How to Land Your First Gig as a Freelance Translator

The rise of the internet, globalization, and social media has led to a surge in the demand for translators.

As Statista reported in their global language services review for 2009 to 2021, the industry has grown by USD 5 billion in the past two years alone. This means limitless opportunities for freelancing if you know how and where to look.

While setting up for your first gig as a newcomer may feel like a daunting task, here are five tips to help you get started:

1. Determine how you want to receive jobs

For starters, you can be an independent freelancer working for direct clients, translation agencies, or even both. The main difference is the initial setup required before you can start receiving jobs.

Agencies usually administer a test like this that you must pass in order to begin working with them. Once you’re accepted, they will match you with jobs that fit your skillset.

The whole process saves you the hassle of preparing an extensive portfolio and pitching to potential clients yourself.

Do note that some agencies (and even clients from larger companies) use translation software to manage the projects they assign to their translators.

On the other hand, if you decide to go the independent route, you don’t usually need to worry about software. However, you do need to play a more active role in seeking clients, bidding for jobs, and promoting your services.

2. Build a diverse portfolio

To kick off your career as a freelance translator, you need a strong portfolio to showcase your translation experience.

Initially you might need to do some volunteer translation work to build a portfolio, but remember to be fair to yourself, your time, and your efforts before taking unpaid jobs.

Consider your personal interests or those of the people around you, and look for opportunities there instead. Here are some ideas on where to start:

  • Translate subtitles for your favorite YouTubers
  • Offer to translate the website of your friends or family members for a small fee
  • Translate magazine articles and share them on forums for special interest groups (for example, interviews with athletes are interesting to the users of relevant sports forums)

More information on how to create an effective portfolio can be found in this article.

3. Identify your strengths and specializations

Over time, you should develop a few translation specializations based on your strengths and interests.

Otherwise you might feel compelled to accept any offers that come your way, even if they undersell your time and skills. Being a specialist rather than generalist may help you land clients who value quality over quantity and are thus willing to pay the appropriate rates for it.

In fact, this research by Inbox Translation reports that freelance translators with one or two areas of specialization are generally able to charge higher rates than those who are not specialized.

Remember that not everyone is your potential client. Start by asking yourself three simple questions:

  • What industries do I want to work in?
  • What kind of companies do I want to work for?
  • Will this project add relevancy and value to my portfolio?

4. Check out online translation communities

The internet is a great place to socialize with other freelancers and professionals who have been in the trade for longer.

Some of my favorite online forums and social media groups dedicated to translators include:

They’re informative, entertaining, and more importantly, allow you to build meaningful relationships with other translators which increases your chances of finding new projects to join.

5. Create a profile on freelance marketplaces

Businesses that are not within the translation industry themselves are likely to look for freelancers using channels they are familiar with. These include ProZ, Upwork, Fiverr, and even LinkedIn.

To make the best use of them, you should:

  • Create a profile on several marketplaces (as many as you can handle)
  • Complete a profile with your relevant skillsets, experience, and portfolio
  • Indicate your specializations to ensure the right people can find you
  • Update your availability to “open for work” or anything along those lines
  • Establish a routine of checking your inbox and bidding for jobs on freelance marketplaces

On certain websites, you may have to pay a fee to prioritize your profile in recruiters’ search results. I generally do not recommend using this method, because this can be achieved for free by optimizing your profile for certain specializations, language pairs, or industries.

6. Don’t underestimate LinkedIn

LinkedIn is not just a professional platform where people share work anecdotes and announce major career developments.

Being on LinkedIn as a freelancer allows you to use the job search function and build a profile that highlights your top skills so recruiters will notice you.

To do so use specific keywords in your headline and descriptions, like “German to English Translator” or “Gaming Translator,” so that you’re more likely to appear on internal search engines.

However, since there are many head-hunters on LinkedIn recruiting for full time positions, be mindful of how you brand yourself to ensure that the right job invitations land in your inbox.

For more tips on how to craft a good LinkedIn profile for freelancers, check out this video by Freelanceverse.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Author bio

Shu Ni Lim holds a degree in linguistics and freelanced as an English to Chinese / Malay translator, mostly working with social media marketing content. Now a writer at Redokun, Shu Ni hopes to create useful content for translators and businesses by utilizing her experience in translation, marketing, and discourse studies.

Emotions in More than One Language

This post originally appeared on Psychology Today on August 18, 2011, and it is republished with permission.

The language(s) of emotions in bilinguals

There is a myth that bilinguals express their emotions in their first language (when they haven’t acquired both languages simultaneously), usually the language of their parents. Like all myths, there are instances when it is true. Thus, a Portuguese-English bilingual who acquired English at age fourteen wrote to me that if something makes him angry and he allows his anger to come out, there is no doubt that he will use Portuguese to express himself. And it makes sense that bilinguals who have lived in the same place all their lives, who use their first language with family and friends and their other language(s) mainly at work, will express affect in their first language.

However, as Temple University researcher Aneta Pavlenko, herself multilingual, writes, things are much more complex than that. In her book on the topic, she dismantles this myth and shows that the relationship between emotions and bilingualism plays out differently for different individuals and distinct language areas. Basically, it is too simplistic to suggest that late bilinguals have emotional ties only with their first language and no ties with their other language(s).

When a childhood in one language lacked affection or was marked by distressing events, then bilinguals may prefer to express emotion in their second language. For example, an adult English-French bilingual who moved to France in early adulthood once wrote to me that she found it easier to speak of anything connected with emotions in French, her second language, whereas in English she was rather tongue-tied. She then explained that it was in French that she had discovered what love meant. She ended by stating, “Perhaps one day I’ll even manage to say, ‘I love you’ in English”.

The Canadian and French novelist, Nancy Huston, gives a similar testimony. Nine years after having moved to Paris from North America, her daughter Léa was born. She had married a Bulgarian-French bilingual with whom she spoke French. Huston tried to use English baby talk with her daughter but couldn’t continue. She explains that the memories and feelings stirred up were simply too strong (her English-speaking mother had abandoned the family home when she was six).

On a less poignant level, many late bilinguals state that they can swear more easily in their second language. Both the English-French bilingual above and Nancy Huston have said the same thing. The former stated that she has a wider range of vulgar vocabulary in French and Nancy Huston wrote her master’s thesis on linguistic taboo and swear words in French. As she wrote, “The French language in general…. was to me less emotion-fraught, and therefore less dangerous, than my mother tongue. It was cold, and I approached it coldly.” (p. 49).

When bilinguals are angry, excited, tired or stressed, their accent in a language can reappear or increase in strength. In addition, they often revert to the language(s) in which they express their emotions, be it their first or their second language, or both. I was once bitten by a stingray in California and I recall clearly switching back and forth between English and French. I used English to ask the English-speaking friends I was with to take me to see a doctor and I cursed in French to help me ease the pain.

The language used in therapy is also quite informative. Paul Preston who has written a book on the sign language / spoken language bilingualism of the hearing children of Deaf parents, interviewed several of them who said they felt blocked when in a therapy session. They wanted to use sign language but couldn’t do so (the session was taking place in English). And Nancy Huston claims that she could not finish her own psychoanalysis because it was conducted in French, the language in which her neuroses were under control.

In sum, expressing emotions in more than one language follows no set rules; some bilinguals prefer to use one language, some the other, and some both. It is fitting to finish with an extract from Aneta Pavlenko’s book about her own habits:

‘”I love you,” I whisper to my English-speaking partner. “Babulechka, ia tak skuchaiu po tebe [Grandma, I miss you so much],” I tenderly say on the phone to my Russian-speaking grandmother”‘.

As the author states prior to this: “I have no choice but to use both English and Russian when talking about emotions.” (p. 22-23).

References

Pavlenko, A. (2005). Emotions and Multilingualism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Huston, N. (2002). Losing North: Musings on Land, Tongue and Self. Toronto: McArthur.
Grosjean, F. Personality, thinking and dreaming, and emotions in bilinguals. Chapter 11 of Grosjean, F. (2010). Bilingual: Life and Reality. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

“Life as a bilingual” posts by content area: http://www.francoisgrosjean.ch/blog_en.html

François Grosjean’s highly successful blog with more than 2.3 million visitors can now be found as a book, Life as a Bilingual (Cambridge University Press, 2021).

