Our Questions Empower Clients
Experts know everything, right?
I often see translators online asking whether they should let clients know about questions or issues that arise with a translation. They fear that asking questions might make them look unprofessional.
When we hire experts, we want them to take charge. It’s their job to confidently guide us through the process. We don’t want to feel that we have to hold their hand. If they keep bombarding us with questions, we might wonder if they really know what they’re doing.
Similarly, clients sometimes feel unsettled when we ask questions. Maybe they just want a nice translation to arrive in their inbox without having to be involved in the process. Leave everything else to the expert! If clients are surprised when we ask questions, then they don’t know why we’re asking (and we need to tell them). What they may not be aware of: Every word put to paper in a translation is already the outcome of a chain of decisions, interpreting the source text, choosing to word headlines a certain way, breaking up sentence structures or perhaps even leaving something out. Translators constantly decide things on behalf of clients and their target audience. In fact, when I discuss my translations with clients, they are often surprised that I can reel off several different ways of translating something and then supply clear reasons for settling on a certain translation.
Asking questions as a sign of our expertise
Some questions, however, need to be discussed with clients. They aren’t really questions – they are points of concern we are raising in a dialog of equals. We’re not asking our clients for help. Instead, we’re sharing our expertise and making them aware of something that our more experienced eye has caught. We’re careful readers and can point out unclear, contradictory or even wrong passages in a text. We’re cultural ambassadors and can explain how a text or copy should be adapted to conform to the expectations of the translation’s target audience. We’re a step ahead of our clients and see things beyond the translation at hand that might need to be handled.
Discussing these points does not make us look unprofessional – on the contrary. Many a client has remarked to me that other translators they previously worked with didn’t really ask questions. They got the text, translated it and delivered the translation. When I ask these clients how happy they were with the translations, they shuffle their feet and admit that that they weren’t always too thrilled with the results. Questions, comments and feedback are vital ingredients for creating translations that work.
If clients don’t want to be involved, then they at least need to understand that they are trusting an outsider – who may not have the whole picture – with a very important aspect of how the world perceives them. (This is of course a case in point for long-standing relationships between clients and translators). I can understand that clients are sometimes reluctant if they feel that translators are shunting work back to them in the form of questions. It’s our job to help them understand that this dialog is an important step in determining the quality of the current translation as well as of future ones. After all, many questions only need to be asked once.