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How to know if a translation is good?
Thread poster: chcw

Hong Kong
Jan 26, 2014

I hire a translator to translate from English to German. Since I do not understand German, how can I know whether his translation is accurate and fluent?



Nicole Coesel  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:12
Member (2012)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Ask a proof reader/editor to take a look. Jan 26, 2014

When you are in doubt about the quality of a translation, what you could do is ask a proof reader/editor to take a look at the translation. This so-called proofer will be able to tell you the quality level straight away (assuming this is a professional and a native spreaker of the target language.

Kind regards,


F Scott Ophof (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:12
Dutch to English
+ ...
What about the proofreader's/editor's qualifications? Jan 26, 2014

For how does one know if the proofreader/editor is a good one?
Or that this person is a real professional (and native speaker)?


LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 16:12
Russian to English
+ ...
Not a proofreader-- an editor. Jan 26, 2014

Proofreaders usually check the text for typos, punctuation and some grammatical errors, or omissions. Thy don't necessarily know that much about the terms, and the overall accuracy of the translation. Perhaps someone can recommend an editor to you.


Jitka Komarkova (Mgr.)  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 22:12
Member (2013)
English to Czech
+ ...
Proofreaders job depends... Jan 26, 2014

However, if you do not know the proofreader well and if he/she has not proved to be a professional, it can happen to you that you will not actually learn about the quality of the translation / translator...

Although we are colleagues, we are competitors as well. Unfortunately, it sometimes happens even here... a client may post a translation job - lets say 10 people quote for the job... one person is chosen and the others leave empty-handed...
Subsequently, the same client posts a proofreading job of the same. Again, it is very likely that (many of) the same people (supposing they provide both translation and proofreading) will quote. From among the "empty-handed" a proofreader is chosen...
If the person is professional, he/she will work thoroughly and impartially. If the person is fed up with not getting the translation job, he/she may make your translation as "red" as possible to make sure you will never assign another job to the translator and make the client think he/she is the BEST TO DO THE JOB IN THE FUTURE..
And if you do not know the target language, you will never be sure who is right until you engage another (HOPEFULLY!) professional...

Good luck!

[Edited at 2014-01-26 21:05 GMT]


Giles Watson  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:12
Italian to English
Couldn't you... Jan 26, 2014

chcw wrote:

I hire a translator to translate from English to German. Since I do not understand German, how can I know whether his translation is accurate and fluent?


... get some German speaker you trust to check out the translator's past work, or contact people who have hired the translator in the past, before you commit yourself?

I know it's a lot of trouble to go to for what may be a relatively small job but if you really have no idea, you might prefer to pass this one up than jeopardise your hard-earned reputation.


Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:12
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Don't know... Jan 26, 2014

chcw wrote:
I hire a translator to translate from English to German. Since I do not understand German, how can I know whether his translation is accurate and fluent?

I have no idea. Some might say "hire a proofreader" or "hire an editor", but how do you know that the proofreader is good? Maybe the translator is very good and the proofreader is very bad, and then it will look like the translation is bad. I suppose you could hire two proofreaders, or three, to get the benefit of more than one opinion, but after a while it becomes expensive... and you still won't know whether any or all of the proofreaders simply subscribe to a different school of thought while the translator's translation is still perfectly valid.


Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:12
Member (2007)
+ ...
No different from any other profession really Jan 26, 2014

chcw wrote:
I hire a translator to translate from English to German. Since I do not understand German, how can I know whether his translation is accurate and fluent?

Maybe you know about electrics, plumbing and masonry, but I don't personally. For my new house, I have to go by whatever I can find out about the person. Firstly, there are those who exclude themselves from the race by clearly being incompetent or less than honest or simply "odd". For a translator, those that promise the earth, yesterday, for 2 cents, should cause alarm bells to ring, as should any who don't seem to care too much about subject matter, readership, format, volume, etc.

So you get left with the not-so-bad ones. Obviously, personal recommendation is great; sometimes you can speak to other clients; sometimes they can show you samples; maybe they have qualifications or a great number of years' experience. But more than anything, you and I have to follow our hunches. We talk to the person (face-to-face, phone, email, whatever) and in doing so we form an opinion of their truthfulness about their abilities.

There's no guarantee, but you can do an awful lot to minimise the risk of a bad outcome.


Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:12
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Membersip of a professional association Jan 26, 2014

As others have said, there is no guarantee.

However, membership of a professional association might be a guide.

The obvious one for German is the BDÜ

or the CIoL in the UK

- for instance, the ATA - American Translators Association

- there are lots more, like the ITI in the UK, or others round the world.

Members have certified qualifications and have signed codes of conduct, so if they are not sufficiently knowledgeable about the subject area, for instance, they should tell you and ask you to find a colleague - they might even be able to recommend one.

The native language principle is another indicator, but again, not infallible - not all natives can write fluently in all subject areas. I have proofread for one expert on law who could make anything sound like heavy legalese... though he was fine as long as he kept to law!