Author bio

François Grosjean received his degrees up to the Doctorat d’Etat from the University of Paris, France. He started his academic career at the University of Paris 8 and then left for the United-States in 1974 where he taught and did research in psycholinguistics at Northeastern University, Boston. While at Northeastern he was also a Research Affiliate at the Speech Communication Laboratory at MIT. In 1987, he was appointed professor at Neuchâtel University, Switzerland, where he founded the Language and Speech Processing Laboratory. He has lectured occasionally at the Universities of Basel, Zurich and Oxford. In 1998, he cofounded Bilingualism: Language and Cognition (Cambridge University Press).

His domains of interest are the perception, comprehension and production of speech, bilingualism and biculturalism, sign language and the bilingualism of the Deaf, the evaluation of speech comprehension in aphasic patients, as well as the modeling of language processing. François Grosjean’s website: www.francoisgrosjean.ch

How to review a translation

As translators, the first draft of our translation is only a starting point. We need to verify the quality of our work before we send it off for publication. The following list is not comprehensive, but it will help us find most of the problems we have to solve.

Check for completeness

Go through every unit of meaning and make sure it was translated. We translate meaning, not words—and skipping easy words like “no” completely changes the meaning!

Check for accuracy

Check the nuance of the source. Words are usually carefully chosen to give the reader a specific impression. We see this often in articles with political content. Person First language, as illustrated below, is expected more and more often.

Person-First Term Outdated Term
Person with diabetes Diabetic
Neurodiverse person Autistic person
Adults in custody Incarcerated people
They He/she
Undocumented immigrant Illegal alien
Foreigner Alien

Tips to ward off potential problems with completeness and accuracy checks

It is easy to lose our place. To solve that, we can use several approaches.

  • When you first start a review, change the font and the font size for the whole translated text. Change the font back to the desired font as you go. This does two things: It helps you keep your place, and it helps you find strange paragraph breaks that will cause problems later in the publication process. Another option is to highlight the whole document and unhighlight it as you review.
  • Use the Read Aloud feature in Word. Have Word read one document while you check the other one. This is my favorite way to find wrong numbers in official documents and unnatural constructions!
  • Computer Assisted Translation (CAT) tools help us keep our place, but we also need to check the document in its target format before releasing it. Things that we did not notice in the earlier processes might show up here.

Check for readability

Read the text as an editor. Anything that makes you stumble should go. Every time you make a change, check the source to verify that the previous checks (accuracy, nuance, precision) are still good.

Problem with this check

Of course you will think it is readable—after all, you wrote it! To overcome this, imagine a reader and put yourself in their place. Since they do not have context, will this be clear to them? Can they understand it after a cursory reading?

Don’t be tempted to repeat grammatical or spelling mistakes from the source text

Replicating mistakes makes your translation a parody, and we are not there to mimic the text. We also run the risk of introduce new mistakes. We are there to translate the message, not the words. For example, an interpreter is not expected to cry when the speaker cries! That is mimicking and goes too far.

Watch for these common mistakes

Excessive use of the word “that.”

Punctuation. Each language has its own punctuation conventions and they should be used accordingly.

English Spanish
“That house is nice,” he said. “Esa casa es linda”, dijo.
Please call my supervisor ─ Peter Brown ─ on Tuesday. Por favor llame a mi supervisor, Peter Brown, el martes.
“What did you tell me, Peter?”

“That it is late, Maria.”

─José, ¿qué me dijiste?

─Que es tarde, María.

Capitalization. Make sure caps are used per target language conventions. One of the most common translation errors is to use capitalization to match the source text.

Consistency in terminology. In some languages, the use of synonyms is preferred to avoid boredom. However, technical terms and key terms should be translated with consistency.

Spelling. Never send something off without running a final spell check! However, the spell check won’t catch everything.

Ask yourself these questions:

Did you find the best way to say something at the very end of the document? Find where else you should modify the same thing to match. This is common.

Did you translate a term with one meaning, but later in the document you see that it is used in a different way? Go back and fix it all the way through the document.

Check for consistency

There are tools to check consistency, which help a lot with spellings of brands, etc.

Perfect It does this very well, and for this particular use, you can use it in any language.

Word Rake will flag phrases that are extra wordy and suggest replacements.

Warning: These tools are not created for us to accept every change they suggest! They are just consistency checkers, and we need to accept or reject each change on its own merits.

