Translator-client relationships. Part 2: the client.

Following part 1, which focused on what translators can do to improve their relationships with their clients, now we would like to explore what those clients can do to make their translator’s life easier and achieve the best possible results.

1. Information is key

The more information you provide about your project, the easier it will be for the translator to get a feel for it and achieve a product that maintains the spirit of the original. It’s important to clarify the purpose of the text, how and where it will be used and provide some context. In the localisation industry, it’s quite common to work without having seen the product at all, which can cause all sorts of problems, from sentences that can mean different things depending on the context to even gender issues (for instance, is it a male or female character speaking?). So provide as much information as you can and make your translator’s life much easier; in turn, they won’t have to get in touch with you to ask a lot of questions.

2. Communicate, communicate and communicate

Throughout the translation process, it’s important to keep communicating with your translator. Inform them as soon as possible of any changes and pass on any additional information you may have. Similarly, do not ignore any questions that the translator might send you, it’s important to get clarification on those issues in order to achieve the most suitable translation. After all, you are both working together to make this project a success in the target market.

3. Translators are not machines, so don’t treat them as such

If it takes you two months to write a piece, why would you assume it can be translated in two days? Translators are not machines, they don’t have a switch you can press and the text comes out automatically in another language. In fact, translation involves more thinking than it does writing. You have to read carefully the original and assess the purpose of the text (to inform, to sell, to make the reader laugh, etc.) and how the writer has used all the different nuances of the language to achieve that effect. You might have to adapt cultural references, like changing the name of celebrities to names of famous people in the target market, finding an equivalent accent in the target language which carries the same sort of stereotypes (or another strategy that will achieve the desired result), adapt jokes, etc. And sometimes do all this whilst sticking to ridiculous length restrictions! Translation is indeed an art, and as such it takes time.

Also, good translators tend to be quite busy most of the time, so you can’t assume they will drop any other projects they are working on so they can take care of yours immediately. It helps to give a bit of warning if you are close to finishing a project that will need translating.

4. Be aware of language combinations and specialisations

Nobody can know absolutely everything about any subject area in the world. That is why translators tend to specialise in just a few fields (usually 4-5). This allows them to understand that subject area completely and familiarise themselves with the specific terminology and style of writing. As a client, it pays off to be aware of your translators’ specialisations; you will get a much better result quality-wise if you assign the right project to the most suitable translator. Also, the translator will be able to work faster as they won’t have to stop constantly to check for new terminology, so it benefits both parts.

In addition, we know it sounds pretty obvious to say that, if you need a translation say from English into French you should hire a translator that works in that language combination, but many translators are still getting requests for languages they don’t know, so it’s important to pay attention to the languages they do work with. And bear in mind that translators should only work into their native language! That is the only way to ensure that the text will read fluently and naturally and will have the correct style, register and cultural nuances.

5. Treat your translators with respect

As a client, adopt a professional approach towards your translators and value them for what they are: professionals who have studied and trained long and hard to master what they do. Do not treat them as mere accessories to your processes or, worse still, as people who don’t really know what they’re doing but you need to use for whatever reason which you’re unsure of. If you treat them with respect, they will respond in kind. Common courtesy helps establish and maintain a good relationship with your translators: warning them when a project is due to arrive, saying thank you when you receive their files (especially if they’ve gone out of their way to accommodate an urgent request), listening to them when they point out certain issues, etc.

Part of treating your translator with respect also involves queries/doubts and feedback. Quite often, translation clients can complain because we translated X as Y, whereas according to certain online dictionary the translation for that should be Z. Instead of pointing the finger at the translator, check politely with them why that might be. In many cases, there are many different ways of saying the same thing or a word is much more appropriate than another in a certain context. Besides, you shouldn’t trust dictionaries blindly! If the whole translation has received negative feedback, you could have it checked by another translation to establish if there really was a problem with it, or the changes made are simply stylistic and a matter of preference.

6. A little flexibility goes a long way

This applies to both parts, actually. Translators should be flexible so they can accommodate their clients’ requests, including occasional last minute changes and requests. However, flexibility is also an important quality for the client. For instance, clients should be prepared to listen to their translator and extend the deadline a bit if it’s too tight, or they should also accept suggestions or perhaps even listen to constructive criticism. If a translator points out possible issues with the text or suggests an alternative working method, they’re not trying to undermine the client but quite the opposite; they’re only trying to help in order to achieve improved results which will benefit both parts.

7. That said, don’t make your translator jump through hoops

Yes, flexibility is extremely important for the translator, but at the same time it’s not a good idea to drive them crazy with constant updates and changes to the project, additions, new instructions and the similar. These can be very time-consuming and force the translator to check the whole project again and again in order to apply those changes throughout, increasing the chance of inconsistencies. It is better to plan the project accordingly so no changes are needed in the original once it has been sent for translation. Sometimes this might not be possible, but at least try to keep them to a minimum.

Similarly, even though most translators are quite happy to accommodate the odd urgent request, do not expect them to regularly drop whatever other projects they are doing in order to complete your request immediately.

8. Do not assume cheapest is best (in fact, assume the opposite!)

As explained at length in this entry here, in translation, as in any other industry, you generally get what you pay for. We understand clients are trying to save some money in this economic climate, but bear in mind that good translators spend a lot of time and money on training, research, technology and improving themselves constantly, so if somebody is promising you to translate your projects at rock-bottom prices you should think about what the reason behind it is. A bad translation is worse than no translation at all, so if you don’t want to risk losing your own customers because they can’t understand the material you have sent them or it’s so bad it’s laughable, make sure you hire the right professional.

9. Pay on time

This is somewhat related to treating your translators with respect. If you want to have a good relationship with your translator, based on trust and honesty, make sure to pay within the stated payment terms. The translator will feel more appreciated and will be more willing to work with you again. Small delays due to oversights are acceptable every now and again, but don’t use the economic situation or the late payment by your own client as an excuse; when you hire a translator you enter a contractual relationship with them, and them only.

10. Do not assume anybody can translate

We have lost count of the amount of times that, after telling people we are translators, we have heard “Oh, can you make a living out of that? I speak another language too, maybe I should do the same”. Worse still, we have also heard things like “I’m going to ask my (replace with unidentified friend or family member) to translate my document for me, they did French at college/spent a summer in Spain, etc.” Some clients even do their own translations which we then had to fix because they were atrocious! They might have studied the language in school, but obviously not long enough to realise they will never sound like a native speaker.

There is a reason why a profession called “translator” exists. You wouldn’t say that anybody can be a doctor or a solicitor, and the same is true of a translator. It requires very specific skills that most people with knowledge of other languages won’t be able to master. It’s not just about writing without spelling and grammar mistakes (which these days seem to be a lot to ask for already!) but also about writing style, creativity, cultural knowledge, technical skills, subject area knowledge, etc.

As for automatic translation tools, like Google Translate and such… copy a paragraph written in any language and see how they translate it into your language. Would you really send that to your customers?