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Agencies are from Mars, Translators are from Venus

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Fabiano Cid“A Practical Guide to Improving Communication and Getting What you Want in Your Relationships” is the subtitle of John Gray’s acclaimed book. It could also be the title for the survival manual of any project manager I know. However, what do translation agencies want, and how much are translators willing to offer? How much of an effort do translators need to make to please agencies without becoming embittered? I certainly do not have all the answers, yet after spending four years on “the other side” of the process, I think that I am beginning to understand this microcosm a little better. Even though I currently live on the Red Planet, this article is mainly directed at the Venusians, who will always be my compatriots.

Today, when our profession is being renewedly discussed, there is no doubt that everyone thinks they can become a translator. All one needs are algunas nociones del español, an English crash course at a language school in Boston, apprendere Italiano cucinando una vera pasta... Et voilà: one more sticks their nose where it does not belong. Within this group are the innumerous tired professionals who no longer have the motivation, money or patience to continue their own training; localizers that believe themselves to be infallible simply because they know Microsoft style guides by heart (from the Windows 95 era...); reviewers that never miss a single misplaced comma, but would rather turn in a text that is impeccably incomprehensible; and translators that consider the original a Magna Carta and do not dare doubt incompetent writers. Last but not least is the translatour (a passer-by of the profession) and the translator-to-be (maiden that is almost always ready to wed the profession for good).

However, how is it possible to distinguish oneself from others when there are still no qualification mechanisms in Brazil that are uniformly implemented, certifications that are broadly recognized by the market or evaluation criteria that are standardized and accepted?(1) How to convince one’s client (or project manager, in this case) that they should be able to separate the good from the bad when the bad are increasingly disguised as the good? There should be some way to prove that you are more than a number in a vendor database...
Communicate. From the Latin word comunicare, the act of making something known; to participate; establish a connection; unite. Perhaps this is the solution to the potential crisis in the translator-agency relationship. When was the last time you told your project manager in a clear and sincere fashion that the work completed over the weekend needs to be reviewed more carefully by the in-house QA team? For how many clients have you offered your Messenger or ICQ user name or any other way of immediately getting a hold of you when you are online? Fax, e-mail, beeper, cellular phone: there are so many ways that the agency and the translator can communicate clearly these days that it does not make sense for one to think that the other said “yes” when they heard “no” from a third party who actually meant “maybe”. If we do not speak the same language, how can we translate it into another language?

By communicating clearly, you will be able to make it known to any translation agency you work for that, like a guest invited to sit at their table and break the bread, you will make every effort not to fall into temptation and commit one of the Seven Cardinal Sins of the translator. There are countless lists of things that one should not do in a professional relationship, and below are just a few of them.


The first sin prevents the translator from humbly accepting criticisms or comments about the work they deliver. The prideful cannot learn from their own mistakes; instead, they isolate themselves in a marble tower and believe they are above any technician or novice that dares to send back their text with corrections. These sinners tend to repeat the same mistakes to the point of completely isolating themselves, without ever understanding that others can live without the glory of their texts. When feedback is well received, and you demonstrate that you have understood and will take precautions to not repeat the same error, the voice on the other side is echoed and the communication is established.


The gluttonous are never satisfied with the quantity of work that crams their inbox. Individuals that fall into this category are incapable of saying “no” to any of the proposals they are offered, even though the client has made it quite clear that this is an important project, and that a calm and attentive approach is crucial in its execution. If haste did not make waste, in this case gluttony would. Although availability is a crucial element for a good vendor-agency relationship, sincerity is also fundamental. Moreover, no one will be offended if you refuse to take on a job because you are bogged down with other tasks or because you have simply decided to take the week off. In this case, the communication is quite simple: “Sorry, I can’t do it.”