One trick for name consistency is to type a short abbreviation or acronym and the use Find and Replace at the end. For example, for Albuterol you could type BNA and then replace all BNA to Albuterol at the end. For names that are tricky to spell, use unique initials to avoid misspelling.

When you do this, make a table in a separate document so you can do the find and replace at the end. This style guide table could also be at the very start of the translated document, and you delete each thing as you check it.

Make sure you follow the brief!

  • If you were told the final translation should be no more than 5500 words, and you are at 7000, find ways to reduce wordiness and take the time to express things more concisely.
  • If it is a PPT file, make sure you are able to fit the text in the slide with a readable font!

Take extra care with slides and spreadsheets

Excel and PPT have challenges because they are not designed for editing. CAT tools handle these files well, but you may still need to make adjustments in the final file. If so, agree ahead of time on charging for that bit of desktop publishing.

PPT: Take the presentation, view it in outline mode, and copy the whole outline into a Word document. That allows you to translate from there, then dump it back in. Of course, you can let them adjust the presentation, or charge for the extra desktop publishing time. Agree on who does what before you start!

Excel: Copy the doc into a Word table, translate it, and send it back to Excel. If you are adjusting for space, make sure you add that to your fee.

Watch out for hidden text

Graphics can sometimes cover your text. Pick up the graphic, move it to the side, and edit. You are still responsible for the text that is hidden under the graphic!

There can also be text hidden in tables or text boxes. Always check the final version of the translation to make sure you translated everything!

Ask what to do with text in images. Often, this is the text we miss. I often create a table with the source-target text and ask the requester to make the changes to the graphic. I typically place it right next to the graphic and put a comment in the text. The comment could say: “Check this graphic. It has English text. See translation of text below.”

You can also do a graphic overlay of the text over the image…

Where it says… The translation is…
Acceptable box Caja aceptable
Etc.

Never forget the why

A quality translation reduces liability risk for the client, helps them communicate clearly and shows respect to the target audience. The details listed in this document help us consistently meet the goal of our clients, as they reach out to communities that speak a different language. This applies to all texts. I often translate forms, press releases, healthcare instructions, evidence for court, and training manuals, and these principles apply to all the translations we produce. For best practices, I always work with a reviewer and together we go through our work looking for these issues. This is one of the key reasons to work with an equally qualified colleague as an editor.

Recommended resources:
Lunsford, Andrea A. The Everyday Writer. Boston: Macmillan Learning, 2020
Eby, Helen. Principios de redacción. Self-published, available for free download from Spanish Editors Association. 2020
Gaucha Translations work order: This document has a good list of issues we must consider in translation, and it is a way to bring all of them to the table with the client before we start.

The hallmarks of a good translator

This post originally appeared on The minimalist translator blog and it is republished with permission.

What makes a really good translator? Maybe you’ve always wondered what a translator actually does and has to be good at. Maybe you are looking for a good translator. Or maybe you are a translator and perhaps, as you’re reading this post, find yourself nodding in agreement.

A good translator …

… is a good writer

… specialises in one or more subject fields, such as medicine, IT or marketing

… undertakes regular CPD training and stays abreast of current developments in his/her subject field(s)

… enjoys working in his/her chosen subject field(s)

… reproduces the content and meaning of the original text skilfully, without additions or omissions

… doesn’t translate word by word, but with a view to creating a text that is fluent and characterised by idiomatic usage

… translates into his/her mother tongue or language of habitual use only

… generally notices language around him/her in everyday life (and any mistakes in it!)

… has excellent knowledge of spelling, grammar and punctuation in his/her languages

… is reliable and meets agreed-upon deadlines

… creates translations in line with clients’ requirements and style guidelines

… is inquisitive and tends to ask relevant terminology- and context-related questions

… uses a writing style in translations that is perfectly understood by the target readers

… demonstrates patience, tenacity and lateral thinking

 

Author bio

Elisabeth Hippe-Heisler MA MITI translates from English and Italian into German and specialises in patents. She also blogs as The Minimalist Translator at https://hippe-heisler.blogspot.com. You can find her on Twitter @detransferendo (English) and @EHippeHeisler (German). Website: http://www.hippe-heisler.de

Educating the “Uneducated” Client

This post originally appeared on The ATA Chronicle and it is republished with permission.

