Why You Should Choose Your Translator Carefully

An over-simplified view of our profession will have you believe that a translation is the mechanistic rendering of the source text into the target language, as if the human element barely matters at all. You pour text in, text gets spouted back out, how hard can it be, right? After all, we’ve already got machines (NMT) that can do it. Matching source to target based on abstruse statistical calculations as to which meaning is more likely.


Well, I’m here to tell you translation is about way more than grammar, dictionaries, and guesswork. Translation is not a neutral process. It very much depends on the individual. In fact, if you think about it, translators never translate the source text itself, they translate their understanding of the source text. And they never just produce a target text, they assign meanings and connotations based on their level of comprehension and identification with the communicative purposes of your text. Technically, what they’re doing is rewriting your text in a different language so that it conveys the same information, conjures up pretty much the same images, emotions, sensations etc., and triggers the desired (re)action. Only a human translator can understand all the intricacies of a subtle path along the cognition-affect-behavior axis.

This is particularly true for transcreation, where an excellent translator armed with a detailed brief and brand manual is key for an optimal end result. If a compelling, persuasive text is what you’re after, there is no way around a human transcreator (or, at the very least, a human post-editor).

So you’ve come up with a great idea for a marketing campaign or a really clever slogan. Good for you! But your job isn’t done yet. In today’s globalized world, you also want to sell your products (hopefully without the terrifying shadow of a shitstorm looming over them) to audiences that need to be wooed in their native tongues. Next on your agenda should be the selection of the proper individual to translate your texts.


You want someone who is competent, creative, and well-read, versed in language, current affairs, popular culture, and – hopefully – one or two specialisms. And you need a person with their finger on your target market’s pulse.

You want someone who understands and masters the various translation techniques out there and is capable of making the right choice for your text. Will they use direct translation? (Think borrowing, calque, or literal translation). Or will they go the oblique way – will they skillfully rephrase, transpose, modulate, adapt, reduce or expand your text to recreate not only its meaning, but its overall “feel”?

You also want someone who is customer-centered and proactive in their approach. Someone who cares. Someone who will take the time to think about which strategy is more appropriate for your communicative purpose. This someone will usually have a lot of questions. What’s the context? What’s the channel? Who is the message for, exactly? How important is a particular syntax and word choice? Are you going for a particular effect (think prosody, meter, rhyme, tropes, neologisms, jargon)? How many liberties can they take? How inclusive do you want your language to be? What tone and what voice are you going for?*


When you find this individual, make sure you answer their questions. They are not nitpicking, they are meticulous. They’re simply trying to do their very best. Your project is also their project – it’s not just their professional reputation that’s on the line, it’s their entire job satisfaction. Please value their time and input, it will be worth your while – and don’t forget to pay them decent rates. How else can they keep doing their magic? Pushing competent individuals out of business benefits no one.

I hope this helps,


*If you find this confusing, that’s fine. Hopefully, your translator doesn’t. FYI, if your text were a character in a novel, then “voice” is its distinctive personality, the values it stands for and aims to convey, and what makes it unique. “Tone” is how it employs that voice in different settings, i.e. how it address other people – in a formal, informal, jocular, earnest manner etc. Not to be confused with “style”, which is the technical term for the writer’s craft of putting the words and sentences together – dry and quick-paced vs. slow and poetic, flowery and hyperbolic vs. understated etc. But the style should definitely reflect the voice.