And then there was that one…

After 32 years in the same field, I also have my share of war stories. I’ve decided to tell a few.

How do you say that, really?

One time it was the word “balloons” that gave me trouble. I researched it with my friends in the Brazilian Portuguese Literary Translators Group and all my dictionaries. I knew how I would say it, but the material was to circulate throughout the country for educational purposes and needed to be divested of any regionalisms. To my surprise I found out there were many ways to express the concept of balloons (as in inflatable balloons) in Brazilian Portuguese. Here are a few:

1. Papo-de-anjo  – Central Brazil
2. Bola-de-soprar  – Northeast
3. Globo – Northern SE region
4. Bexiga – City of São Paulo
5. Balão – Northern SE region
6. Bola-de-encher  – Houaiss dictionary

Despite my research and explanation, the client insisted on using the term familiar to her brother’s Brazilian girlfriend, who was not a translator, but whom she had known longer.

Who are you gonna trust?

The latest one involves a made up word that is used all the time – menas (like irregardless in English). I really feel badly for agencies and their clients who do not understand the foreign language they are working with and have to trust total strangers (the translators) with their valuable projects. They were all suffering on many different fronts: the agency was working with a new client and a new translator, neither the Project Manager (PM) nor the client spoke the language, the client’s point person was not a translator, nor was he an authority on the subject (but they had an established relationship).

How do you deal with a situation like that? After the second round of questions from the agency, I reminded them that they had my résumé, provided the names of some of my clients for them to contact, some URLs to websites with similar content, as well as my telephone, and invited them to set up a conference call among the three of us – agency, client and translator – free of charge. Then, as an example, I explained that I would not ask my brain-surgeon neighbor to fix my computer just because both of them were Japanese. After all, as intelligent as my neighbor was, his knowledge of computers could  be as bad as mine.

Apparently that did the trick because two days later  the PM asked for my invoice.

Or the never-ending review

This one happened many, many years ago, but it is unforgettable. The Vendor had ingratiated himself with the new Project Manager after having been dumped by the company’s previous PM. And the new PM delivered the material to the client without having it reviewed and revised. 

The material was to be used for dubbing, but the “translator” did not take time constraints into consideration, nor register. He apparently used three or four different people to translate the material, and did not check it for consistency before delivery. The voice-over talents refused to use the material. The client was pulling his hair out.

The agency wanted a revision of 5 videos on financial compliance, for a total of 5 hours of recorded material, over the weekend. There were gems such as “blue-ribbon panel findings indicate that” rendered as “the discovery of a panel in the form of a blue ribbon indicated that,” and “quarters” (referring to first quarter, second quarter, etc.) were rendered as “facilities” and “installations,” – at least they did not call it the “25-cent coin.”

But, correcting the issues did not solve the whole problem. The voice-over talents also wanted their say on the translation and they balked at “companhia de capital aberto” for “public company.” It so happens that in Brazil a “companhia pública” is one under government control. But it is such a perfect false cognate that it is hard to convince anyone in the tight spot the client was in to trust a total stranger over the voice talents he had been working with for sometime.

I finally got a chance to speak with the client. I introduced myself and asked my questions: how many of the voice talents were actually financial translators, how many were translators, did he receive the vocabulary sheet I sent to the agency with the explanations and links to Brazilian financial and government sites justifying the corrections and terminology choices? You guessed the answers: “None.”, “No.” and “No.” Followed by a “Thank you for taking the time to explain everything to me, and I will look for the sheet you mentioned.”

Again, reaching out to the client and the agency can do much to allay doubts and insecurities.

How much did you say?

And there are those clients completely out of touch with reality where it relates to cost and time. Instead of getting upset, I take the opportunity to educate them.

A client approached me asking for an estimate of price and delivery time. His response to my estimate was “Whoa, I was expecting half of that. What can you do for me?” Many possible answers crossed my mind, but I chose the less aggressive and more educational “The rate you are proposing was practiced in the 80s and if you think in terms of how long it took for the original material to be created, you will understand the time requirement. You want quality. Quality has a price. If you choose to go with a pool of translators, the time variable may actually increase due to terminology reviews. As for the price, that is the value of my time, knowledge and the quality control I am providing you with.” I got the job at my desired rate.

Whose language is it anyway?

Recently I was proofing some conference marketing material to be used in Brazil. The agency’s client was based in the US and provided us with their Quality Control list. That is usually a very useful tool, but not this time. Not having any knowledge of the language, its style, grammar requirements, etc., the client made decisions that would render a good job impossible. They wanted the names of all presenters, institutions and businesses to appear in the target text as many times as they appeared in the source text; same capitalization, same number of paragraphs.

I was able to explain to the PM that those rules were a hindrance and prevented the translator from delivering good quality work. In my understanding, since the client made an effort to have all the material translated by professional translators who were also native speakers, they were basically negating their investment with those rules.  I further asked him if the client would have interfered so much if the job had been in a language that used a different alphabet or graphic representation, such as Mandarin or Arabic.

The result was a PM who could go back to his client and tell him to trust the translator and enjoy the Return On Investment secured by a job well done, even if it did not look exactly like the original.

These stories illustrate why Customer Service is essential to the success of a business – that truism applies to freelancers also. Keep that in mind.

No Comments
  • Maria Cristina de la Vega
    Posted at 20:47h, 26 March Reply

    Good common sense advice for translators and interpreters. Work with agencies and explain your position, if necessary, providing justification by means of third party resources such as specialized URLs. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    • Gio
      Posted at 05:52h, 27 March Reply

      Thank you, Maria Cristina. It is working with clients who understand the professional translator’s position that makes our job so much easier. But it is also our responsibility to make sure the client understands our position – as politely as possible!

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