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Archives - FAQ about Translation

>> Frequently asked questions

Original text & translation: Claire Dionet 2002-2003. All rights reserved.


This page is made up of a selection of questions asked by translation customers, students, new translators and journalists.

It informs you about translation generally speaking, and more specifically on my way of working.

It replaces the former "references" page where most of my customers’ names could not appear for confidentiality reasons.



· Can you introduce yourself?

I am Claire Dionet, 34 years old and French is my mother tongue.

I come from the Nord – Pas-de-Calais region in France, and have been settled in Brittany since 1997.

I practice English–French translation since 1995, qualified in 1998 at Rennes University. I am working as a free-lance translator and interpreter ever since.


· Did you have a different job before?

Yes, I did. Before becoming a translator, I was a qualified pre-school teacher and later a language teacher. Among other things, I was director of a child day care centre in Roubaix (Nord, France). Most of the responsibilities of this function required skills that I later transferred to free-lance working, including organizational skills, a sense of priorities and respect of professional secrecy.

Then I taught French as a foreign language in the U.K. (especially for the Cornwall County Council) for two years and then English in secondary schools in the Rennes unit of educational administration (Brittany). Although education is still of major interest to me, translating has become my priority.

Through these previous professional experiences, I have learned to master the educational field, which has become one of my specialized fields in translation, but also to develop a curiosity and a sense of observation to analyse and to know the ins and outs of my working subjects.

· Can you tell us more about your background and the way it became your profession? When and how did you develop an interest in translating?

I guess it came step by step with an early interest in language and communication and later on with the learning of foreign languages. My German teacher (first foreign language) saw in me a future interpreter and once I turned thirteen, I was offered a chance to study in a grammar school in Germany. I was too young to find the prospect appealing, refused it and transferred my enthusiasm to English. I made my first translation attempts on English texts that we didn’t study at school, packed with metaphors and idioms. I found it exciting.

Once having passed the A-levels at 17 years of age, I studied psychology and philosophy in Lille University.

Later on, I qualified as a pre-school teacher in Lille. There, my personal study in sociology dealt with "the impact of new technologies on the social life of deaf people". Social life is a matter of culture, communication and mutual understanding, to which translation and interpretation contribute by developing links between different communities and cultures. I chose to do my dissertation on psycho-education and pedagogy on "the functions of games and playing in language learning by children in institutional groups", studying the learning of the mother tongue and what enhances it, but also the learning of a foreign language by young children from different backgrounds and cultures.

In the meantime, I translated some chapters here and there and a book that I couldn’t find in French, for the enjoyment of the practice as much as to satisfy my own curiosity. Comparing my handwritten work to one of these books published later in French was an inducement in persevering, even if translating was still a leisure activity at the time.

Translation became a sound activity later, when I settled in the United Kingdom, where I moved to with my daughter and became active in the education and local arts communities. While preparing foreign language lessons for pupils of all ages and learning about information technology in self-tutoring, I started out as a translator and interpreter in the education, film and maritime communities, also touching on the legal and commercial fields. With no training and no equipment, I soon felt the need to acquire some method and to learn the profession in a more efficient way.

Finally, I prepared to pass the general translation degree called "diplôme de traducteur généraliste à orientations spécialisées", relating to technical translation* with legal, commercial and economics fields, implemented and developed at Rennes University (Brittany). These studies and training allowed me to validate my acquired knowledge and, above all, to acquire and develop the method, the discipline and the spirit of enquiry that are essential to the profession. I passed the degree with distinction and settled as a free-lance translator in 1998, in Finistère, Brittany, when I was thirty.

* There are three main translation types: literary translation, technical translation and scientific translation. It is generally agreed that the legal field, the education fields (etc.) belong to the technical translation type.

Claire Dionet, September 2002


· What is general translation?
· What are your translation fields?
· Is this choice of fields representative of the translation market?

· What is "general translation" or "traduction généraliste"?

