Trust, and knowing your value as a language worker

In my Introduction to Translation class, we have been reading Becoming a Translator: An introduction to the theory and practice of translation by Douglas Robinson.

Becoming a Translator: An introduction to the theory and practice of translation -- by Douglas Robinson

Becoming a Translator: An introduction to the theory and practice of translation — by Douglas Robinson

The first chapter talks about “External knowledge” and what is defined as “the user’s view”, which I found was an enlightening and necessary discussion of the minimum expectations that both translators and clients must have at the time of engaging in a translation project for a business. Professionalism is of utmost importance, both on the part of the client as well as the translator; it is also essential for translators to be aware of the three things that Robinson points out clients want in a translation: reliability, timeliness and low cost.

The part on reliability is something that I usually take for granted, in the sense that I do translation of English into Spanish for my organization, and I am both the translator and somewhat the “client” (though the users of my translation are the Spanish-speaking members of my organization). I make sure that my translations are as reliable or accurate as possible, because I am deeply involved in the mission and vision of the organization, so I know what I want my translation to be. Yet when I do translations from Spanish into English, I have to think about the fact that the receivers are trusting me to be doing a good job in translating the information I am giving. When I interviewed at my organization, they had other Spanish-speakers evaluate my Spanish, so that is how they know that I speak it well. But how can a client simply “trust” that you are a reliable translator if they have no way of proving that you can actually translate well from and into the target language? This makes me think of the incident that happened with the sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s funeral. This man was obviously trusted by those who hired him, but it wasn’t until someone actually pointed it out, that he was found to have been embellishing his abilities.

Timeliness and professionalism go hand in hand. This is one of the key expectations that must be discussed whenever a translation project is being taken on by a translator. The translator must know his or her limitations when it comes to “turnaround” time, and the client must be aware of his or her limitations when it comes to demands. This leads into costs, too. Though clients want a cheap translation, they must also be aware or educated on the fact that quality has its costs, and that with tight deadlines, the costs become even higher in order to compensate for the translator’s mental effort and abilities.

Communication between the parties is certainly crucial. If a translator wants to keep work coming his or her way, he or she must be very clear about explaining responsibilities, making sure not to over promise and letting the client know how valuable his or her work is. The issue of cost is uncomfortable to me, because I do not yet have my translator credentials, yet I know that I strive to do the best job possible and I trust that some of my academic credentials are evidence of my competencies.

I had a strange experience not too long ago, where a client outside my organization requested my interpretation services for two to three days, including travel, with a two-day advance notice. I cleared my schedule for this client and prepared a quote based on market value, but also on the fact that I was doing it to help out. The client was extremely unorganized, did not show me how to use their interpretation equipment (which affected my interpretation, as I lost time in trying to figure it out and ended up just whispering to the receivers) and was not willing to pay market price. In the end, I did not work with the client for the rest of the time, but also was never paid (or even given a word of thanks!) for the two hours I worked.

The lesson? Expectations, market awareness and communication with clients before taking on an assignment should be second nature to aspiring translators.

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