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Frequently Asked Questions

Instead of a generic list of Frequently Asked Questions, these FAQs are what I have personally been asked of as a professional translator and interpreter. I share my answers here to help users of language services understand the perspectives of professional language service providers, in the hope of better collaborations between us.

How do you ensure confidentiality of client information?

Some clients require the signing of a formal Confidentiality Agreement, which we gladly oblige and abide by once an engagement is confirmed. With or without a formal Confidentiality Agreement, we as professionals always take confidentiality as our top obligation to our clients. For a certified translator like myself, keeping client information confidential is one of the key professional ethics we must observe as it is clearly stipulated in the Code of Ethics in both Associations I’m affiliated with. I never share any client information with any third party without clear consent. I take measures to ensure all data are kept in strictly password protected media, be it my own computer or cloud services such as remote data backup plans. In addition, I always require my collaborators to maintain the same strict confidentiality when we work together on any client projects. This said, we would always appreciate that the client could provide us with materials in advance for us to prepare when it comes to interpreting for conferences and meetings.

I can use Google Translate for free. Why should I use a professional translator?

For this question I’d like to ask back: if an airline tells passengers that their aircrafts have auto-pilot and they are cutting out human pilots to save you cost, would you get on board?


Indeed there are many Machine Translation (MT) programs and apps available for free. And there are many more being developed that are going to flood the market. Each might claim the magic ability to transcend language barrier like a modern day babel tower. However, as professionals, we all know that there has yet been any single Machine Translation program that can reach real human level of style, nuance and appropriateness. Many tests have proved that MT has not and will not replace human translation and interpretation. There are many hacks you can find online (like YouTube) where people Google translate some famous movie passages into a foreign language, Google translate them back, then have them performed by professional actors. It’s hilarious and horrifying at the same time. I’m not saying MTs have no merits at all. In fact, we professional translators use MTs to help us reach higher efficiency, consistency and accuracy in our work. Many of today’s Translation Environment Tools (TnTs) – Computer Assisted Translation tools (not to be confused with Machine Translation) – do have MT engines embedded in their package as an option to assist human translator’s work. And that’s what MT, or any translation tools are all about – assisting. They are meant to help human translation rather than replace it. Professional human translators are equipped with years of experience, cultural exposure, social backgrounds and industry know-how, which MTs don’t have. What MTs provide is algorithmic and statistical result, which might give the reader a “gist” of the content but never the final publishing quality product. And here's where professional translators come in, as they know where and when to intervene to make sure the final translation is appropriate in tone, nuance, even grammar. If a non-professional translator uses the MT, s/he must be cautious that it’s highly risky to use mere machine translated results at par value, especially for legal and contractual purposes. In such complex cases, human translator must preside the entire process to make sure all linguistic exceptions, cultural undertones, grammatical structures, even punctuation, are properly taken care of. This is like flying a large passenger jet: though all modern day aircrafts are equipped with auto-pilot system, no one would leave it fly itself without human pilots at the control.

I have Chinese (or mother tongue) speaking employees. Why should I use a professional translator/ interpreter?

This comes to the issue of how to best use professional translation services while leverage on your in-house language capabilities. Many assume that when a person speaks another language, s/he can also translate. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve personally witnessed many horror situations where fully bilingual persons - professionals in their own fields, failed fantastically as translators/interpreters. They not only embarrassed themselves but also often even messed up the whole meeting. The most common cause is that, though being bilingual, these persons learn and practice their profession mostly monolingually. They master the terminology and jargon mostly just in one language. So often what meeting participants hear is a hodgepodge of source and target languages, leaving the key terminologies untranslated, yet these are exactly what need to be translated/interpreted. What professional translators/interpreters do is to master both sets of terminologies and jargon and the proper way to map between them. And that’s why it’s important for professional translators/interpreters to specialize in certain fields in addition to master both source and target languages.


This does not mean that in-house bilinguals have no value. Where they are most valuable is to provide context: they are the professionals of that particular field and are the insiders of that company. They know a lot of the things much deeper and a lot of the backgrounds that an external translation professional might not know. So in-house bilingualists can be and should be a great asset to ensure success of a translation/ interpretation project, not being the translator/interpreter themselves as this reduces productivity of their own work, but to provide guidance and oversight. What a professional translator/interpreter really appreciates is that the client might assign an internal bilingual person to coordinate the project, to help answer questions the translators/interpreters might have, to provide them with resources to ensure project success. This internal bilingual person brings to the project professional perspective and insights, and an extra pair of eyes/ears to make sure the final translation/interpretation is appropriate for the context. This way your translation/interpretation project would be the most efficient and productive.

Do you do free test translations?

No. However I do understand language service users, when they engage a translator for the first time, would like a way to find out how good that translator is. And doing a small free text translation, as many Language Service Providers (LSPs – or as we freelance translators call “agencies”) do, is one of the most commonly used way. Yet, there are more than one way to find out the caliber of a translator. Certification by professional bodies, references by other clients are some other typical ways that are equally effective. To accept or not to accept free test translation assignments is a personal choice of freelance translators. In my own case, I have been certified by two professional bodies: The American Translators Association, and the Canadian Translators, Terminologists & Interpreters Council. My affiliation with these organizations requires not just to pay dues, but also to regularly update on professional development through Continue Education, in order to remain on good standing. These investments of time and efforts, in my opinion, already assures that language services users work with real professionals with good standards. If a language service user is still not fully sure of the quality, I, and many similar professionals, would love to provide references to contact independently; or to do a small paid job in order to minimum the first time user’s risk.

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