5 easy ways to get on your translation project manager’s nerves

As a follow-up to my recent post about ‘how to annoy a translator’, here are a few of the main things translators (and other service providers) do to drive me and my colleagues crazy! There are certainly more if any other project managers want to chip in.

  1. Tell me all about how you are ‘fluent’ in English, French, Spanish, Russian, Swahili, Telugu, Inuktitut, Ancient Greek and Maori. And how you can translate to and from any of those.

Sorry, but I don’t believe you. I know a lot of dedicated linguists and translators have a high standard in a couple of languages. Mine are English, German and Spanish, and I’d love to add another one or two. But it’s a strange fact of life that the more languages you tell me you speak, the less faith I have in your ability to speak any of them well. It might be unfair, but I’m much more likely to hire someone who lists their language pair as English>Russian, than someone who throws a huge list of random languages at me. I simply don’t believe you’re all that fluent in more than 3-4 languages, and unless you are very clear about which one is your mother tongue, I simply have no idea what your strongest pair(s) are. And if you say you can translate into a couple of languages, my confidence in the level of your writing is much less than if you simply say you translate only into Russian, if that’s your native language. There are a few exceptions for truly bilingual people who grew up bilingual, but most translators learned their second and third languages, and aren’t as good at translating into them as they are into their own language.

  1. Give me your list of ‘specialisations’ that’s as long as my arm.

Oh, so you’re ‘specialised’ in technical, medical, legal, business, pharmaceuticals, technology, IT, space, food, fashion, politics, economy AND finance, are you? Well again, I’m sorry to say I struggle to believe you. Many non-translators don’t understand that it’s difficult (verging on impossible) to write good translations about a topic you’re not very familiar with. But think about it this way: if you’re not a doctor or medically trained, you’d probably struggle to write a scientfic paper on the mode of action of a new Ebola vaccine, right? Well similarly, a translator who isn’t specialised in science or medicine would probably have trouble translating it. You might be able to look up the words in a dictionary, but then you won’t really know when, where and how to use them. Does your sentence really make sense to a medical professional? I occasionally end up struggling my way through translations way outside my specialism (I recently did one on electromagnetic compatibility) and I always wish I hadn’t accepted them, and make sure I don’t again in future. If you want an important legal document translated, you want to be pretty sure that your translator knows the law in both countries and the proper way to translate legal terms. Specialisation means you’ve really done a lot of reading, studying and work in the area of specialisation and can write fluently and convincingly about it. If you say you have 10 areas of specialisation, I simply think that you have no specialisation at all. And no matter how ‘impressive’ your list might look, I’ll pass you over for the guy who lists his specialisations as just ‘finance and economics’ because I actually believe that he knows something about them.

  1. Hand me sloppy, careless and badly-spelled CVs.

Ok, I get it. If I’m hiring you as a translator, then I guess English isn’t your native language. We’re all human, and I can accept the odd non-native sounding turn of phrase, or minor mistake. But if you’re advertising your ‘grate, acurate eNgish service’ to me, I am not particularly convinved. You’d be amazed by the number of emails and CVs that I get that read exactly like this. ‘I speak relly good the English’ they say to me. And thus the email hits the trashcan. Sorry, but if you’re not a native English speaker, then have one check over your CV for you, at least. Emails and CVs with a very poor level of English make me quite worried about the level of translation that you’re going to produce, and make me think that you haven’t put much effort in. The same applies to English speakers who make a lot of errors. I’m not going to hire you if you can’t even write your application properly. A particular pet hate of mine is template CVs and applications. I’ve had hundreds of almost identical ones from translators that go straight in the bin as I know they haven’t even written it themselves, let alone checked it for the (glaring) errors it contains.

  1. Ask for a higher rate… halfway though the project.

I don’t mind translators or other service providers negotiating their rate. If someone makes a good case for why I should pay them 8p per word instead of 7, I will listen and consider it. Or if they want a bit more money for proofreading the final translation, ok… maybe. But the golden rule is: you agree rates/fees BEFORE you accept and start the project. I make sure to make payment sums and terms clear from the get go, so I’m sorry but I don’t care if your cat died, or you didn’t like the work, or you need to pay a phone bill, and I’m not going to retroactively up your pay. Perhaps if something comes up that is not the fault of the translator, such as unforseen problems with the translation software, or unexpected changes to the source material, then we can discuss. But if you decide you randomly want more money, then I will simply refer you back to our original agreement about how much I am going to pay you.

  1. Apply for totally unsuitable jobs

This is quite specific to my work, as I also recruit voiceover artists for applications. But it also applies to other jobs including translation work. I often post adverts saying something like ‘Afrikaans-speaking voice artist needed’. I then get a handful of real Afrikaans speakers and a gaggle of actors who couldn’t be bothered to read the title properly and have applied despite being American or British and not speaking a word of Afrikaans. There’s a fine line between hoping for the best and simply being an idiot. If you’re not a native Afrikaans speaker, don’t apply for a job that requires you to be one: you’re wasting EVERYONE’s time. We’ve also had stacks of applications for voiceover jobs that clearly say they require a FEMALE voiceover, that are from men. I’m sorry this particular job opportunity excludes you, but really, you’re wasting your time. No matter how nice and feminine your voice is, I am looking for a female voice artist for a reason. The same has applied when I’ve advertised positions for translation interns, and received applications that were clearly written by people looking for admin positions, applications from people who don’t even speak another language, and applications from people of the wrong age or gender. Please just read the advert and only apply if it sounds relevant to you.

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