Tips for Buying Translations

In a weekly market it is common practice for traders to offer their fruit at different prices. In Germany, for instance, passion fruit are usually more expensive than plums because they are more difficult to get. Even if they look similar on the outside, on the inside they are very different, not to mention their taste.

Roughly the same can be said of translations: Some are easy and others need more time, such as adaptations and localisations, because they include adjusting the text to the language and cultural needs of a particular target group.

Finding a translator can be a challenge. The market resembles a jungle where amateurs offer their services next to highly qualified graduate translators, medium-sized agencies and global language service provider groups. On your search for a suitable translator you should always ask several different providers for quotes. There can be huge differences in prices and in quality. Be careful of very cheap offers, they are often an omen for low quality. On the other hand, expensive pricing not necessarily equals high quality.

One reason for the often considerable differences in quality is that the professional title of „translator“ is not protected by law in Germany and other countries. Therefore you should always ask service providers about their qualifications and experience. Each translation project has different demands, for example regarding specialist terminology, scope and degree of difficulty. Not least because of this, translations should always be done by professional service providers with expertise and an acknowledged degree or diploma.

When requesting a quote for a translation, you should send your provider the complete text for viewing and add other important information, such as your requested delivery date and a briefing on the target audience. Clear and detailed information will allow your translator to make a fair and appropriate estimate that is tailored to your needs and will bear fruit for your benefit.

More useful tips can be found in the publication „Translation – Getting it right. A Guide to Buying Translations“, which is offered for free download by the Institute of Translating and Interpreting (ITI).

Vincenzo Campi - The Fruit Seller

Quotes on the Art of Translation

Translation is a very complex challenge. Many authors are famous for having shaped world literature. One key to their success is the translation of their original works into different languages. A less known fact is that some renowned authors also translated the works of other writers and mused about this fine art and the role of this profession:

„The translator must proceed until he reaches the untranslatable; and then only will he have an idea of the foreign nation and the foreign tongue.“
(Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe, translated by Bailey Saunders, 1906)

„And thus every translator is to be regarded as a middle-man in this universal spiritual commerce, and as making it his business to promote this exchange : for say what we may of the insufficiency of translation, yet the work is and will always be one of the weightiest and worthiest affairs in the general concerns of the world.“
(Correspondence between Goethe and Carlyle, edited and translated by Charles Eliot Norton, New York, 1970)

„But how much easier it is to translate an anecdote, than a feeling! The witty and the unwitty can parrot the comical; but only the heart can capture the language of the heart. It has its own rules; and it is all over with it, at the moment when one fails to realize this, and wishes instead to subject it to the rules of grammar, and to give it all the cold completeness, all the tedious distinctness which we demand in a logical sentence.“
(Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Hamburgische Dramaturgie, 1767/69; translator unknown. Source: Michelle Stott, Behind the Mask: Kierkegaard’s Pseudonymic Treatment of Lessing in the Concluding Unscientific Postscript, 1993)

„Isn’t it strange, that a verbatim translation almost always is a bad one? yet everything can be translated well. This goes to show what it truly means to fully understand a language: it means to know the people using it. „
(Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Sudelbücher, 1800-1806, translator unknown)

„The translator’s faithfulness turns into betrayal when it makes him obscure his original.“
(Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Rettungen des Horaz, 1754, translator unknown)

„Translators can be considered as busy matchmakers who praise as extremely desirable a half-veiled beauty. They arouse an irresistible yearning for the original.“
(Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe, translated by Bailey Saunders, 1906)

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