And so on. A translator should be interested in the subject area and not promise you anything unconditionally before seeing the text.

A website or profile on this site that tells you about the person might give you a hunch - is there any real information, or is it all vague promises?

As Sheila says, in the end it is a question of trust, but naturally you are more likely to find a translator who will translate your text well if you look in the right places and ask the right questions.

I hope you find someone suitable.


Siegfried Armbruster  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:12
Member (2004)
English to German
+ ...
Give the job to a reliable agency Jan 27, 2014

You don't need to judge, if the translation is good, just give the job to a reliable agency, e.g in Germany and the will do the job for you ensuring the translation is good.

If you want to start your own agency, you better learn the processes of the trade.


Michael Wetzel  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:12
German to English
What is the translation for? Jan 27, 2014

Essentially, the best thing is to ask users (or the user) of your text if it does what in needs to do - whatever that may mean in the concrete situation. That is what you want to know. Translators, proofreaders, editors, project managers and the agencies that hire them will give you a much less productive and reliable answer to this question than the people who are supposed to use them.

What is the concrete situation?

And when dealing with a translation from English to German, you also have the advantage that a great many German professionals (in any field) have an excellent passive grasp of English.


Romeo Mlinar  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:12
English to Serbian
+ ...
Ask or hire Jan 27, 2014

Affordable solution: ask/hire a fellow translator/editor/proofreader to tell you. Or fellows.

Expensive solution: organize backtranslation of the target and then hire a third person to compare the backtranslation with the source.


Thayenga  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:12
Member (2009)
English to German
+ ...
Membership Jan 27, 2014

I agree with our colleagues that membership in a professional organization is a good reference for a proofreader/an editor since their rules of becoming a member are strict, requiring the necessary education with certification(s).

Yes, there is a chance that a bad proofreader can make a good translator look bad and vice versa. So perhaps you can, as Sheila suggested, find a native German speaker who also offers proofreading services and who is also a member of (in this case) the BDÜ.


Mark Benson (X)  Identity Verified

English to Swedish
+ ...
Quality not necessarily the problem Jan 27, 2014

Sometimes questions about 'quality' aren't even necessary. I would like to distinguish between simply getting a translation carried out to basic professional standards, and aspects of quality such as 'tone,' 'style' or marketing punch.

My advice if you have bought a cheap translation from somebody you don't trust, and you're confused about what it is you've received, is to use the Job Board right here on ProZ and offer to let one of the members help you. If you need help getting started, please feel free to contact me off-board.

What you could do as well is to get in touch with a potential end-user, or maybe ask at the German consulate, local university's German Department or e.g. a German teacher or otherwise qualified person to say that look, you've bought this translation, and is it at all legible German. You will be surprised at how helpful people can be.

It would, however, be best if you get your translation edited before you go ahead with anything like that. The editor will let you know as soon as he/she sees the translation if it's fit for further processing, or if you should order a new one. The editor will check the translation against the source and make sure that the text you get back from him/her is accurate.

If you're really concerned that your translation is the most it can be you shouldn't settle for an expert's or editor's opinion. You can go beyond that and hire a proofreader who will check the ortography and style of the text, so that you can be confident that it's a naturally, fluent and native sounding text, with correct spelling, style etc.

Turning to an agency might not lead to anything more than what you have now after all. But turning to an agency that's staffed by native speakers of the target language, who can guarantee that the process is carried out at least at a rudimentary standard from beginning to end, is a good starting point.

My advice is to buy the most expensive service you can find. If you can't afford that, you can spend any time you need in order to prepare for bringing your translation project to the market. This is the best way of protecting yourself from overpriced services.


United Kingdom
Local time: 21:12
Serbian to English
+ ...
simple: you don't know Jan 27, 2014

and that IS a big problem in translating.
(and also at times in interpreting – although talks would usually grind quickly to a halt if the subject is really specialised).
If it's a one-off translation and you want it on the cheap, and don't want to pay anything more, you're playing roulette - you may win, you may loose.

I have seen real-life cases of "experienced pros" totally missing the point of the ST and relative beginners getting it perfectly right; "native speakers" putting nonsense in their translations because they taking work in fields where they are out of their depth, and many others ways how it could go wrong ..

Obviously, it doesn't happen every single time, but it can happen at any time. Unfortunately, if you speak only one of the languages, you'll have little ways of knowing.

I've seen people being more impressed by interpreters confidently spurring nonsense than by those who won't interpret a speech unless ambiguous terms are clarified etc..

If you want to be sure, you need someone who knows well enough both languages in the concerned field. (if it's for example a contract, a native speaker in the target language with only a vague knowledge of law is not going to be of much use).

All that to say that finding out post festum how good a translation is or not can be more costly than the translation itself.

[Edited at 2014-01-27 17:47 GMT]

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