How to Find the Perfect Translator

Photo Credit: Dmitry Ratushny via Unsplash

Photo Credit: Dmitry Ratushny via Unsplash

You’ve determined that you need a translation and you’ve decided that you’re going to hire a freelancer. That’s great! But what should you do next? Large companies with substantial translation needs might have internal translation project managers who find vendors and allocate projects. If you don’t have that luxury, here’s a step-by-step guide to finding the right freelancer for your project.

Pick a Language, Any Language

First, determine what language pair you need. A language pair consists of a source language (the language the text is written in) and a target language (the language into which the text needs to be translated). If you have a file that you need translated into English, but you’re not sure what language it’s in, do a little research. There are many online tools for this, including one created by Xerox.

If you’re translating from English into another language, figure out what dialect you need. Do you need Spanish for Mexico, Spain, or Argentina? Mandarin Chinese or Taiwanese? Canadian or Continental French? This might seem trivial, but depending on the material, it could be the difference between a bullseye and a total miss. Select the dialect that will allow your material to reach your target audience the most effectively.

Select Your Translator

Using one of the directories listed in my previous post, find a native speaker of your target language and dialect. Translators only ever translate into their native language, and most translators only have one native language. Despite this fact, many translators claim to be experts at translating in two or more directions. While this is definitely possible, be wary of such claims and be sure to properly vet the credentials of the translator you choose (see more below). Hiring a native speaker of your target language and dialect is critical to ensuring that your text is translated properly. For example, I do not translate into Chinese or French, nor do I translate print material into British English unless it will be proofread by a native British English speaker. I translate into American English and Canadian English, since I completed by university studies in Canada.

Qualify Your Vendor

Vet your translator’s credentials. Ask for an updated CV, references, and samples. If the translator is unable to provide any one of these, walk away. If you are unable to verify the quality of the samples, try to find someone who can tell you if they are up to snuff. If your business is opening or has opened an office overseas, have an in-country contact read the samples. If the contact likes what they read, check the translator’s references to be sure they are glowing. Finally, make sure that his or her experience and areas of expertise are in line with the content you need translated. You should not hire a patent translator for financial material or vice versa. Make sure that the translator’s background matches your requirements.

Seal the Deal

Negotiate your translation contract and sign the dotted line. How much should it cost, you ask? That depends on a multitude of factors. Like I said in my last post, freelancers are often cheaper than multi-national language service providers, but translation is not a commodity and should not be purchased as such. If a translator is not able to earn a living wage from the work that he or she is doing, how could he or she devote the time and attention your translation deserves? Find a freelancer with a rate you are comfortable with and sign a purchase order. As a general rule, expect to pay at least 50% of the total bill up front.

Keep the Conversation Going

Translations are very often collaborative affairs. What did the author mean by this? Can you clarify the context of that? Be prepared to provide feedback. This does not mean that the translator doesn’t know what he or she is doing; it means that he or she is taking an interest in your text and making sure that it is translated perfectly.

After delivery, you may have questions about what was delivered. If you do, ask them! If a translator is unwilling to engage you in a conversation about why a certain term was used or why a certain stylistic choice was made, you should take your business elsewhere. When you find a native speaker with expertise in your field who provides work that exceeds your standards and who is eager to pore over the nuances of your text with you, you’ve found a keeper. It may not be the first translator you pick, but the search will be worth the effort.


If you are interested in the services that I provide, you may view them in English here or en français ici. Chinese website coming later this year.

Have you had a good or bad experience hiring a freelance translator? If so, please leave a comment and please subscribe by email for more content like this.


2 thoughts on “How to Find the Perfect Translator

  1. Pingback: To Edit or to Retranslate? | Ben Translates

  2. Pingback: Glossary Basics for Translation Buyers | Ben Translates

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