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7 tips for clients to get a translation that works

Yesterday, I received the following e-mail from a potential client: “I need the translation of a technical document urgently. They are only a few pages. Please send me a quote.” This is a very common message from companies requesting a translation. No file is attached, nor is the language specified. Do you need a translation from English into Italian? Or into German? Is it a financial brochure or a legal document? Is it for publication? Urgent means tomorrow, or within the end of the week?

To get a quote first, and then the right translation, more information is needed on what you need and how you want it. That’s why investing time to communicate your needs in detail to the translator is critical to get what you need.

Here are some tips for clients to get a translation that works based on my professional experience.

1.  Select documents to be translated

Are you planning to enter a new market abroad, or you are going to present your products to a prospect client? You will need to translate documents and presentations into a foreign language, i.e. from English into Italian. First of all, select the documents to be translated according to your purpose. It is a matter of strategy. And you have to decide.

2.      Think “global” right from the start

Some source texts that translators receive for translation are full of references to one specific culture, such as clichés, references to baseball (which is hardly familiar to Italian readers!), metaphors or puns. Professional translators are experts in localising, though if you link untranslatable words with pictures, it will be much more difficult to find the right wordplay for the destination market.

3.      Plan ahead

Most of the time clients call a translator at the last minute, when documents to be translated are ready, sometimes after weeks of preparation. If you have recurrent jobs or you are planning to launch a new product on a certain date, plan in advance. Look for a translator, ask for availability, and book a service beforehand. The translator may tell you how long it will take to translate 10 or 30 pages, with no urgency. Give your translator as much lead time as possible.

4.      Ask a professional translator

First of all use a person, not a machine. Machine translation may be useful if you need to know what is in the menu at a restaurant abroad, but not if you need to translate a financial press release. You will notice the difference!

Resist also the temptation to do it yourself or ask your friend who studied French at school, and do not ask an English literature teacher to translate a profit and loss account. And remember, bilinguals are not necessarily good translators.

Professional translators practice translation as a professional service, receive compensation for this, and have the necessary skills, education, and expertise in a certain industry. They stick to certain quality standards and should be entrepreneurs with professional ethics.

5.      Specify purpose and destination of your translation

The document’s purpose and destination are very important for professional translators. Some translations are for internal or information purposes, sometimes “technical”. They are different from documents for publication. Style and terminology are different. A fund factsheet with data and numbers is different from sales material.

6.      Be realistic as for price and time

How many pages can a professional translator produce in an hour? Just think, how much time did you spend producing the original? Of course, a professional translator can translate a text into their native language in a relatively short time. However, in order to produce high-quality texts, the translator has to be set a realistic deadline.  Do not always ask you translation for “yesterday”. If it is really urgent, do not hesitate to specify your deadline, though if you can wait one day longer, help the translator to give you a better service.

7.      Collaborate with the translator

Work together with the translator, reply to his/her questions. Send reference material or a glossary, if you have one. Or you can ask the translator to prepare one. Give feed-back. It will be mostly welcomed by the translator who will take note of your suggestions and apply them the next time.

The “right” translation depends on what you need and how you want it. So, invest time communicating your needs in detail.

Please share with me your experience or your opinion.  Leave your comment below.

Or you may also be interested in reading my brief presentation “7 tips for clients”.