Because of the nature of our work, we translators are fated to work with clients who may not always understand what we do and often push our skills and resilience to the limit. But while some may think that difficult clients top the list of challenges translators face in the exercise of their work and business-building activities, that title is actually held by someone else: the “uneducated” client.

Appreciation: The Difference that Matters

Working with difficult clients (those with tight deadlines, last-minute changes, multiple-review-round habits, etc.) can be taxing, but as long as those clients know what translation entails, time and hard work will likely lead to a mutually trusting relationship. This is one where the client appreciates (both literally and figuratively) what the translator does, and where the translator may trust the client not to jeopardize the quality of his or her work or reputation. Working with “uneducated” clients (who may also be difficult clients) proves a tougher challenge with deeper ramifications.

By definition, “uneducated” clients lack knowledge and understanding about what translation is, what translators do, and the challenges of intercultural communication. As a result, they are less likely than most to prepare their texts for translation, make reasonable demands, understand the choices made during translation, involve us in their projects, value our work and feedback, or treat us as partners in the quest for the perfect final text. Therefore, if we ever hope to establish a mutually trusting and beneficial relationship with these clients, education is key.

The Challenge

While client education is part of our job description and we should always be prepared and willing to provide as much information as needed, educating “uneducated” clients may take more time, patience, and effort than we have to give. However, armed with the right tools, these clients also present an interesting challenge and an opportunity to change the perception the world has of us and our work. Doing so is not without difficulty.

One cannot fail to acknowledge that not all “uneducated” clients are created equal. There are instances when a translator will need to arm himself or herself not only with patience, but with a great deal of stoicism and humor to deal with the situation. This is even more true if that client has no intention of getting “educated,” thinks he already knows all there is to know, or enters the relationship thinking that translators are nothing more than glorified bilingual typists.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The following discusses the different types of “uneducated” clients and how to deal with each effectively.

The Blank-Canvas Client

The Blank-Canvas Client is new to translation and, in my experience, tends to be monolingual. He has no or little preconceived ideas about language, intercultural communication, or translation in general. This most often stems from a lack of interest in or need for our services. Or his curiosity may have led him to try his hand at a game of “Google Translate back-and-forth,” which is when he realized that things are not as simple as they look. (This is probably what convinced him to hire a professional translator in the first place!)

To a translator, the Blank-Canvas Client is as much a challenge as an opportunity to learn. Indeed, explaining the basics of our trade forces us to take a closer look at things, simplify ideas (perhaps even challenge some), and improve the way we do things when it comes to including our clients in the decision-making process.

As mentioned previously, the Blank-Canvas Client has no preconceived ideas about our work. Educating him gives us an opportunity to promote professional translation and share bona fide knowledge that will benefit not only us but the translation industry as a whole— hence the need to do it right.

The main challenge we face when educating the Blank-Canvas Client is to provide him with enough information, but not to a degree where he becomes confused with too much of it. The good news is that streamlined help is available in the form of ATA’s Translation: Getting it Right (available online as a free PDF), a guide that provides clients who are new to translation with basic, valuable information about the translation process, what to expect, and how to prepare their texts for translation. (An equally valuable resource is ATA’s Interpreting: Getting it Right.)

Educating the Blank-Canvas Client starts with providing him with a copy of Translation: Getting it Right, explaining that it will clarify the translation process and help him get the most out of his translation budget. (That latter point should guarantee that he reads it!) After familiarizing himself with the guide’s contents, the client should have a better understanding of the basics of translation, including the following:

  • Not all translations (or translators) are created equal.
  • Translation takes as much time as writing.
  • Translation is about “exporting” concepts and ideas across cultures, not transposing words.
  • An inquisitive translator is good news.
  • Typography varies from one language to the next.

Naturally, as you work on more projects with your client and questions/ challenges arise, you may need to go into detail about one point or another or address other issues. Provided that your message is clear and consistent, the Blank-Canvas Client will in time become an educated client who understands what you do and trusts you. You’ll also be in a better position to exchange ideas without fear of confusing him or jeopardizing the quality of your work. The same is achievable with our next type of uneducated client, but it will take much more time and effort.

