Tips on buying translations

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Buying something that you haven’t had to source before can be a bit of a minefield. To make it more straightforward, here are some general tips:

  • Translation is taking a (written) text in one language and putting it into another. If you want someone to translate your spoken words, you need an interpreter. Cate deals only in the written word.
  • Professional translators usually work only into one language, most often their mother tongue. Cate translates only into English.
  • Translators may have one or more languages they translate out of, but no one can handle all the languages in the world (there are about 6000 of them).
  • Often, professional translators master a specific subject field and then work pretty much only in that. This means you can rely on them to keep up to date with developments in the industry they specialise in and to write knowledgeably in their translations. Don’t be afraid to ask the translator how they developed their specialist knowledge of your sector …
  • … and don’t be surprised if they ask questions about the text you’ve sent them: this shows they are determined to “get to the bottom” of anything that is unclear and make sure the translation truly reflects what the author meant.
  • Translation is normally charged by volume: in the UK by the word; in Germany by the standard line of 55 keystrokes; in Italy by standard page. For something highly creative such as advertising copy, you may be quoted a rate per hour instead.
  • There can be a big difference in the word count in different languages (think of German words like Donaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaft, which would be the Danube steamship tours company in English). Make sure you know whether the word count will be by the original or the translation.
  • Unlike the work of a professional (human) translator, GoogleTranslate and its like on the Web are completely free. But bear in mind that when you put a text into GoogleTranslate you are giving Google a licence to add the text to its database and use it. It’s never advisable to put into a Web translation engine a text that you would not publish on the Web. Another problem is that if you don’t read the language the translation is in, you can’t be sure what you are saying – so it’s not really suitable for customer-facing work.
  • It’s worth building a relationship with your translation supplier – rather than picking a new supplier each time. That way you can be sure your texts are translated using the same terminology from one time to the next.
  • You can find much more practical advice in the booklet “Getting It Right”, available from ITI’s website, by clicking here.

If you have other questions, don’t hesitate to telephone or email and I’ll be pleased to help.