Quoting Projects:
What a Language Agency Needs to Know  

The Fundamentals:
  • Translating deals with written text (manuals, brochures, PPTs, software strings, etc);
  • Interpreting is for spoken projects (trials, depositions, meetings, conferences);
  • Localization is for websites or software apps (which often require changes to the code).
Q:“Can you provide a translator for my meeting with Japanese clients?”
A: “We think you mean an interpreter. If so, yes we can. Is your meeting here or in Japan?”
The Basics:
  • Interpretations are priced on a rate per hour for spoken communication. Longer sessions are priced by the half-day or the full day.
  • Most interpreters have a two-hour minimum per session.
  • A language service will strive to source a local interpreter in your destination city, and he/she may charge travel time or mileage fees to the venue in addition to hourly rates.
  • A full-service agency can provide local, professionally trained and subject-specific interpreters in any country to accommodate your overseas travel.
  • If you want a specific interpreter to accompany you on a trip, be prepared to pay his/her travel costs, hotel room and meals.

FYI: Interpreters are at the top of the language industry. While translators can consult with others or research terminology in their written texts, interpreters literally must think on their feet, know your terminology, the presenter’s spoken dialect, and how to phrase your words or concepts within a very minimal timeframe. It is therefore essential for businesses or government to hire a professionally trained, qualified interpreter, not an amateur.

1.What kind of project do you have?: a trial?, deposition?, in-house meeting?, seminar? conference?, multiple break-out sessions running at the same time? Please discuss this with your agency since each case follows a different scenario.If you have a legal project, must your interpreter be:

  • Court-certified?
  • Federally certified?
2.For what languages and dialects? Brazilian Portuguese? Mandarin? Cantonese? etc. If you don’t yet know the dialects, at least state the language(s).
3.What is the format of your session?a. Consecutive?: Here, the presenter speaks and is quiet while the interpreter interprets. Then the listener replies and the interpreter renders the listener’s speech to the presenter. Note: This format doubles the time of your session.

b. Simultaneous?: In this case, the interpreter interprets while the speaker is speaking, as at the United Nations.

  • Will you want sound booths? If so, for how many language teams?
  • Will you want whisper equipment (interpreters’ transmitters) and participants’ headsets? If so, for how many people and how many languages?
4.What date(s) and duration? A language service can give you a rough quote assuming an interpreter’s availability. Qualified interpreters’ schedules book up very quickly, and they will tentatively hold your advanced dates only for a short time. The sooner you know your exact dates, the better. You must contract first before the language agency can lock your dates with the interpreter.
5.What Time? Interpreters book:

  • morning sessions (say 8 am to noon)
  • afternoon sessions (say 1pm to 5 or 6 pm); and
  • night sessions (say 7pm to 10pm).

Accordingly, interpreters can give half-day or hourly rates. Please do not schedule your session crossing the lunch hours (say from 11 am to 1 pm). In that case, interpreters cannot take other appointments that day and can charge you a full-day rate for a lunch-time session.

6.Where? If you know the specific hotel, conference center or venue address, that’s best. If not, in what city will it be? Interpreters’ rates in Kansas differ from those in New York.
7.What subject? What is your session / trial / deposition / conference about? Your language service needs to know the level of technical terminology the interpreter will need.
  • If it’s a conference, will you be able to provide background info or a reference website in advance? That helps the interpreter to prepare specific technical terminology.
8.How many interpreters? Imagine a week-long conference in five languages with sessions running all day. In this case, two interpreters for the same language and the same subject specialty are usually needed. Intense simultaneous interpreting causes rapid mental burnout. And when interpreters get tired, their speech can get garbled, dropped or misunderstood. That’s not the result you want.

Two interpreters per language work as a team: one on for 20-30 minutes and one off for 20-30 minutes. This alternation prevents burnout. But it means that you will need to budget for two interpreters per language, not just one.

9.Advanced notice: It is extremely helpful to have at least two weeks’ advanced notice of your needed dates. Language agencies do not enjoy calls at 5 pm the night before your session. While expert agencies can usually fulfill emergencies, those make the agency staff prematurely gray and they might have to charge you extra for hair dye.

Knowing what questions to ask in advance can save you a lot of time. Especially for rush projects, many days are lost when assistants or contractors need to go back to their bosses or clients for clarifications. A professional agency should always be willing to help you but will ask you the questions above before it can fulfill your request.