Translation means the transfer of written messages from one language to another, while interpreting refers to the transfer of spoken messages. Sometimes 'translation' is used as a generic term covering both practices, but when hiring someone's services it will be less confusing if you distinguish between these different skills.
If you care about the quality of the end product, it is essential to use a professional translator rather than somebody who simply has a knowledge of two languages.
Translation is more than just a mechanical exercise in looking up words in a dictionary and substituting the grammatical constructions of one language for those of another. Often there is no one-to-one equivalence between words in different languages--for instance, a particular word might have different emotional connotations in the other language. A professional translator will be aware of these potential difficulties and know how to cope with them.
Accuracy, logic and clarity in expression are key characteristics of a good translation, along with an appropriate tone and level of language (e.g., level of formality or technicality). On-time delivery is also essential. Above all, a translation must fulfil the function you require of it. With a translation for use in court, accuracy will be of paramount importance, even if the translation reads somewhat awkwardly, whereas with texts for publication it is vital that the translation reads smoothly. Tell the translator about your needs, what and who the translation is for, and what you expect the final product to look like. This won't take a minute, but could save you a great deal of money and frustration and will help ensure a good translation.
It is very rare for a translator to be able to translate equally well in both directions, even if both languages are spoken fluently. Writing well, with correct grammar and full expressiveness, requires particular skills and greater expertise than spoken fluency. In general, a translator working into his or her native language is less likely to make grammatical errors, and is more likely to be able to produce text in the desired style of the target language and/or market. Conversely, a translator working from his or her native language is less likely to make mistakes in comprehension of the source text, but is more likely to make grammatical errors and to be limited in his or her command of syntax and style in producing the translation. This is not a hard and fast rule, however, as some non-native writers are indeed capable of producing fine text, and even native readers may on occasion misunderstand the source text they are reading. In addition, in certain specialized fields it is simply not possible to find a good translator who is a native speaker of the target language and has the requisite field-specific knowledge to understand the topic.
Clients are sometimes surprised at the high cost of translations. Remember that good translators are very experienced professionals who not only have expertise in the two languages concerned but also often have a background in a specialized field such as finance, law, or a particular area of science or technology. Translators often specialize in a certain field and spend long hours reading in that discipline and broadening their knowledge. They may also have tertiary training in translation, often at the postgraduate level. Translation work is often highly complex and demanding, both intellectually and in terms of working hours. Translators must be remunerated at a level commensurate with their skills, knowledge and training. Trying to save money by using someone who is not competent will cost you more in the long run, both in money and in time, if you have to pay someone else to fix the translation. Poor pay reduces your translator's motivation to produce a quality product for you.
Translators normally charge based on either the length of the source text (the text to be translated) or the length of the target text. The billing unit varies from translator to translator (e.g., per word, 100 or 1,000 words, character, byte, line or page, or based on the time involved, a lump sum or royalties), so you will need to discuss this with your translator.
It is impossible to quote a 'typical' rate, since it will vary according to the subject matter, the degree of technicality, the deadline, whether the text is being translated from Japanese or from English, and the country where the translation is made. In Japan rates for Japanese-English translation range anywhere between about 3,000 and 10,000-plus yen per page, while rates for English-Japanese translation in Japan tend to be lower. There is a broad correlation between price and quality--as the saying goes, "If you pay in peanuts, expect to get monkeys."
There may be a minimum charge for small jobs, or a premium for rush jobs or work involving weekends or public holidays. Jobs involving considerable research or complex formatting are sometimes charged on a time basis. Translators can give you a free estimate of the cost of a translation, but first they will need to see the document or at least a few sample pages.
Much longer than it takes to simply type out the text! The time required will depend on the length of the text, its difficulty (e.g., how many specialized terms it contains, how complex the argument is, whether it requires research or editing of the original text), the translator's ability and familiarity with the topic, and the translator's existing workload. As a very rough guide, however, a figure of 10 pages a day is a reasonable expectation, although translators working in a field with which they are familiar are often able to work more rapidly and specialized texts may take longer. Allow your translator time to resolve any queries and carry out any necessary research, as well as time to revise and polish the draft and format it according to your requirements. If you need a translation urgently, be prepared to pay rush rates (a surcharge of anywhere between 25% and 100%).
Literal word-for-word translation often results in a different meaning or nuance, or might be simply awkward or even laughable. Often, therefore, your translator will render the text quite freely so as to better convey the intended meaning. Moreover, languages reflect the cultures in which they are used, and things that are said in Japanese society, for instance, might sound inappropriate if translated literally into English. Your translator might make or suggest certain changes so that the translation 'works' better, omitting or adding material or rewriting the text so it is more suitable for the target audience. Although the final decision rests with you, the client--and you should make it clear to the translator how much freedom he or she has--your translator will often be able to offer sound advice based on a knowledge of both cultures so as to avoid communication breakdown caused by linguistic or cultural differences.
