Five Steps to Selecting the Right Translator

Quentin Zaloylo, English-French translator at Jerome Translations

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Translation is a very old occupation. Even if the means and techniques have undergone drastic changes over centuries – and particularly during recent decades – some things remain the same. Translators are everywhere, and they often work in the shadows. They may or may not muscle their way into the Who’s Who of your community, but the work they do sets the stage for transactions in virtually every sector and area of life.

I decided to write this article after meeting an acquaintance who works as a marketer of consumer products. She told me about all the time she spent trying to help her employer reach customers in foreign markets. She wrote great marketing copy in English, explaining the features and benefits of the highly specialised product line. But she had to spend hours revising and editing the versions that were translated by a so-called professional translator. The results were rather shocking: misinterpretations, wrong terminology, grammatical mistakes, and texts that didn’t read well at all. The list of problems was long. Not something you’d want as communication pieces from the future Company of the Year.

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Her mistake? She hired a translator who provides general translations. That is to say, someone who’s bilingual and says they work with numerous subjects…but isn’t what you’d call an expert in any of them. Long story short: my friend didn’t want to trust another translator. She echoed the saying “if you want something done…” and did the rest by herself.

This is just one example of an issue that happens every day to uninformed buyers of translation services. Being too hasty in hiring a translator – or overlooking the consequences of this choice – may result in a waste of time and money that no company or entrepreneur can afford.



The good news is that there are some simple and effective ways to find the translator you need – a  trusted supplier who will support your business’s goals. The general guidelines are as follows:

(1) Until you’ve tested the translator and seen their work, think twice before you assign work to them.

(2) Take time to define your needs.

(3) Ask to speak to the translator in person.

(4) Ask about the translator’s professional qualifications and relevant experience and

(5) Time permitting, set up a translation test.

If even one of you follows my advice, the time spent writing this article will have been worth it and I’ll sleep with my mind at ease!


Do you envisage any foreign flags on your future website?


Keep in mind that a translator is a service provider who could go a long way down the road to success with you. While every translator you will find has his or her own unique abilities and writing style, there will be some whose expertise and personality represent a good fit for you and your business. You should be looking for people whose written work makes a good impression.

Even if it sounds tedious, you should take the time to plan ahead and carefully define your needs. What do you need translated? Who is the target audience? What message and tone do you wish to convey? The answers to these questions will create the optimal conditions for your translator to carry out the work. Once your needs have been identified, translator hunting season can begin.

In the course of your quest, you will stumble upon countless websites offering translations at insanely low rates, no matter the specialization demanded or the deadline, and all promising dream-like quality and attention to detail. However, no matter how appealing these claims may sound, don’t jump to conclusions. How can you decide when they all purport to have the same qualities? Well, if you want to find a precious pearl in this wide ocean of clams, you may have to don a scuba suit (just for a while).

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. A good translator will always take time to address your concerns, because he or she understands the potential pitfalls and is motivated to avoid them. Do ask for credentials, references, or related industry experience. If you are competent in the language combination you need – or know someone who is – ask for samples of previous translations. Just this much will certainly help you assess the quality and professionalism of your prospective translator.


For this reason, I would recommend that you avoid contracting large, impersonal translation agencies. Such agencies often claim to be able to translate every language on the planet, with unbeatable turnaround times. Purchasing the services of these agencies may seem like an easy solution: you send the text, they take care of everything and you receive your translation back shortly after. However, you don’t know who they will choose to translate your document, whether that person qualifies, of if you can expect them to assign the same person every time you contact them. The end result could be a total re-do or worse: an embarrassing gaffe that persists online for years.

The ideal is to actually test the skills of the translator by requesting a free translation sample. Alas, most successful translators won’t accept, or even find the time to translate material for free. Moreover, a short sample is rarely representative of the full extent of a translator’s skills. My advice, provided that you are looking for a long-term supplier, is to carefully select a translator using the above-mentioned criteria, pay for a two- or three-page translation, and have it proofread by another carefully selected translator. The final result should clearly reveal whether you contracted a professional or a quack. (By the way, if the proofreader seems more qualified, you can retain him for your future projects!)

No, I didn’t disclose any classified information here. Nor did I unveil the conclusion of the latest scientific research on the matter. These are basic issues that every person trying to expand his or her market across borders has had to face at one point or another. The purpose of this article is to help all of you ambitious entrepreneurs avoid repeating some costly and embarrassing mistakes.

In most cases, you don’t hire a translator for a one-time non-critical assignment. You hire a partner who will support your business and open up new opportunities. You don’t carelessly choose the company that will ship your goods. Nor the web designer for your website, nor the manufacturer for your components. A translator is as important a supplier as these. You need someone who is professional, qualified, easily reachable and, most of all, consistent with the quality of their work.

Follow my advice and always think twice before contracting a language service provider. With a bit of attention and technique, you will dramatically lower the risk of poor quality translation that creates more problems than it solves.


Quentin is an English-French translator at Jerome Translations. When he is not busy translating or guiding entrepreneurs on the road to success, he is focused on quenching his thirst for languages by polishing his English, Spanish and Japanese…. To read Quentin’s full bio, please click on the link below: