How to choose a translator

In one of the previous posts I've talked about the different ways to look for a translator and the challenges they present: search results by themselves will not help you find the right translator for your project.

There's no such thing as 'just' a translation: translation decisions are made based on the context

One of my translation teachers at college had a pet peeve: using “just” when justifying their translation decisions.

Saying “I just thought that…” (especially if you followed up “I should use the word that’s in the dictionary”) was a sure way to be reprimanded. Rightly so: there’s no such thing as “just a translation”; it exists within a certain context and translators make decisions based on it. This context also helps you determine which translator or a translation company would be the right fit.

Below are some suggestions on setting up a selection process and a list of the American Translators Association resources that can help fine-tune it and make your translation project a success.

Is your translation project an investment?

Be clear about the relative importance of this project for you

This will determine how much effort you are ready to spend on finding the right match, how much time you are ready to devote to providing answers to translator's questions, and how much you're willing to spend on this project. As Miriam Hurley points out in her article, sometimes quality is not that important. But then again, sometimes it is.

For important translations spending all this time and money will be an investment in getting your text just right in a foreign language and diminishing risk of getting a translation that won't help you achieve your goals. If you do not expect this project to have a huge impact on your company's bottom line, you'll probably adjust your search accordingly.

Tight deadlines mean less creative and polished translations.

Project restrictions: volume and timing

How large is your project, how many language pairs, how soon do you need the translation?

Do you need the translation as soon as possible, and into 20 languages at once? Translation agencies would probably be better able to accommodate a large rush multi-language project, and you won't have to field questions from 20 different translators at the same time.

However, this is not the best strategy for important projects: tight deadlines mean less creative and polished translations (there are other potential drawbacks, as pointed out by Francesca Airaghi in her article on the same topic).

Project restrictions: difficulty, specialization, style

Is topic general or specialized, who’s the intended audience: end customers, potential clients, or is the document intended for internal use?

Answers to these questions will determine what kind and degree of specialization, industry and translation experience you’ll be looking for.

Selection criteria: taking time to make the right choice

How will you set up a selection process? Evaluate the final translation? If yes, how?

Several ways to diminish risks at the selection stage: ask for samples, set up a pilot (or test) project, or discuss translation process and your needs in detail and provide reference materials, such as glossaries or past translations.

Checking a translation can be done either internally or externally; in either case, make sure you have enough time to discuss changes with the original translator (see Translation: Getting it Right for an example of why this is important).


The American Translators Association has several resources that can be of use: an ATA publication Translation: Getting it Right, and ATA Compass articles:

Other blog topics

Ekaterina Howard, English to Russian and German to Russian business, marketing and real estate translations

Ekaterina Howard, Pinwheel Translations

English to Russian and German to Russian translator working with business, marketing and real estate materials. ATA and CATI member.

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