Originally, traducteur généraliste ("general translator") is a Canadian title applying to translators able to deal with the general translation fields and several specialities. But it is sometimes misused, by misconception of the professional translation practice or by semantic error.

Most of the free-lance translators are general translators, whatever title they choose to use. Just as a GP might be interested in acupuncture, paediatrics, etc. and specialize in these fields while having a general practice, a general translator might enhance specialized fields without swapping their title for another.

Finally, more precisely, this title relates to specific graduate training in translation called "traduction généraliste à orientations spécialisées" ("general" translation with specializations: legal, economic and technical ) and to the eponymous University degree.

· What are your translation fields?

I practice general fields as well as specialized fields. [They are presented in the "translation fields" section (see the index)]. I constantly broaden my knowledge in some chosen subjects for which I have strengths and assets. I deliver about 80% of my translations in my chosen fields of specialization. These are: agro-food & nutrition, legal matters, maritime activities (navigation, fishing trade, ship survey, etc.), international education and arts & culture.

Each field represents a set of more precise activities. For instance, agro-food is also about food safety, food processing, packaging, distribution, production line equipment, advertising, etc. Each field can also be divided by the types of product: dairy products, biscuits, drinks, prepared dishes… Then, each activity might lead to an economic development project to be translated. This is why one can rarely be a "highly specialized translator" in several fields, as it would mean mastering absolutely all its sub-fields in two languages (or more when one offers to translate in more than one language). This also explains why reliable general translators make sure that their skills are adequate for the translation being asked, by reading the text and studying the related material before telling the client if they can deal with it.

· Is this choice of fields representative of the translation market?

I don’t think so. Other fields stand out: finance, information technology, defence, pharmaceutical industry, telecommunications, medical research, etc. Often, their tremendous needs for translation requires giving up other fields in order to specialize in an exclusive field.

Everything happening in the world may require translation work. Having various areas of focus is therefore a strength. However, one has to make choices, even the general translator.

The mastering of a new field of specialization requires time and investment, but it also enhances new general and specialized skills and knowledge and others at the overlap between different fields. For instance, having a good knowledge of mills or grinders on the agro-food industry can help in understanding better how a mill in the building industry works… Studying the beer-brewing field in depth gives me some knowledge in biochemistry: biochemistry is not my speciality, but it enriches my knowledge of the brewing process and is useful in other agro-food fields. Thus, a translator can be efficient in various fields, which would appear as strangers to each other, as newly acquired knowledge completes or strengthens the previous ones.

So, I develop my knowledge and abilities in these areas of specialization, although it might seem curious to feel as concerned by the equipment of a ship as for criminal justice and the atomisation of milk. From contemporary art in China to the stakes of a seafood processing company’s development project, the spectrum remains diversified enough.

Original text & translation: Claire Dionet, September 2002


· What advice would you give to someone planning to buy a translation for the first time?

- The very first piece of advice is naturally to ask for a professional.

They are far too many poor translations being produced around the world, carried out by machines or people who think they can do it themselves or ask a friend who teaches the language. This may lead to comic results and a good laugh, but its rarely what the customer is aiming for.

- Make sure the translator is registered.

We can’t expect a translator who is not registered to take any responsibility for the translation delivered. Registered free-lance French translators have a number called “numéro de Siret” which is mentioned it in every quotation, order form and invoice they issue.

- Choose a translator who translates in his/her mother tongue, not from his/her mother tongue [1].

Professional translators translate into their native language (or target language). Thus, native English-speakers translate from foreign languages into English and a translation in French for material written in English is a job for a native French speaker.

Some exceptions to the rule may sometimes occur, for instance for some simple or basic work. In such a case, check out the guaranties offered (native reviewer called upon for a final proof reading, for instance).

[1] Target language: language of the translation required and translator’s native language.
Source language: language of the original material.

- Enquire about the acquired knowledge of the translator: training in translation, professional experience, mastering of the topics.

