Many of you may have searched for a company or a freelancer to translate your article, text or book to another language you're not fluent in. While searching, you've probably realized that for the most common languages (by common, I mean the most used in Europe, such as German, English, Spanish, French or Italian), the choice is incredibly vast, and that picking the right translator for your work can be a hard task.
Before speaking about how to choose the right translator, let's talk about the different types of translators you can encounter. Yes, it matters who you chose. It's not the same to pay a translation company, hire a freelancer or just use a free online automatic translator. The following list is very generalized, obviously, but if we had to talk about each type of translator individually and in detail, we will need hundreds of pages to do so accurately.
Translation companies: Translation companies are, obviously the most obvious way to get your work translated, and the most popular option. Most companies or employers who need reliable translations given back on a certain deadline will chose them.
Now, this doesn't mean ALL translation companies provide reliable translations and respect the deadlines. Some will just perform a poor job. I've never experienced it myself, nor DRSC Publishers, but I know that many translation companies that advertise through websites for freelancers are based in under-develop countries, usually India or Pakistan. They claim to have their own "staff" and always propose an extremely low budget. They also have a large offer of languages. They also receive good reviews from customers, but I've learnt to never trust a review: when you're hiring somebody else to translate your text into another language, usually it's because you don't speak at all that other language. Therefore, you can't check if the translation is good or not. Many people will just trust the translator and believe he will ALWAYS do an excellent job, even for prices as low as 5$ per 1K words (yes, it's possible to find such prices).
Let's come back to the translation companies that are recognized in the market. I won't be giving names, but you can find them very easily. Many of them are based in Brussels and London, and they all offer more or less the same rate per word. Many of us may imagine translators as people who get up every morning at the same hour, and prepare to go to work in some office, just as regular workers, but usually it doesn't work like that. The translation company will just have a series of freelancers working for them, and each time somebody asks and pays for a translation, they will send the text to one of their freelance translators. This one, obviously, won't be paid with the same tariff, as the company has to make money somewhere. Are these translations good? Yes, I can't deny it, the people working for these companies are "professionals", people who have studied translation and interpreting at university (it's actually a course, yes. The degree can take between one to four years to be obtained). Is there any negative side to this way of doing business? Yes, there are some. The main one is that by cutting the intermediate, in this case the company, translators could make a lot more and wouldn't have to work so hard to earn so little. But somehow it would become harder for translators to find work as customers would have to look for them and do the extra work of searching the right translator for their work. And here's where the second section of my list starts.
Freelancers: A freelancer is usually somebody who's self-employed and earns money by selling services to various customers. We find many different types of Freelancers. Since I'm talking about translating, I'll focus on freelance translators. First, we have the professional ones, those who actually studied translation and interpreting. Usually, they are the best ones, and can guarantee high quality and respect the deadline. Most of them are expensive, but many of them have to accept small jobs here and there in order to make a living. Unless they are well-known in the market and have a certain reputation, they won't see jobs valued in thousands of Euros falling from the sky every month. They sell their services through websites such as Freelancer or Fiverr, or more specialized websites like ProZ.com, sites that put in contact freelancers with potential employers. Obviously, these third-party websites will keep a certain amount of money from each payment, and so freelancers don't make as much as we think they do (some of these sites keep up to 20% of the total cost of the translation, as well as a percentage every time they want to withdraw what they've earned).
We then have the "semi-professional" freelancers. They are people like you and me, but who believe they have the necessary level to translate correctly a text, and make a living out of it. They usually offer their services through websites like Freelancer or Fiverr, as they are not requested any documents or recommendations proving they are able to perform the job. Some do a good job, others don't (let's agree here: it will happen everywhere, even with professionals), and they have lower rates than professionals, except for some exceptions. These exceptions are people who are extremely good at what they do and who are able to charge for a premium service, since the quality they offer is extraordinary (and yes, we've experienced it ourselves at DRSC Publishers. We once received an offer from one of these super-skilled translators, who proposed 600$ for 6,000 words, Spanish to English. The proof he showed us was of a remarkable quality, but we had to turn him down since the price was too high for our budget).
Finally, we have the amateur translators, and this is the category where there is the biggest quantity of idiots and useless translators. I'm not insulting the ones who manage to do a good job, I'm just calling "idiots" those who offer a service they can't offer. For the amateurs who do a good job, they are nearly the same as the "semi-professional" ones, except their prices are even lower and usually they don't do this for a living. Of course, it's hard to correctly classify some translators, but there are more categories than these. But let's focus on the idiot ones: they sell their services, saying they can translate from this language to that one, and usually offer extremely low rates, wiping all the competition. Many of us don't have a budget big enough to hire professional freelancers or companies, and decide to hire these amateur people. What's the result? I haven't seen anything good coming from them. All these idiots use Google Traductor. Some of them proof a few sentences here and there, others work even less by just adding a coma or two, and then giving the text back. Most of us can't check the quality, but there's a trick to check if it really is Google Translator or not: we can take our original text, translate it ourselves with Google-T and then compare the document translated by the freelancer with the one we translated with Google-T. For those who use Word, this is easy, as the program includes the option to compare two files, showing us where the changes were made. Some of you may not believe some people can sell translations done using Google-T, but at DRSC Publishers we've already experienced a few times this situation, even if the translators we picked had excellent reviews.
