I recently received one of those comedy requests: a British translation agency contacted me at 5.15pm for an urgent translation: 700 German words for 11am the next day into English – or was it into French as the email subject said? At any rate, the translation had to be done by a “sworn translator recognised by the French authorities”.
First, I do not offer translation from German, whether into English or French. My rusty A-level German would not get me far and you really, I mean really, would not want me to translate any important German document for you!
Second, the title and the body of the email do not match: is the target language required English or French?
Third, 700 words can take about 3 hours to translate. To contact a translator at 5.15pm for a next-morning delivery, taking into account the time it can take to negotiate rates and other terms, is a little tight. Or when do we sleep and eat and relax at the end of a long day? Were they prepared to pay an extra 50% for an urgent translation?
Fourth, there are no sworn translators in the UK, and you have to live in the relevant country to be a sworn translator in that language. The British system is different: qualified translators provide self-certified translations. I would expect a UK-based translation agency to know this.
My guess (and it would be nice to be told rather than guess) is that they found my details on the website of the Consulate of France in London, which, admittedly, does not state the translators’ language pairs. But it seems fair to assume that translators listed there translate between French and English. Anything extra is certainly possible, but not a given. In my case, my website is indicated on the listing, so anyone can quickly check my pairs, specialisms and qualifications.
Had they taken the time to check, this agency could have saved some precious time (given the urgency of the request) and spared themselves the embarrassment. Translators make notes of good and bad clients and potential clients, and we do share this information with our colleagues to protect ourselves from time-wasters of all kinds. So do take the time to check whatever information is available and be sure to look professional – or your reputation could precede you.