How do translators work? If you only see the finished translation, then the translation process can seem a bit mysterious. In this post, we take you behind the scenes to show you how translators work and the steps they go through to produce that text. Read on to find out how it all works.
(Of course, translating itself is just one part of what freelance translators do, since they’re also running their own business, maintaining their skills, and so on).
Our 10-step translation process
Bear in mind that these are more or less the steps we take here at TAGS HQ. Other translators may work slightly differently or do things in a slightly different order, but there will certainly be similarities.
- Establishing a brief
Before starting work on any project, it’s essential to have a clear brief. Clients can help by providing a clear project description that includes information such as the type of service required, document format and deadlines.
We’ll then typically follow up with some key questions about aspects like text purpose, style and tone of voice so that we can create a text that hits the mark.
- Project management software
Many translators choose to use some form of project management tool or software to help them keep track of all the projects they have on the go at any one time. So about now, we’ll set up the project with all relevant details in our project management system. This helps us make sure nothing slips between the cracks, from quoting all the way through to invoicing.
- Preparing the files
Once we receive files from the client – text to be translated, as well as any reference documents – we need to organise them. This involves creating relevant folders and saving everything in a logical place. For large projects, this can be quite time consuming.
Next, we’ll read through the full document or documents to get a sense of any issues or questions that might crop up.
- Initial queries
Once we’ve had a chance to read through everything, there are almost always a few questions we need to ask. They might be small queries, such as your preference for a particular term or an inconsistency we’ve spotted, or a larger issue such as a corrupted file.
Depending on the queries, we may be able to get started on the translation before we receive the answers, or it may make more sense to wait for an answer before we get cracking.
- Research (client background and target audience)
Before we start working on a particular translation, we’ll always do some preliminary research. This is especially important for marketing content.
We’ll look at the client’s website to see the type of content they’ve published previously, find out more about what they do, and their writing style – even better if they’ve provided a style guide to get us started! We’ll also do some research into their target audience to get a sense of who they are and what their needs and expectations are. And we’ll look into our client’s competitors to understand what makes our client different, and see what sort of language the competition uses.
The more information clients can provide from the off, the quicker this step can be.
- Translation tools
To do the actual translation, a professional translator will, in most cases, rely on some kind of translation tool. Here at TAGS for instance, we’ll use our favourite CAT (Computer Assisted Translation) tool to help us ensure consistency and work more quickly.
So we’ll add the documents to be translated along with any translation memories, glossaries (termbases), and reference documents that are relevant to the project, and then get translating.
- Research (terminology)
No matter how much of an expert a translator is on the topic, there are nearly always going to be new terms that come up, or things they’re slightly unsure of. Similarly, there might be existing, official translations out there for certain things, such as names of organisations.
Essentially, whenever a translator needs confirmation of something they turn to the internet and do a deep dive into the usage of the term. Depending on what they find and the nature of the translation, they might confirm this with the client before delivery.
Once a translation is completed, a translator normally runs a Quality Assurance (QA) tool to pick up any mistakes they might have missed.
This is really important because when you’ve been focusing on a translation for hours, days or even weeks on end, you inevitably become blind to tiny but crucial details, like a missing number here or an extra space there.
Sometimes, a translator will work in tandem with a fellow freelancer to review their work, who’s able to pick up any small mistakes and suggest any necessary changes.
If they’re working with a translation agency, the translator will normally run a QA check and then send it in, where it will typically be reviewed by the agency before delivery.
This often isn’t necessary, especially if a translation tool has been used that has been able to preserve the fomatting of the original document, or if it’s the content of the document that matters to the client rather than the aesthetics.
In some cases, however, a translator will have to take the time to ensure that the formatting of the original has been preserved.
Once we’re happy with the standard of the finished project, we send it off to the client. Occasionally there are queries to follow up on after this stage, but that’s more or less the end of the translation process. So all that remains is to request feedback from the client, so that we can keep improving our work, and to send across an invoice.
Need help with a translation for the Portuguese market? Feel free to get in touch and ask for a quote.