My recommendation to avoid these people? Always ask for a proof. Always.
Machines: Yes, I've decided to add machines to the list of translators. Now-a-days, it is probably one of the most common ways of translating short texts or simple sentences and expressions, as well as very basic and simple questions. We all know Google Translator, and most of us have heard about Bing. We then have other, less well-known options, such as Mitzuli. There are even newspapers who offer their own online translation service. Did I try all of them? No. Only Google Translator, as pretty much everybody, and Bing for Facebook posts in languages I don't speak or don't understand.
Now, are these automatic, literal translations good? Each of them is different, but I'll focus on the most widely used: Google Traductor. To make it short, unless you translate one word or very popular and widely used questions and sentences, all the rest is more or less bad, with a few exceptions here and there. I won't hide it, the program has improved a lot over the past years, giving more and more accurate translations. Maybe someday it will be able to translate correctly a text from any language to another one, but that day is yet to come, and, meanwhile, we'll have to rely on more traditional, human translators.
After explaining the difference between each option for translating, let's move on to how to pick the right translator. After all, a translator can't translate everything. He has his own limits. Obviously, he can perfectly translate texts or books that include the everyday words, those we use the most frequently (about 10,000 in English for talking, 20,000 for correctly understand the language, as some studies show. But beware, as this number vary between languages), and if he isn't able to translate a text without anything technical in it, you may want to start looking for another translator. Now, some translators specialize in various domains. It may be technology, it may be engineering, etc. These people have the same vocabulary as all other translators, but they are also able to translate the "complicated" words of a certain domain. For example, unless I check it, I wouldn't be able to translate "clé anglaise" from French to English (which happens to be a wrench).
And this is the first step in order for you to find the right translator. Determine what your book is about: food? wine? physics? technology?
Once you have decided where you want to classify your book, look for a translator who is specialized in that domain. Of course, since they are specialized, they will be more expensive, but that's the price to pay in order to have a good translation, and not just some random text translated with Google-T. These specialized translators can be found in sites like ProZ.com or Inbox Translation. At DRSC Publishers, we've never tried any of these pages, but we've heard very good things about them. Some of the translators we worked with gave our name as reference to them, and, therefore, we can confirm both sites check the references from each translator, as we received an e-mail requesting details, such as the type of work performed and so on.
As soon as you find a translator specialized in the domain your book is and that you've discussed the project, the best thing to do is to ask for a proof. Non-professionals will be willing to translate a short extract for free in order to prove they can do the job, as they really need it, but professional and specialized translators won't accept to do so (unless they are desperate to get a job, which, usually, isn't the case). Since they probably won't be willing to give you a free proof, the best you can do is to ask them to translate one page (for example), pay them (as their rate is per word) and then ask a friend who speaks that language (or your customer base) if the translation is good or not. If you don't have the necessary resources to check the quality of the proof, then you either take the risk of not having a satisfying translation or not translating into that language. In the case you're happy with the proof, you can either pay the translator per chapter (if your book is divided in chapters), or per section (you divide your book in chunks). Keep in mind that maybe the translator wants to be paid beforehand, and that many of them won't give you back the translation completed unless you pay them first (we've seen too often people getting the translation they asked for and then "disappearing" without paying the rest of the bill).
But there's a question that arises once you get the translation: what if there are mistakes in it (supposing you're able to understand the language or you work with other people who check each text)?
Obviously, there's no way to get back the money. I've never seen that happening. Ever. There are probably a few cases, mainly on sites like Fiverr or Freelancer, but since those translators are more of the "Google-T" style, and since we're talking about specialized translators, they don't count as examples.
After all, a translation is a service, not a good. I can perfectly purchase a garment, and then change my mind or realize it's the wrong size, and, if it's not underwear, I can always give it back to the shop and get back my money. But with a translation? The translator can't put it back on the market, he can't sell YOUR text, for many reasons. The most obvious reason is, it's not his job. The second reason is, he doesn't own the rights on the translated text, which means he can't use it, unless you give him the permission to do so.
In that case, what can you do? Well, unless the translation is really bad and there's no way to save it, you can ask him to correct specific parts, such as a sentence here or an explanation/description over there, or whatever. You can also, if you have the budget but don't want another translation, hire a proof-reader. It may sound stupid, but the rate per word of proofreaders is lower than the rates of translators (seems obvious).
And, finally, in the case you're still not satisfied with the result, consider the whole project as a failure and think you'll do better next time (at least, in our case, it worked well the second time).
All what has been said in this post has been researched, and we, at DRSC Publishers, have had a lot of good and bad experiences regarding translating. We've hired many freelancers, and we know people who used to work for translation companies, who were able to share their experience with us.
P.S.: For those who are looking for a translator, check our own translation service, DRSC Translators! We are improving our service and try to include as many languages as possible, with low rates. All our translators have an excellent level and are reliable.