How to hire a professional translator

If you want to do business across borders, help out foreign immigrants on home soil, or study or work abroad, at some point you’ll need to hire a professional translator. Why? Because leaning on a bilingual friend or employee has some advantages, but it doesn’t guarantee accuracy in translation.

How to hire a professional translator

When the stakes are high and and you need legal documents to meet government stipulations, or you’re negotiating a key deal with a foreign supplier, your bilingual pal may not have the skills of a professional translator.

This is not an area to cut costs on. If you’re really trying to trim your budget, think about spending less on coffee capsules, not the words you’re delivering to an important client. Expecting to get free translations from an online platform that makes cohesive sense is simply short-sighted.

You need a human, professional translator who can offer flawless translation or interpreting services. Who can specialize in your field, research your industry and deliver accuracy and cultural insights. But how do you find such a person or agency?

Here are some tips on how to hire a professional translator and a few key things to keep in mind:

1. A professional translator does not translate word for word

Computer translation is improving all the time, there’s no doubt about that. But still the bulk of free translation tools will throw up a word for word translation that makes little sense in the target language. Ask any professional translator, or even keen linguist, and they’ll confirm: it’s impossible to carry out translations word for word.

So, when looking for a professional translator or translation agency, be sure to ask about their processes. Find out what tools they use and whether they offer human-powered translations or not.

Certain CAT tools can greatly speed up work and help a translator plow through their workload faster. But, they’ll need a tried and tested method of humanizing the text. Some translators find this a helpful way to work, while others actually have a tougher time making sense out of a gabbled text, and prefer starting from scratch.

2. How culturally sensitive are your translations?

Think about culture in your translations and how important it is before selecting a professional translator. Do you need someone native who can smooth out any cultural barriers, re-word and change phrases and idioms that don’t make sense when changed into the target language, and localize your message to your audience?

Or do you have a product manual or pharmaceutical brochure that uses many words that aren’t translatable? When choosing which agency to go with, check out their strengths. If you translate stacks of medical manuals, look for specialty and experience in this area. If you need a creative agency who can craft a captivating marketing message from San Francisco to Singapore, ask about their content localization and transcreation techniques.

Do you need a single legal document translated and certified for government and immigration purposes? If so, make sure that your professional translator is accepted by major bodies like USCIS, and that they know about legalization and the Hague Convention.

Know what you need and require from your translations before making your decision on your professional translator. Most full service agencies will be able to deliver on all fronts, but you may have a leaning toward one with a particular strength in your area.

3. Don’t judge on price only

Everyone has a budget to work with, but basing your decision to hire a professional translator purely on price isn’t the best way to go. You want to find a person that you can rely on, who will deliver when promised, and provide accurate work you can feel confident of using without having to double-check.

Choosing on price may save you money in the short term. But if you have to go back and fix errors, pull costly marketing campaigns or re-draft legal contracts because of a mistake, it will cost you a lot more in the long run.

Ask for personal recommendations and look for positive reviews online. Transparency is key, so try to find a professional translator registered with Trustpilot, Google Reviews and Glassdoor to get a real idea about the company or translator in question.

Gauge their experience, get them to provide a free trial, or complete a short test first, and try to think of your ongoing translation services as an investment, not a cost. After all, you’ll be gaining more clients in the long run, which will bring more profit to your company.

4. Check out their credentials

If you want extra reassurance before you hire a professional translator, check out their credentials. You may find for some projects that a capable freelance translator who speaks a language fluently is enough. And they may do very good work. But in other situations, you may need someone with a specialty or an actual qualification in translation or interpreting.

If you want to go with a professional translator agency, see what associations they are aligned with. If you’re in the USA, the American Translators Association (ATA) is key. If you’re in the UK, look for the Association of Translation Companies (ATC). If you want an expert in localization, find out if they’re registered with the Globalization & Localization Association (GALA).

Other credentials count, too. Are they recommended by the BBB, for example? Do they have extensive errors and omission insurance? Are they HIPAA compliant? Can they deliver translators with proven track records and a specialty in the field you seek? And do they work with rare languages?

Some or all of these questions may be relevant to you when choosing a professional translator, so be sure to understand the scope of the work involved.

5. Decide on the level of support you need

This is often (but not always) tied into the price you’re willing to pay. With a lot of competition for translation services online, comes a wide variety of options. Are you happy with a company that will respond to a ticket within 24 hours? Or do you need one on-hand 24 hours a day, every day?

How time-sensitive are your issues? What level of support do you need? Sean Hopwood, President of Day Translations, made customer service a vital part of his business model. He says, “We hire project managers and work with translators and interpreters all around the world. This way we guarantee top-notch customer services and an agent online and ready to help all hours of the day.”

Wrapping it up

There are many aspects to consider when hiring a professional translator. Don’t judge on price alone and do some extra research. Read reviews and find out about the credentials your professional translator has and any alliances they have in place.

Check up on their experience and specialization, and understand the level of support you can expect to receive to make sure it suits your needs. You may need to shop around or try out a couple of translators before you find the one who really fits your needs. But you’ll reduce a lot of your workload if you keep these considerations in mind.


Christina Comben,
Content Manager at Day Translations.
Multilingual and qualified to MBA level, Christina is passionate about writing,
traveling and continued education.