– Oliver Simões *
Are you looking to streamline your search for the best translators on the market? In this article, I have outlined some ideas on how to go about it. This is not an exhaustive topic by all means. If you have any suggestions or ideas for improvement, please feel free to contact me.
As vast as the translation industry itself, so is the number of professionals available to work on most projects. The question is, how many can deliver an accurate, professional job that truly reflects the author’s intended meaning, by using an appropriate register and without losing or adding stuff? My honest answer: probably not as many as you might think.
First impressions count!
Never underestimate your first impressions; always look for clues. For example, when you land on a translator’s profile or website, what is your gut feeling? Does the page or portal look professional, well-written, complete, and easy to navigate? Or does it look sloppy, incoherent, like the work of a 7th grader? (No offense to 7th graders, it’s just an expression!)
If I were to name the four most important things for translators to have, I would definitely include: experience & practice, theory & techniques, research skills, and work tools.
Experience & Practice
Does the translator(s) you are looking to hire have any previous work experience in the field? A good way to find out is to look at their resume, maybe even ask some field-specific questions or run a short translation test. Remember a couple of things, though: (1) A novice may be a bud waiting to blossom into a beautiful flower, but the only way for that to happen is if you give him/her an opportunity to show his/her talents and skills. (2) Some translators (especially veterans with a degree) do not like to take tests, even more so if they are not getting paid for. In any event, experience alone does not necessarily correlate with good translations. Your best bet is someone with both experience and knowledge. You’ve got to dig deeper.
Theory & Techniques
Some recruiters nurture the misconception that theoretical or technical knowledge about translation is baloney. I would argue exactly for the opposite: theory is extremely important in any translation field. Whether the translator specializes in medical, technical, or literary, he/she has a lot to gain from translation theories and the body of knowledge accumulated over centuries from his/her predecessors. (I am a strong believer in academic, formal training.) How can you expect good results by hiring someone who can’t tell the difference between a calque, a modulation, or an explicitation? Hiring a translator with no theoretical background is like employing a plumber with no formal training and expecting no water leaks in the house, with the major difference that plumbing is mostly manual labor whereas translating is highly intellectual by nature. By the way, did you know that…
Good translators are excellent researchers by default. With an ever-increasing expansion of human knowledge in every single area, it would be unreasonable to expect translators to know everything. That simply won’t happen, and that’s where the translator’s research skills make a big difference. You might be asking: how do I know if that’s the case? Here are my suggestions:
Find out the translator’s ranking in professional directories such as ProZ or Translators’ Cafe. These two platforms offer a grading system based on their members’ performance in terminology and/or language questions. But don’t settle with any magic number that you think might do the trick. Consider the number of points relative to the years of membership. Also, look deeper into the way(s) translators are addressing those questions. Do they provide credible references to back up their claims? Are they professional in their responses? How do they interact with one another? I guess it’s fair to assume that the way a translator portrays him/herself in public won’t differ much from the way they would interact with you!
Tools of the trade
There seems to be an assumption in the field that every translator nowadays has or should have Trados in their toolkit, and if they don’t, they are deemed as not being “up to par” and, therefore, automatically disqualified from the application pool. How sad! The truth is that by requiring their translators to have specific software, employers may be losing excellent professionals. So let me be clear: Trados has never been and never will be a sign of good translation. It’s simply another CAT tool. Personally, I prefer Smartcat and have instinctively decided that I will never be a Trados guy. After all, there is a myriad of CAT tools available, so “chacun à son goût” (each person to his/her taste) and “vive la différence”.
In my experience on the translation platforms, I was shocked to find out that some colleagues appear to have an aversion to dictionaries. Really? You bet. Either they think they know too much or simply assume that dictionary-makers don’t know enough. I find it mind-blogging that some translators are operating from that standpoint. For me, dictionaries and other reference materials are the “bread and butter” of my profession.
Other factors no less important in the quest for the best translators (or word crafters, if you will) are:
Excellent translators care about the image they want to project. Their demeanor is nothing less than professional, starting from the first encounter with a potential client. They craft their communications (in writing or over the phone) in clear, Standard English (or whatever their language might be) with proper punctuation, capitalization, and other conventions of writing or speech. Ideally, they have a website or profile page with samples of their work, client testimonials, and other information that’s relevant to know. A well-crafted, error-free resume might be a good indicator of the quality of work ahead.
Ability to meet deadlines
Needless to say, good translators bend over backward to meet deadlines. If for some reason they can’t, they will let their employer know ahead of time instead of waiting until the last minute.
Spirit of teamwork
The best translators I’ve known are guided by a sense of teamwork. They are great team players who love to impart their knowledge and expertise instead of hiding in ivory towers and keeping for themselves all the skills and know-how they have gained in life.
The price differential
Last but not least, each translator comes with a price tag. With the technological advances and an increasing competition in the workforce (now aggravated by the pandemic), it’s possible to find people willing to work for much lower rates. To make matters worse, there is a well-known practice on the part of some agencies to maximize their ROI to the detriment of the work quality. A few months ago I was offered $0.015 USD per word by a translation agency. No kidding. Upon my flat refusal, they jumped the offer to $0.04 USD, which is still way below what a technical translator should be making in any specialized field. The bottom-line is simple: you get what you pay for. As expected, low wages and poor working conditions usually mean low morale, poor quality, and a higher probability of financial losses for the end-user! Employers have the power to balance their budgets between a projected ROI and the quality of work they wish to get in return. The decision to level the playing field is entirely up to them.
Oliver Simões is a native of Brazil, a former ESL/Portuguese instructor, with 20+ years of combined experience as a translator, interpreter, reviewer, copywriter, and movie/video subtitler. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Translation and Interpretation (Unibero, Brazil) and a Master of Arts in ESL (University of Arizona, USA). He is currently working on a dictionary of idioms in English and Brazilian Portuguese.