How to get an excellent translation. A comprehensive guide to German translation agencies.

Introduction

Translation is often misunderstood. Especially by people that don’t speak a second language themselves. Maybe because of all the free translation tools that are now freely available there is a common misconception that translation is a fast process that simply supplies a different and accurate German language version of the English text.

In reality, it’s unrealistic for you and your team to spend 6 months working on the original English text and expect the German translator to render it into German with the same quality over the weekend! Unfortunately, this happens more than you might think.

We’ve put this guide together to help you navigate towards choosing the right German translation agency for your needs. Our translation service is relatively small and we can’t and don’t want to take on every project. We understand that.

This guide sometimes goes beyond the scope of what we ourselves can offer, but it should leave you feeling much more confident about the German translator or translation company that you eventually choose.

What are the different German translation options?

Employing the services of a translation agency will certainly get your work done, but you’ll have to pay. Maybe other options exist that might work better (at least financially). Here is a list of possible options:

  • Translate it yourself, if you happen to speak German
  • Use Google Translate or another free online machine translation tool. We also have a free translation page on our website which uses the Bing online translation tool. Here you’ll find a comprehensive guide to machine translation with links to tools and resources
  • Ask a colleague or friend that speaks German to do it for free or at a low cost
  • Find a freelance translator
  • Upload your files to an online crowdsourced translation marketplace. Crowdsourcing as Human-Machine Translation
  • Employ the services of a German translation agency. You’ll find a list of other translation services that have specialized in German at the bottom of this article.
  • Build a full-service translation department in your company

What is the difference between German translation and interpretation?

Interpreting and translation on the surface appear to be very similar disciplines. However, they are rarely performed by the same people. The difference in skills, training, aptitude and even language knowledge are so substantial that few people can do both successfully on a professional level.

On the surface, the difference between interpreting and translation is only the difference in the medium: the interpreter translates orally, while a translator interprets written text. Both interpreting and translation presuppose a certain love of language and deep knowledge of more than one language.

The Skill Profile of Translators
The differences in skills are arguably greater than their similarities. The key skills of the translator are the ability to understand the source language and the culture of the country where the text originated, then using a good library of dictionaries and reference materials, to render that material clearly and accurately into the target language. In other words, while linguistic and cultural skills are still critical, the most important mark of a good translator is the ability to write well in the target language.

Even bilingual individuals can rarely express themselves in a given subject equally well in both languages, and many excellent translators are not fully bilingual to begin with. Knowing this limitation, a good translator will only translate documents into his or her native language.

Interpreter Qualifications
Interpreting, just like translation, is fundamentally the art of paraphrasing—the interpreter listens to a speaker in one language, grasps the content of what is being said, and then paraphrases his or her understanding of the meaning using the tools of the target language. However, just as you can not explain a thought to someone if you did not fully understand that thought, neither can you translate or interpret something without mastery of the subject matter being relayed.

Source: The Difference between Translation and Interpreting

Should I use free (machine) translation for German?

This depends very much on the purpose of your translation. If it’s just to give you a gist of the text or maybe for using internally within your company, free translation can be very helpful.

However, in circumstances where you or your business will be judged by the quality of your written communication in German, a quick machine translation will fall a long way short of the mark when it comes to making the right impression. In other words, for business letters, reports, manuals and web pages aimed at customers or partners whose first language is not your own the services offered by a professional translation agency are essential if your company is to be taken seriously.

Visit our free translation page and read a comprehensive report about machine translation…

How does a typical German translation agency work?

Each translation agency will have its own specific ways of working, but you can expect the process of translation, from the first contact with the company right through to final delivery of your document to encompass the following steps:

