Jan 11, 2012

Finding good translators

Over the past decade I've spent many hundreds of hours helping clients and colleagues find suitable translators to collaborate on their projects, mostly involving German and English, but occasionally venturing into other languages such as French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese or even Vietnamese and Sinhalese. Unfortunately, it can be said that "many are called [translators], but few... [should be] chosen." For various reasons.

In desperation, many turn to public commercial portals such as ProZ aka PrAdZ aka The Translators' Workhouse or perhaps more benign incarnations of the same concept. Some of these pretend to screen "professionals", but as in another old commercial profession, the main criterion in proZtitution is to see if a trick can be turned and a Google Ad dollar made or the like. One of the Zertified Red Pros I've seen on PrAdZ is well known to me from the twenty hours I spent preparing an expert opinion for possible legal action by his client due to gross incompetence and damage to business relations; others are of similar caliber. Yet many translation agencies continue to drink from those soiled troughs, where anyone with an Internet connection and a knowledge of the URL http://translate.google.com/ can hang out a virtual shingle as a translator; occasionally a corporate client unknowingly falls in and drowns as well.

Mind you, there are still a few very good translators to be found in such places, but they are getting fewer and fewer, verra hard tae find. The few grains of wheat are buried in a mountain of chaff and bird dung.

Many clever translation buyers (translation agencies, corporations great and small, law offices, and individuals) know the open secret to finding a better class of translator: professional association directories. Sure, you can find rotten eggs in those nests too, but on the whole, these are far more serious professionals, most of whom actually make a living as translators and perform to standards that will enable to keep them doing so as long as they like. Not the desperate unemployed, the frustrated actors or journalists who can't get enough work to pay the rent, starving studentZ or bored house hubbies.

Where do you find contact lists for these professionals to find the "right" one with the special knowledge you need? Here. I'll keep a running list of professional organizations around the world and links to their online directories. I know only a few myself, because my interests are limited to a few languages and countries; some of these have been kindly provided to me by international professional colleagues who know the organizations intimately and are in some cases involved with running some part of them. If you are looking for competent people, certified or otherwise, these are very good places to start your quest. It is more likely to have a happy end or a happy working relationship for the years ahead.

Note that while I list these organizations by country, most or all have international members and language combinations that go beyond those one might expect from that country, so even if you are in Mexico, it might pay to browse a French directory for a Russian to Italian translator :-)

I'll add listings as I receive them and perhaps a short comment by members I know if they care to share them. When these organizations mention certifications, it means something more than a little red pee.

AUSIT - home page - online directory search (badly designed form, no specialty selection possible)
NAATI - home page - online directory search (see the note in the comments)
WAITI - home page - online search directory (odd search wizard, no specialties)

Universitas - home page - online directory search (in German)

CTTIC - home page
Here there are links to the regional organizations and their directories (print or online). It's a bit fragmented; the group in British Columbia, for example, has separate directories for "certified" and associate members. Too bad they can't offer a nationwide directory in this modern age, but as they say, "seek and ye shall find", and the findings are surely better than what one would typically turn up at a commercial portal without standards.

SKTL - home page - online directory search (in English)

SFT - home page - online directory search (in English here)

BDÜ - home page (in English here). National scope. The site's programming is primitive (still uses HTML frames!!!), so the directory will have to be accessed from the home page. You can't miss it though: a link with a big magnifying glass at the top of the page and large, bold words that say "search online for interpreters and translators". The cream of the German crop will usually be found here.

ADÜ Nord - home page (in German). More focused on the northern region. The online search form for translators is on the home page, impossible to miss. There are great language service providers to be found here.

VÜD - home page (in German) with an integrated search form for translators and interpreters at the top

ITIA - home page - online search form

AITI - home page - online directory search (mostly in Italian, unfortunately - appalling, incomplete localization)

- home page - online directory (unfortunately all in Dutch still; I really expect less parochialism from my colleagues there! Still, this is a good place to find quality)

Bureau Wbtv - home page - online register search for sworn and certified translators(in English)

New Zealand

NZSTI - home page with a search box at the top 


Asetrad - home page - online search with specialties (in English)
MET - home page - online search (this organization includes language specialists for all aspects of English) 
APTIC - home page - online search - the English pages for the association of translators working with Catalan

SFÖ - home page with online search form by language combination & subject (in English)
Kammarkollegiet (authorized translators) - info page - online directory search (in English)

ASTTI - home page - online directory (the links here are to German pages, but the site is available in Italian and French as well)

United Kingdom
ITI - home page - unfortunately, these Brits are just as primitive with their HTML site structure, so the online directory must be accessed in a frame on the home page. Still, the link is at the top of the page and easy to find, and there are a lot of excellent translators to be found here.

