Should You Ask Your Spouse To Translate Your Legal Documents at Work?

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After 25 years in the translation business my biggest challenge has been to educate clients about why they should hire a professional translator (preferably an agency), instead of taking the easy, but eventually costly and embarrassing, way out and using Google Translate, or asking their spouse or relative to translate for them.

So what are your options?

1.       Do Nothing: In today’s global business environment, this is just not an option anymore. At best you will definitely miss out on business opportunities, and at worst, you can be held legally or criminally liable. Example: if you own a factory, and one of your employees loses an arm because he did not know how to properly shut off a dangerous machine when it malfunctioned, and the only instructional manual was not in his native language, you will be liable.

 2.       Google Translate: I know, such a tempting an easy option, and I agree, many times that’s all you need to communicate with a buddy in Germany, or to try to figure out what a word means. Even though “machine translation” has come a long way, and one day it will probably replace human translators, we are not there yet. Example: Google Translate doesn’t know if you are referring to a “bank” where you put your money, or a park “bench” when you type the word “banco” in Spanish to translate it into English. If you are lucky, it will know based on the context of the whole paragraph, but it doesn’t always get it right.

 3.       Bilingual Staff or Relative: Like with any industry, those who are in it tend to be those who understand the importance of expertise better than anyone. Would you ask a person from Russia to teach a course in Russian history at the university just because he is Russian and has lived there all his life? Probably not. The same applies to your translations. Just because someone is bilingual doesn’t mean they know how to translate a written document properly. Sure, you can ask your relatives to interpret (verbally) what someone is saying in a casual conversation, but that is far different from actually transferring a written document from one language into another correctly. Case in point: when I worked at the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Translation/Interpretation Unit in the 90’s, most of our interpreters (verbal) who took the test to be translators (written) failed. They were great at interpreting verbally, but could not get the context right when translating, and/or their grammatical skills were never up to par.

 4.       Freelance Translator: This is a translator that works independently, on his own, not through an agency. Some are excellent, in fact, many actually work for an agency too, but the problem you will run into is the fact that they mostly work alone. They don’t have a strict quality control process that consists of 3 different professionals touching your important documents: translator, editor, and final proofreader. A good agency does, and no matter how good a translator is, he or she can and will make mistakes, mistakes that can only be caught if you have a separate editor review their work.

I always say that I don’t envy an HR manager that has to find a good translation partner to translate his or her employee handbook into Spanish for instance. If he is not bilingual, how will he ever really know if the quality is excellent? He won’t, and he will just pray that he picked the right partner, and that no one will come back to him months, or years later, to complain about a poor translation.

We would love it if you chose us as your translation partner, but whether it’s us or someone else, we encourage you to work with a professional agency when you need anything that is business related translated into another language. You can check their website for testimonials or reviews from happy clients, and even ask them for a reference. A good partner will have one AND share it with you.

Pamela Godoy Fiume

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