Last week, I was visiting the website of a certain country’s embassy in the U.S. (yes, I’m deliberately protecting their identity because they’ve promised that the issue is being rectified!) and just out of curiosity, checked to see if they had any information about translation, since this country’s official language is not English.
I was at first excited to see that they did, in fact, have a section about translation, but my elation soon turned to something akin to horror when I saw that their translation advice was to visit the yellow pages to find a translator since the embassy itself does not offer translation services. This made me think that many such establishments are in a similar bind: they get requests for translation services, but don’t want to handle the requests themselves and therefore need to direct people somewhere else. So, here are a few tips on finding a translator, and on why the yellow pages aren’t the best option:
Being bilingual does not a translator make. Translators need other skills such as specialized vocabulary, familiarity with the conventions of the industry, business management skills, etc. In addition, professional translators should be working into their native language only, not into their second, third, etc. language. Using someone who is established as a professional translator is key.
Finding a qualified translator is the first step in procuring a quality translation, and a sloppy translation is expensive, embarrassing and time-consuming. Why not do it right the first time? Your brother’s girlfriend may have studied abroad in Italy, but she’s probably not the best choice to translate your annual report into Italian.
Probably the best resource for finding a translator (assuming that you are not plugged in to the industry and don’t have access to a word of mouth referral) is a professional association for translators. In the U.S., the American Translators Association has its member directory online and you can search using pretty much any criteria you would like: location, specialization, language pair, ATA certification, etc. In addition, many states and large metro areas have translators associations with online membership directories too, for example our local Colorado Translators Association also has one, and using a local person can be a good option when you are new to purchasing translations or may need someone with whom you can meet in person.
Various other countries have active translators associations as well, for example the SFT (France), the ITI (UK), OTTIAQ (Quebec) and many more. These are excellent resources if you are located in those countries, or if you would like to use an in-country translator.
In certain cases, online translation marketplaces such as ProZ and TranslatorsCafe can be helpful too. Unfortunately, these marketplaces have a bit of a “reverse auction” reputation in the industry, as places where translation buyers go to get rock-bottom rates or insane turnaround times. However, I think that they can be useful when the translation buyer is dealing with an obscure language that is hard to find otherwise, and when the buyer, instead of posting the job on the marketplace’s job board, contacts the translator directly via the website.