Elance Blog

Why You Should Use Real Translators

So you’ve just put the final touches on your e-book, your copywriter has finished your website content, or your technical staff has just sent you the completed user manual for your product. Since we now have a global economy and the Internet is teeming with millions of potential clients all over the world, you decide to translate your materials into a few other mainstream languages. You remember a few Spanish phrases from high school, and you know how to ask for a beer in German, but you are no linguistic expert.

Looks like it’s time to call in the professionals. But what are the main considerations to keep in mind once you decide to move forward with your international strategy?

Machine vs. Human Translation
Machine translation sounds like a dream come true. Some of the newest gadgets and applications include a “magic button” to translate any content into any language. Many chat applications – including the now-defunct Google Wave – even include real-time translation features that allow fluent conversation between, say, a Chinese and a Bolivian. Or so they claim.

We live in an age of technological wonders that we could only fantasize about twenty years ago, from video conferencing and instant communication to applications that allow doctors to supply basic care to anyone in the world – you can even confess online! But we are still human, and if there is one thing that truly defines humanity, it’s symbolic language.

Imagine a world in which Abraham Lincoln had said “The tact is the capacity to describe another because they are seen” (Tact is the ability to describe others as they see themselves), or in which Winston Churchill had declared “As written kind that to me because of me, you intend history, is” (History will be kind to me for I intend to write it).

Imagine if a large credit card company advertised its services with the slogan “It's throughout that you want to be” (It’s everywhere you want to be), or if someone tried to sell you airplane tickets by urging you to “Throw the amicable sky” (Fly the friendly skies). Imagine a new headline for Elance’s main provider page: “Workers in line of the rent, He finds the job done” (Hire Online Workers, Get the Job Done).

Yes, these pithy phrases are all real examples of machine translation. If you still think “instant translators” might be a valid option to translate your e-book, website, user manual, or marketing materials, no one can stop you. We all know they’re free and readily available. But what kind of message would you be sending to your potential clients?

Native vs. Non-Native Translators
Many translators claim to be “bilingual,” but this is very rare. If you think about your native language for a minute, you will realize that you know and understand things that only come from growing up in a country (or family) where that language is spoken: traditional childhood songs and rhymes, books, comics, ads, famous quotes, teenage slang, scientific jargon, different dialects and pronunciations. When you learn a second language, even if you work hard and have a natural linguistic gift, all this context is somewhat lost. You may know the grammar rules and never mix up prepositions, but no one can teach you what “the land of the free” truly means to an American or what a British person thinks of when he reads the phrase “Your Country Needs You.”

Language is much more than a set of rules, verb tenses, and vocabulary; rather, it is the true vehicle of culture in the broadest sense. Thus, the best translator is the one who is able to grasp the true context and connotations of the original language, and then reproduce them in the target language. This often means parting from literal word-by-word translation and re-creating the original message with the target public – and their specific cultural context – in mind.

Therefore, the perfect translator must have a strong knowledge of the source language and be a native speaker of the target language.

Individuals vs. Agencies
The decision of whether to use an agency or a freelancer depends on the nature of the text you need to translate.

Individual translators, like those found on Elance, can often offer a more personalized experience and work in closer contact with you. They can ask for clarifications and discuss the best options with you, essentially tailoring the project to your needs from start to finish.

Agencies, on the other hand, work for very large projects, where one translator cannot handle the volume of work or meet the deadlines required. Agencies also offer other services, such as editing and proofreading, DTP (desktop publishing), and the preparation of multi-language glossaries and style guides.

However, it is pretty obvious that an agency that offers all these services would cost more, not less, than the sum of individual translators. Many so-called “agencies” simply outsource the work to several low-cost translators with dubious qualifications or who may use machine translation. In these cases, the end results can be as bad as running your content through a machine yourself – but a lot more expensive in terms of both time and money.

On Elance, clients have the opportunity to choose from a vast pool of freelance translators and professional editors and proofreaders. When selecting your provider, remember to review his or her profile for past feedback, credentials, and portfolio. Don’t hesitate to ask questions. Read proposals carefully and assess how each bidder approaches your specific needs.

By following these simple guidelines, you’ll get the job done – and you’ll get it done right.

About the Author

Maria Jose Albaya is a professional English-Spanish translator with 16 years of experience, specializing in oil & gas, Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDSs), and technical translations. Over the years, she has delivered outstanding quality translations, from children’s books to websites, iPhone and iPad apps, user manuals, and brochures, often collaborating on projects with WordSpark copyediting services. She enjoys working in close contact with her clients and offers a personalized, friendly, and flexible service.


Excellent article - thank you!

Excellent. I think the difference between our human translations and machine translation is very well explained in this article.

Great article! We did a similar thing and had a look at hotel websites that use machine translation - with side-splittingly giggle-worthy results. Have a look on our blog (last article at the bottom of the page): http://www.anjajonestranslation.co.uk/index.php/lookie-here

Excellent article! It truly portrays the importance of professional translators and the added-value we can give to every project we engage in.
Thank you very much for expressing so clearly many of the beliefs we all translators share!

A very good article of talking about freelancers , as an individual translator,i hope to get a good job , i think i can do it,and finally succeed .Thank you for your share.