How to recognize a professional translator

Translation reviewed by David Mein –

One must not underestimate the epithet professional in the expression professional translation. It might seem trivial, but in “terms” of the quality you will receive, there is a whole universe of difference between a translator and a professional translator. Allow me to explain.

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In How much should you pay for translation? Do the math!, I explained what constitutes professional translation and what you should pay in order to avoid being scammed. I should have specified that you may be scammed if you are paying too much money, but also if you are not paying enough. If this sounds familiar, it is very likely that your provider is only a translator, not a professional translator.

The translator title is not protected, therefore it might be difficult to distinguish the professional from the unqualified translator. As age is not much of an indicator, here are some frequently heard comments that will put you on the right track.

A professional translator will never say the following:
  • “I translate from English to French and from French to English.” This kind of statement says it all by itself! Apart from a few rare exceptions, the professional translator will only produce texts in one language, that language being his/her mother tongue. In my opinion, mastering one’s mother tongue is even more important than understanding the language in which the original text is written.
  • “I translate around 3500 word per day.” The professional translator translates on average between 1500 and 2000 words per day. If there is an emergency, of course he/she will be able to translate more by working 15 hours that day... 
  • “I translate all kinds of texts.” No one knows everything. A professional translator will not hesitate to notify you if he/she finds that the text you have provided is too far from his/her area of expertise.
A professional translator will say the following:
  • “Before accepting the work, I would like to examine the text. Would that be possible?” By doing so, the translator wants to ensure that he/she has the necessary knowledge do to a professional job. This is also a way for him/her to evaluate the document’s level of difficulty, especially when accepting to provide this service within a tight deadline. For example, translating more technical content will most likely require more effort than translating a general newsletter.
  • “Who is the document intended for?” A professional translator will want to know who are the target readers because he/she translates differently depending on whether the text is for experts in a certain field or for the general public.  
  • “Do you have any preferences regarding the writing style or the terminology?” If you often have content translated, you may want the translation to be congruous, that is to say, done following the same style as in the past. In addition, you may have already chosen the translated term of some key items that you would like to reuse for consistency purposes. For example, using a different term from one page to another could very well confuse the reader.

Also, if you need to have your translator sign a confidentiality agreement, know that such an agreement is not necessary with certified translators (OTTIAQ-certified, at least) since a requirement to maintain confidentiality is in their code of ethics – one might even say in their blood!

Fabien Côté –