Choosing between a freelance translator or a translation agency

BlogueTranslation reviewed by David Mein -

You have translation needs and you are looking for a translation vendor. You’ve known for a while that just because someone speaks two languages (or three, or four, or zillions as a matter of fact), that does not make him or her a good translator. So you have decided that what you are looking for is a professional translator. Then your next question is: should I go with a freelancer or a language service provider? Well, it all depends on your short- and long-term requirements.

Freelance translators

  • They hold a university degree in translation (ask for their resume).
  • Ideally, they are members of a professional translators association (in Quebec, that would be the professional order called OTTIAQ).
  • They work alone from home, although, whenever necessary, they can call upon peers with whom they have developed a professional relationship.
  • Their rates are usually lower than those of a language service provider.

Choose a freelancer when:

  1. You only need a translation done once in a while.
  2. You only ever have a few short documents to translate each week.
  3. You have big documents to translate, but you do not need them done immediately.
  4. You have documents to be translated which relate to a domain in which the freelancer you are planning to hire is especially experienced.
  5. You have your own reviser/editor, or the freelancer has his or her own (other than himself or herself).
  6. You personally manage your translation projects relatively closely.

Language service providers

  • They have a staff of many professionals, including translators, revisers and project managers.
  • As is the case with freelancers, their translators hold a university degree in translation (ask for their resumes) and should ideally be members of a professional translators association.
  • Their translation process usually includes many different people, including the project manager (who receives the documents, monitors the work and delivers the translation), one or more translators and one reviser (responsible for the linguistic quality of the resulting translation).
  • Their rates are usually higher than those of a freelance translator.

Choose a language service provider when:

  1. You have recurring/daily needs for translation.
  2. You sometimes need the translation done right away.
  3. Your documents to be translated are in a specialized format such as InDesign, XML and others.
  4. Your documents for translation are related to different domains of expertise. For example, you may have brochures (marketing), software user guides (IT), and contracts (legal) that you need translated. In this case, you will want different translators, each with their own expertise, working on these documents.
  5. You have a lot of documents to translate and you would like to let your supplier handle the overall project coordination, which can be complex at times.
  6. You need guidance as to how you can best streamline your language service costs, for example by revisiting the way you work or leveraging the latest technologies.

In all cases:

  • Make sure that you can talk directly to the translators – it can save you a lot of time and hassle.
  • Make sure that the work is done by professional translators. Anybody can call himself or herself a translator since the title is not protected. Also, there are language vendors out there who put more emphasis on volume and much less on quality. If you cannot judge by yourself how good the resulting translation is, you may be in for some unpleasant surprises.
  • Always use professional translators who live in the country where your documents will be published, even if the head office of your language vendor is located in a different country.

Fabien Côté -