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Q: I just got a letter from a distant relative in the Old Country. How can I have it translated?

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A: You might expect that if you received a letter in, say, Romanian, you'd want to look for a recent immigrant for maximum fluency -- but that's not the way to the best results. "People should translate into their educated native language," says Patricia Besner of All-Language Services. "If someone was born in Romania but came here when he was 7, he's an English speaker, and he should be translating Romanian into English, not the other way. I can count on one hand the number of people who can translate well both ways." All-Language is capable of dealing with 59 tongues, and the company literally goes to the ends of the earth to solve special problems. One ad agency, says Besner, asked, " 'Can you get this in Aleut, or Hawaiian?' We had a former staff member in Hawaii and a former client in Alaska who put us in touch with someone who did the job." There's no fixed price scale, because, says Besner, some materials are far more difficult or require more research than others. Emergency rates apply, too: All-Language is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Call 986-1688 for a quote.

You might also try the Editorial Freelancers' Association (929-5400). This professional network often puts calls for book-length work on its job-postings board. Pricing is again sort of ad hoc, since individuals set their own rates.

If all you need translated is a few words, there's no need to seek out a professional polyglot -- just find a PC. Try babelfish.altavista.digital.com, which will translate English to or from French, Spanish, Italian, German, or Portuguese. Don't try anything more than a couple of words or a baby-simple sentence, however. We offered it the first verse of "Heartbreak Hotel" to translate into German, then back to English; what it cooked up was "Since my baby left me, I found a new workstation, in order to remain, down at the end of the lonely road, down in the Heartbreakhotel." We suspect, however, that it may be somewhat more forgiving to the lyrics of David Hasselhoff.


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