The Biased Client

Just like the Blank-Canvas Client, the Biased Client is often (although not always) monolingual and may be new to translation. But unlike his quick-learning counterpart, he believes strongly in some widely-held translation myths that will take time and effort to dispel. While it is always useful to share Translation: Getting it Right with the Biased Client, you will also need to spend a considerable amount of time disproving moderately-to-deeply ingrained dangerous misconceptions about translation. Dangerous misconceptions are those that have the potential of deeply and negatively affecting your relationship with your clients and the quality of your work, so it’s important to have an answer ready when specific concerns come up.

Most dangerous misconceptions derive from one myth: that translation is about replacing word A in the source language with word B in the target language. Clients who believe that translation is simply about replacing words will generally think that:

  • Translation is a fast and simple process.
  • Anyone who speaks a foreign language or is bilingual can translate and/or review translations.
  • Machine translations are as good as human translations.
  • There’s only one possible translation for every text.
  • Back translation is a good indicator of the quality of a translation.
  • Source and target copy are similar in length and structure.

To the Biased Client, translation is easy, fast, and predictable, and any bilingual person is as valuable and knowledgeable as the next. Hence the importance of quickly, clearly, and consistently disproving the following dangerous misconceptions one at a time:

Translation is a fast and simple process.

Answer: Translation is an elaborate deconstruction-reconstruction process that consists of interpreting words and ideas and “exporting” them into another language and culture. That process is as complex and time consuming as writing (i.e., not typing, but actually writing creative/technical copy). It is also a process that may take longer depending on the level of creativity, complexity, or technicality of the text. My experience has been that professional translators will translate around 250-350 words per hour. Delivery time may be hastened, but not without sacrificing quality, accuracy, or consistency.

Anyone who speaks a foreign language or is bilingual can translate.

Answer: There is more to translating than understanding and being able to speak another language. Just as being able to speak/write English doesn’t make you a writer, being able to speak a language doesn’t make you a translator. Professional translators are skilled writers with the language skills, subject-matter expertise, and the socio-cultural knowledge needed to produce an accurate text that reads well in the target language and with which target readers can relate. Even the skills required to interpret or teach another language are different than the set of skills required to translate (and vice versa).

Anyone who speaks a foreign language or is bilingual can review translations.

Answer: The decisions made by the professional translator during the translation process are based on numerous factors: interpretation, style, lexical choices, research, available space, errors in the source copy, background material and reference copy, etc. Unless the reviewer is also a linguist and is aware of all the factors that the translator had to consider during translation, the edits made to the text may harm it instead of improve it.

Machine translations are as good as human translations.

Answer: While automated translation has come a long way and may be helpful to get the gist of simple texts, raw computer output is unviable as a finished printed product. Machine translation programs typically translate sentences word for word, failing to take context, sense, or style into account. These programs do not distinguish between different meanings of the same word. They cannot analyze technical terminology.

There is only one possible translation for every text.

Answer: Translating is not about transposing words, but about expressing ideas into another language. Any idea can be phrased in many different ways. A translation may vary based on interpretation, lexical choice, style, context, available space, target readers, and many other factors. Ask 10 professional translators to translate the same sentence, and chances are you’ll get 10 different translations—all of which may be correct.

Back translation is a good indicator of the quality of a translation.

Answer: A back-translation is intended only to ensure that a translation’s original meaning has been conveyed correctly. Because translation depends on many factors (lexical choices, style, etc.), a back translation will not result in a text that is identical to the source text, and therefore cannot be used as the sole indicator of the quality of a translation.

Source and target copy are similar in length and structure.

Answer: Different languages follow different grammar, semantic, phrase construction, punctuation, and typography rules, which results in many differences between source and target texts, including differences in length and structure/layout. When working with language pairs with a significant difference in length, it is unlikely that same-length translation can be achieved—at least not without sacrificing content, style, or some other element of the original text. Since phrase construction differs from one language to the next, it is also unlikely that the source and target texts can be laid out exactly the same way.

Regardless of how much your client learns to appreciate you as a professional over time, it may take much repetition for the facts above to replace the preconceived ideas that have anchored themselves in his “pre-educated mind.” Though some situations can try your endurance, it is important to be patient and strive to provide clear, consistent answers. In really desperate situations, remember: a good sense of humor goes a long way, and it’s always better to laugh (at situations, never at clients) than pull your hair out.

