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Translation and Interpretation

If you need a document translated or you're seeking an interpreter for visitors or a conference, these reputable providers and tips about translation and interpretation will start you on your way.

Two students working by a wall that has a posterized view of Cornell and says Language Resource Center.
Students in Cornell's Language Resource Center.

Translations are for written text. Interpretations are for oral speech.

About Translation Services

  • Most providers offer a range of services (document translation, interpretation, website localization, etc.), rather than specialize in one area.
  • Some providers offer a linguist-review service, where you can provide a previously translated document and get a review for accuracy.
  • Reputable companies will assign native speakers of your target language who are subject matter experts in the project’s academic field.
  • Many providers work with linguists who live abroad and freelance their translation services, rather than employ in-house translators.
  • Some services will assign a single translator to complete the work, while others will assign a translator, editor, and proofreader as quality assurance.
  • Linguist certification can vary from company to company, with many requiring translators to be certified in their home countries. Some top companies have International Organization for Standardization (ISO) certification.
  • Document translations are typically priced per word, with an average of $.20/word. The overall cost will depend on the language (Swahili is more expensive than Spanish) and the content (creative writing is more expensive than roughly translating an email).
  • Most document translations will have a minimum cost of $100–$200.
  • The industry standard for turnaround time is 2,000-2,500 words/day, but rush orders may be offered at a financial and quality cost.
  • “Translation memory” is common among providers, and refers to storing previously translated material for each client. If a client has multiple projects with similar content, there is no need to translate twice, and the per-word savings are passed on.
  • Discounts can often be found when there is a large volume of projects, or if there is a lot of repetition across projects (e.g., legal contract templates).

About Interpretation Services

  • There are two types of interpretation:
    • Consecutive interpretation, which can sometimes be done by one interpreter repeating back in a second language (depending on event length); and
    • Simultaneous interpretation, which typically requires hiring two interpreters for any event over 20–30 minutes. Simultaneous interpreters typically switch off every 15-20 minutes.
  • Top U.S.-based interpreters typically charge about $1,200/day per person (2021 rates), with two or more interpreters required for most events. Many interpreters will only accept full-day payments and may consider six hours of interpreting to be a full workday, with multiple breaks. Some providers are willing to accept half-day bookings.
  • When hiring interpreters and considering quotes, consider that it takes interpreters significant time to prepare for your event, including reviewing any meeting documents you send in advance to learn specialized terminology, connecting with any other interpreters to establish communication signals to use with each other during the event, and potentially attending a pre-event meeting for technical checks and interpreter briefing (recommended). It's a good idea to confirm if a pre-event tech check and briefing is included in the cost.
  • It is not standard in the interpreting industry for clients to request video samples or trial runs. To increase your likelihood of finding high-quality interpreters without being able to assess their performance in advance, use trusted recommendations or professional services.
  • When finalizing pre-event plans with interpreters, consider confirming the following with your service:
    • Can you provide the interpreters with event documents in advance to help familiarize them with specific terms? If so, how far in advance do the interpreters want the materials?
    • How can you reach the interpreters mid-event with any urgent communications—and what's the best way for them to reach you? (Phone texting or messaging apps are commonly used.)
    • For simultaneous interpretation, confirm which interpreter will start interpreting, approximate timing, and what signals the interpreters will use with each other when they are switching.
  • Ask meeting participants connecting virtually to use a headset, as this will improve the sound quality to enable simultaneous interpreters to provide better interpretations.