- Adam Zhang, Star Translation Shanghai
Translation and interpretation are key services for most businesses in China. The quality of such services in China can vary widely. Moreover, some translation firms in China do an acceptable job in general business situations; however, they may not be qualified to work in specialized fields. This article should help you decide whether a given firm offers the right level of service for their business requirements.
What is the Difference Between Translation and Interpretation?
Chinese translation and interpretation services are often confused or lumped into one category. They are two distinct services-- the former being written translation, and the latter being oral translation. Due to differences in skill requirements demanded for the job, a good translator is not necessarily a good interpreter, and vice versa.
Do You Want Consecutive or Simultaneous Interpretation?
Interpretation can be delivered consecutively or simultaneously. Consecutive interpretation is most common in Chinese business meetings, negotiations, and press conferences. Consecutive interpreters listen and take notes during the speech. When the speaker stops, they render the speech in the target language.
Simultaneous interpretation, which is often used during large conferences and seminars, is delivered at the same time the speaker is talking. Simultaneous interpretation requires specialized equipment and a team of at least two interpreters who switch every 20 minutes in order to avoid fatigue. Interpreters work in a soundproof booth, and the delegates listen with a headset in the language that they select with the receiver.
Should You Look for a Large Company?
Translation companies in China tend to be small. In the translation business, a company with some 20 staff members can be called a relatively large-scale company. Usually, a company’s quality of service has little to do with its size. Small companies, which can be flexible in operation, are usually more equipped to facilitate direct communication with the staff member assigned to carry out the task. Also, small companies tend to target specific types of businesses and languages that are required by their existing clients. Small translation companies may offer more personal services.
The drawbacks of working with a small translation company are that it likely will offer a small variety of languages, and that it may be incapable of handling large or rush assignments. Large companies tend to have the advantages of a more diversified language portfolio and greater capacity for large-scale projects, including software/website localization, and editing and printing. The disadvantages of larger companies are more complex administrative procedures, lack of flexibility, and a lack of specialization.
How to Avoid Common Pitfalls When Hiring a Translator in China
Shanghai and Beijing have numerous translation companies. This multitude of companies provides potential clients with a wide variety of choices for translation services, but also opens the way for potential pitfalls if clients are not careful during their selection of a company. Here are some tips to avoid these pitfalls:
- If the service you need involves English, you can start by sending an e-mail in English to the translation company. A quick reply to your e-mail in native-level English proves that employees of that company possess a good command of English. A tardy reply suggests low efficiency and that the coordinator does not have a good grasp of English. It goes without saying that your interests will be at risk if you assign the job to a translation company whose employees have a low level of English.
- You should check the company’s website to see whether it contains any “red flags”. If you find that the website contains non-standard English with apparent grammatical or spelling errors, then forget about using that company. You would not be wrong to doubt the competence of a translation company in China which is unable to use correct English on their website.
- Finding out whether an interpretation company is actually capable of doing the job in the required target language is much easier. Simply call the interpreter and have a chat with him/her in the target language. A good interpreter should at least be able to speak the target language(s) fluently.
What is the Client’s Role?
For use of a translation service, prior communication with the company is crucial. The client needs to provide the translation company in advance with such information as the requirements and purpose of the translation as well as the deadline. For large-scale and important translation projects, be sure to leave enough lead-time and try to avoid assigning them as rush jobs to the translation company. Though a well-known catchphrase for translation companies in the industry is “being able to accomplish a large translation output with premium quality in the shortest lead-time”, it is much harder for companies to put this into practice. If your assignment involves highly specialized terminology and industry jargon, it is preferable for you to supply the translation company with field-specific glossaries or translated materials as they may help keep the terminology consistent and improve the smoothness and delivery of the translation.
For interpretation assignments, especially simultaneous interpretation, never wait until the last day or the last moment before starting to look for a translation company; if you do so, you will most likely fail to find a good interpreter. During the busy season from March to June, the client normally needs to reserve a consecutive interpreter two weeks in advance and two months in advance for simultaneous interpreter.
Don’t be preoccupied with cost when soliciting translation or interpretation services. In China, you will most likely be disappointed if you expect high quality but very low-priced translation services. Oftentimes, people simply judge the professionalism of a translation company by the quotes for their services. Naturally, those companies quoting lower than the market average are not expected to deliver quality work.
For example, many people don’t understand why simultaneous interpretation services are so expensive. They inquire about the prices of several translation companies until they find one whose quote seems very affordable. However, more often than not, those companies have little knowledge about the trade of simultaneous interpretation and employ unqualified interpreters in order to seize more business through a low cost strategy. The client pays less (at least to the interpreter), but at the risk of a disastrous results. Conferences using simultaneous interpreters are usually major ones which require a financial backing of hundreds of thousands of dollars or even millions for preparations. Using incompetent interpreters or disqualified translation companies may ultimately ruin the entire event.
As was previously mentioned, the translation market is different from that of most other conventional services; with regard to prices, you may need to approach the translation sector with a different way of thinking. However, the old adage still rings true — you get what you pay for.
Good luck with your business in China!