Translation is a fluid art. There are always different words, expressions, grammatical structures that can be used to comply with the three basic rules of translating: no omission, no addition and no choice giving.
Understanding our client’s business and preferences is the key to providing the best product, one that is accurate but also appealing to our client’s taste. To do that, communication, time and experience are essential.
Communication is not always the number one priority in our industry. The client is rushed to get the document translated and the translator is rushed to get the job done on time. However, an awareness of the expected degree of formality, a complete knowledge of the technical vocabulary involved, or an identification of the recipients of the document can make the difference between an average work and an excellent work. This ultimately determines how successful both ourselves and the client are.
Let’s take, for example, an email to be translated from English to Spanish, then sent from the headquarters in Canada to a Mexican subsidiary about a corporate announcement. Is it a formal or informal communication? Although based in Mexico, are the recipients mainly from Mexico or are they from other Spanish speaking countries? Is the audience part of the management team or is it a global message aimed at all employees? These questions should be answered before the work starts, so that the best approach can be identified.
Making assumptions about a client’s needs or preferences is risky. Unfortunately, it is not always feasible to find the desired communication channels to get the information needed. If the task is not seen as strategic by the client and the timing is tight (which is often the case), we will only get feedback once the job is completed. And most of the time, we only receive feedback when our work does not meet the client’s expectations, and at a point in time when it is too late to change.
So, how can be better understand our clients? The best time to communicate expectations is when the workload is lower than usual. This is when we can find gaps to personally meet our clients without time pressures to get deeper insights into their business and preferences. Holding these meetings on a regular basis is also a good way to continually further understanding.
Apart from that, trial and error also applies to the translation business. There are always learning opportunities when our clients complain about our work. Updating our Translation Memories with those words our clients prefer, breaking them up into different Translation Memories to better target each department needs and making a list of reminders for that client, are must do activities any time we receive feedback.
To sum up, we as translators are obliged to provide a quality product that meets each business’s expectations. Each client is different and each has their own “understanding” and use of a language. Finding the perfect match between a product that excels in quality but also looks nice for our clients is the key to success.
We will get to Rome but we will follow different roads every now and again.