Translating Between 2 Less Widely-Spoken Languages

For this question, it’s probably best to start with an example:

If a Finnish businessman needs to translate a Finnish legal document into Malay (or Punjabi, or Dari, etc.), how does he go about doing it.

As English is so widespread in worldwide commerce, it doesn’t seem to be an issue translating English documents into any other language. But what if the two languages involved are not nearly as widely-spoken as Chinese, Hindi, English, etc.? Are there usually enough local translation services to get the job done? Or does the document get translated into English first, then into the 2nd language?


I don’t know how common this is, but I’ve heard of people using a bridge language. Suppose you take a common language like English as the bridge language; English-Malay and English-Finnish translators are probably much more common than Finnish-Malay translators.

There are large, worldwide translator databases online, like ProZ. Translators post their credentials there to find work. Everyone puts in their profile which language pairs they do. Someone needing a translation can search the database for the specific language pair they need. I haven’t looked to see if anyone lists Fi>Ms among their skills. If there is no one listing that, then yes, you probably will have to go through a third language (at double the cost!), most likely English.

But coincidentally, Finnish and Malay happen to be two of the languages I can translate. I could do it all by myself. I know Dari, too, but not much Panjabi.

I wonder how common this problem even can be. For a language that is truly obscure, there can be very little reason to translate it into a second language equally obscure. Alutiiq to Mbukushu? Must never happen.

As to the example in the OP, there are surely at least a few people in Finland who speak Malay.

Jeez, that’s impressive even for the dope!

Using the Kevin Bacon theorem, one can surmise it should take at most 5 translators to get from one language to the other.

I work for a subtitling/localization company, although we do not handle translation work between individuals or small businesses. While it’s not unusual for our resources (heck, even our admin staff) to speak multiple languages, we use English as a bridge language. It is far faster to get a Finnish translator to translate to English and then get a Malay translator to translate to Malay than it would be to locate and arrange for a Finnish/Malay translator.

Seems like a Finnish/Malay translator could be quickly arranged here tho. :smiley:

A friend once needed Thai to Maltese and it was not a big problem.

Heh, yeah. Some arrangements make little sense in that regard.

We tend to do legal, internal, or promotional material, so factors other than just getting it translated can come into play. You could be a Finnish business and look locally for a Finn who speaks Malay, but if you’re doing that kind of document translation, you want to be sure the translation is accurate, so you’d probably want a native Malay speaker to look at it, preferably one with experience doing that type of translation. But doing so adds another person to the process to locate, evaluate, and make arrangements with.

Since the file’s going to be changing hands several times and take at least 24 hours anyway, there’s little reason (other than cost) to not go with a company like mine, despite being based in the US, as we can handle both translation and quality check in about the same time frame. Probably simpler billing-wise, too.

For Malay or Punjabi, most likely your customer will want and English translation anyway.