If You Call Yourself a Professional Translator, Be a Good One

Just recently I joined a collective translation effort presented by TM-Town to all translators registered on this translator-matching platform based on expertise.

Their goal was to have all of TM-Town’s website content translated into multiple languages to better meet the needs of the many translators who have joined and continue to join TM-Town from all over the world.

With the high demand of translators that are available in my language pair (EN>SP), I was not surprised to find that most of the files needing Spanish translation were basically all finished. There was still a lot of editing that needed to be done, so I opened up one of the edit-pending files and got to work.

What I saw was quite disappointing.

From literal translations to grammar errors, as well as inconsistencies between the formal and informal forms–I was quite appalled by what I saw.

There were segments that had been translated using machine translation—no doubt about it—and pasted into the document.

Were these translations actually executed by professionals? Really?

These are some of the “professionals” who volunteered to do the work in exchange for a TM-Town account upgrade (TM-Town’s way of rewarding all the translators involved in this effort) and are hoping to make translation their lifelong career.

Should I be worried?

I almost wish that TM-Town had actually invested in paying someone to do the work to ensure accuracy, consistency and good flow, but I realize that would have been a big expense, especially since they wanted to do this in multiple languages.

I’m not trying to say that every file I edited was in need of a complete re-do, but there were definitely enough of them to cause me to worry.

It also led me to think there is probably a lot of translation work out there that is being marketed as “high-quality” and “professional,” and a good amount may be far from being just that.

Nonetheless, I know this experience is not a reflection of something that continually happens in the translation world—in fact, there are many excellent translators that are true professionals and are very good at what they do.

What I did learn, however, is that there are also many translators calling themselves “professionals” that are really, really bad.

These are the same translators whose clients have deposited their trust in them and expect to be delivered a quality product.

Unfortunately, these clients have no idea what they are getting in return.

Not a “high quality” and “professional” translation–that’s for sure.

So, what’s the lesson learned here?

If you are someone looking for professional translation services, don’t be so trusting and do your research.

If, on the other hand, you are a translator who claims to deliver “high-quality” and “professional” work, live up to those words and be a good one.

Perfect your skills and deliver a quality product.

It is the least you can do to build a reputable business for yourself.

Because a bad translation will come back to haunt you.


About the author:
Beverly Hayes specializes in social, adoption-related topics, medical, travel and tourism, and marketing translations from English into Spanish. A mother of five, Beverly is the founder/owner of Spanish Connect Translations, a translation agency based in Rexburg, Idaho. She graduated from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah with a Bachelor’s degree in Clinical Laboratory Science, and this last December she finished her Master’s degree in Spanish Linguistics from New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Being a stay-at-home mom for most of her life, Beverly has now taken upon herself a new goal–to contribute to the world in a different way by jumping on the entrepreneurship bandwagon. She has the education, the cultural background, and the writing skills that are necessary to succeed in this competitive field and provide a quality product that’ll stand out among the rest. You may visit her website at spctranslations.com, or contact her via Twitter: MySpanConnect and email: beverly@spctranslations.com.

5 thoughts on “If You Call Yourself a Professional Translator, Be a Good One

  1. It’s happening so many times. First of all I think TM-Town (now Proz) is not doing a good job by crowd-sourcing translations while the industry is already under a high pressure in terms of rates, deadlines and professionalism. And it seems that there are so many cowboys out there. But almost always I experience that pointing with a professional finger to grammar errors by colleagues is seen as a personal attack – and therefore not appreciated in any way. Even agencies nowadays seem to prefer lower quality for lower rates. Not sure if our industry will ever recover from that

    1. I honestly don’t know much about agencies, but if that’s the case let them have it. If we believe in ourselves and our value, we don’t need to go there. Finding clients that are not price sensitive is key–clients that realize this is our job and that we also need to make a living, right?

  2. Hello, Beverly,

    This is indeed an interesting article and comment thread that you created here. Just following up on the last few comments about editing poor-quality translations, I feel that sometimes, if the situation allows it and the client is willing to listen to you, it is just better to re-translate the source text. My experience with this type of editing work has been such that when you are reading the low-quality translated text, your mind starts getting contaminated with the sentence structure to the point where it can’t think clearly, which ends up being editing work about switching clauses back and forth, looking up too many terms, and in the end it is so time consuming that you are just better off translating it again. This is definitely my personal take on it. I know there are extraordinary editors out there who can transform any text into a perfectly crafted beauty. I guess I am thinking of Marina Orellana here. I know she was one of those editors who could do that in the Spanish language. Congratulations on getting that editing job and for advocating professionalism in our industry.


    1. Marco, that’s actually been my experience as I engaged in this editing job. Half way through I realized that I could not continue to want to re-translate everything — I was being paid to edit, and I could not do translation work that I was not being paid for. So I focused my attention on grammar fixes, spelling, and terms substitutions. There were times that I was tempted to rearrange everything but I kept my distance. It was hard! The end result from the edit was still a much needed improvement in the overall content, but it could have been better if I had done it all from the very beginning. There is also a big difference between editing the work of one single translator vs content translated through crowd-sourcing. This experience helped me to rethink what my editing charges will be in the future depending on the type of editing. No two editing jobs are the same! Thank you for your comment!

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