Translators are aplenty, but are they all professional, good translators? I have previously written about the reasons why you should hire a professional translator, and you might be thinking: “Okay, I should hire a professional translator, but how do I tell if they are a professional? How do I choose a translator that will deliver a translation that actually meets my needs?” While there is no fool-proof guarantee, there are certain criteria you can consider when selecting a translator to work on your texts.


High level of understanding of the source language and familiarity with the culture

This might seem obvious, but it is one of the most important aspects to consider because, simply put, you cannot translate what you do not understand. A translator’s qualifications in this regard can be proven by official language certificates (for example, according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages or CEFR), university training, courses attended, stays abroad, etc.


Translation training

In many countries, it is possible to study translation at the university level. Besides the study of foreign languages, such programmes include the study of culture, linguistics, grammar, terminology, and specialised subjects related to technical and legal fields for example. There is also the possibility to focus on specialised fields such as audiovisual translation, literary translation, medical translation, etc.

Of course, there are also people with a different background, for example lawyers, doctors or engineers, who transition to translation later in their career. They can receive training on how to properly handle the translation process through courses offered by universities, colleges or translation associations instead of studying a complete university programme.

This is important because a person who has not received any translation training might fall into the trap of translating “word for word”, which can lead to changes of meaning, an unidiomatic translation or a text that cannot be understood by the target audience.



Just as medical doctors specialise in certain areas, so do translators. Translators can specialise in any topic, but they cannot be experts in all fields. As they acquire experience, they can focus on a specific area of translation such as legal, medical, marketing, etc. This is important because it means that they understand the subject matter and are familiar with the proper terminology used in that field, which enables them to work faster and deliver better results.


They translate into their native language

This point may need to be taken with a grain of salt. As I have previously mentioned here, the mother-tongue principle or native-speaker principle is a source of controversy among translators. However, many consider it the golden rule to ensure quality, fluency and linguistic accuracy. In my opinion, following this rule tends to be useful if you want to achieve the best results, but there are exceptions as I have pointed out before. Some translators have achieved a very high proficiency level in their foreign language and can deliver excellent translations. However, the key word here is “exceptions”.


Membership in a professional translation association

In many countries, there are professional translation associations such as BDÜ, ATA and ITI to name a few. Many of these associations require that those applying for membership meet several criteria, such as language and translation competency, in order to be approved as members. They offer plenty of opportunities for their members to continue their professional development through seminars, conferences, and even certifications (the ATA, for example, offers the possibility to do an exam and get a certificate that endorses the translator’s translation skills). Given that the translation market is unregulated, belonging to a reputable association can be a sign that you are dealing with a professional translator.

Apart from these criteria, there are other aspects that can make working with a translator easier and that also demonstrate professionalism. Good professional translators must adapt to and meet the client’s needs, be reliable, and meet the agreed deadlines. They should not overestimate their skills and know when to reject a project, for example because the text belongs to a field outside of their specialisation and they are not familiar with the topic, or because the deadline is too tight and they will either miss it or rush the translation process (which can result in lower quality). In short, they should know their limits and only accept projects for which they know they can guarantee a high-quality translation on time.

In a nutshell, professional translators have excellent command of the source and target language, are aware of cultural aspects, have received translation training, are specialised, reliable and competent, adapt to the client’s needs, and meet the agreed deadlines. All these criteria are certainly not bulletproof, and they are not a 100% guarantee that the final product will be perfect, but they definitely improve your chances of finding a good professional translator.

Now you know why you should hire a professional translator to take care of your documentation and how to spot one. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you need any translation-related assistance!


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