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Michal Kessel Shitrit
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December 8, 2021

How to hire the best freelance translators for your localization project

Obvious fact: Finding good translators is hard. In fact, for many companies, it's one of the main challenges when running a localization project. And when you're working mainly with freelance translators, It's definitely one of the most time-consuming steps.

To be honest, even once you do find your linguists - it's hard to know if they'll be a good fit for your company (I've certainly seen my fair share of translation disasters). There are many factors that go into it, such as the translator being able to effectively interpret your needs and meet them with quality, timely work. They should have a good command of the target language they're translating from and a good grasp of style and tone of voice so that your content reads well in their native language. You also need someone who's reliable - someone you can count on.

Why is it so hard to find good translators?

In many countries, translation is completely unregulated, and translators aren't required to pass a test or have any kind of certification. In some of these, there's no official training available - even if one was willing to take one. Essentially, this means anyone can present themselves as translators - no matter what language knowledge or cultural understanding they actually have.

This presents some complications, as you can't simply require your linguists to have a 'translation degree'. In fact, even the ISO standard for translation requires ISO-certified agencies to work with translators that have 'a relevant degree or 5 years of experience' - since demanding a specific certification is simply impractical.

Since it's not possible for everyone involved in the localization process to speak all languages, ensuring your linguists are doing good work becomes significantly harder. This 'language blind spot' is also ripe ground for cost-cutting practices that damage quality - with some people exploiting these gaps knowing it'll be hard to catch them in the act. I've heard of linguists delivering machine translation claiming it's human, and without another native editor flagging this, it's possible the clients would never have known.

Can translation agencies help?

Some companies would prefer to just let agencies handle the whole process. The company will only need to be in touch with one (or few) contact people - so it's considered to be easier and less time-consuming. Plus, clients assume that by entrusting the agency with translator recruiting and quality assurance, they can get full peace of mind. After all, most agencies are operated by professionals who have a great deal of experience in this field. The agency can act as a mediator between the client and the translator, helping to ensure that both parties are happy with the work that is being produced.

Reality, as always, is not so black-and-white. Yes, I've come across some incredible agencies, dedicated to providing incredible results. These often charge more, because quality costs money. After all, you want the project management team in your agency to put in the extra time, and ensure the results you're getting are up to standard. You also want them to be willing to pay the really good linguists - the ones who check all the boxes and can take their pick from nearly every agency and translation client working in their language pair.

But I've also seen agencies on the other end of the spectrum. In an attempt to increase profits and speed things along for clients, they exploit translators and cut corners constantly. These agencies are hard to spot from the outside, as they still make a big show about quality. It's only when you start reviewing your results that you understand something is wrong.

What do you need to look for when hiring freelance translators?

There are several things you need to consider when finding your ideal candidate. And no - more years of experience or better qualifications do not necessarily indicate higher quality. Translation and localization are, after all, forms of writing. And true writing talent is often impossible to learn - you either have it or you don't. This means you can find translators with hardly any experience doing amazing work, and veterans producing very bad results.

Plus, experienced translators may sometimes be set in their old ways. The localization industry has seen massive development in recent years, and if you're looking to localize using the most innovative tools and methods, their experience won't necessarily indicate a good fit.

Instead, you want to look for the following:

1. Someone who's a good fit for your project

In short, you want your linguist's profile to match the type of content you're thinking of localizing. If your typical user is aged 30-40, try to find a translator within that range. If you have a clothing swap app focused on fashion and trends, find a translator with knowledge in that domain.

2. Someone who produces good quality work

As we've established, this is tremendously hard to define. The best way to go about this is to create a shortlist of potential linguists and give them a short paid test. Then, have a reviewer you trust rate those tests to find translators that consistently produced good quality translations.

3. Someone who is reliable and easy to work with

This is an important consideration for many clients - you need to be able to trust that your translator will stick to the agreed schedule. If you're working on a tight deadline, even a day's delay can cause big problems. Look for someone who has a good track record of meeting deadlines, and make sure to ask about their availability before hiring them. In addition, try and get a feel of their personality. A translator should be receptive and willing to implement feedback and revisions of their work.

4. Someone you can pay

This may seem trivial, but linguists who often work remotely and online usually have a preferred payment method and predefined payment terms. Depending on your location and local laws, you may have a preference or may not be able to pay using just any method. As you screen your linguists, ensure they accept the payment method and terms you're offering.

So,where can you find these elusive - but oh so necessary - great freelance translators? Hop on to my guide on the 4 best places to find them for a conclusive list.


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