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FAQ about ATA

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FAQ about ATA

The expertise ATA members offer can help you save money, avoid mistakes and grow your business. Put the power of quality translation and interpreting on your side.




What does ATA do?

ATA is the voice of translators and interpreters. Whether you need a patent translated or require interpreters for an international conference, ATA can point you to a translator, interpreter or language services company specializing in your field. ATA offers translator certification (currently available in more than 25 language pairs).

The American Translators Association was founded in 1959, and it is one of the largest professional associations of translators and interpreters in the world. It boasts nearly 11,000 members in all 50 states and more than 95 countries. ATA was established to advance the translation and interpreting professions and foster the professional development of individual translators and interpreters. It also includes teachers, project managers, web and software developers, language company owners, hospitals, universities, and government agencies.




What’s the difference between a translator and an interpreter?

Translators write. Interpreters speak. Both convert information from one language (and culture) into another.




Everybody speaks English now. Why do I even need an interpreter or translator?

That’s a common misconception in English-speaking countries. In fact, only 17% of the world’s population speaks English natively. Non-native speakers can easily misunderstand the fine points of your message or miss them completely.

Research shows that when people spend their own money, they want to use their own language. Don’t you? International players know this already. That’s why so many commercial websites around the world are professionally translated and updated in multiple languages. It’s just good business sense.

If you’re in the business of providing health or social services, studies show that professional interpreters raise the quality of clinical care for LEP (Limited English Proficient) patients. Think of a professional interpreter as insurance against costly malpractice lawsuits, loss of revenue, and negative health outcomes.

Bottom line: if you’re doing business exclusively in English, you’re missing a global audience by a very wide margin. The same is true even in the US, where companies like Verizon, Bank of America, Pfizer, and Marriott are increasingly using translation to tap into Spanish-speaking markets.

And the reasons for using a professional translator or interpreter go well beyond the bottom line. The right translator or interpreter can help you:

improve patient outcomes
• increase factory efficiency
• polish your corporate image with customers
• improve employee and shareholder relations
• avoid embarrassment and liability
• meet legal requirements for language access
• stay focused on your core business




My coworker knows Spanish. Why can't I just have her do the translation/interpreting?

Knowing two languages doesn’t make you a translator or interpreter. Just like knowing how to sing doesn’t make you ready for the opera.

Here’s the problem: many bilingual people overestimate their skills. Even when bilinguals are fluent in both languages, they aren’t always good at moving information across the language barrier. Often, relying on an amateur is a waste of human and financial resources.

Professional translators and interpreters can transfer complex ideas—technical, legal, financial, and more—accurately between two languages and cultures. Professionals also have specialized terminology and subject area knowledge, and they know how to choose the most appropriate solution when a word has many possible translations. All of this takes considerable skill and experience.

In medical settings, using untrained relatives or staff as interpreters can have catastrophic consequences 1. Using amateurs may even be against the law: California, New York, and other states have forbidden the use of children as interpreters in healthcare situations. As hospital administrators often point out, hospitals see many examples of "filtering of information" by family members and friends. That is, family members do not always interpret accurately or transmit the entire message to the patient or doctor. Most of the time, they are also unaware of proper terminology for medical settings. These cases often result in poor patient outcomes.

In legal settings, complex litigation and even simple depositions can easily be derailed by the wrong choice of words. Worker’s compensation hearings may be affected by incorrect interpretation, undermining the fairness of the proceedings. And in a diverse and globalized marketplace, crucial negotiations, conferences and business meetings may be ruined by shoddy interpretation.


1 “Multiple studies document that quality of care is compromised when LEP patients need but do not get interpreters. LEP patients' quality of care is inferior, and more interpreter errors occur with untrained ad hoc interpreters. Inadequate interpreter services can have serious consequences for patients with mental disorders.” The Impact of Medical Interpreter Services on the Quality of Health Care: A Systematic Review, Glenn Flores, Medical College of Wisconsin, doi: 10.1177/1077558705275416 Med Care Res Rev June 2005 vol. 62 no. 3 255-299 (http://mcr.sagepub.com/content/62/3/255.short?rss=1&ssource=mfc, accessed January 30, 2015)




Can’t I just use a free online translation tool?

The short answer is, “No”. A computer simply cannot comprehend all the nuances of language. It cannot interpret the meaning of a text. It can only read the words and translate them based on dictionaries or other algorithms. You cannot ask clarifying questions of these tools nor explain the context of your document to them. And, there may be confidentiality issues at stake when you upload your text to a free site.

