Educating the Customer
Brett Jocelyn Epstein,
to English translator, editor, writer,
Swansea, Wales, UK
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$35 to translate that? I heard there are computer
programs that can do the same thing," a potential
customer complained to me once. It wasn't the first
time someone had said something along those lines.
"My colleague was very pleased with your work,"
another person told me, "but I found someone
who could do it much cheaper." While many customers
don't seem to know much about the translation process,
a surprising number of them do seem to have pretty
firm ideas about who can translate and how much it
never forget the Friday night when a customer e-mailed
me a bunch of documents at 10 p.m. with instructions
to have everything translated by Monday morning. He
had not asked me if I was available to translate that
weekend, if I was proficient in the field the documents
covered, or even how much it would cost. I wrote him
back within the hour (yes, I was actually working
then anyway!) to tell him that because his assignment
was a weekend rush job it would cost more than usual,
and he sent me an angry response in the middle of
the night. "I suspect that you and I have vastly
different ideas about working together," he wrote.
"There is no way I am paying that amount."
more customers know about what translation
means, the more they understand why they ought
to pay for high-quality work.
May, at the annual conference for the Swedish Association
of Professional Translators, translator David Rumsey
gave a lecture about the United States translation
market. Something he mentioned was that one reason
why the American market is large but underdeveloped
is because there are pervasive myths there about
what exactly translation involves. Mr. Rumsey mentioned
that many Americans believe that translation is
simply "typing in a foreign language,"
and others think anyone can do it (say, the secretary
whose grandpa came from Puerto Rico, or the Chinese
chef at a restaurant), and still others have heard
that there's translation software that's just as
good as, or possibly better than, actual people.
Mr. Rumsey may consider these false beliefs American,
but the fact is that they are not unique to the
United States. Many translators I've spoken to,
whether from Sweden, England, the United States,
or elsewhere, have shared tales about customers
who claimed they'd go find "some student"
or "ask the foreign neighbor for help"
rather than pay a professional translator to do
the job properly.
so many translators have stories like these, the
question then becomes how to educate customers about
what translation really is and why it is worthwhile
to pay for professional services. To start off,
translators can include detailed information about
their background, their work methods, and their
opinions about translation in any marketing material
they use, including their websites. This sounds
obvious, but there are people who think that their
job title means enough on its own, or that since
translation is necessary and important, it can sell
itself. While some customers may simply skim over
whatever you write and instead just request an estimate,
many are curious and will read the text. If you
have been to law school and specialize in legal
texts, for example, or if you have translated a
dozen novels, or if you have attended programs in
translation, or if you worked as an engineer for
15 years before becoming a translator of technical
manuals, announce those facts and describe what
they mean for you as a translator; potential clients
will be impressed and will know that you clearly
are qualified for the job and will expect to be
paid accordingly. You can also write about why translation
is important and how your services will help the
customers. If you translate grades for students
who want to apply to study abroad, point out that
you are certified, or if you work primarily for
corporate clients, tell them that if they expect
to sell products to customers in other countries,
it is essential that the language on their website
or in their users' manuals is correct. Give examples
of poor mistranslations that they should want to
avoid, and remind them that without good translation,
their customers won't trust in the quality of their
products or services. By the way, take that advice
yourself, too, and make sure your own website is
flawless; if necessary, hire a copy editor to review
any foreign-language pages you have written.
step we translators can take is to turn down any
assignments that are outside our fields of expertise.
It is tempting to want to accept all jobs and to
want to convince customers that we are excellent
all-around translators, but honestly telling people
that you work only on medical documents and never
on poems, or that you are comfortable with genealogy
but not with contracts, makes them more aware that
each translation is a specific text with its own
requirements and that special skills and knowledge
are needed. Just as a heart surgeon wouldn't think
of treating a patient's allergies and a professor
of Victorian literature wouldn't dare teach a physics
course, neither should translators attempt work
on subjects that are far out of their own fields.
That doesn't mean, of course, that translators can't
learn about new areas and add new specializations,
but it is not professional to endeavor to do that
in just a couple of days, and if you don't do a
good job, you will not only have lost a customer,
but also anyone he would have recommended you to.
If you turn down an assignment, try to recommend
a qualified colleague for it. Both your colleague
and your customer will appreciate it; the former
may reciprocate by referring customers to you for
jobs in your field, and the latter will remember
the extra service you provided and may return to
you with other assignments in the future.
I try to do whenever I receive a shocked response
to an estimate is to write a polite e-mail in which
I explain what is involved in translation and how
I arrived at the price. If a lot of research is
required in order to find specific technical words
or if the assignment requires you to work nights
or over a weekend, tell the customer. If you are
expected to complete a large job in a short period
of time or if you will have to go to a university
library to use reference books that are only found
there, explain that. Don't be shy about saying how
many hours you anticipate a translation to take
you or about describing what the work will demand
of you; most people don't understand what goes into
a translation and they may, as Mr. Rumsey said,
view it as merely "typing in a foreign language."
I have more than once told customers how long their
documents would take me to translate, how much tax
I would pay, what amount would be left over, and
how much that equaled per hour of work. Some people
were definitely surprised at the minimum wage the
fee they offered me turned out to be, and they understood
that the prices I named weren't just randomly chosen
but that they had been carefully considered. Others
were interested to learn that a translator didn't
just sit down at a computer and look up words in
a dictionary for a few minutes and then the assignment
was finished. It is unfortunately easy to take a
service for granted when you don't know what it
his lecture, Mr. Rumsey offered some other ideas.
He suggested that translators should provide information
about different languages and cultures, which would
presumably help those who believe that the world
is monolingual, and reduce the risks for customers.
By reducing the risks, he meant that translators
and translation agencies should be prepared to provide
free consulting and editing, have third-party reviewers,
and other language-related services. I personally
am not sure that offering cheaper prices or free
translations is the best method, as people are often
reluctant to start paying for something they initially
received for free or at a reduced cost, and people
don't always value what they don't pay for. But
I know that some translators like to attract customers
with low prices and then convince them to remain
customers, even as the prices are increased, by
doing good work.
more customers know about what translation means
and what qualifies a translator to take on a given
assignment, the more they understand why they ought
to pay for high-quality work. It's true that some
people will always want to take the cheap route,
regardless of what that means for their documents,
but others will realize that doing something right
usually means paying for it. So make the choice
easy for your customers by giving them as much information
as you can about your background and experience,
about what translation entails, and about your pricing
system. A customer who really cares about his documents
and who has been educated about translation is less
likely to waste your time by arguing that his friend
or a computer program could do the job just as well
and for half the cost. An educated customer is more
likely to choose you and your services, and to gladly
pay for a job well done.
Brett Jocelyn Epstein
is a Swedish to English translator who has translated
articles, menus, websites, stories, and other works.
She is also an English teacher, writer, and editor,
and she has a BA in literature and creative writing
from Bryn Mawr College and an MFA in fiction from
Please visit her website at www.awaywithwords.se
for more information.
Please visit her blog
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