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Client Education & Translation Processes

Originally published in The ATA Chronicle, Vol. 58, No. 1

Yesterday I went to the Barnes & Noble textbook store on 5th Avenue and 18th Street in Manhattan. The store bills itself as "the largest bookstore in the world" on some of its windows facing 18th Street. Not finding any books on translation theory or practice in likely sections (foreign language, linguistics, reference), I asked a store clerk. After looking my request up on a computer, he announced that the store did not carry a single book on translation.

In the March [2010] issue [of The ATA Chronicle], Howard Clark calls the U.S. "an immigrant-based, yet largely language-ignorant society" in his opinion piece "Clients, Freelancers, and Translation Agencies: Productive Partnership or Missed Opportunities?" It seems to me his assessment is spot-on. Mr. Clark then continues that, given this fact, "client education is critical."

Right again, but how do we, as translators, educate an end client whose identity we may not even know? This should be the translation agency's responsibility, but in my experience in the real world of short deadlines and tough competition for large projects, that education is frequently given short shrift. If we work directly for end clients, our chances of explaining how translation works and what is required for a successful, high-quality product are much better.

One resource for doing so is ATA's Client Outreach Kit. Another is providing a page on our workflow, either posted on our websites or sent to prospective clients along with other promotional literature. The advantage of such a page (which agencies sometimes already have) is not only client education, but also a way for translators to learn best practices from each other. Maybe another translator has already found a solution to an issue with which I am still struggling. If other translators posted their translation process, I could profit from their experience, rather than having to reinvent the solution.

While each of us works a little differently, much of the process is likely the same, or at least very similar, for all of us. Through sharing our own workflows, we may be able to define a relatively standard process for non-agency projects. Such a standard process would, in turn, simplify client education. End clients would have a better idea of what to expect when hiring a translator and may therefore be more likely to provide the resources and time we need to produce a high-quality translation.

Based on Linda L. Gaus's article "Top 10 Pet Peeves of a Technical Translator" (The ATA Chronicle, February 2009), here are some items to be incorporated into educating clients about translation processes:

  • Provide context
  • Provide reference materials
  • Provide specialized terminology
  • Have time for questions
  • Don't assume you speak the target language better than the translator
  • Proofread/edit the source documents
  • Finalize the text before translation begins
  • Provide diagrams/illustrations where appropriate
  • Empower one person to decide translation questions
  • Schedule sufficient time for the translation

Barbara Jungwirth
Brooklyn, New York
(Posted April 1, 2010 on Barbara's blog, http://reliable-translations.blogspot.com)