Even after working with the same Biased Client for many years, you might still get unexpected surprises! Here are a few real-life examples that prove that even the most hopeless-looking situations are not without moments of humor:

Client: We need this in three days, but send it before if you can (concerning a 150,000-word, brand-new-content text).

Client: We noticed that the three-line burst in this ad didn’t follow the same order as the original text, but it must for artistic purposes, so we’ve moved words around (and published it without checking with you first).

Client: There’s a problem with the translation you provided. We double-checked it with Google Translate, and it doesn’t say what we want.

Situations like those might feel discouraging, especially if you’ve been working with (and educating) your client for a while, but provided that your message is consistent and you have nerves of steel, there’s hope that your client will one day understand enough about translation to trust you and allow you to do the same. Unfortunately, the same cannot always be said of our last type of “uneducated” client.

The Recalcitrant Client

The Recalcitrant Client (who could as easily have been called the Know-Better Client) may not be as easily “spottable” as his counterparts because, unlike them, he doesn’t fit the typical profile of the uneducated client. The Recalcitrant Client is not necessarily new to translation, monolingual, badly informed, or ill advised. At first, he may even seem familiar with the target language and/or the translation process. But working with him soon becomes the utmost challenge as you realize that, to him, everything seems “wrong” (although he will seldom provide you with any direction on how to make it right). It may also take all of your skill, patience, and guile to reach a point where you may have a relatively good working relationship with him—if ever.

The truth of the matter is that when it comes to the Recalcitrant Client, you’re not dealing with someone who necessarily lacks information or has preconceived ideas about translation. Actually, what seems to drive the client to doubt your work doesn’t have anything to do with language or translation! Most often, it has to do with mistrust, and perhaps even ego and/or control. Whether the client has any knowledge of the target language or not, he believes that he knows better. He will always doubt, question, and ultimately revise your work, even if he has to resort to machine translation to do so.

Unlike his counterparts, the Recalcitrant Client seldom sees things objectively, and no evidence, explanation, or rework ever seems to satisfy him. That is, unless he feels that he’s had decisive input in the final text or got you to acquiesce to all his demands. Whether that’s something you can do depends on your personality, the value you put on your work and professional reputation, and how much of your livelihood depends on him.

When working as an in-house translator, you might have little choice in the matter. When working as a freelance translator on the other hand, you always have the option to “fire” your Recalcitrant Client (especially if the situation has turned abusive). The following advice about how to deal with overly difficult clients, originally written by Judy Jenner (author of “The Entrepreneurial Linguist” column in The ATA Chronicle), is pertinent:

If your customer makes your stomach turn, you are losing sleep, or can’t talk about anything else, perhaps it’s time to prioritize your mental health over your business’ bottom line […].

A translator’s job is complex enough, and while we should always be prepared and willing to educate our clients (because it’s to our mutual benefit), client education should not occupy most of our time or resources. While we can reasonably anticipate having to explain repeatedly that computer-assisted translation is different from machine translation and that we’re the ones doing the work (and therefore need time), we can’t be expected to consent to unrealistic demands, intentionally damage translations, or spend hours justifying every single word because the dictionary, Google Translate, or our client’s bilingual accountant (or plumber) “says something else.”

Ultimately, It’s All about Trust … and Patience

When working with clients who are familiar enough with translation and/or the target language to be able to provide constructive input, the ensuing relationship feels more like a partnership than a service provider-client relationship. That’s really what all translators strive for: trust, collaboration, and mutual respect. Getting there may take a little longer with “uneducated” clients, but it’s an attainable goal for most.

The vast majority of “uneducated” clients are “educable” (or at least willing to get educated), and even though they may never thoroughly appreciate the difficulty of our work, they’ll get to understand enough of the translation process to develop a positive, trusting, and mutually beneficial working relationship with us. As for dealing with those few “uneducable” clients who may cross our path from time to time, the choice is ours. We may either choose to get crafty, yield, terminate the relationship, or hope and trust that “a little persistence, a little more effort, and what seemed hopeless failure may turn to glorious success.” Meanwhile, keeping a sense of humor is not a bad idea!