Tips in Working with Translators

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

As cross-cultural training becomes more common, many trainers will face the need to work with translators. But not all translation is the same. What are some tips in working with translators?

Tip 1: Always ask whether a translator will be needed or is desirable. A translator can raise the cost of presenting training. But translation can also broaden the market appeal, making a training effort capable of reaching many more people than English language only presentations.


Tip 2: There is more than one way to work with a translator. One approach is simply to have slides and handouts translated but present a seminar online or onsite in English. Another approach is to have concurrent (simultaneous) translation in which a translator talks while the presenter talks. That usually requires participants to wear headphones, which can be uncomfortable. A third approach is to have the presenter talk but stop periodically and have the translator present in another language. Each approach has advantages and disadvantages.

Tip 3: Nobody will be completely satisfied with a translation. It is impossible to satisfy everyone with a translation. It is like room temperature—someone is always too hot or too cold. The same principle applies to translation. Those who can understand English will feel that a translator is wasting their time and money; those who cannot understand English will wish that the whole talk could have been given in their native language.

About the Author
William J. Rothwell, PhD, SPHR, is the president of Rothwell & Associates ( and professor in the Workforce Education and Development Program at the University Park campus of Penn State University. As a researcher he has been involved with the last five competency studies conducted by Association for Talent Development (ATD, formerly ASTD). In 2012 he won the association's prestigious Distinguished Contribution Award. He is author of 81 books and 250 articles in the field and had 20 years of experience in government and the private sector before becoming a college professor in 1993.
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