IoL - home page - online directory

ATA - home page - online directory search


  1. Excellent advice, Kevin. I would add ASTTI, the Swiss translators association, to your list: http://www.astti.ch/

  2. Done! Thank you, Susan. And thank you again for your reminder earlier today about this contribution to a thread on the ATA Business Practices List by Chris Durban:

    “(Terminology) point of order: I am a freelance translator. As such, I am an LSP. This is a basic point. And I would really really like *everyone* to have it clearly in mind and avoid hijacking the term (or, perhaps, letting the term be hijacked? :-)) to refer to translation companies only.
    I'll repeat that: so much time, energy and budget was spent by professional associations *on this very issue* in negotiations leading up to the European standard (to take just one example) that it is very important we all be very clear that LSP = all providers of language services. There are very clear economic consequences.“

    The ITI and others have gone along with that hijacking on their sites, and I have gotten sloppy with my terminology as well, though I've often had an uncomfortable feeling about it. For the same money a company or individual would spend on service from a translation company, perhaps a bit more, perhaps a bit less, that company can usually get a far higher level of service as well as control over who sees the documents and does the work. I am absolutely appalled when I see highly confidential client documents sent out as unencrypted e-mail attachments to god-knows-whom. Or when I hear translation agency owners who have never translated a line in their lives talk about the opportunities offered by MT or rooms full of native Hindi speakers banging out technical manuals in English. I tell you, that confirms my belief that these are great times to study tort law :-) as the Germans say, Dummheit hat einen Aufpreis.

    You want real security? Control? Quality for your firm's critical communications? Then know where your documents really go! And choose the real, proven competence of communication professionals.

  3. Hi Kevin,

    Nice one!

    Two more to add to your list in the Netherlands:

    (for certified translators and interpretors)

    This list is more "strict" at the moment than the NGTV list, which contains quite a few people who got their driver's license 20 years ago but have only driven their car on Sundays on flat Flevoland roads in good conditions since then. btv is aiming to filter those out over time.

    (for agencies)

  4. Hi Kevin,

    Great post! Let's hope clients will pay attention...

    I would like to add to your list the Romanian Translator's Association web site which has a members directory:

    ATR - Asociaţia Traducătorilor din România


    Thanks a lot,
    Emanuel Bod

  5. Thank you, Emanuel. It seems the English part of the site isn't fully localized, and I cannot read the language. Is there an online directory accessible in English? A few other colleagues have kindly provided me with links, but if I don't read the language, it's hard to add these to the main list above. Each entry should have a list available online, preferably a searchable database of vetted professionals. It's interesting to note how parochial some of these organizations are. I found it interesting that the Swiss don't offer English pages either. Makes it hard for others who don't read French, Italian or German to find a good translator there. Translators should raise such issues with their organizations. After all, what are those dues for?

  6. Fantastic! The translation world would be a better place without most of these public portals.

    I'd also like to mention the UK Translators' Association (part of the Society of Authors). Not so much for technical/scientific documents of course, but great for humanities, journalism, marketing copy etc. Plus they have a decent website...



  7. you might like to add the Swedish Association of Professional Translators (SFÖ) - http://www.sfoe.se/eng/


  8. In Sweden, there is also the directory of authorized translators at the website of The Legal, Financial and Administrative Services Agency: http://www.kammarkollegiet.se/sok/translator

    There is also a directory of authorized translators at the website of The Federation of Authorized Translators: http://www.aukttranslator.se/sve/default.asp

  9. Interesting post - and comments. For German, you might like to note the VÜD - Verband der Übersetzer und Dolmetscher e.V.
    Good luck!

  10. Well said!

    Except about NAATI, which is not a professional association but a for-profit entity whith which the real Australian Professional Associations (namely AUSIT http://www.ausit.org/ and WAITI http://waiti.org.au/) of which I was a member when I lived in Australia, have been fighting for years.

    To make a long story short, NAATI was created at a time where there was a real shortage of translators and interpreters in Australia, as a way to give "accreditation" to migrants with a sufficient command of English to act as translators or interpreters to support emerging LOTE communities. People with enough knowledge of English would get extra points on their application to migrate to Australia. Unfortunately, the tests are so easy that having NAATI accreditation doesn't mean much. I can talk about it because I have passed the exams myself. But being able to fill in names and dates of birth in a certificate template and being able to provide professional technical translation services are totally different things. Professional Associations in Australia are fighting to raise the standards of the Industry by increasing formal training opportunities and their recognition by the private and public sectors, which are not yet aware of the flaws of the NAATI testing system.

  11. Great idea to create this list! There is also the New Zealand Society of Translators and Interpreters (www.nzsti.org) which has a search box at the top of the home page.