Being qualified in tourism or trilingual clerical work, or teaching languages are far removed from the actual professional translation practice. Give yourself every chance to succeed: rely on a qualified professional who has acquired the methods of the professional translation practice. That will avoid wasting your time and your money in the end.

- If you have any doubts, speak to the translator.

His/her way to proceed with new material tells you about his/her professionalism. If he/she tackles a complex translation without a second thought, without analysing first the material to translate or without previous in-depth reading, you probably don’t want to deal with this person.

- Test the abilities of a new translator by starting with a reasonable volume of work.

The translator will then be able to insure you concretely of the adequacy between his/her skills and the translations you need. To get a fair opinion, do your best to adopt the profile of the ideal client (see below).

- A professional translator delivers you a detailed quotation.

To ask for it is not a commitment. Pass on to him the complete source document or material to translate, specify what you need and any eventual particular expectations. (I normally deliver quotations within 24 hours.)

- If you send an urgent order by e-mail, contact the translator with a brief phone call first. The translator might be out on call, so if your translation is fairly urgent, a brief phone call is not futile. Also, professional translators may receive an average of a hundred e-mails a day. Distinguish yours by using the
"priority" sign (icon of a red exclamation mark).

- Provide useful contact with a technician in your company or a colleague in your team.

The quality of the final translation will gain from it. A reliable translator looks for the missing information, expresses her doubts and uncertainties, verifies the adequacy of a specific term: it is part of the job.

- Don’t hesitate in passing on your remarks.

They will be taken into account for the next project. A sound reliable translator is very keen on feedback.

- When you have a good translator, keep her.

This translator is your translation supplier. Treat her as a proper collaborator, just as you would your accountant or your lawyer, on who you know you can count.

Original text & translation: Claire Dionet, September 2002



· What are the challenges faced by the free-lance translator?
· As a free-lance translator, do you also have to cope with administrative, commercial and technical tasks?
· Is the free-lance translator an isolated and solitary professional?

· What are the challenges faced by the free-lance translator?

The one that I keep closest to my heart involves informing our correspondents, keeping them aware about translation processes and about the ways they can promote good working conditions, so that they will be delivered satisfactory translations.

Translate does not simply mean receiving a text in a foreign language and writing it in the target language. The translation process is a set of stages, each of them taking time and being essential to the quality of the final product.

One of the first stages of the translation process is to understand the original content and to clarify the obscure issues. Some translators relate that they are sometimes told "I’m not asking you to understand it, just translate it!" or "I can’t explain this to you because I don’t understand it myself. Just look in your dictionary, that will do." Absolute nonsense!

The supplier of the original material to be translated shouldn’t mask information that is critical to the understanding of it. This is for instance the practice of some intermediaries worried about the translator identifying their client. Finally, in the course of the translation process, we practically always succeed in gathering the missing information needed to do a good job; our tools and search methods are more and more efficient. But the time it takes to proceed into these essential clarifying issues justifies the fact that we are expecting quality professional relationships.

Also, the translation market attracts people who become "translators" from one day to the next, applying insignificant fees mostly because they skip some stages essential to the translation quality and thus deliver poor translations… In such cases, the customer may have to spend more time and money to have it corrected or redone. It is therefore in the interests of the client to find qualified professionals who assume responsibility for their translations (and who are registered, as this is the very first step in the matter of assuming one’s responsibilities). You’ll save time and money by preparing good material for your translator, not by addressing the cheapest service at hand.

Today, many heads of companies and project leaders are aware of the high stakes of reliable translations. They know for instance that it is useless to choose high quality paper to print their brochure or to invest in the creation of a web site if they’re going to present a machine generated translation which leads to an unworkable result (often hilarious too, but its rarely the goal aimed for), or if they don’t plan the time required for a quality translation to be carried out. This tendency in valuing the form more than the content is vanishing little by little.