If for some reason translators are working into a language in which they do not have full written competence, it is advisable to have the translation checked by a native speaker of that language, particularly if the translation is for publication. This will help eliminate any incorrect, verbose or awkward expressions and enable parts where the meaning is not conveyed clearly to be rewritten.
Even when the translator is working into his or her native language, unless your translator has proven to be reliable and competent it is a good idea to have someone check the translation for accuracy, style and terminological appropriateness. Make sure that the checker is provided with the same information as the translator and is an experienced translator or editor. An ability to speak two languages does not necessarily mean a 'checker' is competent to monitor the work of a professional translator, and such checkers may make unnecessary changes or even changes for the worse.
In reality many translations are not checked at all--which is why it is even more important to use a good professional from the outset and establish a long-term relationship of trust. Make sure you let your translator know whether the translation has to be fully ready for publication or whether it will be checked and edited first.
If necessary for legal purposes, the translator can provide a notarized statement that the translation is true and accurate to the best of his or her knowledge.
Select your translator on the basis of relevant qualifications and experience, appropriate resources, availability and cost. If your job requires specialized terminology or knowledge, look for someone who at least has experience in that broad area. Working with a translator directly has several advantages over working through an intermediary, including a generally lower cost and greater direct input into the translation process. If you are likely to need someone on a regular basis, you might consider employing your own in-house translator.
Many translators advertise in Yellow Pages or other directories, but it is important to ascertain their qualifications and their linguistic and subject expertise.
For some jobs you might need to employ a translation firm that can offer additional services and quality control and that has the facilities to provide camera-ready artwork and can handle large volumes, tight deadlines and complex or unusual subjects. Most translation companies rely on both freelance translators and in-house staff, so when choosing an agency you should ask about the qualifications and experience of their freelance and in-house translators. You should also ask whether the company adds value to the translations--e.g., through editing and proofreading or desktop publishing. Translation companies charge a commission on top of the amount paid to the translator, so they are usually more expensive than working with a translator directly.
Whether using a freelance translator or an agency, once you find a good translator it is a good idea to use the same person consistently so that he or she becomes familiar with your work and the preferred vocabulary, style and formatting and can do an even better job for you in the future. Good communication between all parties involved in the translation process is also essential for obtaining a quality translation.
The more planning and preparation that goes into a translation task and the more you cooperate with your translator, the better the outcome is likely to be. These steps won't take long, but could save you a great deal of money and frustration. Here are some tips to help you.
Some universities and commercial schools offer courses in translation. People who have studied in such courses can be expected to have a sounder grasp of translation than novices without any training, but they may still lack the experience of long-standing practitioners. Translators come from a range of professional and technical backgrounds and do not necessarily have an academic background in languages or translation.
Some countries have accreditation exams whose aim is to determine whether the candidate possesses a certain minimum degree of competence. In Japan there is no government-administered accreditation scheme, although some commercial schools offer tests and certificates of varying credibility and validity. In the United States the American Translators Association offers an accreditation exam, and in Australia the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters holds exams at several different levels of expertise.
The value of accreditation depends on the reliability of the testing methodology, and even a valid examination is no guarantee that someone who has passed it can perform well on all kinds of texts. When hiring a translator who claims to be accredited, it is important to ask who the accreditation authority was, and in which language direction and at what level the person is accredited. Although accreditation is one indication of a serious and professional approach to translation and it is becoming more common, most Japanese/English translators today do not have formal accreditation. This does not necessarily mean they can't do a good job. Ask prospective translators about their experience in the particular field for which you require a translation. You might also ask some of their other clients about the quality of the translator's work and if it was delivered on time and per instructions.
Translators operate under general ethical principles that require them not to disclose information acquired in the course of their work and not to undertake work that is demonstrably beyond their ability (at least without informing the client). They are also required to maintain impartiality, take all reasonable care to be accurate, be responsible for the quality of their work, continue developing their professional knowledge and skills, and respect and support their fellow professionals.
Employers of translators also have certain ethical obligations, as stated in The American Translators Association Code of Professional Conduct & Business Practices.
Today there are many software packages on the market that claim they can translate automatically. With translation between European languages, machine translation packages can sometimes serve a rudimentary purpose by providing a very rough idea of the gist of the document. Even so, they work best on texts with very restricted and repetitive subject matter or texts written according to strictly controlled guidelines. Machine translation soon shows its shortcomings when faced with authentic or complex texts that encompass the full range of expression, ambiguity and nuances present in everyday texts--not to mention literature. Extensive pre-editing and post-editing by human experts is usually needed for machine-translated texts, so generally it is cheaper--and certainly better in terms of quality--to employ a professional translator from the outset. Moreover, Japanese and English are very different languages used in very different cultures, and machine translation in this situation is far more problematic than between European languages. Fully accurate, high-quality machine translation with no human input is unlikely to ever be a reality, particularly between English and Japanese.
Membership in the Japan Association of Translators (JAT) is open to any individual with an interest in translation from or into the Japanese language. Corporate membership is not available. Employees of translation companies may, however, join as individuals.
("Working with Translators" updated on November 14, 2002 and minor changes added on December 13, 2012)