The ideal translation agency – Part II

This is the second half of the text originally published by Christos Floros on his blog. Check out the first part if you haven’t read it yet.

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6)      Be available to your translator

I once worked on a large job with a tight deadline for a European agency. I came across a tricky term and wanted to discuss it with my PM. I was in a hurry, so I called him on the phone. No reply. I sent him an e-mail at 1200 GMT and a reminder at 1630 GMT. What I got was a rude reply the next morning: the owner of the agency wrote that I delayed the delivery and pointed out that I should have contacted them on Skype in order to get a prompt reply. What kind of agency has no access to phone or e-mail during business hours, but is always available on Skype? Go figure…

7)      Be flexible

Flexibility is, in my opinion, one of the greatest qualities in a person and in a company. I try to be as flexible as I can in order to accommodate the needs of my clients, but unfortunately I cannot say the same for many of the companies I’ve worked for. Many times I get the feeling that the PMs don’t want to help translators. There is no other way to explain why issues that can be resolved very easily get mixed up in an unnecessary back-and-forth process that results in wasted time from both parties.

8)      Be real and professional

Have you ever worked for an agency whose PMs are also the CEO, the CFO, and the COO of the company? If not, let me enlighten you: there is something disturbingly wrong about it. I don’t really see how the CEO of an agency can act as a translation project manager. I also question the professionalism of such an agency. The same goes for a managing director of a translation company who once appeared in a professional conference in his tracksuit, with his hair all messed up, for an appointment with one of the industry’s leading experts on machine translation (MT) and services. I saw that with my own eyes and I still feel sorry for that MT expert…

9)      Communicate efficiently in English

You may find this difficult to understand, especially if you are not working with agencies outside the USA, Canada, UK, and Australia, but the quality of the English in some of the correspondence I receive is very poor (to put it nicely). Spelling and grammar mistakes in professional e-mails just don’t look good, especially if they are directed at translators, who are trained to spot mistakes immediately.

10)      Be willing to defend the translator

There are times when the client comes back with negative feedback on the quality of the translation they received. In such cases, I believe that the ideal course of action from the translation agency’s point of view would be to complete a third-party review, to politely ask the translator about the issue, and then to provide feedback to the client in order to clarify the situation before accusing the translator of any mistakes that might be just stylistic changes made by the end client. When the occasional mistake happens, most of us are very concerned about that. We all strive to deliver error-free translations, seeking to not jeopardize our relationship with the agency. Yet some agencies prefer to accuse us in order to protect their reputation without examining the issue in detail. In the eyes of such agencies, it’s always the translator’s fault…

It is difficult to find a translation company that follows all 10 points on my wish list. The reasons for that are practical, moral, and empirical. If you don’t have enough capital, you are bound to delay the payments. If you don’t know what’s best for you in the long term, you are bound to make mistakes in the everyday running of your company. If you are not experienced, you are bound to make mistakes that could easily be avoided.

This is true for both freelancers and agencies. After all, we are all business entities and focus on the longevity of our business. The way we choose to act now will, one way or the other, affect our prospects down the road.

I’d love to hear other translators’ views on this. What is your ideal translation agency to work for? Are there any specific attributes on your wish list?

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During and after the translation

“Most translators are not looking for glory. […] They simply want the ability to do the best job they can. They want to be proud of the difficult work they do. Giving them a closer relationship with the buyer facilitates that.”
– Nataly Kelly, Common Sense Advisory

This post is the continuation of what was discussed in “Resources and planning” and “The file to be translated.” If you haven’t read those, I’d suggest you start from there. The aim of this series of posts is to give you hints on how to achieve the best results by doing what you can to help the translator do his/her job faster and with greater accuracy. Below are some recommended actions you should take during the translation process itself and afterwards.

  • Respond to your translator’s questions

An inquiring mind usually makes a good language professional. Competent translators and revisers practically “dissect” the text throughout the project. As a result, more often than not they run into inconsistencies, ambiguities, cloudy areas, and the like. Their best shot at solving these puzzles is through the author, who supposedly knows everything the text intends to communicate. So, if you’re the author or have contact with him/her, you’d do well to let the translators know from the start that you can be contacted for clarification.

Here comes the most important piece of advice in this regard: make sure you or your team replies to the translator’s inquiries in a timely manner. Keep in mind that schedules are usually tight and that any unclear word or sentence might interfere in the understanding of the whole message. Sometimes a translator gets stuck and is only able to go on after that bit is clarified. So by responding to your translator’s questions right away, you can avoid delaying the process even more, which is of course in your own best interest. 

  • Send feedback and the revised version of a translation

Now suppose the project is done: you got your translation, read it, started using it… this is the end of your interaction with the language professional (at least until the next project), right? Not quite, unless you intend to use a new service provider every time you need a translation.

Nobody wants to be changing or correcting the same thing time and again. So, if you have someone in your team capable of revising the translation well, have this person go through the translated text (as I said in a previous post, this is a tricky situation I will discuss in the near future). Ideally use a word processor’s track change tool or highlight any alterations. Then make sure to send the revised version to your translator. An experienced professional will know how to analyze the modifications critically and incorporate the preferred styles, terms, words, expressions, or phrases into future texts.

Let’s not forget that most translators today work with translation memory tools (to have an idea of what this is, refer to my last post). Another advantage of this technology is the incorporated search tool: the professional can easily retrieve previously translated content to see how s/he translated words, terms or expressions and the context in which they were used. Needless to say, consistency is a key element in any well-written text and also among different texts of the same company. CAT tools can guarantee 100% consistency if handled appropriately by the translator and updated according to your revisions.

Since healthy relationships involve the exchange of constructive criticism, don’t be afraid of talking about mistakes with your service provider. Conversely, if your translator did an awesome job, go ahead and tell him/her. Committed professionals will be pleased to hear they’re on the right track and will always try to do better.

I started out intending to write a single post about this topic and ended up with a series of three (so far). This is a hint of how much there is to discuss about actions you might take in this regard. Interestingly, in writing these initial posts, I realized that a great deal of this blog will have to do with giving you the right tools to get the most for your money by collaborating with your translator.

I recognize that clients sometimes have no control over some situations. It’s enough that you might now be more aware of the best-case scenario and of the benefits you can get in return. If you decide to follow these recommendations the next time you get the chance, feel free to share the results with us.