How to Find a (Good) Translator

Looking to find a quality translator?

Maybe you have a business or website that needs to serve people in multiple languages, or maybe you want to add other languages for useability and SEO purposes. Or maybe even video subtitles…whatever the case may be…here’s how I recommend you to do it.

***NOTE: I’ve got several years experience of hiring translators for many languages. The biggest translated site I run has around 1,000 posts and 6 languages.


1. Ask a (bilingual) friend

Have a bilingual friend audit the translators you find and better yet, just hire a friend to do it.

And I don’t want to hear excuses about how you don’t have any friends who speak other languages. You most likely do but just don’t know that. Make a post on your Facebook and ask! You will be surprised who you find.

You don’t need them to be professional translators!

  • Anybody who speaks another language will do.
  • The thinking is this…either you hire them to your translation or have them audit the contractors you’re planning to hire.

Please please please, do not try to go straight to professional translator. Why am I so adamant about asking your friend? It’s because you have a personal relationship with your friend and they are more likely to be honest with you.

Common problems with professional translators:

  • They don’t know certain industry terms and they don’t bother to ask your or research themselves, they just translate it literally.
  • They don’t maintain your tone or gender. You might be an young man but the translation has the tone of an old woman.
  • They alter your writing because they don’t like how you say something. And you might lose some of the content value or personality in your writing.
  • They don’t localize the translation for their audience. For example, using Mexican Spanish instead of Spain Spanish (or vice versa).


2. Post online for contractors.

There are many general contractor sites like UpWork but also specialized ones (like Dave’s ESL cafe) for only language workers. Look around and you’ll find them easily.

Audit your top 20 replies!

  • You’ll most likely get dozens of replies. You should audit every single one of them.
  • Give them 2 paragraphs to translate…preferably one with a lot of colloquial personality, and another with a lot of technical complexity.
  • Why do you have to audit the top 20? Because most of them are crap (as you’ll find out). It’s shocking that many of them will even try to cheat using Google Translate. Some will also use GT to translate the whole thing and then go back and make only minor edits.


3. Hire several

This is another favorite trick of mine…hire several of them…like 5! Yes, it’s tempting to just talk to a few and then pick the one that gives you the best deal but you will almost always regret this if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Suppose you have a 20-page website, do it like this:

  • Hire 5 translators, let each of them translate just one page.
  • Pick the best one and have them translate the rest.

I know what you’re thinking…what’s the point of hiring multiple if you already did your audit?!

The reason is because many of them will not work in the manner that you like.

  • They respond fast to get the job. Once you pay the deposit, they say they’re available to start “next week” which then becomes next month because “sorry, my internet was down”.
  • Many of them are just managers who then contract the work out to lesser translators.
  • They’re great translators but don’t start being less detailed as they rush your project out.

I’ve been there and done it all.

I know it’s tempting to just hire one at a great price but it never works out that way. You’d be surprised how much BS there is. You’ll quickly learn some are outsourcing it or some won’t start your job immediately, they’ll start it a week later. Some are very thorough and ask many questions, others do not. Some seem to only work at odd hours in the night perfectly avoiding all communication with you.

For whatever reason: I’ve found over 50% of the time, friends translate better.


Why are finding good translators so hard?

Here’s my guess: most translation services charge by word. Good ones cost like 7-10 cents a word. Cheap ones are below that. And all they think about is price….most won’t go the extra mile. They don’t think about tone (properness/gender-tone/personality-tone), localization, transliteration, using the most popular SEO-words, many other things.

With friends, they’re more likely to ask you all these questions so you can do a lot of the thinking. Professional translators just wanna shove the project out. I’ve been handling translated/subtitled projects for over 5 years now. I’ve hired over 100 translators. Using friends outdid 85% of them.

At the very least, if you still insist on hiring a “professional translator”, at least have a friend audit their test. Many people go by the old, “you get what you pay for” and I don’t agree at all. You can still pay a lot of money only to get a “manager” who contracts out to lesser-skilled translators.

There’s also the matter of age. If you’re covering a topic that young people know about well (pop culture), you might actually get a much better translation from a young college student who speaks English while traveling than some 50-year old professional translator who knows perfect formal English but isn’t caught up on today’s media and slang.

My favorite tactic: find volunteers!

  • Put up a sign or post on your business and offer something for free or in exchange for their linguistic help.
  • You’d be surprised how many people are out there who love your brand and would gladly lend a hand!

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