What Does a Translator Need From a Client? Part 1

What Does a Translator Need From a Client? Part 1

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I’ve already hinted in previous blog posts as to what a translator needs a client to provide in order to perform their job to the highest standards and create a quality translation. However, in this post, I’ll go through much of this in greater detail.

Quality translation vs deadlines

From time to time, I will be asked to translate a piece of text of – for argument’s sake – around 2000 words. The client will ask for it to be delivered ‘tomorrow’, and it consists of 800 segments, most of which contain single words, dates or numbers. Even worse, some of these words aren’t, in fact, words, but instead abbreviations.

Now it may well be the case that some of these abbreviations have standard English translations (for instance, the German ‘PSA’ is almost always ‘PPE’ in English), but others might be obscure, company-specific, or not intended to be translated at all. And worst of all, no information has been provided by the client as to what should be done with any of these abbreviations!

So, in order to be able to provide a high quality translation, I need to message the client, to ask about translations of (almost) every single abbreviation individually, and also rattle off queries about quite a few of those single-word segments (I wrote in a previous blog about issues with the word ‘sicherheit’ and its two primary meanings in English, which is a good example of this).

However, this is where the vague ‘tomorrow’ deadline makes things even more stressful: Did the client mean tomorrow morning, tomorrow end of the business, or before midnight tomorrow? And how strict is this deadline? I obviously have to wait for the client to reply to my queries before I can finish off the task. The only problem is, by the afternoon of the next day, they still haven’t replied…

Basically, this is a nightmare scenario, and in such circumstances, it’s almost impossible to deliver a quality translation within the (very vague) deadline specified. So what can be done to improve the workflow, and ensure that the translator is able to work to their capacities and that the client is satisfied with all aspects of the translation? Here, I’ll break down the key issues with such a task, and show exactly what a translator needs from a client.

Single words

From the client’s perspective, it might appear that that shorter sentences and phrases are easier to translate, but in reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth. There is a lot less context from which a translator is able to derive the correct meaning of a homonym. I’ve already harked back to the ‘sicherheit’ issue above, but this can be even trickier with words like ‘aus’, which can mean ‘off’ or ‘out’, and can quite often mean both within different segments of the same project.

When translating things like labels or instructions for the machinery, single-word segments like this can be impossible to translate without direct client input. Even adding words to a glossary or terminology database (more on this below) might not help in such a scenario, because of the fact that the word could mean different things in different instances. Therefore, a client has to be reactive when it comes to such issues. Fortunately, with the Text United platform, it is easy for translators to add queries to individual segments and clients to reply to these, meaning that segment-specific solutions can be easily achieved through cooperation.

Now, for the glossary: this is the best way to ease a translator’s workflow and ensure a consistent and high-quality translation. The glossary (or terminology database) is a set of pre-defined translations for particular words. Often, this is created by the client, and is company- or project-specific, and helps ensure consistent translation of certain words between translation tasks.

A client might want the name of a certain piece of machinery or equipment to be translated in a particular way (for example ‘rührwerk’ to be an agitator, mixer or stirrer, or ‘kessel’ to be a boiler or kettle), or alternatively they might just want to add a certain word that is difficult to translate into the target language. One benefit of the glossary is that translators can also add words to it, meaning that a client-specific glossary develops organically over time. And it’s not just words that go into the glossary, but abbreviations too!

Numbers and dates

Now, you’d have thought that not much can go wrong with numbers and dates, right? Think again! When a single segment has the number ‘2.000’ written in German, you’d normally assume this would be ‘2,000’ (i.e. two thousand) in UK or US English. But without enough context you can never be 100% certain; it might, for instance, be a version number for a piece of software or equipment, where the period is generally used in the same way in German as in UK & US English.

Although this is only a minor issue (and only arises in a negligible amount of translation tasks), a client needs to highlight instances of this in order to guarantee a quality translation being returned to them. When it comes to dates, however, a client really needs to be specific. On more than one occasion, I’ve had a client ask for US spelling, but UK date formats (i.e. ‘color’ as opposed to ‘colour’, but DD/MM/YYYY as opposed to MM/DD/YYYY). Now that would be more than manageable, had they only asked before the project was started, rather than after it had been completed!

A translator can’t double-guess this kind of request, and so if the target language is specified, unless there are any specific requests from a client, all parts of the document will be translated into the target language, including dates and date formats. Here, the key to a client receiving a quality translation is communication before the project begins. This, along with a few other essentials that a translator needs from a client, will be covered in the second part of this blog.


Author Bio:

Andrew Lawler is a professional translator based in Belgrade, Serbia. Born in Manchester, UK, he studied Archaeology & Anthropology at the University of Cambridge, before undertaking postgraduate studies in monument and landscape conservation at KU Leuven, Belgium, and then working in the field of architectural conservation. He has been working as a translator for Text United since early 2015. In his spare time, as well as spending time with his children, he devotes himself to mapping and recording Second World War memorials across the former Yugoslavia, and Bosnia & Herzegovina in particular. You can read some of this work here.

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