You can’t afford to risk your image, liability and reputation. Services like Google and Bing might help when you need to get the gist of a document quickly and when accuracy isn’t important. But if you use them to translate something into a language you don’t speak, you’ll have no idea what the outcome is and where the errors are. When you need to send a message in another language—a message that is important to you—it’s best to work with a professional human translator and get it right.




Aren’t computers replacing human translators?

Interestingly enough, since free online translation services have been around, the market for professional translation and interpreting has actually increased. This isn’t surprising: as Google and Bing open the door to global markets, users often discover just how important translation is—and realize that they have sophisticated language needs that only human professionals can meet. Machine translation is a growing industry, but even then, the output may need to be edited by (human) professionals to eliminate errors.




Who uses machine translation (MT)?

Its primary users are professional translators, government agencies, and large businesses that have invested in proprietary systems, rather than free online tools. These systems have been trained on specific data and configured to their precise specifications.




Why should I hire a professional translator?

Because translation mistakes can be costly and embarrassing. Getting a translation wrong can cost money, ruin your image—even cost lives. So whether you’re translating a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign, an employee safety manual, or information for your state government, it pays to hire credentialed translators to get the job done right the first time.




How much does translation cost?

Since costs vary considerably by language, subject and deadline, it’s a lot like asking “How much does it cost for an accountant to do my taxes?” Translators charge by the word, by the hour, by the page, and per project, depending on the text. Professional translation is a crucial investment in today’s highly competitive business environment. Cutting corners may confuse your customers and result in losing a contract to a competitor, or even being eliminated from consideration entirely.

Talk to a qualified professional to assess your requirements and advise you on getting the best value for your dollar. Professionals can also leverage existing content to save expense in the long run. ATA’s has a Directory of Translators and Interpreters that can help you find the right provider.




Is there anything I can do to reduce translation costs?

First, start with a professional. There are some simple ways to keep costs down and boost return on investment:

• Finalize your text before translation begins. Having translators work on an incomplete text takes longer and costs more.

• Make sure your translator knows the purpose of your text. Is it a speech? A website? An annual report? Be clear about the purpose of the translation and your target audience. If you have background information or existing translations, be sure to provide them. They can help the translator be on message and potentially speed things up.

• Stay involved. If you don’t take the time to brief your suppliers and answer their questions, you’re unlikely to get what you need.

Take just a few minutes to talk to your translator or project manager, and you’ll save money and stress down the line.

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How much does interpreting cost?

Costs vary considerably by language, subject and setting. It’s a lot like asking, “How much does it cost for an accountant to do my taxes?” Hiring professional interpreters is crucial to getting your message across in today’s highly diverse world. Cutting corners on linguistic skill and professional ethics can mean confusing your customers, losing a contract to a competitor, or even being eliminated from the conversation entirely.

Typically, interpreters charge for their time—they may have hourly, half day, or full day or even weekly rates. The type of assignment, the complexity of the subject matter, and the availability of interpreters for the languages you need can all influence the cost of interpreting services.

Talk to a qualified professional to discuss your requirements and advise you on getting the best service for your dollar. ATA’s online directories can help you find the right provider.




Do I need more than one interpreter for my event?

That depends on the event. If you require an interpreter to talk at the same time as the speaker (simultaneous interpretation), then you will need more than one interpreter. Team interpreting is the standard recommended practice, as research shows that mental fatigue sets in and accuracy begins to suffer after 20 30 minutes of sustained simultaneous interpreting—even with the most experienced professionals. Private companies, international organizations and governmental institutions generally use rotating team whenever they need simultaneous interpreting.

Best practices vary for other types of interpreting services. A qualified provider can help you determine what you need for your project.

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Should I be using remote interpreting?

Remote interpreting—that is interpreting done by video or phone where the interpreter is not physically present with all parties—has increased access to language services dramatically. It is particularly valuable in emergency situations, or when there are no professionally qualified interpreters available locally. Just as in other types of interpreting, like simultaneous (speech interpreted into the target language while the speaker talks) or consecutive interpreting (speech interpreted into the target language just after the speaker talks), the level of skill and professional competence of the interpreter greatly determine the quality of the service. When professional standards of practice are followed (team interpreting, shorter duration when no video is available, background materials, proper credentials) and the technology used provides good audio/video quality, remote interpreting services offer a very good solution. The quality of the remote technology used, and the type of event covered, greatly impact the effectiveness of remote interpreting. While it’s ideal for interpretation to be offered in situ, remote interpreting sometimes is the best option.




