What Every Client Wants?

How do you keep your clients happy? Just what is it that makes a client choose one translator or interpreter over another? Do clients even know what “good” translation and interpreting are? These are questions that freelancers grapple with every time that look for new work, return projects or have arguments with their clients over things like “quality” and “accuracy.” Oddly enough, they are also questions that researchers have been thinking about and writing about for years.

Like most things in the world of research, there are no straight answers. Early on in Translation Studies, it could be taken for granted that what clients really wanted was “accurate” translation and interpreting. That was until the point when some German and Scandinavian scholars pointed out that not only did we not really know what “accurate translation” was but that clients commission translations to fulfil a certain purpose. This purpose (labelled the “skopos” by a few German scholars) could trump strict linguistic accuracy in some cases.

Take advertising. Here, the emphasis will naturally be on coming up with text that is appealing and works in the culture the advert will appear in. No one particularly cares about whether the translated version is particularly “accurate” to the original. As longs as products get sold, why worry?

What about translated audio guide texts? Once again, things like readability, sentence length and even the time it would take to read become far more important than doing some kind of sentence by sentence content analysis to check all the “meaning” is still there.

Fair enough, conceded the majority of scholars (no doubt while most translators and interpreters sighed at how long it had taken researchers to cotton on), that still doesn’t completely answer the question. How do clients decide when translators and interpreters have gone too far? What about conference interpreting where time is tight and the “purpose” of a speech might be unclear?

Well, researchers have attempted to answer those questions; especially the second one and the answers have been somewhat surprising. Firstly, let’s deal with the least surprising result: in most cases, most clients seem to put a high priority on accurate interpreting. (Still, we might ask what they think “accurate” interpreting is, especially if they are monolingual…) Clients also want interpreters to use the right terminology and speak in a way that is easy to understand. So far, no real surprises.

When life got more interesting was when researchers decided to do a bit of digging to see if different clients wanted different things. It turns out that those working in the media prized clear and pleasant speaking even over accuracy. On the other hand, diplomats prized terminological accuracy. Even more surprising was that few, if any, clients seemed to lay stress on that great marker of professionalism: interpreter neutrality.

There are still a few issues with this work, however: almost all of the studies done so far have been relatively small scale, with the number of respondents rarely getting over 50. More to the point, those with statistical expertise have pointed out that clients seem to see lots of things as being equally important. Either they can’t decide between them or, much worse, the questions they have been set are not measuring what they think with any real degree of accuracy.

And so, we’d like to turn the whole issue and ask translators and interpreters what they think their clients want. So, over to you. Tell us what you think clients are after and, while you are at it, definitions of “accuracy” would be nice too. 😉

Work experience that will help your career in translation

Taking those first steps from finishing your degree to getting your first paid job can be daunting. In this guest post, professional freelance translator and Heriot-Watt graduate Paul Kearns gives us some useful tips on how to gain experience that will ease the transition.

I recently received an e-mail from a second year student that got me thinking about the importance of career planning for new translators. The enquiry was along the following lines:

I’m a second year student and hope to work in translation once I graduate. Do you have any advice on summer jobs or work placements that would help me to improve translation skills before I head off on my year abroad?

My advice was that he should spend the summer working in a non-translation environment and that might sound strange but here’s why:

During their year abroad students develop their language skills more than they can ever imagine possible, so over the summer it’s enough to maintain their existing skills by reading, watching and listening to stuff in their foreign languages – and by the end of second year they should be doing that anyway! (To work professionally it’s not enough to scrape by as a linguist, you need to excel as one.)

Neither do they need to worry too much about their translation skills. During their 3rd and 4th years their translation technique will get better anyway, helped along by peers and tutors – and if they do translation classes at university during their year abroad, they’ll learn about different translation styles, CAT tools, linguistics and so on.

However, professional translators get work because they are also subject specialists – they are technical translators or legal translators or specialise in marketing or biotechnology etc. The biggest challenge after leaving university is that students might be language specialists but they’re not necessarily subject specialists, and that’s what makes the transition from student to professional difficult. That doesn’t mean they need to be a technician or a lawyer but it does mean they need to know about their chosen speciality – and that’s where the summer job helps.

Students should start to think about the type of translation that might interest them professionally (their specialist subject) and try and get a summer job in that area so that they can start to build up their specialist knowledge. So for example, if you want to get into technical translation, a summer job working in an engineering firm’s office would be a bonus. It might not have the same allure as teaching kids at summer camp in the south of France. While it might seem that you’re wasting the summer making tea and photocopying, you are actually learning industry-related terminology, finding out how the industry works, who your clients might be, what sort of documents they might need to translate, you’re learning about document types, genres and linguistic style, you’re creating networking opportunities – exactly the things you’ll need when working professionally.

For students in today’s economic climate career planning has to start early, and being a passionate linguist is only half the battle. You need to take practical steps that will make you stand out from the crowd. Developing a translation specialism is a step in the right direction and getting the right summer job is a good way to achieve this.

Author: Paul Kearns