What You Should Look For in a Translator or Interpreter

You know exactly what we’re talking about. You’ve been on holiday to your go-to destination in the south of France or that resort in Spain, desperately fumbling your way through some of the most broken French and Spanish ever known to man as you ask for an ice cream to finish off that tourist trap portion of vaguely Mediterranean food you just ordered for an extortionate price.

It isn’t pretty. We know.

There’s only one thing worse than an amateur getting it wrong.

It’s a so-called ‘professional’ translator not knowing their crouton from their croissant, their frites from their fromage, their tortilla from their tapas!

Exhibit A:

That’s the last thing you want to happen, even if it might raise a few chuckles at a meeting. Especially not if you’re a business on a mission for world domination.

Let’s look at how you can spot those telltale signs.


1. Lack of qualifications

If the translation agency you’re using isn’t clear about the qualifications its translators and interpreters have, then you’re in for a bad time. At this point, you should clarify with the agency what the credentials are of your translator or interpreter.

What are these?

Well, it depends on your requirements.

If you’re looking for a police or court interpreter, make sure that they’re registered with The Association of Police and Court Interpreters.

If you need a sign language interpreter, they should be a member of the Association of Sign Language Interpreters.

And finally, if you’re in the public sector, it’s always a bonus that the interpreter you use is affiliated with the National Register of Public Service Interpreters.

If you’re not looking for the above, make sure that any translator or interpreter you use for any reason is associated with The Institute of Translation and Interpreting.

Make sure you use a professional from one of the associations above, and you have at least some reassurance of quality.


2. No industry experience

What do you think of school careers advisors who have made a career out of being careers advisors?

Or a software salesman who has never even heard of code?

It’s similar with translators.

A legal translator should have legal expertise. Legalese is too technical, precise, and specific to be handled by anyone other than someone who has been at the coalface in the legal profession, or at least has a law degree. Sensitive legal concepts present in the law of England and Wales may not have a direct equivalent in other languages.

Technical translators, who handle automotive and other instruction manuals, warranty or guarantee documentation and other documents, should have intimate knowledge of the components. Look out for a degree in engineering, or industry experience in the manufacturing sector.

Similarly, financial translators should have a strong knowledge of financial instruments and products, and know their way around the complex world of financial markets.

On a slight tangent to quality and credibility, it should go without saying that if you are hiring an interpreter to go into a school, or will be around vulnerable adults in a hospital, they should absolutely be fully DBS checked. This ensures that the interpreter is safe to be around children and vulnerable adults.

Under no circumstances should you hire an interpreter or translator who does not have the in-depth knowledge of a specialist, technical area to translate a technical text that requires specialist knowledge.

3. Google Translate

Okay, so this is taking things to the extremes now.

You also won’t really be able to tell this until you have commissioned a translation.

Being able to take a translation and put it front of a second pair of eyes, like a native speaker you know such as a friend or colleague, is very useful to spot any last-minute mistakes that a translation agency might have missed.

If you or your colleague notice in your translation words that are literally translated, misinterpret the original meaning, or don’t just fit quite right, you might have been hoodwinked. Some translation agencies may claim to only use human translators, but if this has happened to you, a couple of things may have happened:

  1. Artificial machine translation software, which is insensitive to nuance and ambiguity, was used instead of a human translator. This is more likely if you commissioned a translator in a rarer language it is difficult to find a human translator for.
  2. An incompetent human translator who has used Google Translate or another piece of poor-quality translation software.

So what can you do about this?

When you approach an agency for a translation project, be sure to really dig with relevant questions around whether they use human translators or not, what sort of translation software they employ, and how the two work in conjunction with each other. We would also recommend that you find an agency like Language Direct who can give you updates on the ongoing process if requested.

This way you can be completely assured of the translation process, and therefore the quality.

Wrapping Things Up

Okay, so now you know exactly what to watch out for, and how to counter these things.

If you’re looking for a translation agency that employs certified translators and interpreters with industry-specific expertise and enhanced by translation software without exploiting it, look no further than Language Direct. We can help you communicate in over 180 languages, whether it’s a website translation, an interpreter for a negotiation or interview, or a sign language interpreter for a child or vulnerable adult.

Get a quote here.