Translators in a meeting

What is a translator and why you should hire one

This is clearly not news at this point, but on business days, I’m a translator from English to French for an insurance company in Canada. I often find myself explaining what I do to people, and it surprises me to know that a lot of them don’t even know what translation is. Let me run you through it.

What in the world is a translator? What does it eat?

A translator is a word specialist in two languages. They take a text in the source language (English in my case) and transfer them into the target language (French).

And depending on the translator, they eat regular food. I like cookies and chocolate. Some are vegan, some eat the biggest steak every time they are challenged. Some make a mean pot roast. You know, regular people who sometimes forget in which language they are speaking!

But we can use Google Translate. Why should we hire translators?

HA! If you want to INFURIATE a translator, tell them that you use Google Translate. That’s how you give a heart attack to a translator. Automatic translation is a plague. Yes, it could be useful when you’re on vacation and are trying to speak with locals, but other than that, it’s a plague. There, I said it.

Machines cannot grasp the intricacies of language. In some areas, using the wrong word in the target language can lead to complex legal battles (e.g. contracts, disclaimers, etc.). We have all seen examples of terrible translations. Just Google it!

I used Google Translate for a Spanish class assignment…

I took 2 Spanish classes when I was in university. The last assignment of my second class was to write a brief essay, more or less 200 words, about our aspirations in life. I got lazy after 2 sentences… Wrote my text in French, copy-pasted it in Google Translate so that I could translate it into Spanish.

Let’s say that there were a lot of question marks from my teacher on my assignment and that I finished that class with a C-. She figured out pretty quickly that I chose the lazy way.

To become a translator, you need to get a degree in translation. Three years of university.

Why? Because you learn the basics of translating. You learn the traps in transferring one language to the other. You learn how to make sure the target language sounds as fluent and natural as possible.

Different fields of experience

You also get to experience translation in different fields. For instance, I took Marketing adaptation (basically translating ads), literary translation, financial translation, and probably a couple more that I can’t remember. You get more in-depth about translating in these specific fields. I know some friends of mine took Legal translation, Medical translation, Technical translation. Translation has a very broad range.

Reach your target audience

Do you want to reach a target audience that doesn’t speak your language? Hire a translator. It’s LITERALLY their job! For instance, in Quebec, Canada, the main language is French. While most people are bilingual, there are still a lot of people who don’t understand English at all.

If you are looking to sell your products or services here, you need to reach out to them in a language they understand.

Translators are professionals who know how to get your message across to your audience, in the language that they understand. They have the resources and the knowledge to do it well.

How does one decide to become a translator?

If you asked me at 9 years old, 12 years old, 15 years old, and 18 years old what I wanted to be when I grow up, the answers would have been an archaeologist, a detective, a history/French teacher, and a French teacher in high school (if you don’t remember the education system in Quebec, check out my blog post The education system in Quebec, Canada). When I finished college, I was adamant about my decision: I was going to be a French teacher in high school. I’m a grammar nerd (who knew), I’ve always been a bookworm, and I love sharing my passion with other people.

I actually wanted to be a French teacher…

But see, the thing is: teenagers are wild creatures. When we celebrated my (now ex) sister-in-law’s 18th birthday, my house was filled with teenagers (4 OF THEM). I spent the night hiding in my room. Not even kidding. So, can you imagine me, a very impatient and anxious lady, teaching something recognized as boring, as it is a mandatory class? Nah. Me neither. So after the first week of the first semester, I dropped out. LAWL.

Thank you, college program, for making me choose Translation

I then remembered that in college, I took an elective class. I had to choose between art class and translation. Having absolutely NO artistic talent, I didn’t have the choice but to take the translation class. I wasn’t super good at it at first, because I was definitely not as bilingual as I am now, but I enjoyed it a lot. This is when I decided to give this a try.

And I finally found out what Grown-up Val was going to be.

Where can I find a translator? Do they live on trees?

You can find translators pretty much everywhere. As far as I know, they don’t live on trees, but I’m not judging if they do. I live in an apartment. Pretty simple.

My best guess would be to look it up on LinkedIn.

If you need an English-to-French translator, hit me up!

You’ll find my contact info on my Translation Services page. I’ll be happy to discuss your project with you or refer you to someone else if I can’t do it.

Looking for a translator specialized in other languages?

If you need a translator in any other languages, I strongly recommend you start your research with the OTTIAQ, the official translators, terminologists, and interpreters Orders.

To become a member of the OTTIAQ, you need to submit an application, back it up with proofs of your work, fill out a ton of paperwork, and pay the annual membership fees.

For you, it means that you can make sure to hire someone who’s certified. (I am working on my application, but sometimes, I procrastinate. I’ve been postponing it for the last 4 years… I really should get to it).

How much do translation services cost?

You won’t like my answer, but it depends on so many factors:

  • Word count (is it a 500-words blog post or an entire website, including product descriptions)
  • Deadline (is it rush or not)
  • Does it include the reviewer/proof-reader fees?
  • Does it require legal validation with a lawyer?

The list goes on an on.

You also need to consider the translator’s experience.

  • Are you hiring someone fresh out of school, or someone who has been translating for 30 years?
  • Do you need a specific type of translator, or is your subject widely known?
  • Does your translator need to ask a subject-matter expert to review from a legal or technical standpoint?

If you want to hire a translator, ask for a quote, and shop around.

My best tip: don’t ask your cousin Shannon who spent 3 weeks in France 10 years ago to translate your documents

This person may understand the basics of the language, but they will rarely master it and can completely miss the message in the target language. Why am I telling you this? Because I’ve heard that answer more than once!

Just like you would trust a lawyer to defend you in court, a certified accountant to file your taxes, or a mortgage broker to get the best mortgage for your housing needs, you should let a professional translator take care of your translation needs for your business.

Examples of awful translations!

So, here are a few examples of translation fails, as promised. I found them here, on The Language Nerds website (you should check out their Facebook page, they share some quality memes!)

I hope I convinced you to not use Google Translate if you want to project a professional image to your target audience!

As I mentioned above, I offer translation services from English to French (only). If you want to learn more, head over to my Translation Services page.


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