An interpreter can be an indispensable partner while visiting manufacturers in China, if managed the right way. Managed the wrong way, they might communicate incorrect and conflicting information about your expected order terms, and product specifications – something that can result in disastrous quality issues further down the line.
In this article, you will learn how to prepare your interpreter, whether you should work with a freelancer or agency, and how much you should expect to pay.
What can Interpretation Service providers offer?
The role of an interpreter is to provide oral translation between two parties, for example during a negotiation. Translators, on the other hand, only deal with texts.
Importers often make use of Interpreters as representatives and assistants during factory visits and negotiations.
While most export focused factories have English speaking staff, an experienced interpreter can help buyer’s get their points across to the (often non-English speaking) factory boss, negotiate prices and prevent misunderstandings.
In addition, interpreters also tend to help their customers with booking hotels, trains and other transportation between factories – something that can be hard if you don’t speak a word of Mandarin Chinese.
As such, interpreters often work as all round assistants for people coming to China.
How much should I expect to pay for an Interpreter?
Most interpreters, both freelancers and agencies, charge on a per day basis. Some also charge on an hourly basis, but that only makes sense when visiting suppliers in Shenzhen, Guangzhou and other large cities.
If you intend to go deeper into the provinces, including Zhejiang and Jiangsu, even a single visit will take up the entire day.
Cost Examples (USD)
- Entry level interpreter / travel assistant: $60 per day / $10 per hour
- Intermediary interpreter: $100 per day / $20 per hour
- Experienced interpreter: $200+ per day / $40+ per hour
If you go on an extended business trip, you must also cover transportation and accommodation for the Interpreter.
Do I even need an Interpreter when visiting factories?
Not necessarily. As mentioned, most export oriented manufacturers in China do have English speaking sales reps. In most cases, you’ll meet the same sales rep you’ve already been in touch with over Alibaba.com or Globalsources.com.
That said, sales representatives, many which are in their early 20’s, tend to come and go. Their expertise concerning material, design options and the capabilities of the factory tend to be rather limited.
An interpreter can take things a step further, when it comes to the following:
1. Helping the buyer understand what the factory can and cannot make.
2. Helping the buyer understand if the supplier can comply with relevant safety standards and chemical regulations.
3. Confirming material options, prices, lead times, payment terms, tooling costs and other things you need to know about the factory.
However, you should only work with interpreters that have experience working with manufacturers. In a worst case scenario, you may end up paying an interpreter that is not able to correctly convey messages between you and the factory.
Can the Interpreter accompany us to trade shows?
Yes, there are many interpretation companies in all major Chinese cities, often in proximity to trade show venues. However, you’ll most likely do fine without an interpreter at a trade show, like the Canton Fair.
Chinese factory bosses send their English speaking sales reps to trade shows, while the boss and the engineers stay back in the factory.
In my opinion, it makes more sense if you focus on getting quotations at the trade show, while you save the interpreter for the actual factory visit.
How do I know that the Interpreter is qualified?
The interpreter should, obviously, have experience providing oral English and Chinese translation in factories. Most Chinese interpreters do have such experience.
But that’s only as far as it goes.
Interpreters are not engineers, and vice versa. Don’t assume that your interpreter is a manufacturing or material expert, because they are not.
While you’re at the factory, your objective is to get answers to your questions surrounding materials, compliance, design capabilities and order terms.
As such, you should educate the interpreter about your product, and the order terms you expect.
Also notice that interpreters are not necessarily negotiation masterminds. As such, don’t expect them to deliver massive price cuts.
They can negotiate prices, but only based on a strategy devised by the buyer.
Can the Interpreter translate spec sheets, contracts and other documents?
Maybe, if they have worked with the same product before.
However, it’s your responsibility to educate the interpreter, before meetings take place, on product specifications and materials.
Further, interpreters are specialized in oral translation, while translators work with text. As such, you should not rely on an interpreter to translate spec sheets, NDAs, order contracts or any other document.
If an NDA or order contract is what you need, then you should contact a law firm instead.
Should I work with an interpretation freelancer or agency?
I’d generally say that an agency is more reliable, as they are more likely to hire interpreters that are actually qualified. It’s certainly not a job that anyone can do.
That said, there are many highly qualified freelancers working as Interpreters in China.
Many are middle aged men with manufacturing experience in specific industries – something that can make them highly sought after for their unique language and industry expertise.
Can Interpreters help with supplier sourcing?
Perhaps they can, but they shouldn’t. Interpreters are not supplier sourcing experts. However, some interpretation service companies have transitioned into ‘we do everything’ firms, that often offer sourcing services.
That doesn’t mean that you should buy sourcing services from them.
If you need help with supplier sourcing, go to a specialized company that have actual operational procedures to show.
Can the factory just find an interpreter for me?
They sure can. However, an interpreter paid by the supplier will not be on your side.
They make the rules, and it will clearly not be in your favor.
While interpreters are not necessarily enthusiastic all weather friends of their clients, they at least not in the pocket of the factory from day one.
List of Interpretation Service Companies in China
There are several, both local and international, companies offering interpretation service in China. Some operate offices across the country, while others are agencies with a pool of freelancers based in major cities.
Below follows an overview
Finding Interpretation Freelancers
Another option is to look for freelance interpreters. There are several websites specifically for interpretation, and related, services: