How To Find The Best Translator When You Don’t Speak The Target Language

Are you faced with problems like these?

  • “I don’t know how to find a good Translator”
  • “I can’t tell if my Translator is any good because I don’t speak the target language”
  • “I am about to lose opportunities overseas due to the poor quality of translations”

I’ve often heard the above from my clients, especially startups and entrepreneurs. They want high-quality content translation, but they don’t know how to judge whether the Translator is providing quality work at a good value.

In this article, I explain how to find a good Translator, even if you don’t know anything about the target language. Also, I give some useful tips for getting the best translation that will save you time and money.


3 reasons why finding good Translators is so hard

Evaluating output quality

As I mentioned above, it is difficult to judge the quality of a translation if you don’t have any proficiency in the target language. To solve this, you could hire a proofreader. However, this leads to the exact same problem: how can we evaluate if the proofreader is any good?

Also, hiring a proofreader means spending more money. That would pose a problem, especially if you are localising your content in multiple countries/regions. You are most-likely looking for an individual Translator, as opposed to a firm, because you want to save money. Therefore, it would not make good business sense to spend additional money hiring yet another person.

Finding the right price

If you search “Translator” or “translation agency” on Google or any crowdsourcing website, such as Upwork or Freelancer.com, you get inundated with an indistinguishable and overwhelming list of all types of services related to translating. Then, as you peruse the list, you also find that each sets greatly differing prices for their services, which do vary depending on the Translator/field of expertise. For instance, while some charge you USD 0.5 per English word, others charge you only USD 0.02 per English word. So, you might ask yourself: “Why are the prices so different?”, “How can we tell the difference?”, and “Is it actually worth the price they are charging?”

Defining “good translation”

Perfectly accurate translations are not always the best.

If you are localising marketing content, you need to fit it into the target culture, which itself has its own language subset. Hence, the best way to translate in order to achieve your goal may not involve word-for-word precision in some cases. Often, Translators will explain how accurately they translate as a way of demonstrating their skills, without asking what it is you actually need. If you are not a language professional, it’s only natural to get confused about what is “good translation” for you.

3 skills of a good Translator

Now you have an idea of the problems you may face when hiring a Translator. In this section, I will explain 3 skills that all good Translators possess. These will help you to distinguish a good Translator from a not-so-good one without needing to speak the target languages.

English skills

Good Translators have a good command of English.

Needless to say, it is a red flag if a Translator’s English skills are poor. The lack of English skills means they are likely to mistranslate your texts. The simplest and most straightforward way to check a person’s skill level would be by having a conversation. This doesn’t infer that their English must be perfect, however, especially if they translate English into their native/first languages. In this case, you should focus more on whether they have a command of their own language/culture and how they “convert” it.

Communications skills

Good Translators always care about quality.

It is a good sign if your Translator is asking some real questions before getting started. To put forward their best, they would first confirm what you need, what the context/background of your text is, and how the translation should be formatted as a deliverable. On the other hand, if your Translators say “I can do that” without asking you any questions about the detail of your project, that is a red flag. It is a sign that they are not interested in improving quality or in understanding your message.

Furthermore, good Translators offer insightful advice from the point of view of a language specialist. They would suggest the best way to achieve your goal – not just straight translating. In other words, they would serve as your consultant in terms of your target language.

Research skills

Good Translators are resourceful.

When they translate texts, good Translators always research the meaning of technical words and phrases, the subject matter of the field, and the best form of expression to relate to the target audience. Some Translators maintain a library of thick technical dictionaries and academic books in order to thoroughly understand the meanings of the content. To avoid any mistranslations, they are always studying subjects and adding to their knowledge.

3 tips for communication with Translators

Having good Translators does not always equal a good-quality translation. At times, due to miscommunication, extenuating circumstances, or some other condition, you might not get what you expected.

Here are the 3 tips for improving quality and motivating your Translators to give you their best:

Use a common file format

Plain text (.txt, .rtf) or Microsoft Office (doc, docx, xls, xlsx or so on) is the preferred file format. Google docs or spreadsheet will also work. These file formats are widely used around the world, and therefore, they won’t add another layer of potential confusion between you and your Translators. Moreover, most translation tools support these file formats, which allows the Translator to be more efficient, working with applications that are familiar to them.

On the other hand, it is important to avoid PDF files wherever possible. Your Translator might charge extra money for this because PDF files are difficult to edit. Having said that, you may sometimes want to have a PDF file translated anyway. In this case, consider extracting the words in the PDF file to a text file or converting it into another file format, such as docx.

If you are not clear which file format you should use, just ask your Translator.

Share your goals with your Translator

The most appropriate style of translation depends on the context. Sharing your goal enables your Translators to decide what is the best way to translate.

To do this, you should consider the “5W1H”:

  • Who will be reading your document?
  • What is the topic?
  • When do you need the translation?
  • Where will be your document published?
  • Why do you need the translation?
  • How should your translation be presented (i.e. formal/informal, wording or so on)?

It is important to note that, even if texts are the exact same, their translations are different depending on the contexts.

A good example of this is email. If you are sending an email to your client, the text should be formal rather than being casual, in most cases, and their corresponding translations should be formal as well. On the other hand, if the email is for your friend, the translation should be more friendly and relaxing. In addition, translation sometimes should include/exclude some extra phrases to be in accordance with rules, customs, and culture of the target language. For instance, in Japanese business emails, we usually start an email by using the phrase “お世話になっております。”, meaning “Thank you for your assistance always.” Japanese people always use this phrase, even if they haven’t received any help from the other party. It is nothing but our custom, yet adding this type of phrase gives your documents a more natural feel.

Therefore, it is important to share your goal with your Translators in order to enrich the quality of the translations.

Give Translators your review/feedback

Trust matters.

Every professional understands the importance of it, including Translators. Earning trust is invaluable; building a trusting relationship is more important than the potential monetary wealth gained from it. Offering your review/feedback should motivate your Translators, if they truly care and are serious about their careers.


Finding good Translators can be like pulling teeth—it can be a little painful, but it is possible to determine the quality of Translator with an informed eye. Ironically, actions speak louder than words.

I hope this article helps you in finding the perfect match for your translation needs.

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