Ahhh, the age-old question. Say you have a foreign language document sitting on your desk and really need to know what it says. Should you reach out to a translation agency or an independent translator?

In general, translation agencies will tell you to hire an agency, and independent translators (a.k.a., freelancers) will tell you to hire a freelancer. Here are the pros and cons from both sides:

Agency pros: Agencies often have project management staff to manage your project, which can be especially helpful if you need a document translated into several different languages. Some agencies are ISO-certified, which may be of interest to you.

Agency cons: Agencies need to make a profit just like everyone else, so your project will likely cost more with an agency than with a freelancer. Also, you often do not know who is actually doing the translation and cannot speak with the translator directly, which may increase the chances of miscommunication and lead to quality variations. The agency may build quality control into their management process, but you don’t know the expertise or language proficiency of the QC personnel.

Freelancer pros: You can select a freelancer with the exact experience and knowledge your project requires. Medical document? Hire a doctor! Legal contract? Hire a lawyer! You can get to know this person and directly communicate with them about project requirements. Better yet, the freelancer will become well-versed in your specific subject and put out better and better work as your relationship evolves. Your project will cost less and turn around more quickly than with an agency, and quality control is a snap.

Freelancer cons: If your freelancer is unavailable for a particular project, you may be out of luck. Also, freelancers may not be able to offer you as many language choices or editing/desktop publishing services as an agency, though many freelance translators do work with partners to edit their work. One freelancer may not be equipped to handle an extremely long document or translation of a document into multiple languages as quickly as an agency could.

Summary: In short, there are pros and cons on both sides, and you must determine the best fit for you. In general, be sure that whoever translates your document is a subject matter expert in your field and a native speaker of the “target” language (the language into which they are translating). Without these two essential requirements, you are destined to receive an inferior product.

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