However, some intermediaries dedicated to subcontracting still accept unworkable deadlines, expecting some young free-lance translators to work at full stretch, often at night and in stressful conditions, at the expense of the quality of the final product.

In everybody’s interest, let’s hope that the acknowledgment of quality translation will gain ground.

· As a free-lance translator, do you also have to cope with administrative, commercial and technical tasks?

First, I assume the full translation process, neglecting no stage from the first contact with the customer to the delivery. It is also necessary to care for the maintenance and renewing of the equipment, the accounting, billing, correspondence, equipment purchase and everything related to free-lance work.

But don’t let this hide the essentials: to maintain or increase the quality of their translation work, one must permanently enrich their general knowledge and improve their skills. The translator must attend advancement courses, take time to read, document themselves, stay in the countries of his working tongue, meet their peers in their working tongues (conferences, forums, shows). Things change quickly in most of the fields. In order to be able to translate well, one must master the subject at hand. Updating my knowledge is therefore a permanent concern.

· Is the free-lance translator an isolated and solitary professional?

Free-lance translators are independent and self-supporting, but shouldn’t be lonely nor isolated. In fact, they’re part of the real world, at the core of international communication and have never been able to communicate as efficiently with their peers as now. I don’t think we get a kind of “poor lonesome translator’s blues” here.

The translators' community has organized. Networks of free-lance and employed translators of most languages and most countries have been set up through the Internet and are still developing at a good pace. We deal with various issues: terminological, technical, cultural, exchanging advice, debating the stakes of the profession, of its evolution, its practices, of the practices of translation agencies and of professional ethics. Mutual support and meaningful exchanges prevail.

Of course, the Internet brings a lot to translators, but we also need to meet in real life. This is why I have undertaken to organize meetings for professional translators in my area. The first one was held in February 2003 in Quimper and was successful. We agreed to meet every other month to get to know each other better, debate specific professional issues, exchange resources, talk about our experiences and share ideas.

Furthermore, some translators find it important to work together. Traditionally, free-lance translators rarely worked in teams, even though this allows us to address more of the needs of customers. I’m currently working on setting up teams of complementary free-lance translators to deal with some translation projects on a point-to-point basis. So, "team work" can also bear a significant meaning to free-lance translators who are willing and interested.

Original text & translation: Claire Dionet, June 2003


The fee for a translation is defined according to several factors, particularly:

  • the coupling of languages (source language and target language).
    Fees vary from one language to another, depending for instance if the coupling is common or popular, or rare (ex: Spanish > Breton or German > Cornish), or very highly valued in an economical field (ex: English > Chinese; French > Japanese).
  • the type of translation required, mainly defined by its final use,
  • the density and complexity of the original material or document (volume, expertise, etc.),
  • the translation precedence,
  • the various competences the translator will need to mobilize,
  • the helpful extra material supplied by the customer (glossary, computerized file, documents, materials, products, etc.). For example:
    - to translate the script of a film that will be used for subtitling, it is critical to view it.
    - to translate the description of new equipment for a food processing plant, the drawings are highly useful, if not necessary.
    Big companies often attach their own business glossary for the translator to use (or complete). This allows obtaining a set of translations that remains homogeneous and coherent with time.

When you ask a professional for a translation, it leads to a quotation in which the fee appears clearly, generally with an order form attached and the general sales conditions.
When services other than pure translation are required, they are detailed in the quotation and their matching fee is specified.

Original text & translation: Claire Dionet, September 2002


Would you ask a student in first year of medical studies to carry out a surgical operation, or a legal secretary to plead your case in court?

As for any specialized work with a high stake, it is crucial to address your translation needs to a qualified professional.

Free-lance qualified translators are a fixture of the translation world. Addressing them directly, without intermediaries, allows you a trusting relationship with the author of the translation and the benefit of a reliable and long-lasting service. It also means avoiding the intervention of a number of intermediaries and to pay only for the real value of the translation work carried out. This is why more and more customers choose to directly address a professional free-lance.

