Forget Magic and Telepathy

Some translators are not so keen on working with direct clients (as opposed to agencies) partly because clients are not always familiar with the translation process. For me, working with direct clients is far more rewarding, and it is an opportunity to help people better understand, and therefore appreciate, what we do rather than see translation as a mere commodity (a view largely reinforced by most agencies).

Discussing the project is crucial for both parties, or assumptions will be made that will only surface once the work is done and the deadline imminent or past. The translator needs to understand the context and aim of the text to ensure that they use the best approach (style, tone, etc.). The client must understand that the process is not linear, that translation is not about words but about the ideas these relay, that what is clear to the author may be confusing to the reader / translator, and that we may therefore have questions about the document that they did not anticipate. This means that their availability throughout the process is important and that tight deadlines are dangerous.

A translator who struggles to explain or is reluctant to be open about the way they work, or is too shy to ask questions, will likely leave the client uncomfortable, or at least clueless, which in turn could hinder their work. If a client asks all sorts of questions, however basic, I see it as an interest in us working together and an eagerness to get things right – an attitude I heartily welcome! Working with clients who “dump” the work on you, expecting you to work your magic with no further clarification or input from them is frustrating.

Translators are no more magicians than clients are telepaths, so it seems fair that translators should be willing to guide their clients through what they need from them so that the clients can get what they need from the translators.


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