“I need a page – cost?” This is probably the most cryptic enquiry a translator has yet received. Usually enquiries for a translation quote are a little more precise or a little more polite, such as: “Hi, I need a page translated, what’s the cost? Thanks!”
On a good day and with plenty of time to spare, a translator may reply in detail. On most days a request this vague is simply deleted.
So what kind of information should you include in your enquiry for a translation and what other factors do translators take into account when replying?
Information needed when asking for a translation quote
Most importantly, your translator needs to know what language pair you require. It’s possible that you need a combination of languages they don’t offer, or that they don’t translate into English but only into the foreign language. However, they may know someone who can help you.
Your translator also needs to know what kind of document you need to have translated. Is it technical? Legal? A private letter?
Especially if you need a certified translation, please don’t say that “it’s only a few words”. It is much more meaningful to a translator if you tell them that it is a birth or death certificate or A’ Level results. If you ask for the translation of official documents, the translator must reproduce every word on the page, including headers and footers. Even the layout has to match the original.
Being specific about the type of text that you need to have translated is essential for the translator. It helps him to decide whether they have the proper qualifications/experience for the job. If your document is medical but the translator you contact specialises in IT, they are unlikely to quote for the job. But again, they may refer you to a trusted colleague.
Information the translator will take into account
When you approach a translator, they know nothing about you. If you’re an agency, they can research your reputation and your payment practice. If you’re a private company or, even more importantly, a private individual, they have no means of assessing how safe it is for them to work with you.
Translators give weight to the fact that a client has looked at their website and addresses them by name. Enquiries which address the translator with nothing more than “hi”, are less likely to invoke trust in the sender. A translator will rate clients higher when their enquiries are written in full sentences rather than in a shorthand SMS style you might use for texting someone who knows you well. Whether you sign off with your full name and whether your email includes contact information are further basic clues to the sincerity of your mail. Whether you come across as polite and reasonable or as someone potentially difficult to work with, may tip the scale as to whether the translator replies to your enquiry at all and what price they may quote.
Purpose of the translation
Translations – like most texts – are written with a specific readership in mind. While you may know which readership you are targeting, if you don’t inform your translator of the intended audience, how are they to know?
A practical example of what can go wrong through the eyes of one of our translators:
“On one occasion, I received a brief enquiry for the translation of a poetic description of a small village. The sender’s address was a private one and appeared to come from a relative of the poet. This, to me, suggested that the client simply wanted a personal document translated. Nothing in the email suggested that this was an enquiry from a reputable company that needed the translation for commercial reasons.
“So I assumed the translation was for ‘information purposes only’. A private individual – having discovered a document Uncle Joe wrote in his younger days – wanting to know what it says. Because they want to ‘hear’ Uncle’s voice, they usually want a translation very close to the original. So that is what I supplied.
“When I sent the translated document to the client, they were bitterly disappointed with the translation. Only then did they tell me that they were representing a publishing house and that they wanted to print this poetic description in a literary magazine!
“I referred them to a specialist for literary translations. I also advised them to give them the relevant background information, as well as an indication that this was a job for a specialised company.”
How best to phrase a translation quote request
“Dear Jane, I have a 4-page contract that needs translating from English into German, and I would ideally like it done by next Wednesday. Could you quote, please? Kind regards, John Smith”… followed by full contact details. Most likely, your translator will ask you for the complete document before committing to a price. But the above request will get the ball rolling and the translator will have a good idea what your enquiry is about.
This is the approach most likely to ensure that your enquiry will not end up in the recycle bin. What is more, you will get a professional and considered translation quote and you are not wasting your own or the translator’s time.