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Getting German Translations
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10 Top Tips On Successfully Commissioning German Translations


As with everything in life, planning ahead brings significant benefits and often financial savings. So before rushing out and commissioning a translator to do your German translations (or any other foreign language translation), consider the following tips:

1. Does It (All) Need Translating?

Translations cost money. You pay for every translated word. Only translate the texts your foreign-language audience will actually need.

It might be worth rewriting or shortening some of your original texts and making sure they are directly relevant to your foreign audience before having them translated.

Perhaps a pictogram or graphics can get your message across better, especially if you are trying to reach more than one foreign language audience?

(More information about how German translations are charged here.)

2. Is Your Text Really, Truly Final?

Stupid question? Not really. I frequently translate for a corporate client who constantly makes changes to the “final version” of the text.

Often the changes are minimal but, as a result, the client often pays as much for the alterations (charged at an hourly rate) as they do for the actual translation work (charged by text length).

Not only that, but it makes it difficult for the translator to ensure consistency throughout the text.

3. No “Half-Translated” Texts

You'll get the best results if you issue a well written, well thought-out text in the original language.

A text which has been machine translated using translation software, or partially translated by someone who happens to be able to speak the target language, just makes more work for the translator.

A translator will only be able to understand the nuances of the message conveyed by the original text when it is presented in its original form. Any “pre-processing” of the text simply adds confusion:

Confusion = more time = greater cost.

4. Pay Peanuts, Get Monkeys

Translation is a profession. Most translators will have a university degree, and many a master’s degree or other translation qualification. (Many professional language translation associations publish lists of members available for work.)

German translations involve much more than just speaking or understanding German adequately.

Unless your text is only for informal, internal use, avoid the false economies of getting someone unqualified to do the job. Compared to the cost to your organization of preparing the original text, the “savings” you make on getting an amateur translation just don’t add up - especially if your organisation’s image is at stake.

(Looking for a German translator? Try here)

5. Brief Your Translator Thoroughly

The more you can tell your translator in advance, the better the end product will be.

E.g. Is it an in-house memo or a text for an expensive ad campaign? Is the intended audience local or international? Speech to be given to an audience for whom English is a second language (careful with the jokes!)? Publication in a scientific journal or for a general audience?

The message must suit the audience – so make it clear who this audience will be.

6. Will the Translation be Printed?

If yes, then get the translator to check the layout before going to print!

Typesetting introduces the potential for error, especially where the typesetter needs to shorten headlines or subtitles at the last moment.

Remember also that typographical conventions vary from language to language (e.g. German speech marks are „....” or <<...>>, where English is "....") and your printers may be unaware of this.

7. Agree Terms in Advance

Broadly speaking, it is not acceptable to ask your translator to do test German translations for free (would your plumber agree to a test installation? or your doctor to a test operation?). A good translator will be happy to provide sample texts of work they have done in the past.

(More thoughts on this heated subject here.)

State in advance what the work should include (e.g. the initial translation, one rewrite of sections the client may not be happy with, layout checks).

Agree payment terms in advance, cancellation fees, copyright ownership (for ads or slogans).

Detail provides clarity and makes sure both client and translator are working from the same set of assumptions.

8. Realistic Deadlines

As a rough guide, a professional translator will produce roughly 2,000 words of text per day. Much more than that and - unless the text is very repetitive - mistakes will creep in.

Translating requires concentration and the best work is done when the translator can complete the text, take a break and then come back to it again to view it with a fresh eye.

If your organization has spent weeks compiling a text, please don’t expect to hand it over to a translator on a Friday afternoon and then expect it on your desk the following Monday (you’d be surprised how many do!).

If your translator does have to work at the weekend, expect to pay a substantial overtime charge (anything up to +50% is not unusual).

9. Choose Your Translator Carefully

As a general rule, professional translators only translate into their native language. (Naturally there are exceptions to every rule, and some very gifted translators are equally at home in more than one language. But they tend to be the minority. Some more thoughts on this subject here.)

For your German translations, choose a native English speaker. You’ll need a different translator for each foreign language pair. A serious translator will refuse to translate into any other language combination.

Choose translators according to their subject specifications. It is unlikely that a technical translator experienced in translating software manuals can do such a good a job on your financial statements or promotional texts. After all, they're writers as well as translators.

A professional translator will refuse jobs outside their own area of expertise.

10. Need More German Translations in the Future?

If so, consider asking your translator to compile a bilingual glossary of terms which you can then adopt for in-house use.

This makes future work faster for the translator, and also contributes to helping ensure that your in-house staff use company terms consistently in their texts. I compile glossaries for several clients with great success.

By keeping this list in the back of your mind, you should be well on your way to getting German translations that work!

(These tips expand on ideas from the American Translators Association’s guide to buying translations, called “Translation, Getting it Right” which is also available in German under the Advice to Business section on the ITI website.)

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