selecting multiple freelancers.
You know why you should hire a professional for your next translation project. All that’s left is to clear up some confusion:
The following terms often get thrown around the internet as if they are one and the same:
Really, they have completely different meanings. How ironic that vocabulary-based confusion exists in the translation industry, right?
We’ve already defined “Professional Translator” at length. Let’s dive into the other two definitions, as it’s important to understand them before seeking out a translator.
When someone says they are in need of a “Certified Translator,” they are likely confusing two definitions:
The first thing they might mean is that they are looking for an accredited translator (we’ll define that a bit later).
The other possible meaning is that they are in need of a “Certified Translation.”
A certified translation is a translation that comes with an affidavit of accuracy signed by the translator. These are often required by government entities to approve things like citizenship applications, and as discussed above, can be provided by most professional translators.
A “Certified Translator,” on the other hand, is not a universally recognized term in the translation industry.
We discuss the correct term, “Accredited Translator,” below.
An Accredited translator is a translation professional who has been tested, evaluated, and approved by an association or government body.
In other words, accreditation means that a specific professional association or government body recognizes a translator as qualified.
There are many types of translation accreditations.
Feel free to explore the sites to learn more about the nature of each accreditation.
There are numerous other associations that provide accreditation to translators. Some of them pertain to specific languages, some to specific industries.
There are many benefits that go hand in hand with accreditation.
For one, if a translator can prove that he or she is accredited, a prospective client may be more likely to trust that the translator is competent. After all, as we’ve learned, accreditation has to be earned by demonstrating competence.
Some accreditations, such as ATA, go along with a code of ethics to which translators are bound, which can give prospective clients peace of mind.
But on the other hand, an “Accredited Translator” isn’t synonymous with “Great Translator” in the same way that “Non-Accredited Translator” isn’t synonymous with “Bad Translator.”
We have learned over the years that the best way to gauge the competence of a translator is to heavily vet our applicants based on the four key defining characteristics of a professional translator that we presented early in this post.
No need to scroll back up. Here they are:
We have many accredited translators on our team, as well as many translators who are not accredited. All are seasoned professionals that have been evaluated based on their ability to adhere to the four key characteristics above.
To put it simply, one does not need to be accredited in order to be a professional translator, and whether accredited or not, a translator needs to exhibit specific qualities in order to be considered professional. When to use “non-professional” translation or machine translation
Of course. In fact, there are many.
A good rule of thumb is that any translation with professional or legal implications needs to be completed by a professional translator.
But there are plenty of things that don’t fit under that umbrella:
Are you trying to learn a language? Do you have a foreign pen pal or business acquaintance? This sort of communication, while it can benefit from translation, does not require use of a professional translator.
Sometimes it’s fun to learn the language by piecing words together using dictionaries and online translators. No harm done if it isn’t professionally certified.
Last but not least, even professional translators make use of translation software. However, the key here is that they don’t rely on it.
Many translation agencies license advanced translation software that helps translators with the accuracy and effectiveness of their translation.
Keep in mind that these programs are only used as a reference. Just as an author might use a thesaurus to help guide a perfect word choice, a translator may make use of software to nail the translation of a specific term.
In this post, we’ve discussed the definition of “Professional Translation” and explained why businesses and individuals in search of translation service providers cannot afford to settle for a professionally translated product.
Feel free to bookmark this post for the next time you embark on a search for a professional translator. It will help you look for the right credentials, ask the right questions, and make a decision with confidence.
Do you have any questions for us? Did we miss anything you feel should be included in this post? We want to hear from you!
Feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call at +1 (651) 699-8442
It’s our goal to empower businesses and individuals with all of the skills and knowledge necessary to confidently choose a professional translation partner they can trust.