Insights November 25, 2019

How good are your Translation Agency’s linguists?

Living Word
By Living Word
This post is just: 5 minutes to read

The Translation industry is a highly competitive market, split between professional freelance linguists and translation agencies. Whilst freelance linguists work directly with their clients, translation agencies act as facilitators for companies who don’t have the resources or experience to recruit and manage external linguists themselves.

It is common for translation agencies to be asked to manage large multilingual projects, or smaller projects, with very specific requirements. A key responsibility of any translation agency, therefore, is to hire and test only the very best linguists, through the use of robust recruitment processes.


There are hundreds of thousands of translators out there, all with varying skills and expertise. Most are extremely proficient, professional and reliable, but unfortunately our industry is also mired by a percentage of inexperience, unqualified (hence cheap) would-be translators. Whilst certainly not common place, it is known within the industry that some more unscrupulous agencies will consciously seek out cheap, unqualified linguists, in a bid to keep their margins maximised and tempt potential clients with very low rates.

Regrettably, it tends to follow that work provided by cheap linguists can be very hit and miss. A miss that can often translate into a branding or PR disaster for you!

Recruitment, therefore, is a fundamental part of any translation business. So how can your agency reassure you that the translators they have recruited are the most skilled, qualified and appropriate for your needs?


Should you simply just trust your agency implicitly? We say ‘no’. Well, not necessarily. There are many variables to choosing the right candidates for important translation work, but you can get a good indication whether your agency is providing you with the right level of service by asking them these fundamental questions.

• Are their translators native speakers of the target language?
• Do they perform thorough ID checks on new suppliers?
• Do they collect work references?
• Do new recruits carry out copy sample tests?
• Is industry-specific experience a requirement for individual projects?
• Is a degree level linguistic qualification a basic requirement?
• Are translators assessed on a regular basis to track quality standards?
• Does the translation service always include proofreading by a second professional linguist?

The answers to these will usually be a resounding ‘yes’, and a good agency will be able to easily answer and elaborate, so don’t be afraid to ask them. But if your translation quote seems almost too good to be true for amount of work you’re placing, or the complexity of the material and the timeframe you’ve given, then unfortunately, it probably is.


The best thing to do is shop around and if other agencies are coming in with a less competitive rate, there will usually be a very good reason why.

Ask yourself what your priorities are: good, fast or cheap – sadly one priority always has to be sacrificed.