How to spend your money wisely when working with translators?

So you want to talk to an audience who don’t speak your language, and you   find a few translators (individuals or agencies), get a few quotes.

Now what?

As a professional translator and fairly sophisticated shopper, I’d like to offer my advice on how to choose a translator that gets you the best value out of the money you pay. After all, we work hard for the money, why shouldn’t we make it work hard for us?

ONE – if among the quotes that you’ve gathered, there’s one that’s far lower than the majority, eliminate this option.


I’m not trying to convince you to choose the most expensive service you can find. We both know expensive things may not equate to quality, but cheapest things most definitely don’t. If most shirts cost, say £30, and one costs only £3, would you go for it? Likewise, if someone quotes you a suspiciously low price, you should trust your instinct and move on with other options.

TWO – if the candidates try to sell you how good their translation quality is, ignore it.

Quality is a default precondition when we shop. No one is looking for bad quality stuff. And no one advertises bad quality. It’d be a waste of time if you try to judge who has the best quality purely from the sellers’ own statements, because they’re all the best according to them.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t care about quality. What we need to do is look for their guarantee. What if we use them and their translation is not up to our standards? Do they offer a refund? Discount? Retranslation?

THREE – look for reviews/testimonials of their services, if available.

What did other clients say about this translator? Was the service satisfactory? How was the communication process? Was the translator able to provide creative solutions that meet the clients’ particular requirements?

Now things are getting a little more serious. In order to find out what the translator can do for you, you’ll need to decide what you need. Do you just want an ok job done because you have a limited budget? Or are you willing to pay a bit more, and get more in return?

Translation is a service for sale. Just like any service in the market, there’s someone who just about does the job, for a reasonable price. The work might not be perfect. You might need to send the translation back for editing because of some errors (that’s if you catch them), so more time than necessary is spent. The target audience might recognise what they’re reading is a piece of translation from another language instead of one written in their mother tongue.

And, there are those who charge a premium, but offer you so much more than “quality” (think luxury brands). The translation says what you want it to say, and resonates with the target audience the way the original text does with the original audience. It talks to them in a voice as if you are talking to them directly, instead of feeling like the message has been relayed by someone else. What’s more, it creates an impression that your team is big enough to have someone who speaks the target audience’s language, or at least that you value them enough to pay for a very good translation.

Here’s a real-life story that’s quite the opposite. A few months ago I was at a property investment event. At the end of the presentations, we were given goodie bags in which there were brochures from the event sponsors. Among them there was a leaflet in Chinese from a wealth management firm. Coincidentally I was looking for help from such a firm so my money wouldn’t just sit in the bank and depreciate. So I started to read it with full interest.

The first glance gave me a bad feeling, as I noticed that among the simplified Chinese characters, there were some traditional ones (they were easily spotted because they have significantly more strokes than the others).

The closer I looked, the less interested I became. Some sentences hardly made sense, even if without the typos that dotted through the article. There were also instances where both the traditional and simplified versions of the same characters were seen in different places. It looked like the work was rushed and not much care was taken in producing this leaflet.

From a technical perspective, it seemed that the article was translated into traditional Chinese first, and then converted into simplified version (which can be easily done via a software, for example, Microsoft Word) without making adjustment for the different grammar and language habits.

Even within the same “variety” of the written language, traditional Chinese in Hong Kong differs from the one in Taiwan; simplified Chinese in Mainland China is not used exactly same way as the one in Singapore. A trustworthy and competent translator would be about to tell you that.

I couldn’t help but suspect that one of the two scenarios might have happened: either, the firm didn’t do enough research to find a trustworthy translator (I’m sure you can think of many reasons and none of it will sound great); or, the firm was made aware of the language difference, but chose to ignore it, because converting the Chinese characters is cheaper and less of a hassle than having the text translated again. Either way, would you trust this firm with your money? I wouldn’t. And I didn’t.

For more information about our translation service, please contact our team.

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