Do you need a Mercedes or a Mini?

When I started working full-time as a freelance translator into Spanish all those years ago, a colleague amused me by stating she never knew whether their clients were after a Mercedes or a Mini, so let’s clarify this.

When you request a translation, you may have different uses in mind:

  • You may only need to understand the gist of the message, for instance when you receive a message in a foreign language you can’t speak. A rough translation of the main ideas in the text may be enough. In this case, I would think about a translation for information purposes (what we might call “a Mini”). Such a translation will not be published anywhere and since it takes less work and time, will cost you less.
  • You may need a standard translation, that is to say, all the original text will be translated, the resulting translation will be grammatically correct and the content of the translation will be understood fully without having to refer back to the source text. Usually only one linguist will be responsible for the full translation process, so the translator will translate and proofread their own work.
  • You may need the highest quality translation, which is not only complete, correct, and understandable but also reads so well that it seems to be a text originally written in the target language, not a translation (that is to say, “a Mercedes”). Marketing materials would normally fall into this category. In this case, more than one translator will work on the same translation project. Usually one translator will be in charge of the translation and another one will proofread the translation. In some cases, a third translator will be involved to revise the proofread version or resolve any differences that the first two translators haven’t been able to agree on. Since this kind of translation involves a team of translators, it comes at the highest cost. I am happy to undertake the whole project relating to Spanish translations (that is to say, choosing and working with other colleagues, so that I am your only contact) and I am also happy to work only as the initial translator or only as the proofreader, if you want to source the other linguists involved yourself.

Clarity about what you need and expect in this regard may save you time and money. It will also help you get what you want.