  1. Contact. The first step is to contact the German translation service that you’ve identified as being a possible good match for your requirements. If your documents are not sensitive and highly confidential, you will be asked to send the files for translation together with your contact request.
  2. Non-Disclosure and confidentiality agreement. You might want the translation service to sign a non-disclosure and confidentiality agreement before you send the files. This is not usually a problem. We have signed several NDAs on the requests of our customers. However, it’s common for translation agencies to protect the privacy of your documents in their terms and conditions.
  3. Send documents for a translation quote. The easier it is for the translation agency to read and count the number of words or characters in your documents, the faster and more accurate your quote will be. If you can, always try to deliver your files in WinWord or .txt format as these can be processed by all companies.
    1. If you are delivering a draft document for German translation and there will be changes later, make sure you mention that in the contact request
    2. If you want a quote for translation of your website into German, you should take the time to prepare your website’s text ready for translation? For most agencies, it will not be enough to just send the website address and ask us for a quote based on that. Read more about website translation here…
    3. scanned documents or files are difficult for making a quote because the text cannot be copied in many cases. The translation company will try to convert the images and scanned words into characters that can be counted. Even today this is not an easy process.
    4. the translation agency might want to handle delivery of large data quantities differently. Solutions might include file sharing sites or FTP uploads/downloads
  4. Receive German translation quote and deadline.  Provided you’ve delivered your files in an easy-to-edit format and provided a clear description of your needs, you can expect to get a quote with a translation delivery deadline relatively quickly. At Twigg’s Translations, we usually respond within an hour or two.
    1. translators can often work over the weekend; translation companies will often charge more if you specifically request it
    2. as a rule of thumb an experienced German translator who is comfortable with the subject matter can translate on average 2000 words per day
  5. Questions you might want to ask:
    1. does the translation service work for companies, private individuals or both?
    2. will one sole translator do the entire job?
    3. is the translator familiar with the subject matter (technical, financial, legal etc. )
  6. Requesting a sample (test) translation and/or references. Most translation services will provide a sample translation on request. The majority will ask you to pay for a sample translation. Twigg’s translations also charges for sample translations. An alternative is to ask for references for previous work translated into German.
  7. Urgent translations. You should expect to pay more if you want a professional German translation and you want it delivered quickly. It’s unusual for translators to be sitting around twiddling their thumbs, and urgent jobs usually involve taking a translator from their current task to work on the new one. Where you have a large document that requires translating very urgently, some agencies might be able to give the text to several translators to speed up the process. However, quality and style issues are highly likely because each translator has his/her own translation style.
  8. Delivery of the translation. Normally the completed translation will be delivered in German (or English) in the same (file) format and with the same formatting as the original document. You should certainly inform the agency if you would prefer to have it delivered in a different format.
  9. Proofreading. German translation companies handle proofreading very differently. There will be additional costs for proofreading. All good translation agencies employ professional, experienced translators to do the work. All translators double check their work before delivering it. Some agencies will add an additional layer of proofreading by a second translator or by a native German speaker. It also depends on what is required. Do you want someone to double check that everything is translated correctly and that nothing has been missed? This requires a second translator. Or do you want a native speaker to go over everything to make sure that nothing sounds odd and there are no grammar mistakes? This can be done by native German speaker with the necessary skills.
    1. proofreading for self-translated documents. This service is sometimes offered agencies. Ask.
  10. How are errors found after delivery handled? Each translation agency will have their own best practice for this. Genuine errors where the text has been translated incorrectly are usually sent back to the translator to be put right. Errors can often be avoided through proofreading. The most common difficulties are often subjective in nature. The translation customer asks a native speaker of German to read the text and provide feedback. Often negative feedback is subjective meaning that the person who reads the text doesn’t like the style or doesn’t recognize company jargon. This can often be compounded when the original document was of poor quality. It’s unrealistic to expect the translator to render a translation that is better than the original because the translator does not have the background knowledge of the author.
    1. how do you evaluate a translation if you don’t speak German? The only way is to ask a native speaker with experience and background knowledge of the text that has been translated.

How much does professional German translation cost?

Prices for translation agencies in the UK can vary a lot. Some agencies will give you a translation price per line based on a fifty-five keystroke line (the 55 keystrokes includes empty spaces). Another common method is to charge on a per word basis. Discounted rates can often be quoted for bulk orders. A number of other factors will also affect the rate quoted:

  • Text Size
  • Difficulty
  • The format in which the text is made available
  • The urgency
  • The time and day of the week on which the translation has to be made.
  • The formatting tasks that must be performed in addition.

This means, then, that the final price you pay is not just governed alone by the number of words in your document. The degree of difficulty in translating the document accurately is the key factor. Translating a section of a procedural handbook for a manufacturer, for example, is much more technically demanding than the translation of an everyday business letter. Both may have a similar word-count, but the process of translation for the technical document is much more challenging and time-consuming and therefore more expensive.

The format of the text provided for translation can also affect the degree of difficulty of the task. Text submitted in Word format, for instance, is far easier for the translator to deal with than text which is embedded within an Excel spreadsheet or a PowerPoint presentation. Again, the extra time required for formatting can affect the overall cost of the translation.

Do agencies normally charge for a translation quote?

It is unusual for a translation agency to charge for a quote. Pricing for work is normally done free of charge. There may be the occasional exception to this rule for projects with a huge scope where the agency knows that several of its competitors have also been asked to provide a price.

Is there a minimum charge for German translation work

Twigg’s Translations charges a minimum of 150 EUR for each translation order regardless of the number of words. Most other agencies also have a minimum order fee. If you only have a small amount of text, here are a couple of suggestions for getting the most for your money. Maybe you have some other text (like the homepage of your website) that could benefit from being professionally translated into German. Other ideas might include marketing texts or other important documents.

