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Monthly Archives: March 2011

The Importance of Good Briefs

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: March 10, 2011

Part 2

Last week, we looked at the importance of giving as much information as possible to the translators and interpreters you work with. This week, we will continue this theme with a little known fact:

  • The purpose of a service determines the best person to deliver it

Would you ever go to a lawyer and ask them to take your blood pressure? Would you ever ask a dentist to fly the space shuttle? Would you expect a mailroom assistant to be the best salesperson in a company? Why not?

We are used to the fact that different people have different skills. The skills required of lawyers are different to those required of ministers. Doctors go through different training than salespeople. The same rule applies to translators and interpreters – different language professionals are best suited to different jobs.

If you want someone to interpret at a conference on vacuum cleaners, it makes sense that you would want someone who a) is a trained conference interpreter b) is decently pleasant to listen to and c) knows something about vacuum cleaners and d) is willing to learn about the things they do not know yet.

If you want someone to translate a patent for a new drug, you will not want to call on the same person who interpreted at the vacuum cleaner conference. This time, you will want someone who a) has translated patents before and b) has a strong enough knowledge of drug terminology to be able to use it correctly.

For the sake of ensuring that the service you are paying for does the job that you want it to do, it pays to find the right person. Taking shortcuts by going for the cheapest provider will only end up costing more in the long run. Think of the malpractice suits and legal costs you would face if you call someone to interpret in a healthcare setting and they are not able to meet the required standard. Think of the lost sales you would have if your brochures are well presented but have badly written content. Think of the loss of impact if the person who interprets your sermon has no clue about anything to do with church

We have all seen laughable examples of translations that were obviously not done by paid professionals with the right skills but noone wants it to be their work in the spotlight. What damage would it do if it was your name above the poorly written slogan or your website with the unfortunate phrasing?

There is always a temptation to go for the cheaper option but it pays to go for the option that will produce a better, more suitable finished product. After all, the translation or interpreting you are paying for is there to serve a purpose. At some point, your current and future customers, colleagues or readers will need to use what you paid for. It makes sense to give them the best.

So there you go, if you want a translation that works, if you want interpreting that does the job, hire the right people and give them the right information. With that combination, you are on to a winner.

The Importance of Good Briefs

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: March 3, 2011

Part I

If you are reading this, the chances are that you know that you need translation or interpreting. You might want to hold a meeting with people in another country or you might have a message that you want them to read or hear. There are almost as many reasons for commissioning translation or interpreting as there are projects that require them. Nevertheless, all these projects have one thing in common: they all exist for a purpose. In the words of translation theorist, Christiane Nord, translation and interpreting:

should function in the situation in which it is used and with the people who want to use it and precisely the way they want it to function.
(Christiane Nord, Translation as a Purposeful Activity, 1997/2007, p. 29, translating Hans Vermeer)

This might seem pretty obvious. After all, no sane businessperson would spend their hard-earned corporate cash on translation or interpreting unless they had a good reason to do so. On the other hand, if we bear in mind that translation and interpreting is always provided for a specific purpose, we can use this knowledge to improve the quality of the product we will receive. The rest of this short article will examine one way to apply this knowledge.

  • The more translators and interpreters know about the purpose for their work, the better they work.

This is not exactly rocket science but it is amazing how many disagreements could be avoided if we bore this in mind. There is a very simple discipline that will improve the quality of the translation and interpreting you receive without costing any more money – never send a request for translation or interpreting without a brief.

What exactly is a brief? Well, think of it in project management terms. Before commissioning a large corporate project, people spend time thinking about the project timescale, the nature of the project, its purpose and some key indicators to be used to measure its success.

The same information can be used to commission translation or interpreting. Spending a few minutes communicating the timescale, purpose, intended audience and expectations you have for the translation or interpreting project will give the language professionals you work with a much better idea of exactly what you want.

Imagine, for a moment, that you were changing jobs and relocating to a different country. In order to get through the recruiting process, you would need someone to translate your CV. You would tell the translator all about where you wanted to move to, the position you were after and even the kinds of companies you wanted to work for. They would then be able to produce a translation that was especially tailored for your target market and would offer you the best chance of succeeding. The relevant information from your original CV would still be there but it would be arranged in a way that would have the greatest impact on the people you wanted to impress.

You can see from this simple example why a better brief will lead to a better translation. The more high quality information you can give to translators and interpreters, the more they can tailor their services to your needs. This actually leads us to the point we will discuss next week.

Good Things to Know Before You Go Pro

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: March 1, 2011

No. 2 Jobs Can Come From Anywhere

So there I was: a professional. I had the degree. I had the skills (or so I thought). I even had a French-English dictionary on CD-ROM. All I needed now was work.

Ok then, so where do I get work? I wondered. To be fair, I had received a few really good hints from guest speakers at university. Nevertheless, for about three months after I finished my masters, I found myself sat in front of a computer, for days on end, sending quote after quote via translation portals.

Now, don’t get me wrong, translation portals are useful. I gained a decent number of my first clients there. However, what I didn’t know then and thankfully do know now is that you can get work from just about anywhere.

Here are a few true examples. I have written three articles for the ITI Bulletin, from two of those articles, I have gained at least three clients and probably sent at least the same number of quotes. On top of that, I have had the joy of talking to, and working with, some incredibly talented professionals, all because of writing those articles.

I once thanked an organisation for creating a very useful DVD on running a business with integrity. From that thank you note, I ended up receiving the amazing opportunity to coordinate a large translation project and I have received two large requests for quotes.

One last example: I once received a referral from my brother. A few months after that referral, the client he referred to me gave me enough work to keep me busy for a month. Needless to say, that particular invoice was a lot of fun to write.

The point of all of these examples is that they all came from unexpected places. Who would have guessed that a small thank you note could have led to coordinating a team of translators working in seven languages? What university would have told you that contributing something to an industry publication would attract work?

The lesson to learn is that only ever looking in one place for work is a really bad strategy. What is a much better strategy is to contribute something to the wider industry, visit translation events, chat to other translators, be appreciative and generally network.

As you will read later, the translation and interpreting community is actually surprisingly friendly. On top of that, translators and interpreters, being language professionals, talk like old fish-wives! It therefore pays to be around them when they are talking and to offer help when people need it. The Latin for this is quid pro quo. I’d like to pretend that it means you get a few more quid when you help out a fellow pro. (On this point, you might also want to read my previous post:  We’re all in this together

So, while writing to agencies, sending quotes and the like is useful, it pays to remember that work can come from anywhere. That is good to know before you go pro.