You can also have a team of free-lance translators working on a really big piece of work when needed, without having to support the heavy costs of some intermediaries, as more and more free-lance translators are able to set up free-lance teams for specific projects. In such a case, the translator who leads the project sets it up for you, advises you and keeps you informed of the organisation while being in charge of the free-lance team. There is no subcontracting needed. I don’t subcontract translation work entrusted to me.

Subcontracting is legal and might be helpful, but if you think your translator doesn’t do the work her/himself, you are entitled to be informed of it.

Basically, the free-lance qualified translator is a professional supplier of services:

- who gives you the means to communicate directly your instructions;
- who you can ask for advice with no intermediary;
- with whom you can discuss as much as you feel is needed about the translation process and your requirements;
- who is able to deal directly with the work ordered;
- who is fully aware of your expectations;
- who you can build a trusting relationship with;
- with who you can save time by not having to explain the same things every time you pass an order (when you address an intermediate or agency, you can’t be sure that the same free-lance translator will work for you);
- who can also offer complementary interpretation work when needed (only relevant if the translators also practices interpretation);
- who can set up a team of translators working on a large project when needed, without you having to support the high costs of an intermediary.

Original text & translation: Claire Dionet, September 2002



One who is aware of the high stakes of translation can become an ideal customer. Follow this advice and you’ll definitely be one of them!

  • If your project is complex, get in contact with your translator at an early stage, so that there is enough time to gather the required resources, plan the translation process and maybe set up a free-lance team if needed (when volume is important or several translation languages are required). This increases the success of the project, as your translator can be a reliable collaborator and sometimes the “trump card” of your project.
  • Express your expectations to your translator. Thus, your translator has the means to define the type of translation required to achieve your objectives.
  • Whatever the type of the entrusted material, make sure the text is coherent, with no spelling, grammatical or typing mistakes. Incomplete or bad writing have consequences on the quality of the subsequent translation.

Would a talented cook be able to bake a delicious cake with poor ingredients? The better the quality of the raw ingredients, the better the quality the final product will be. When the originals are very approximate, experienced translators do their best to improve the legibility and clarity of the translation in comparison to the original material; this additional stage of the translation process takes a lot of time. More and more translators refuse to deal with poorly written texts and return them to the customer for the required corrections to be made before hand. By taking care of the original, you will save time and money.

  • Transmitting the material to be translated in a perfectly legible form. Keep in mind that small sized characters sent by fax can become illegible. The ideal form is a computerized file.
  • The material needing translation must be complete, with figures and drawings attached and any material which would help in its clarity and any other type of material that would be crucial for an optimal translation process (ex: if it’s a film script, consider sending the video; if it’s a software interface, send an applicable version of it, etc.)
  • Your translator is sensitive to corporate culture. If a translation is to be ultimately correct, it may be perfect for one company and not for another. Therefore, it is advisable to supply all documentation related to the subject issued, information about the business terminology (glossary for instance) and to facilitate access to the company resources and useful contacts with the business technicians.
  • It is in your own interest to give enough time to your translator, because a job well done takes time.
  • Satisfy according to the agreement set up, by payment on order or at delivery the latest. One can lose a competent translator when not relying on a reliable accounting service.

Ideal clients do exist! We expect that this perfect profile will be more and more often met, for an even better quality of translations provided.

More tips for buying translations

If you’re still unsure, I’d recommend you to provide yourself with the booklet entitled "Translation: getting it right", a guide to buying translations written by Chris Durban, translator, edited by Antonio Aparicio and published by the Institute of Translation & Interpreting. It’s not bigger than a CD booklet and it will prove very useful when planning to buy a translation. You can read it on the Internet at www.iti.org.uk or contact Cette adresse email est protégée contre les robots des spammeurs, vous devez activer Javascript pour la voir. to receive a free printed colour copy.

Original text & translation: Claire Dionet, September 2002

Concarneau, Marinarium 2010