When two translators meet, you can bet on the questions that they will ask each other; they are always the same. Yet it is never boring. In fact, it is an important conversation and clients can benefit from asking those same questions to any translator they meet.
While these questions make handy ice-breakers, they also enable us to establish where our skills might overlap or be complementary. Ultimately, we want to know whether we can team up with that person and recommend them to our clients when we can’t help (due to language, specialism or availability).
So what are these questions?
What are your language pairs? – Note that the question is not “What language(s) do you speak?”. A translator reads in one language and writes in another, but doesn’t speak as part of their work.
Do you do translation only or do you do interpreting too? – Now, interpreters are those who listen and talk. Note, however, that an interpreter’s language pairs may not be the same as their translation pairs. For instance, a German friend of mine interprets between English and German, but translates from English and Spanish into German.
What are your specialisms? – This is where a colleague with the same pairs could be a great contact because, between the two of us, we can cover more topics and thus assist more clients. Similarly, I love to meet art translators (there aren’t many of us) who work in other languages so that I can help any of my clients with a multilingual project by recommending them. “What’s your background in those areas?” is also a crucial question to understand their level of expertise as well as their specific area(s) of knowledge.
Are you a member of the CIOL and/or the ITI? – A new translator may be working at building their portfolio and income before joining a professional body, but an established linguist will be a member of at least one such organisation. Amongst other things, it is a mark of professional commitment and members must abide by the institute’s code of conduct.
What kind of clients do you work for? How long have you been a translator? How did you get into translation? – The last one points to the fact that there isn’t one path to translation but as many paths as there are translators. Each translator has a unique combination of qualifications, experience and transferable skills.
You can easily find the answers to these questions by looking at a translator’s website (and/or LinkedIn profile, if applicable). But whether in person or via the internet, it is always worth checking that you are dealing with the best linguistic partner, not only for quality purposes but also because working with like-minded people makes life easier.