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What can you expect from freelance translators and what can't you expect from them?

I wrote this post in Russian about a week ago and I got some amazing feedback from my Russian-speaking colleagues. Besides, I asked my colleagues whether they have experienced something similar and a few of them said they did. So I thought it would be good to translate my own post.

Dear clients, this article is written primarily for you. If you need a translation, but you don't know what to expect from a translator, this post might turn out very helpful to you. If you ever experienced misunderstanding with your translator, maybe my post will help you realise what were at least some reasons for that and how the situation could be solved.


'The four capital mistakes of open source' photo (c) 2011, opensource.com - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/ Frankly speaking, I never thought that I would have to touch upon the subject. But in the beginning of 2013 I came across a situation when a client had an absolutely opposite opinion on the concept of translation. That's why I decided to write about it but thought it would be best to wait a couple months so it wouldn't be so painful to remember those circumstances. So, dear clients, do you need translation? Then you would probably be interested what you can expect from translators:

1. You can expect accurate translation of the source text content into a foreign language. In other words, you can expect the accurate interpretation of the meaning of the source text.

2. You can expect that the formatting of the translated file will match the formatting of the source file. I have to make it clear that I am not speaking about DTP or very complex formatting here. Let me give you a couple examples to make sure you know what I mean:

a. If a text has bullet points, or is structured in paragraphs, or has some kind of another structure, it will be kept in the translated file.
b. If a source text has some bold or italic type words, that formatting will be kept in the translated file.

The Russian post doesn't have any samples included, but I decided to look them up and found one that illustrates what I mean. Here it is. Sorry I had to hide the name of the company.

I hope now the meaning of the 2nd point is clear. Please note: if you need DTP or other services in addition to translation you need to ask for them separately. Not all translators render additional services. For example, I don't do desktop publishing.

3. You can expect that the translated text will comply with all rules of the target language, including spelling, grammar, sentence structure, punctuation etc.

4. You can expect that your translator will study all the necessary online and/or offline resources to make sure he or she uses the accurate terminology.

It still happens sometimes that clients aren't happy with the results of the translation work. Most people try to come to mutual understanding, to explain what is wrong. But some people behave like a naughty child. They quickly leave the room and slam the door, cursing the poor translator.

'Happy New Year!' photo (c) 2009, Patrick Hoesly - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/ But is it always the translator's fault? Sorry, it's not. So that brings us to the next question: What can't you expect from a freelance translator?

1. You can't expect a translator to read your mind. For example, you are familiar with the language and you think that some phrases and sentences should be translated a certain way. But your translator has translated them differently. A good solution here would be to ask the translator why a certain equivalent was chosen. There's a big chance that the translator knows something that you don't. But the translator may also agree with you and choose your variant.

2. You can't expect that the translator will use the same terms that are used in your organisation. It is quite common that one term may have several equivalents in another language. That's why it is so important to cooperate with your translator and answer any questions. And if there is a glossary of terms in your company that is even better! A freelance translator can't possibly know which terms are used in your company, so what he or she might do is google the terms to compare how often some translation variants are used and choose the most common equivalent.

3. You can't expect that the translated text will mirror the syntactic structure and the word order of the source text. I wouldn't be writing about it if I hadn't experienced this situation before. Each language has its own unique set of rules, its own syntax, morphology etc. So it is impossible to make a word for word translation that wouldn't sound ridiculous. Besides, if you need a word for word translation you can always use Google. ;)

4. You can't expect a translator to do a translation in the style you need if you haven't discussed it beforehand. We, translators, always try to stay as close to the style of the original as possible. But we can't always notice all the nuances just by studying the original. That's why we need your help. Many companies now have style guides concerning online publications etc. So it would be great if your translator could see the guide because it does make our work easier and helps to come up with a great marketing text for example.

If you don't have a style guide, but you know that your text is written for a specific target audience and you want the translation to be written in the same style please let the translator know about it. For example, texts for 13-19 year-old teenagers are very different from text written for 45-60 year-old adults.

As you have noticed, all of these issues (and most other problems) can be easily solved by talking to the translator. A lot depends on your collaboration because we work for your benefit!

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