More reading:

Where can I find a German translation service to deliver certified translations?

Certified Translation agencies
There are a number of reasons why you might need a certified translation. It is often a requirement for legal documents such as birth or marriage certificates and documents for official purposes.

Certified translation can mean a number of things. Translations are normally considered ‘certified’ if they have been produced under one of the three circumstances:

1. The document has been translated by a ‘sworn translator’
In Germany, translators can register with an official body as a “sworn translator” and by doing so be recognised by authorities such as the High Court of Justice to translate and legalise documents (often referred to as producing a ‘certified translation’).

Sworn Translation in the UK
There is no such thing as a Sworn Translator in the UK as there is no recognised official body which grants authorisation to legalise or certify.

2. The document has been certified by the translator or the translation company
Even though there is no formal route by which a translator can be authorised to certify translations in the UK, it is often acceptable to the requesting party for the translator to declare that they are a professional translator and they believe it to be a ‘true and accurate translation of the original’.

Certified Translations in the UK
As the translation industry is unregulated, any German translation company can make claims as to the accuracy of a particular translation and therefore it is important to check the credentials of the certifier carefully.

3. Certification in front of a solicitor
This is very similar to point 2. above, the only difference is that the document is signed in front of a Solicitor or Notary Public as being “true to the original”. The solicitor or notary public also adds their signature and official seal to prove it has been witnessed.

Source (adapted): What does a certified translation mean?

Can a German translation agency help me with German SEO

Having your website professionally translated into German as part of your plans to enter the German market or improve your website’s current visibility in Germany is an excellent first step.

When your plans involve optimising your website for the search engines in Germany (in particular Google.de), it may be wise to find a translation service that can help you with SEO. A good company will be able to help with analysing your text based on a list of search terms to see if the content can be improved and enriched for search.

There are a few fundamentals that are highly recommended for any website translation. These include page title, meta description and content optimisation. It’s optimistic to expect the average German translation service to have experience of optimising text for the search engines. This, however, is one area in which Twigg’s Translations really excels. Our agency is closely affiliated with a German SEO Agency in Germany by the name of Vision64. Much like Twigg’s Translations, Vision64 is specialised in offering SEO services for Germany and the UK only.

More reading on the topic of SEO for Germany:

Conclusion: 

Choose an SEO Company that Specializes in Optimisation for the German Market. While professional translation is essential if you really want to give your website the best chance of gaining visibility in Germany, choosing a reputable digital marketing company that specializes in organic German SEO is equally important.

Where will the actual translation take place?

Translation professionals who have specialized in the German and English languages are usually located in a German or English-speaking country. The internet has revolutionized the translation industry. Now it’s very common for translators to live in a different location and be separated geographically from their customers. All that is really needed is a nice office, a good computer and a modern internet connection.

Translation is often improved by working from home. There are many benefits for the translator which translate into better results for customers. These include:

  1. A quieter office environment and fewer distractions
  2. More flexibility to translate at out-of-office times such as late nights or early mornings
  3. Freedom, which creates a more content and calmer state of mind

How fast can professional German translation occur?

On average a professional German translator can render approximately 2000 words per day. But it’s important to bear in mind also that the speed at which translation can occur will also depend on a number of other factors, including:

  • The technical difficulty of the text. Even for translators with experience in the subject matter the going will be slower for complicated technical texts
  • Whether at translation database is available. Many German translators use tools such as Trados to help them translate and keep terminology the same
  • Proofreading. If you want a second translator to check the finished work, this will also slow down the translation speed.

How can the speed of professional translation be increased?
The speed of the translation process can be increased by involving more than one translator. This comes with some drawbacks, however. The main challenge is writing style. Each translator has his or her own style of writing so the more translators are involved in the project, the more noticeable the differences in style will be. This can be mitigated to some degree by the use of translation software. Translation databases are often created for companies that have a regular demand for translation. Over time the database increasingly helps the human translator to retain the writing style based on previous translations of the same or similar topics.

Further reading:

Who will render the translation and how are they qualified

Reputable German translation services should always give the work to experienced, professional translators who are native speakers of German or English (depending on which language they are translating). Each translation agency will have its own pay structure and translator requirements.

We have been translating between German and English in both directions since 1999. Without our talented and committed translators, we would be unable to meet the deadline and quality demands of our customers. We have been working with some of our translators for more than 10 years.

