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Agencies are from Mars, Translators are from Venus II: The Revenge of the Venusians

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Claudia MoreiraIf there is anyone among us who has never committed any of the sins mentioned by our colleague Fabiano Cid, let they be the one to cast the first stone... In a market with growing demands, tighter deadlines, more complex tasks, and extremely delicate relations, it is not hard to fall into temptation.

It has been my personal experience that, among all of the sins mentioned, the most common is gluttony. It is possible that many translators – and I am guilty as charged since I am part of this group – need psychoanalysis in order to learn how to say "no" to a client. The fear of being thrown into a sort of professional limbo affects all of us. How can we refuse a job without being immediately forgotten? What if you offend a certain client? How should one proceed?

Living on this side of the line is not easy either. And, since I have already worked as a project manager, I feel comfortable talking about both worlds. If in the past there were translator-sinners who nearly drove me crazy, today I walk the tight rope suspended by my clients. Although this was a choice I do not regret and that has made me happy, there are times when all I want to do is rip my identity card into pieces and move into the mountains to sell art for a living... Too bad I have no talent for handicrafts…

The problem is that one single slip and down the drain goes a relationship built on concerted effort and dedication. Often, the controversy is not event caused by the project manager, but by equally maddening circumstances that cause the manager to "forward" the stress. However, as delicate as it is, I do believe that there are some points that could be improved in the client-manager-translator relationship.

It is crucial that we stay aware of the complexity of this relationship. It clearly proves the thesis that "no man is an island." Managers need translators to do the job. Translators need managers to bring home the bread. And everyone needs clients.

There are many problems, but after ten years in this "vital industry" I consider myself privileged to have worked with many competent managers who were capable of solving the most complex problems and who really know how to manage a project effectively. They know what to send to the translator, do not fill inboxes with unnecessary administrative messages and can smell trouble from miles away, snuffing it out before it’s too late. Fortunately, they are the majority. Nevertheless, I have also met individuals who seem to be aliens to this profession. People who do not have a clue about how many words a translator is capable of producing in one day and who know nothing about translation tools. Just like there are translators who believe that any English course will do, there are also those managers who enter the market without the required background.

In order to manage translation projects, the professional does not necessarily need to have worked as a translator before. But it is essential that the manager speaks the same language as the translator. The manager needs to have highly accurate notions about the various nuances of the work, such as the tools involved, deadlines, number of translators required for meeting the deadline, use of reference materials (glossaries, style manuals, translation memories, Internet, etc.). After all, when faced with a problem, the translator will inevitably contact the manager. And when the translator’s questions seem to fall into an echoed valley, problems will arise.

The sin of pride is common among both translators and managers. If the former have a problem accepting criticisms humbly, we also have our "perfect" managers. Nothing can shake their confidence. Not a stressed client, not even personal problems. Just like Robocops, they are machines without feelings, never affected by external factors and they simply do not make mistakes. It is always the butler’s fault...

Robocops tend to become serial killers as time goes by. So many translators have been duly eliminated from their lists that there is no one left to tell the story – or do the job.

The manager might want to rethink the relationship. “Why did I end up alone?” “Could it have been my fault?” “What about a vacation?” Improvement courses and seminars, for instance those that feature debates on industry challenges, are also welcome because they can help the manager see the issue from another perspective. Isolation is not good for any professional – not even for the remote translator, but that is another story – and managers who think they should not get involved in this kind of training because it is a "translator thing" are wrong. Information is everything. And the more information one manages to gather, the less mistakes one will make. And, most importantly, the better professional one will become.

Another interesting species is the Primary Router. The project is a hot potato in their hands that they must get rid of as quickly as possible, hurry, hurry! In their rush, they forward the zip file that they received from the client directly to the translator, who will download 80MB of... absolutely nothing! This type of manager often does not even worry about removing the Chinese, Korean, Japanese, German or French (and the list goes on) reference files from the zip file.

There's also the Unreachable type. You call in the morning and they are in a meeting. You send emails and do not receive an answer. You call in the afternoon and they have already gone for the day... You cannot establish a partnership with such a professional. On the due date, this manager tries to solve all problems at once, tripling the work for a project that could have been completed very easily if a more proactive attitude had been taken.

But not everything is wrong with the agency-translator relationship. There are companies for which professionalism and organization are guiding principles. Most managers read and understand the instructions they receive, adequately sharing them with the translator. It is there that a solid partnership is established, one capable of facing and surviving even the greatest challenges (or projects.) When the translators receive feedback and understand that this is beneficial for them - after all, such actions have the sole purpose of helping the individual grow professionally and deliver an increasingly better job – they feel like they are part of something. And, even working remotely, we like to feel that we are part of a team whose only goal is client satisfaction.

And when this happens, everyone wins.


This article was originally published in Сcaps Newsletter (

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