  12. As usual, we could not agree more. Dagy thanks you for including UNVERSITAS, of which she is the hard-working Secretary General. In order to be included in their searchable database, one has to jump through many, many hoops, including having one's translations reviewed by a panel. They mean business, and that's great.

    We recently corresponded with Cristine Schmit from the newly formed association in Luxembourg. Can't seem to locate their website at the moment, but here is Cristine's info on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/christineschmit. We are in awe of these folks starting a new NATIONAL association.

    You are, of course, completely right: serious translators belong to at least one professional association. :)Thanks for creating this list.

  13. Hello Kevin,

    Great blog and nice entry!

    Let me add a couple of suggestions:

    In Spain we have the Spanish Association of Translators, Copy-editors and Interpreters (Asetrad): www.asetrad.org, English page: www.asetrad.org/index.asp?op=5

    And then a specialist one, the International Association of Translators and Editors in Medicine and Allied Sciences (Tremedica): www.tremedica.org, English directory of members: www.tremedica.org/guia_servicios-ing.html

    Keep up the good work,
    José M.

  14. It seems, that I am the one to disagree here. ProZ is a good resource for both translators and clients. Yes, it is a marketplace, but it helps lots of people. Do you really think, that serious clients, like saym Samsung, will look for translators in some associations? Buff! They will go to an agency and that agency will search at ProZ. I am really upset reading the posts advising to discontinue ProZ membership. I am a member of Union of Translators of Russia (sounds awkward, right? this is the biggest one in Russia). What benefits do I have from being a member? Not a single one. A yearly membership charge of 100 USD, which I am earning meeting my agencies and clients at ProZ (surprizingly). If I had to choose, I would definitely descontinue my UTR membership. The only reason for not having done so yet is the label "proffessional" it somehow magically gives to you.

  15. Well, Cravy, I can't speak for Russia and how things work there. I do know how they work in other parts of the world, such as Germany, the Netherlands, the UK or the US.

    Do serious clients look in the directories? Most certainly. I get a steady stream of first-class referrals from the online search engine of the BDÜ linked above. These include leading international corporations in agricultural equipment manufacturing and computer games, major chemical companies and a host of lovely SMEs. Many individuals as well who need certified work by a court sworn translator for emigration purposes, court cases, etc. Patent attorneys who need a sworn translator with competence in chemistry. Et cetera. Colleagues in other organization with different specialties tell of similar experiences. Does the organization of which you are a member maintain such a resource in a language accessible to clients willing to pay reasonable rates? Not all professional organizations are created equal, and as in real estate, there are three things that really matter: location, location and location ;-)

    I spend a lot of time talking to agencies; I have quite a number of friends who own small and medium-sized ones. And most of these are deeply unhappy with much of what will be found on ProZ. The best of these agencies routinely use the professional association databases to find their best translators. A good number of excellent agency client come to me by that route, some paying well above what some would consider "normal" for a direct client (not that this is a lot - it merely reveals that these people don't understand the real value of good work and what a knowledgeable client finds acceptable).

    I certainly don't encourage you or anyone else who feels he or she has found his place in the world at ProZ to depart there now or in the future. I merely suggest that there is a wider world out there with better returns for the efforts of competent people and that the best clients are not trawling places like ProZ for a good catch. Not at all.

  16. Thanks Kevin. The ATR site is not fully internationalized yet. Sorry I didn't think about it before.

    Here is the direct link to the members directory of the Romanian Translators Association ATR:


    By clicking a translator's name you will get a more detailed profile of that person (languages, fields, services, CAT tools). Unfortunately it's only in Romanian for the moment.

    But I can make a suggestion for visitors who don't speak Romanian: use Google Translate with the URL of a translator's profile. It does a decent job from Romanian to English.

  17. Great post, Kevin! I do agree with Susan about the importance of the Bureau BTV over NGTV in the Netherlands.

    For Spain, I recommend you to include Asetrad in the list.

  18. Thank you, José! So noted and added. I am pleased to see that they have pages in English for finding service provers.

  19. Hi! I am new to this blog and I wanted to bring to you attention the International Association for Professional Translators and Interpreters or IAPTI for short. Kind regards,


  20. Hi Kevin,
    Excellent post indeed, but I do wish to add a word of caution. I always look for credentials and association memberships when choosing translators, but I do not believe that being a member of a professional organization automatically makes a translator a good one. I've been disappointed more than once by highly qualified, certified translators ... I also pay a lot of attention to the way translators market themselves: all languages is a bad qualifier, all fields is a bad qualifier, and there are tons more, but I know I'm preaching to the choir here ...