  • We work exclusively with experienced, motivated and qualified translators, who have made translating their career.
  • All our work is rendered by native speakers.
  • We pride ourselves on paying a fair wage which is above the industry average. We believe that by treating out translators fairly we will be rewarded in terms of motivation and quality.
  • Twigg’s translations is a family business (German and English). Being German and English means that we can always choose the best people, people who are capable of excellent work. This is also the reason why we only translate between German and English.
  • We can draw on a large pool of translators to match the document to the area of expertise of our translators.
  • We have a non-disclosure agreement with all our people so you can be sure your documents will be kept confidential.
  • We regularly check the quality of the translations.
  • Our translators are all comfortable working with common translation software.

You can be sure that if you trust us to translate your document, you will be getting top quality work from people who know the business, the culture, the language, the industry and how to render a translation so that it reflects the message and intention of original in either German or English.

More about us…

How do a German translation agencies guarantee quality?

When you entrust your work to a professional German translation service, you expect the final translation into German or English to be really good. Customers want the translation to be as close to the original as possible, they want it to have taken account of cultural differences and above all the expect the translation to do the job for which it is designed, whatever that might be.

These are the steps that a reputable translation agency will take to guarantee quality:

  • Ensure that translators are native speakers of the language into which they will translate (English or German)
  • Employ translators who have substantial experience (all our translators have many years of experience)
  • Use translators with a proven track record. Many of our translators have been working with us for years on many projects.
  • Make regular quality checks. The main reason that we only offer translation between German and English is that we can regularly check to make sure that our translators are delivering excellent work.
  • Ask a second translator to proofread the final translation. Most agencies will charge extra for this. There are two ways of doing it. The first is to ask a second translator to proofread the entire project for translation mistakes. The second and cheaper option is to have an experienced native speaker to go through the text and correct errors in grammar or awkward text passages or expressions.
  • Use a translation database. On larger projects (and if done correctly) a translation database can help ensure that the translation matches past work in the same subject matter.

What information should I provide when asking for professional translation?

The following is a list of translation-relevant information that you might want to pass onto the translation agency when asking for a quote:

  • The purpose of the translation. It’s not always clear whether the translation is for internal use of for general publication. This is important. Because if it’s for internal use only, you might be able to get a quicker turnaround time and price.
  • Do you want your translation to be proofread by a native speaker or second translator?
  • Do you have some examples of previous translations? Do you need your translation to be consistent with work done in the past?
  • Would you like the translator to use certain terminology? Do you have a glossary of translations used in the past or a translation memory (database of company terminology)?
  • If the scope of your translation project is large and you have a tight deadline, are you willing to allow more than one German translator work on it?
  • Do you have a preferred way of addressing the reader? Directly or indirectly? In a formal or informal style?
  • Do you have images that also require translation or explanation?
  • Do you have a preference with regards to the format of the translation? Do you have any special needs?

Ten misconceptions about German translations

  • Anyone who has completed formal schooling in Germany or has lived in Germany can translate.
  • Translators will soon be replaced by computers
  • Translators don’t need grammar or spelling skills since they can use the tools built into Windows Word
  • A good translator will get it right and will not need editing or proofreading
  • There are large numbers of good translators
  • If you can read and type in German you are fine to translate into German
  • A translator can translate into German or into English just as well
  •  A 100-page technical manual that took four months and three persons to write can be translated into another language by one translator in two days.

German translation resources

How to find a reputable German translation agency

Other German translation agencies

Jorinde Buck – Agricultural and Equestrian Translations
Jorinde is a certified translator who specializes on German and English in and on agricultural and equine texts.

Words-Worth – translations from German to English only
Translation agency working for central government and regional ministries, government agencies and research institutes, business, industry associations and NGOs.

Johanne Ostendorf – German translation service
A professional translation and proofreading service by an independent translator with work experience built up over the years since 1994.

1st Choice Translations – English and German
Erika Baker provides English and German translations for marketing, tourism or customer relation purposes. Erika is a native German speaker.

Hoonsch Translations – German and English 
Ilka Huhnen is a social scientist and has been running her German translation agency since 1999. She works mainly on English and German projects.

Technical translations from German to English
Carol Finch is a qualified, experienced language professional. She uses memoQ translation software which allows her to improve quality and create customised translation memories and term bases for each client to ensure greater consistency.

German Translation Online
Translation service based in Australia. Does work in the commercial, legal and technical spheres.

Ann C. Sherwin – German – English translator
If your documents are handwritten, you need someone who can read them readily and accurately. Texts from past centuries often require someone familiar with antiquated language and style and alert to changes in meaning that occur over time.

Byron Translations – translation agency German to English
Based in Byron Shire of New South Wales close to Byron Bay, Australia. German to English translations are done and processed in Australia. Linda Wiederkehr has a BA degree in German and is accredited to translate from German to English by the National Accreditation Authority of Translators and Interpreters (NAATI) in Australia.