Introduction for Clients
Finding a good translator or interpreter is much like
finding any other kind of professional: the more you know about the services offered the
better you can make your selection. The following definitions of common terms are intended
to help you in your search. As with any other field of business, the elements of trust,
reliability and performance are of major importance. By establishing a relationship with
proven individuals or translation companies, rather than by trying to find the cheapest
service every time you need work done, you can look forward to a long-term partnership.
Translation is the
transference of meaning from one written text to another; a translator must therefore be a
good writer. Interpreting, on the other hand, is
the transference of meaning from speech in one language to speech in another; an
interpreter must be a good speaker. Language pair
refers to the two languages used in any translating or interpreting: the source language, or original, and the target language, into which the meaning is transferred.
Language direction is very important in translating. A
translator can produce accurate work more quickly and easily when translating into his/her
native language. Some translators have lived in another country so long that they have
achieved a high level in the new language and prefer to work into it; this language is
called the dominant language.
Note that a person cannot have more than one dominant
language, any more than he/she can have more than one native language. Some translators
claim to be completely bilingual; that is, to have grown up with two equally-developed
languages. Until proved in each case, it is well to be skeptical of such statements.
However, bilingualism is often required in interpreting, where the interpreter must work
into the foreign language, although it is naturally easier to work out of it. Conference
interpreters (especially simultaneous interpreters ) prefer to work out of the foreign
native language due to the high stress of their work.
The number of languages handled by a translator is generally
irrelevant to the client, who usually needs material translated from one language into
another. Even if you have a text to be translated from one language into several, you
would most likely engage the services of a number of translators, each handling one
The number of specialties handled by translators is
generally two or three because it is necessary to have a background knowledge of the field
as well as a mastery of the special technical language involved. In addition, it is
necessary to keep up with new terminology, which can cost a substantial amount of time and
money. Note that translators will often handle material outside their field of
specialization, with the understanding that the work may take longer. Also, many texts are
in themselves very general and can be handled satisfactorily by almost any translator
working with the particular language pair.
A translator's qualifications are sometimes difficult to
assess, since there is no licensing examination at the federal, state or local levels. For
over a decade now interpreters working in some language pairs (especially English/Spanish)
must pass an examination to qualify for work in the Federal courts. Some foreign countries
have examinations for certified or sworn translators; the US does not. Some universities
in this country and elsewhere have degree or certificate programs in translating and/or
interpreting, but such qualifications are still somewhat rare. The most usual background
for translators and interpreters is a bachelor's degree (or foreign equivalent) in either
foreign languages or a science, engineering field, business, etc. Note, however, that in
the absence of any licensing examination the term professional refers to any
language specialist who receives payment for services rendered.
The American Translators Association (ATA) does administer
accreditation examinations in most major language pairs for its members; this is the only
examination of its type in this country for translators (conference interpreters have
their own associations and proficiency examinations). Memberships in national and regional
professional associations such as ATA, NETA, or CATI, while open to anyone, at least show
that the translator is dedicated enough to the profession to give financial and volunteer
support to it. Finally, references from previous clients or employers may also be useful
in selecting a translator.
As for the finished product, you can judge it
for yourself: a translation into English should sound as if written from scratch by a
competent writer whose native language is English. If your text has been translated into a
foreign language it can be checked by asking for feedback from business associates in the