Clients Don’t Need to Be Translation Experts
Is there such a thing as a stupid question?
I often read complaints about clueless clients on social media. I get it: It can be exasperating that they might not have a clear grasp of the finer points of translation or don’t really understand why something might be a vital detail in our eyes. If a client is confused why you would want to know something or – yet again – didn’t think to provide information you need to assess a project, then why not count to ten and think about how you interact with people who provide services to you.
I’m not always the expert
The world is full of things that I know nothing about. I couldn’t fix my car, build a house or write code to save my life. When I turn to the experts in those fields, I try to listen carefully and take note of everything that could be important. Yet, I’m sure that I have asked these people many a silly question. And I’ve probably asked something blindingly obvious twice because I didn’t remember the answer or because I didn’t even remember asking. So what? That doesn’t mean that I lack respect for them and their skills. On the contrary, they are wizards who wield secret knowledge that my brain is incapable of retaining!
A repair man recently came by to fix our front door. We were talking and I asked him about the right word for a certain kind of lock. He looked at me and – for a split second – rolled his eyes before answering. Obviously, he thought it was a ridiculous question. He had probably learned that on his first day on the job, but that still doesn’t make it commonsense, everyday knowledge to me. He could have smiled at me and said, “You know, I’m always surprised that no one knows that because knowing these things is such an essential part of my work. By the way, it’s called XXX.” Instead, his reaction pretty much shut down the conversation.
If I don’t know something, then it makes sense for me to ask. And it makes sense to answer my question. First of all, because it’s always good to help your clients. And, also, why miss a chance to let someone else get a glimpse of how intriguing your work can be?
Questions are only useless to those who already know the answer
So, yes, sometimes clients ask the most obvious things and they might keep asking us the same questions over and over. And maybe we spend a lot of time explaining the same basic things to every new client. Just because we spend our days thinking about languages, communication and our specializations doesn’t mean other people do. Our obvious is not their obvious. I try to keep that in mind and cut clients some slack. And I hope that people will bear with me when I inadvertently ask inane questions about skills they have spent years perfecting.
The day people stop asking me obvious questions about my work will be the day my services really have become something that anyone with a dictionary can handle.
How do you handle these kinds of questions? Do you prefer to work only with clients who already know a lot about translation? Do you love telling people about how you work? Or do you provide written FAQs? After all, the best way to solve a lack of client education may be to provide it.
12 replies on “Clients Don’t Need to Be Translation Experts”
You’re spot on, Else. Clients don’t need to be translation experts and translators should stop expecting them to be, unless of course they are specifically translation companies, but even then many require some education!
But there are far too many translators who believe it is the clients’ job to educate themselves on our industry and when high expectations are met with disappointment, the only recourse seems to be to post a rant on a Facebook group. I, like other professionals, find that rather small-minded and not at all in keeping with the mindset of a business owner.
Our industry is not well understood – we’re well aware of that – so our job involves client education. It is a responsibility incumbent on every translator and one that they must exercise without animosity towards the client.
Thanks for your comment, Lloyd!
I have to admit that I sometimes heave a little sigh when the feeling of déjà vu gets too strong. And then I think of my wonderful insurance guy who doesn’t bat an eye at the fact that I will sit down with him every year to look at my current policies and have absolutely no memory of what they’re for and why I chose them, forcing him to exlain everything again 🙂
Excellent post, Else.
Having been to quite a few industry conferences and events in the last two years, I love the way other delegates are really keen to learn about our industry and more than willing to help us understand theirs.
The more translators who do this, the more we can raise the profile and achieve a ‘basic’ understanding of the translation industry.
And on a client-by-client basis I think it’s only natural they will have questions. I’d be concerned if a new client who didn’t ask questions. But we have to find a happy medium between giving them enough knowledge to understand what we do and boring them to death with the details. I have a handyman who insists on telling me exactly what he’s doing and what tools/materials he’s using and my eyes just glaze over. I just want the job done.
Thanks for your comment, Allison! That’s a good point you make. I sincerely hope that I tell my clients enough to answer their questions and keep it interesting without droning on about some obscure aspect of grammar 🙂
What a great post Else! I’m not an expert of so many things! I have no idea how taxes work, for example. All those numbers that my accountant comes up at the end of a year is always a great mystery to me. And I have so many questions every time. You should have seen our email conversations! You can easily write a book and call it “Taxes for Dummies like Dmitry” based on that. That’s how caring and supportive my accountant is. She takes her time to explain stuff to me using simple terms that I understand. I realize that I’m probably asking dumb questions, but she has never, not once, laughed at or frowned upon me. Because I’m her client and chose here to be my accountant. And this kind of support that she offers is one of the main reasons I’m staying with here. And that’s how I treat my own clients.
Thanks for your comment, Dmitry! Your accountant sounds a lot like my insurance guy 🙂
If I feel that people are annoyed by me or are talking down to me, then these are not the kind of people I will want to work with. And I see no reason for our clients to feel differently about how we answer their questions.
Thank you for this excellent post, Else.
A spot-on description of a behaviour that I find rather condescending. Nothing to say against light-hearted venting about hilarious episodes in our translator’s life, but we should avoid belittling people who are not experts in our field. This is our job. We can’t expect everyone to know about the pitfalls in translating a text for a foreign market. We must be able to explain it. ( Although this can be tough with a stubborn client )
Clients normally have their own field of expertise, perhaps they find our questions concerning a term stupid, too. And I am not sure if they are ranting about us and our stupid little questions on social media 😉 .
Thanks for your comment, Manuela! You are absolutely right! I once asked a client about an abbreviation in a product description that I had been unable to make sense of. She almost fell off her chair laughing because she used that abbreviation every day at work. My not knowing it was hilariously stupid to her. After she was done laughing at me, we talked about it and it turned out that it was a company-internal abbreviation that I had no way of knowing. The abbreviation was so familiar to her that she had completely forgotten where it came from 🙂
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Great post, Else – and very timely reminder that we can’t all know everything. In answer to Alison’s comment, though, I should add that as a technical translator, I probably relish the kind of detailed information her handyman offers. I always ask lots of questions when the gas engineer comes to service my boiler (I’m sure they wonder why on earth I’m so interested!), but when you’re translating about boilers, it’s great to have hands-on information about what that particular valve/pump/widget actually does!
Or maybe they’re thrilled that someone is finally and honestly interested 🙂