25 Things Translators Should Never Do

(originally published by yndigo)

I happened upon a New York Times blog post listing the 100 things restaurant staffers should never do — part one and two — and thought the idea good enough to steal (somehow, “no stealing” wasn’t high on our list). Despite the title, many of the don’ts apply more to agencies and their staff. Some to individual translators. And some to any service related job.

  1. Never forget to thank the client for requesting a quote (even if you don’t get the assignment).
  2. Never assume a new client has used translation services before, or the converse. Some customers are new to the experience, and some are savvier than you’d imagine.
  3. Never leave a request for information without a response. If you were on vacation/your computer crashed/you’re thinking of a career change, respond to all inquiries no matter how late. “I’m sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner. I hope everything worked out alright,” confirms your reputation as a professional.
  4. Never try to impress a client by using industry jargon or acronyms. TRADOS often means little to those in the outside world. In emails and conversations, always use the full explanation of a term the first time it is mentioned.
  5. Never tell a client, “That turnaround time is not possible.” Instead try, “Here’s what I can do in that time,” or offer to start delivering parts of the project within the deadline. Chances are good that your client’s deadline isn’t wholly within their control. Instead of relaying to their manager that you said the deadline isn’t possible, they will pick up the phone and call another provider.
  6. On the other hand, never promise a deadline you know you can’t meet. You wouldn’t want a plumber promising to fix your only toilet within a few hours knowing he can’t do it until three days later.
  7. If a deadline seems tight, do not forget to inquire why it is so. If your client needs to quickly review a document for content, you may be able to deliver a translation “For Informational Purposes Only” by their deadline, and follow up with an edited version shortly after.
  8. Never respond to a request for services with an emphasis on how busy you already are with other assignments. You might succeed in showing how in demand you are, but you will likely make them think twice about calling again. Thank the caller for their consideration and drop them a note when your workload lightens up.
  9. Never hesitate to be truthful when necessary. “You may need to use another vendor for that assignment,” shows sincere concern for your client’s project and will encourage them to contact you again. This applies to individual translators — who are more accustomed to the practice of referring colleagues — and to agencies too. Offer a lead if you are able.
  10. Never let your client hear you denigrate other translators or agencies. Although it is important to get today’s assignment, it is vital to leave a positive impression if you want the client to recommend your services to others.
  11. Never miss the chance to show respect for your client’s knowledge of their industry. Focusing primarily on your knowledge of translation may indirectly belittle their input.
  12. Never assume you already know everything you need to know about your language pair(s) or specialty(ies). Translation is one of those professions where you can continue to learn and grow if you remain open-minded.
  13. Never make excuses for your rate; you are offering a professional service. Do the homework to make sure your rates are within industry standards.
  14. Never increase your rate based solely on your perception of the client’s wealth or budget. Their budget is subject to change from month to month, and you might unwittingly price yourself out of a long-term relationship.
  15. Don’t be too rigid about turnaround times or pricing. After an initial quote, there are often ways to negotiate your services to save the client money. Ask the client to prioritize price, schedule, and quality, and offer to work around those priorities.
  16. Never offer a firm quote without looking at the WHOLE source text.
  17. Never forget to ask a client for a style preference or style sheet on especially long or ongoing assignments. It is your job to know that these exist.
  18. Never wait to look at the source text. Examine it as soon as possible even if you are in the middle of another assignment. Two hours before the deadline is too late to ask for a more legible copy.
  19. Never assume your client has thoroughly examined the source text. You may discover text already in the target language, which is good news; or you may discover text in a third language, which is not.
  20. Never contact the client the first time you come across a discrepancy in the source file. The answer you seek may lie somewhere later on in the file.
  21. Never barrage your client with petty questions, like “Which do you prefer, “AM” or “A.M.”? Have your own default in-house style guide. If you want to check the client’s preference for small stylistic issues, send a note with the finished translation leaving the client the option of not responding. For example, “I used ‘AM’ in the translation. Let me know if you’d like me to change it.” Although you may be finished with the project, it’s probable that your client is not and does not have time to discuss such matters.
  22. Never let the client intimidate you into changing a translation you know is correct. Offer to consult a colleague regarding the proposed changes.
  23. As a translator, never charge for reviewing your own translation. It’s a given. As an agency, be clear about what your price includes in terms of editing, proofreading and other QC procedures.
  24. Never forget to ask the client to confirm receipt of the delivered translation.
  25. Never forget that human translation is an organic product. Be open to reviewing completed translations, be willing to admit mistakes, and be prepared to defend yourself with solid resources beyond, “I’ve been doing this a long time.” You may have been doing it wrong for a long time.

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