A good PA possesses a range of skills and competencies. But as much as we would like to, we can’t rise to all demands of the job. Dealing with foreign languages is one of those times you’ll need to call in the cavalry.

But with search results throwing a real mixed bag of translators at you, it’s difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. Sadly, the difference is only really apparent once the job has been completed unless you know what you’re looking for.

When you’re working with tight deadlines, choosing a quality translation service from the onset can make an immense difference, and spare your nerves.

Agencies vs. private translators

Larger companies that repeatedly need translations from one specific language into another may eventually invest in hiring an in-house translator – or at least, will establish a long-standing relationship with one or two freelance translators.

This has the advantage of an opportunity to build a professional relationship with a translator, and also the translator will have a chance to adapt to your style and acquire a specialised knowledge of your field.

In these circumstances, a freelance translator can be a viable option. But for more sporadic translation jobs into languages that might vary, you’re almost always better off using an agency.

Jennifer Ball from London Translations tells us that large translation projects are complex, involving many people each with different skills along with specialist software and tools. Managing such projects is a full time specialist job and hence outsourcing to an agency can actually work out cheaper than hiring and training in-house project managers.

It can also be useful to remember that many reputable translation companies will also carry insurance to protect you in the event of unforeseen problems.

Getting what you’ve paid for

One simple way of avoiding a translation scam, where the price keeps edging upwards, is to look for a company that charges based on the source document’s word count. Often in translation a phenomena called ‘word expansion’ occurs – the growth of a word count. For instance when English is translated into Spanish the word count can expand by 25%. By paying for the source texts word count you are unlikely to face a creeping price tag.

Another factor to take into account is the technology used by the translator. As there is a lot of free technology available they have to make their prices competitive. That can lead to unfortunate corner cutting like the use of free programmes themselves, which will hugely reduce the quality of their resultant document.

Using a company that partakes in computer-assisted translation (CAT) can be a great choice. The technology learns through an interactive process with the translator and translates sentences at a time, searching through its computerised memory to find a relevant and apt match. This is then checked, and corrected when needed, by the translator.

This means that a service will be much more efficient and thus can charge a lower rate whilst maintaining a very high standard of quality.

Knowing when to ask for references and if they can be trusted

You should always check the individual’s or the service’s credentials. Firstly, check for relevant qualifications. If you use an agency they should be able to provide you with their criteria for hiring translators and how they exercise quality control which can give a good indication of their trustworthiness.

You can also check if they are a member of any of the well respected translation associations. The following associations vet prospective members, often quite thoroughly, before allowing them to join.

  • Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI)
  • Institute of Linguists (IoL)
  • Societe française des traducteurs (SFT)
  • Institute of Linguists American Translators Associations (ATA)
  • US National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators AIIC

But if in any doubt at all, it is safest to always ask for references. Unfortunately this cannot be guarantee because there are always those dishonest few out there, but it can help. You can always assign them a quick test translation just to double check they’re capable of good quality work.

Location, location, location

Proximity to you or your business are by no means essential. In fact, it is an important rule of thumb that your translator is actually residing in the country whose language you want to be translated into.

This way your translation automatically has an element of localisation within it. Rather than translating a source text academically they’ll be using the phrases of their native tongue to ensure authenticity and thus communicating the message much more effectively.

Locality can be one of the most important factors in translation, whether you are working with an individual or an agency, so make sure your translator is working in their mother tongue.

This post is sponsored by London Translations. Follow the link for more information about Practically Perfect PA’s sponsored posts.

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