This post will share some secrets for finding the right professional or company to translate your document. The first 2 are inviolable cardinal rules of translation.

  1. Cardinal rule #1: Find a subject matter expert (SME)! This is almost more important than finding someone with language expertise. Why? Because the grammar of your translation is easily fixable, whereas misunderstanding of the material is not so easy to “edit” for. Why is “edit” in quotes? Sometimes an “edit” is really more of a rewrite. What happens if you don’t use an SME? You will get drug inserts for “soluble red trembling salts” used for “static gland injections.” And you will spend lots of time and money having them fixed by SMEs – more than if you had them done right from the beginning. If you hire an agency, be sure to inquire about the  qualifications of the SME(s) who will be handling your document.
  2. Cardinal rule #2: Find a native speaker of the target language (the language into which your document is being translated)! This is from an actual translation that I was asked to “edit”: “Depression or other psychiatric disorders are at risk of suicide themselves.” The meaning of this is relatively apparent, but the grammar totally misses the mark. This was a Chinese > English translation most likely completed by a native Chinese speaker instead of a native English speaker. It took many hours to get the document into decent shape – time and money the client could have saved by getting a good initial translation. If you hire an agency, be sure to inquire about the native language of their translator(s).
  3. Think carefully about whether you need to hire an agency or a freelance professional. Are you localizing your website into 19 languages and need it done yesterday? Or are you translating a series of specialized documents in which consistency and subject matter expertise are of the utmost importance? Is the translation destined for in-house use or publication to a wide audience? For more thoughts on this subject, consult my post Whom should you hire? ‎
  4. The American Translators Association Directory is a great place to start looking for your ideal service provider. For more information, tips, and tools, consult the American Translators Association’s fabulous translation purchasing guide Getting It Right.

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