Client's guide for hiring a translator

Anyone who wants to communicate effectively in more than one language, for any reason whatsoever, needs a translator. Not just any translator, but a trained, experienced, professional translator.


Quick facts about translation jobs

On average, competent translators translate up to around 3 000 words per day. Their speed depends on many things, like the quality of the original text, terminology used in the text, research to be done in relation to the text, and personal things like their typing speed, computer skills and whether they use electronic tools.


In South Africa, translators generally charge per word or per 100 words. This method of working out the rate is simply convenient for both translator and client. A few translators quote an hourly rate instead, and many translators charge a certain minimum rate for small jobs. Speak to the translator about how they calculate their rates.


Price should not be your only consideration when you hire a translator. Competence, experience and professionalism are also important. Think about the damage that a poor translation may do.


A translator need not be an expert in the field of your document. Good translators will do research to find the correct terminology. You should always be willing to answer questions a translator may have, and if possible provide background material that explains processes and concepts.


Characteristics of a good translator

Translators can speak and write at least two languages very well. They are capable of conveying a message from one language into another so that the message has the same meaning and the same effect in the second language.


Good translators know that different types of text require different approaches. Some documents call for simple, straight-forward translation. Other texts require specialist knowledge in a field like medicine or engineering. Translators have the ability to find correct technical terminology even if the document seems fairly straight-forward, and recognise that words may have one meaning in ordinary language, but a different meaning in a specific text.


Written documents often contain idiomatic expressions that cannot be translated directly, which must be adapted for the intended reader of the translation. Translators know that the target audience matters – a speech translated for a sportsmen’s dinner must be translated differently from a political speech in parliament.


Translators’ requirements from the client

  • Make sure you brief the translator properly. Knowing what the translation is to be used for will enable the translator to produce an appropriate translation and save you time and money. Make sure you outline any special requirements related to style, register and content.
  • Settle all terms with the translator in advance, preferably in writing: price, delivery date, corrections, final format (e.g. Word document, hard copy, delivered by e-mail or on CD), payment terms, etc.
  • If the source text is one you are producing yourself, make sure it has been carefully prepared and preferably edited by a language editor. Translators who are given a poorly written document to translate may well provide an equally poor translation; their job is to translate, not to improve on the original.
  • Agree with the translator how to give them the document for translation. Most work is provided electronically these days, but what you require to be done may affect the best mode of delivery.
  • Discuss with the translator how you wish to receive the final translation – electronically as plain text, formatted as the original, in hard copy, etc.
  • Be prepared to assist the translator with terminology specific to your field. Even specialised translators will not have the same detailed knowledge of an area as someone who works in the field every day.
  • If possible, supply the translator with bilingual terminology lists, details of commonly-used acronyms and abbreviations, previous translations and other resources that may assist them.
  • Make sure you allow adequate time in your production schedule for a proper translation to be done. Consult the translator as to how long is needed.




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