  21. May I propose APTIC, as an association based in Catalonia, which has its own language as well as Spanish? Associació Professional de Traductors i Intèrprets de Catalunya. Website (also translated to English): http://www.aptic.cat/ Directory search: http://www.aptic.cat/cercatraductor

  22. Hi Diane, I often hear that agencies think that if someone gives several different fields, then she/he is an amateur. I do have a different opinion. There are many translators, who are getting specialized in more subjects, because 1) They have very different interests, skills and talents 2) The more they translate the more different related subjects they will be specialized in 3) For example medical texts contain legal consents and clinical trial contracts or manuals of medical devices, or business texts contain a lot of marketing or finance related information or because you are not able to translate a forex text without the good knowledge of IT terms 4) So I do think that in our profession it is very important to follow and specialized in those subjects that are interconnected with each other 5) Also I met a lot of times with the issue when a pm is not able to define the subject of a text correctly. The end client is an agriculture company, but the subject of the text is more marketing and business related than agriculture related. 6) What is very important: the translator must know her/his limits. She/he has to have a very healthy self-critique.

  23. I second Marcelo's suggestion: You may want to add IAPTI to your list. IAPTI is the first and only existing association for professional translators and interpreters with an internationalist approach, having members from more than 40 countries. Its directory, with search capabilities such as Specialty, Languague Pairs and Services is easily accessible from its homepage: http://www.aipti.org/eng/

  24. IAPTI! Seconded! You can read about its objectives here http://www.aipti.org/eng/objetives/

  25. I am a member of both ProZ and the IoL (actually the CIoL - Chartered Institute of Linguists). Over the last three years, I have had two or three enquiries at most from the CIoL and probably two or three hundred enquiries from ProZ. I don't see why other translators in my language pair (IT>EN) would be getting more from the CIoL, because everyone's listing there is basically the same, i.e. you can't customise or improve your profile, which is something that you can do on ProZ (as I have).

    There are a lot of poor translators on ProZ, but there are also quite a few good ones. And we're not hard to spot.

  26. Hi Kevin,

    The ITI have updated their website since you posted and their 'Translator Search' section is now no longer trapped in a frame.


  27. Thank you for the heads-up, Michael. Is there a different URL I should use above? I remember Nick Rosenthal saying a while ago that the ITI web site was being overhauled, but I wasn't aware that the work had been completed. I hope some day the major associations will understand the desirability of combining their directory services to offer an even better alternative to the problem-ridden commercial portals.

  28. May I add the Brazilian associations?
    SINTRA - Sindicato Nacional dos Tradutores (http://www.sintra.org.br/site/index.php?p=c&pag=trad)
    ABRATES - Associação Brasileira de Tradutores e Intérpretes (http://www.abrates.com.br/site/).
    Thank you for your great articles!
    Gladys Wiezel

  29. We are a translation agency and can second the suggestion that just because someone is certified and on these lists they are up to the standard required of clients. We have made that mistake a number of times.

    1. Sorry, Adam, I don't quite follow you. Do you mean to say that the association directories are a good first cut for screening, or that a listing and certification is no guarantee of quality. Both are true, of course, but I think the developments during the nearly five years since I wrote this post make the list of associations here all the more important.

      In the 16 years since I became involved with commercial translation in my daily routine there have been quite a few changes, some very positive, some bordering on catastrophic. Support technologies for reference and quality assurance have improved enormously in that time, but unfortunately the persistent lies and propaganda of bulk market commoditizers and IT profiteers pushing unsuitable machine pseudo-translation (MpT) approaches, the corruption of academic programs through the infiltration of dirty funding for MpT (undermining the development of truly useful expertise) and the flooding of the service provider market with desperate, linguistically handicapped wannabes trying to pay the electric bill and buy some food despite the tectonic economic shifts of the past eight years, and other factors have seriously muddied the water for those seeking clear choices for translation service.

      The corruption of many professional associations by MpT delusions have also further undermined the status and competence of translation professionals. When I see the ATA in the US go out of its way to promote the most toxic technology practices and geographically and temporally coordinate their annual meetings with those for the pushers of useless pseudo-solutions or the ITI in the UK suck up to much the same, or some of the recent controversies in other organizations, I understand why many of the top people I know choose to be part of no associations.

      It also has not helped that three years ago elements in the BDUE in Germany derailed a plan to offer a translator search database with a common basis for comparison, with many years of development and research behind it, offered free to the translator communities, because they feared "cheap" Poles and "unqualified" Frenchies among other things. Maybe that will still come to pass, we'll see.

      But in any case, these directories are still the best general resources available to the public for finding truly qualified translators and not getting screwed by bulk market bogsters promising competence in all the world's languages and delivering none in any. Good agencies, like good translators are damned hard to find, but in the latter case at least it's easier to figure out what you are dealing with and get predictable service. Too few intermediaries (agencies) really make the effort to provide consistency and sound counsel for customer language projects.


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