Ethics and Professionalism in Translation
The True Professional
In this article, I want to take a close look at these attitudes and approaches and help clarify what a professional translator is and how we can all become more professional about being a translator.
The only requirement a translator must fulfill is knowing two or more languages. Anything less
is rather hard to accept.
Translators have to be able to write, so you might assume that translators have formal academic training as writers and professional writing experience. However, most professional translators do have a deep interest in writing, be it as a necessary tool or an art form.
Finally, virtually all translators have a well developed knowledge of one or more specialized fields, such as finance, law, including in particular patent and corporate law, computer science, medicine, pharmaceuticals, and so on. This is not to say that translators are experts in such fields, but they do have enough knowledge to read, understand, and then translate common material in the field. And very few translators will ever develop such in-depth knowledge in more than a few fields.
There are, however, ethical considerations in translation, including decisions on how to charge clients, when to refuse to do a translation job, or how to respond when clients treat you poorly.
Translators are often privy to secret information, be that the financial plans of a company, a pharmaceutical patent, or the specifications for a new computer chip. Translators have to keep this kind of information to themselves, regardless of whether or not they are asked to sign a nondisclosure or confidentiality agreement.
Occasionally the desire for secrecy goes so far as to require the translator not to talk about the job at all.
In a similar vein, translators have to honor the agreements they make. If you agree to do a job, then
you have to do it. You canít just farm out your work and take a percentage without telling your clients that you do this. They have a right to know who is actually doing the work. If they decide to hire you, then they want you, not someone you know, to do the job. Moreover, you have to do the job the way you say you will, which often means doing what the client asks. If the client provides a glossary or style sheet, follow it, regardless of your personal opinion of their word choice or formatting ideas. If
they request a particular file format, provide it. If you really think something is wrong with their terminology or format choices, tell them. The client always has the final word on such matters, but at the same time will usually appreciate your observations or suggestions.
In the same vein, translators should not accept assignments they donít have the time or qualifications to do. Remember, the easiest way to lose a client is to do a bad job. Donít.
Always start off with a nice, polite, cooperative attitude toward any new client. Don't be automatically suspicious; just be careful. You can find out a lot about a potential new client by asking colleagues and doing web searches. Unless there is sound reason to reject work from the new client, do the work
properly, then monitor what happens. If you are treated well, paid promptly, and offered more work, of course you accept it. You cooperated, the client reciprocated, everyone is happy.
If the client screws you, screw them back by not accepting any more work and by reporting their behavior to everyone else in the group. We can talk to each other about bad client experiences, just as clients talk amongst themselves about bad experiences with particular translators.
To sum up, the translation industry is a small, tightly-integrated industry in which people tend to talk a lot. Good behavior, whether it is a translator doing quality work and delivering it on time or a client offering respectable rates and paying promptly, should be recognized and rewarded. Bad behavior, for instance a translator consistently and without reason delivering work late or an agency regularly withholding or failing to pay translators, should be acknowledged and punished.
The true professional knows how to conduct business, including the art of negotiation, providing necessary information, and making agreements for each job.
You wonít impress anyone if you hem and haw when asked questions about price or terms of delivery. Know your rates by heart, know your hardware and software by heart, and know what you can do.Give this information freely and firmly, and then watch and wait.
One word of advice about negotiation: dickering and bickering is not the way to cultivate clients. Often a slightly lower rate in the short run leads to more work and higher rates in the future.
Providing information is an essential part of being a professional translator. Clients have to know who you are, where you work, what you can do, and what you charge. When you receive a request for information from a client, be it a new client who has sent you a contractorís employment form or an old client requesting updated information, give it willingly and in detail. Your clients have to know you.
You also have to be accessible. Make sure you are in your office, or at least near your phone, during the workday. Just because no one calls you in the morning doesnít mean you have the afternoon off. You should still be in your office. Sure, youíre saying to yourself, thatís important, but I can still go out and do things. Yes, you can. But remember that if a client canít reach you theyíll send the job to someone else.
Sometimes an agency will say that they donít really care when you finish a job, what file format you use or how you deliver it. What they mean is that they donít need it fast, they have the hardware and software to handle common file formats, and they arenít concerned with the delivery method. Regardless of their level of interest, you should establish how you are going to do the job, and then do it that way.
The notion that a translation job ends the moment you push the Send File button in your email software, fire off the fax, deposit the papers in an envelope, or complete the upload of the translated file to an FTP site is both unprofessional and irresponsible. Donít leave your home for the beach right after you finish a translation assignment; numerous things can go wrong after you send the job.
You have to stick around after you send the job, just in case. If you know you are going out (or away for the weekend), tell theagency beforehand, preferably when you deliver the job. Make sure they know you wonít be around after a particular hourand ask them to confirm that the file you sent was received and can be processed. It takes a little more effort but is well worth it; the agency will love you.
The Suit Does Not Make the Translator
Translators are among those fortunate few who do not have to dress up for work. In many businesses, a visual impression is the most important. A good suit, a proper haircut, a clean shave (of the legs or
face), and the other professional amenities are essential to success. Translators donít have to endure this unless they work in-house or meet with their clients in person.
We have to rely on what we say, how we say it, and how we sound in order to create and maintain business relations. So good spoken English, or any other language you use professionally, a confident, polished manner, and a strong sense of professionalism in what you say is vital.
A Nice Neat Package
In conlusion a professional translator is something of a package, combining a strong linguistic background with an interest in writing,as well as polished business skills. The true professionals themselves may not know where they come from, and Iím not sure itís all that important that they do. All translators have to strive for an ever higher level of professionalism to bring prestige and respect to themselves and the translation profession.
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