Ten tips for working with translators & interpreters

by Sara Knowles

Language and culture is central to any export communication strategy. Insight and effective application of language and cultural awareness can make a world of difference to how your brand is perceived and, ultimately your credibility and profitability in new markets.

Sourcing translation and interpretation services can be daunting, especially when you’re not familiar with the language and unclear about the quality of what you’re buying.  Below are some tips to help you make the right choices for your business.

1. Before translation begins, ensure that the text you need to be translated is complete and accurate. Use plain English and avoid culturally specific references e.g. from UK TV/other media, idioms and colloquialisms. Making changes later can be costly and time consuming so it’s best to start with the right material.

2. Where possible source native speakers of the language you’re translating into as they are familiar with the nuances of the language as well as what is culturally appropriate.

3. Try to find a translator who specialises in your sector. This may be especially important where complex or technical concepts need to be accurate. For marketing materials it’s best to find someone who fully understands your market e.g. lives in or has recently lived in your target country and is familiar with how to write marketing material. Consider whether you have projects or long term roles that could be carried out by a student or graduate who has studied or speaks (as an international student) your required language(s).

4. Translators and interpreters have different skill sets – be clear about what and who you need. Translators work with written language where as interpreters work with the spoken word. A translator would help you with documents, marketing copy, written enquiries etc. An interpreter acts as your voice in a face-to-face meeting situation.

5. Look for translators accredited by a professional body and with a strong track record and, if you can obtain them, at least three references or bona fide testimonials from former clients who are in a similar industry to you.

6. Avoid the temptation to rely on friends, family or members of staff to carry out translation (unless they are qualified translators themselves). It is one thing to speak a language but translation requires a skill set that enables them to get the message across in the most appropriate form for your target audience.

7. Beware of online translation tools. Machine translation can be useful to check specific words, phrases and detect languages when you receive enquiries from other countries. Beware of the unreliability of online translation though, especially for your outward communications as it could seriously undermine the credibility of your products, services and brand. Outward communications including your website and other marketing material should be carried out by a human translator.

8. It’s always worth investing in getting your translation proofread by a third-party. Translation agencies often offer this as part of their service. If you have an agent or distributor, ask them to check it too.

9. Remember that translating is only a small part of the job. If you want to guarantee success you have to localise i.e. adapt everything – whether it’s your website, products, services, advertising, brochures, banners and branding – to meet the needs and expectations of your target market.

10. Contact UKTI as our Language and Culture Advisers can help you to identify your language needs and identify the most suitable ways of meeting them.