What can I do to reduce interpreting costs?

We’re glad you asked. Professional interpreting costs money, but it costs even more when an important meeting falls apart because you don’t get the full story, or worse yet, you get the story wrong. Or when you travel all the way to Indonesia and your supplier doesn’t really speak enough English after all. In a medical emergency, understanding a patient’s history and symptoms can make the difference between life and death. Interpreting actually reduces costs by improving communication.

To get the most from your interpreting budget:

  • Plan ahead. Depending on the language you need, and the area of specialization that is required, you may find that highly qualified interpreters can be booked weeks or months in advance. Contact a qualified professional to discuss your needs and be sure to provide relevant background material so your interpreters can prepare before the assignment starts.
  • Choose carefully. To minimize risk and maximize interpreter quality, ask for credentials, prior experience and/or references before you hire an interpreter or interpreting agency—and be sure to check them.
  • Communicate. Discuss your budget and any interpreting equipment needs with your interpreter or interpreting agency and agree on the specifics of the services to be delivered and fees to be charged before the assignment starts.

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How do I find a translator or interpreter?

It’s easy. The American Translators Association can help you find the right translator or interpreter for your needs.

1) Our Directory of Translators and Interpreters contains over 7,000 profiles of professional translators and interpreters.

2) Our Directory of Language Companies contains over 500 profiles of language services companies.

A simple search helps you find a translator, interpreter, or company by language combination, subject area, and location. With an advanced search, you can customize your query to include the specific skills, education, and credentials required for your job. You can also limit your search to ATA-certified translators and credentialed interpreters. At this time, ATA does not currently certify interpreters, however, you can search for a credentialed interpreter in the online services directory to find a professional with the credentials you seek.

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What is a certified translator?

ATA certifies translators and confers the CT (“Certified Translator”) designation. An ATA-certified translator:

• has passed a rigorous examination;
• commits to the ATA Code of Ethics and Professional Practice; and
• meets or exceeds ATA’s continuing education requirements.

You can search specifically for ATA-certified translators in our online directory, and you can verify a translator’s certification here.

Learn more about the CT designation and certification




What is a certified or credentialed interpreter?

Interpreters are certified or credentialed by courts and other entities for specific practice areas, such as law and medicine. ATA does not certify interpreters, but you can search specifically for credentialed interpreters in our ATA Directory of Translators and Interpreters.




I’m supposed to get a certified translation. What does that mean?

A translation is certified in the US when it is attached to a signed and or notarized statement declaring that the translation is accurate and complete to the best of the translator's knowledge and ability. Any translator or translation company may "certify" a translation in the US.




How big is the language services market?

Some estimates project that the market will reach $37 billion globally by 2018, however this does not account for all sectors. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics expects demand for translators and interpreters to grow 46% between 2012 and 2022—well above the average of other professions.




How long does translation take?

Just like the question “how much does translation cost,” the answer varies depending on what needs to be translated. Start by asking how long it took to produce your original document. Just as all good work takes time to produce, so does a professional translation. Most reliable providers will also build in time for quality control by a second pair of eyes. If you’re updating a document and you’re working with the same translator or company that did the previous translation, it may not take long at all. If your project is extensive or highly technical, or if you need a literary work translated, it will probably take more time. Talk to your provider to get an exact cost and timeline.

Speed things up by providing your translation team with a finalized text, background materials, past translations, and clear guidance on the target audience and purpose of the text. Also, be sure that you are open to questions from the translator about your text.




I need a translation into a language I can’t read. How will I know it’s any good?

The best assurance is to use a professional, qualified translator. Do some vetting upfront. A professional translator uses a quality assurance process. ATA provides a directory of credentialed translators.




My information is highly sensitive. How can I trust a translator or interpreter to keep it confidential?

The same way you trust your doctor and your accountant. All ATA members adhere to our Code of Ethics and Professional Practice. Professional translators and interpreters are specifically trained to handle difficult ethical situations for businesses as well as in sensitive information.




I need to get a manual translated into six languages. What do I do?

You can work with multiple translation and proofreading/editing teams for the manual, or outsource coordination to a language services company and deal with a single provider. ATA has a Directory of Language Companies as well as a Directory of Translators and Interpreters.

In any case, be sure that the various teams will be in contact with each other, that there is a common quality assurance process in place, and that the translators can communicate with you to address questions about your document. Talk to your provider(s) to establish guidelines before the work begins.

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