Eight tips to become the ideal translator

As a senior localization manager, I spend a lot of time finding and hiring translators for my client’s projects. Over the past 15 years, I’ve discovered that the translators who consistently deliver the highest quality adhere to certain helpful and professional business practices. Whether you hire translators or are a professional linguist yourself, whether you are a new translator or one with many years of experience, incorporating these skills will ensure successful and long-lasting partnerships.

1. Be responsive

I routinely send out translation quote requests for potential jobs to an extensive network of professional linguists, but many times, I receive no response. As a project manager, this can be very frustrating. A lack of response doesn’t give me the feedback I need to understand why a particular job wasn’t of interest.

The ideal translator is responsive. They will let me know if they are interested in the project and when they might be free to work on it. If the project isn’t a match for their skill set, or if they aren’t available due to work on another project, they will still respond to let me know. When my contacts take the time to reply, even if the answer is “no thanks,” it shows that they are professional, courteous and that they are interested in a future working relationship.

2. Ask questions

When requesting quotes, I send the name of the client, the industry and the type of content to be translated. The ideal translator will always ask additional, follow-up questions to better understand what the project entails. They will ask about delivery dates, word counts ans so on — any information that will help them do a better job. The best will ask if the client has a style guide, any existing translation memories (TM) or glossaries. By asking questions, they will get the information they need in advance to determine if it is a job that they can complete successfully.

3. Respect deadlines

Translation can be a very deadline-driven business. That’s why translators who respect my deadlines and my client’s deadlines are ideal. As a project manager, I try to give our linguists plenty of time to complete a project. Managing rush jobs and several different delivery dates can be challenging, so knowing when a project will be completed is key to my ability to manage customer expectations. The best translators respect deadlines and will keep me apprised of their estimated delivery date and will always let me know if they need extra time to finish a project.

4. Discuss rates in advance

Most linguists have a per-word rate and different rates depending on the subject matter and type of content. It is important to discuss any applicable rates in advance, before committing to do a project. I always include rates in my initial email. The ideal translator will take note of that information and get any clarification they need on payment terms in advance. The ideal translator should also be willing to negotiate or offer discounts based on higher volumes and the consistent work that is available when working for larger clients. Agreeing to a lower rate can pay off by providing more steady work and lead to becoming a go-to resource for a particular client.

5. Keep in touch

It’s not unusual for project managers and translators to work in different time zones. As a result, it is important to make sure there is a time frame where those hours overlap, in order to communicate about the project in a timely manner. Nothing is more frustrating for a project manager than receiving an Out of Office reply that contains no information on when the recipient will be available. The ideal translator will keep in touch and let me know about any dates they are unavailable, such as local holidays, vacations or when they will be engaged with other projects.

Nothing is more frustrating for a project manager than receiving an Out of Office reply that contains no information on when the recipient will be available. Click To Tweet

6. Identify potential translation issues

Translation is not an exact science. Sometimes word choices require the translator to make a judgment call on the best translation. We also know that clients might not necessarily agree with those decisions. The best translators will provide a summary of issues or certain word choice decisions, when the project is delivered, before the client sends it on to their reviewers. This type of proactive, conscientious work is always appreciated and helps to ensure that all parties are communicating to ensure the highest quality.

7. Be open to feedback

Feedback is important in translation project management. The ideal translator is professional, open to and accepting of feedback. They do not take negative feedback too personally. There are times when a client might insist on a translation that is non-standard. While it is important to bring this to their attention, the client always has the final say. As the adage goes, “the customer is always right.” Remember that the more feedback you receive, the more you learn. That information can be used to update the style guide of client preferences to ensure satisfaction with the final product.

8. Get certification

When I’m hiring translators, I look for native speakers of the target language(s). It is also important that they are accredited by a globally-recognized translation and interpretation industry organization such as the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI), American Translators Association (ATA), Société Française des Traducteurs (SFT) and so on. The ideal translator will include any certifications they have and display them prominently on their website, profile, and resume. They should also include any subject matter expertise and relevant work history. This makes it easier to have an understanding of their level of qualification for any particular project.

Rise above the competition

Professional translators are facing increasing competition, from each other and from emerging technology that threatens to replace them. Forging long-lasting and financially beneficial relationships with localization project managers and language services providers is key to survival. Becoming the ideal translator is possible with greater communication, attention to detail, professionalism, and being proactive. Translators who adopt these eight business practices will quickly gain a reputation for conscientiousness and quality that will help them stand apart.

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