Chinese Translations Guide: Choosing an English to Chinese or Chinese to English Translator
The success of your Chinese translations depends on the Chinese to English translator or the English to Chinese translator that you choose. Here’s some advice to help you make the right decision. At the bottom of the page, you’ll find additional translation resources, including a guide to typical translation pricing. (Looking for a free Chinese translation software?)
Choosing a freelance translator? Here are the important things to look at:
1) Language knowledge.
The translator should be a native speaker of the translation's target language, the final language of your translation. That means that if your translation is from English to Chinese, your translator's native language should be Chinese, not English. If your translation is from Chinese to English, then your translator's native language should be English.
Also be aware that the Chinese has different regional variants and that Simplified Chinese characters are used in China, while Traditional Chinese characters are used in Taiwan and Hong Kong.
The best option for English to Chinese translations is to look for a translator who is not only a native Chinese speaker but who is from or lives in the specific country where your translation will be used.
It is also important to find a translator who has a profound and nuanced understanding of the translation's source language, the language of the original document. A Chinese to English translator needs to be able to read Chinese well enough not to miss any shades of meaning, and an English to Chinese translator has to have a similarly strong understanding of English.
"The translator has to have a very deep understanding of the language he's translating from in order to really grasp the meaning -- the spirit -- of the original." - Siaoning Jhang, English to Chinese Translator
2) Subject knowledge.
If your Chinese translations cover any kind of technical topic or uses specialized terminology, you are better off with a translator who has a background in that subject matter. With some kinds of technical translations, a specialized background is almost a must. For example, if you are translating a complicated legal document from Chinese to English, you probably really need a Chinese to English translator with a legal background. Your translator needs to be able to understand the document he or she is translating, and should be able to use the proper terminology in the target language.
Note: if a translator claims to be an expert in a particular subject area, look further. What is the source of this expertise? For example, in the past, we have recruited translators for a translation agency focused on translations for the market research industry. Some translators claimed that they were specialists in market research based only on the fact that they had participated in surveys. However, when we gave them a translation test that used market research terms such as "sampling" and "quota," these translators had no idea what the terms meant.
Be very cautious about believing translators who claim to be specialists in twenty different fields. A real specialist will generally have a strong professional background in just one or two areas.
"If there are a lot of particular terms in the specific field, [a specialist] translator will be very familiar with the terms and the topic. It would take a lot of energy and time for another translator to familiarize himself with the field, and he still might not be able to accurately express the text and the sense it intends to convey. A translator who is more familiar with the field will do the job more efficiently, and the result will be more in tune with the client's demands." - Siaoning Jhang, English to Chinese Translator
3) Translation samples
Sample translations are perhaps the most important tool you can use to evaluate a translator's skills. Ask the translator to send past Chinese translations -- both the original documents and the translated versions. Even better: have the translator complete a short test translation into his or her native language.
In the case of a Chinese to English translator, even if you can't judge the accuracy of the translation from Chinese, you may be able to get an idea of the person's writing skills in English. However, if you are choosing an English to Chinese translator, you will probably have to find a native speaker to evaluate the sample Chinese translations or test results.
Yes, this is a lot of trouble, and if you don't know a native speaker qualified to evaluate the translator's work, then you may have to pay a second English to Chinese translator to do the evaluation. But for important Chinese translations, it is absolutely worth going to this effort. It is the only way that you can get a clear idea of the translator's ability.
Do not be fooled by the CV. A good CV is not enough. In fact, it is our experience that the translators with the best qualifications often do not perform well on translation tests. Anyone can take a translation course and get a certificate. But not everyone has the analytical or writing skills to translate well.
4) Translation credentials
For important Chinese translations, you want a professional, not just someone who speaks Chinese. A professional translator should have learned certain essential skills related to transferring information effectively from one language to another. A professional should know how to research terminology, how to avoid overly literal translation, how to work correctly with different document formats, and how to produce a polished text in the final language.
Look for an English to Chinese or Chinese to English translator who either has a professional translation degree or who has at least several years of professional translation experience. The more experience the translator has in your specific kind of translation, the better.
"When translators are less experienced, they tend to translate the text more literally. They translate the words, but they don't really translate the meaning of the texts. Reading the text, it's very obvious that this text was translated from another language, that it wasn't originally written in this language."- Siaoning Jhang, English to Chinese Translator
Before hiring an English to Chinese or Chinese to English translator, request professional references. Then actually contact the references and ask about the translator's reliability, the quality of his or her Chinese translations, the ease of communication with this person, the translator's adherence to deadlines. Ask if any problems came up in past projects and how the translator dealt with them. Find out if previous clients are entirely satisfied with the translator's previous work.
See typical rates for an English to Chinese or Chinese to English translator.
Compare Chinese English translation options to see if you need a translation agency, a professional freelance translator, or a free Chinese to English translator online.
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