Ah, lust... That libidinous pleasure of “mingling” with various clients, of allowing the carnal pleasure of flattery take you over, of hearing the voluptuous compliments of the most gallant, of involving oneself in the sensuality of tempting offers and of surrendering your tired body to the libertinage of lascivious e-mails. A little more money here, a text with more pleasant words there, and off comes the wedding ring of a broken marriage. A relationship that was constructed over time, a partnership for which trust and incentive were the principal pillars, dissolves without even a “goodbye” or a “thank you” for the years spent together. When the initial attraction dies away and you realize that you are the one who is being screwed over, perhaps you would prefer to return to the long-term partner. Everyone deserves a second chance, and your chances of being warmly welcomed back will increase if you tell your partner the reason for leaving and the expected return date. Perhaps the best solution would be to sit down and discuss the relationship. Who knows? The other might be willing to make concessions for love of your work.


Stubbornness in adapting to circumstances. The unwillingness to accept a little less today to earn more tomorrow. Zero communication.


Slothfulness is the capital sin that most exasperates any manager anxious to meet a deadline or desperate with the projects that invariably arrive each Friday afternoon. The lazy have no idea what it is like to work on weekends and would never miss a holiday (extended, enforced or invented). They charge ultra, extra urgent rates if the project is to be delivered the next day and believe the word “deadline” is in fact a dead concept not worth resuscitating in daily professional practice. It is clear that we all need time off and that goodwill should not be translated into abuse, but it is also true that extra efforts made one night can turn into bargaining power in the future. Communicate your work hours ahead of time, plan some deserved holidays together with your manager, but never fail to deliver what you have promised. Most importantly, accept a challenge today so that in the future you can ask for a break.


Envy could be the weapon of the incompetent, but let they that have never felt envy be the ones to throw the stone. The problem is when this envy becomes a monster of uncontrollable proportions and begins to negatively affect your work. Everything that you are concerned about does not concern you, but others. The number of words the manager gives to other translators is always larger than those that are “left over” for the envious ones. Their deadlines are invariably more rigid than those of other translators. The fees paid to the rest of the world are obviously higher than the ones paid to those whose eyes are bigger than their capacity to see the reasons for such discrepancies. Years of experience, the quality of the work presented, payment conditions and taxation; there are many factors that affect these differences. Instead of wasting time tormenting oneself, the envious should simply contact the manager and ask what distinguishes one vendor from another. They may end up discovering that they actually hold the advantage and never knew it...


So many factors can contribute to the wrath of a translator toward a project manager that, if both were to fall into sin, they would be better off not even attempting to work together. More than any of the above sins, communication can prevent wrath from becoming a constant in the relationship between contractor and contracted. From an e-mail with bad punctuation to a rudely answered telephone call, many are the motives that can transform love into hate. Listen patiently when you have caused an argument, but if you believe the accusation to be unjust, try to be as rational as possible by showing the points of your defense with objective and convincing arguments. However, if the onset of the fury is inevitable for whatever reason, the ideal solution is to let time heal the open wounds of this highly delicate relationship. If convenient, try to approach the individual later, when things have calmed down and the rage of the moment has passed. They who hold grudges are the worst off.

"Hey, wait a minute!", you may be asking yourself, "Thy kingdom come, and my will never done..?” If this is what you have absorbed from the lines above, it can only mean one of two things: I was not clear enough and I urgently need to improve my communication skills, or you simply have not perceived that these are pieces of advice based on the experience of someone who has been on both sides. Someone who, today at Ccaps, is always thinking of ways to improve the translator-agency relationship in order to offer the market a better product. I have not wanted to appear an extreme moralist nor the devil’s advocate. However, if you fear the hell of not having work and of a poorly paid service, you may want to try a sinless professional life to become a powerful god of your planet, throwing lightening bolts of quality like a Transla-Thor. The choice is yours.

Finally, if advice is the last thing that you wanted to hear and feel as if you wasted your time reading this article, I leave you with the words of Mary Schmich(2).

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth.

1) Despite the noteworthy efforts of the Brazilian Translator’s Association (ABRATES), we unfortunately cannot say that there is a quality certification standard for the industry. The need for the establishment of a Brazilian translation ISO merits another long article...

2) A journalist for the Chicago Tribune, Schmich published a column in 1997 that later became famous wo2rldwide through Baz Luhrmann’s song.


This article was originally published in Сcaps Newsletter (

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