What makes an excellent translator? 5 traits you should look for

Many businesses and organisations find the process of hiring translators quite daunting, simply because they do not know what to expect and what to look for. Here are the most important traits you should consider:

1. Quality and expertise

It goes without saying that this is the most important aspect of being a translator. Quality does not necessarily mean a degree in translation. Not everyone who has a master’s degree is necessarily a good translator. In fact, it depends a lot on the type of translation you require. There is a strong argument for hiring a lawyer-translator when you need a legal text, or for an IT expert when you need your software product or website to be translated. For marketing translation and transcreation, the most important thing will be a flair for language and creativity. In short: quality rhymes with specialisation. It is vital that the translator you choose is specialised in your industry and expert in this field.

2. Reliability

This is equally important. Even the fastest, the most competitive and highest quality translator will not be any good to you if they consistently deliver late. Part of making sure that this does not happen is to agree realistic deadlines in the first place. Beware of translation agencies who in a catchy phrase promise you fast, cheap and quality services! There are no miracles: a reliable quality service requires realistic timescales. The unexpected can happen to all: a power cut, a domestic emergency or illness. Or simply, while working on your project, the translator has uncovered that there are some hidden complexities or specialised domains outside of their usual field of expertise that will take longer to investigate and translate (e.g. legal content in the middle of a medical translation).

In these situations, another key attribute of a good translator comes in:

3. Communication

A reliable quality translator will communicate effectively and proactively with you. If they realise that “there is trouble ahead” meeting a deadline, they will get in touch with you straight away and will not wait until 1 hour before the deadline or until it is passed. They will think ahead, pre-empt problems and manage your expectations.

4. Ability to deal with feedback

Let’s face it: this is tricky. I will always remember the days when I was a software tester and I had to deliver the “bad news” to developers that their piece of software had defects and did not work. Most of the time they were not happy, taking it almost personally, as if the code was their baby. But that is kind of normal: they were simply professionals, proud of their work. Good, professional translators are proud of their work, too, but they should be able to receive and accept feedback from their customers courteously. Not only that: they should actively seek it.

5. Caring attitude.

Besides being courteous and reliable, a good translator has a positive attitude to their work and industry. As linguists, they are genuinely passionate about what they do. As industry experts and service providers, they genuinely care about your brand and product and they want it to be translated and adapted in a way that will allow you to reach out to those global markets successfully.

What are you looking for when you’re working with (or, looking for) translation providers?