How to be a VIC (II): Does Your Text Make Sense?

This second post on how to be a VIC (very important client) addresses the quality of your texts. Vague (generic words, clichés, lengthy sentences) or poorly written (incorrect grammar/punctuation, etc.) documents are confusing and hair-pulling sessions slow your translator down. We love our work and we do like a challenge, but we’re not so keen on headaches. Painful translations do not get priority.

If no one understands you, what’s the point? As politicians know well, being vague is as good as not saying anything. The work of translation is where the clarity of a text fully comes to light. When working on your document, a translator doesn’t just swap words of one language for those of another; they need to follow your thoughts and know exactly what you mean. As far as I’m aware, mind-reading is not a common skill amongst translators. It is therefore advisable to make your thoughts crystal clear by being specific and choosing your words carefully. What is obvious to you may not be obvious to anyone else.

Syntax is also important. Long and complex sentences can be difficult to follow because too many elements thrown in all at once can be confusing, making it harder to identify the point of focus. Shorter sentences keep your reader (and translator) on track.

As for spelling, grammar and punctuation, if these aren’t your forte, spend a little time checking and don’t be embarrassed to ask someone for help. Personally, I am more impressed by someone who asks in an effort to learn and get it right than by someone who leaves it to others to work out what their gibberish means. Of course clients are not linguists and we don’t expect every text to be perfect, but having a mess thrown at us to disentangle gives the message that the client doesn’t care.  A translation of higher standards than the original demands a fair amount of skill – not to mention patience – of the translator, and guesswork is incompatible with quality translation.

Moreover, if the translator doesn’t understand your text, you can expect a list of queries. This can be a time-consuming exercise for both parties (especially if the client doesn’t read the queries properly, which can double up the work). So please check your text and ask yourself: would this make sense to the person in the street?

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