Five Phrases that will Impress any Translator

This article is a follow-up to the previous post published on the blog (Five Things You Should Never Say to a Translator). Since it doesn’t take much to point out other peoples’ faults, I’ll go a step further and offer some positive suggestions, including these five things to say to impress any translator. If you use them when doing business or simply talking with one of us, you will come off as respectful and engaged. Who doesn’t want that?

How could I express [concept X] in [context Y]?

– Alternative to “how do you say [word X] in [language Y]?”

Translation does not consist of transferring words from one language to another, but rather in expressing concepts, ideas, emotions, etc., in another language. As you know, there are often numerous ways of saying the same thing. What’s more, we don’t express ourselves in the same way in a professional context as we do among friends, or when we’re angry as when we’re in a good mood, or in a written conversation that happens over email as opposed to spoken one over coffee… Therefore, don’t be surprised that when you ask a translator how to say something, he asks you: in what context? This information is essential for us to do our jobs.

So you’re a translator, what’s your specialty?

– Alternative to “so you’re a translator, i.e. you translate books/at conferences“.

As I mentioned in the last post, in addition to clarifying the difference between translators and interpreters, it merits mentioning that translators usually focus on one or more specialties. While some people work exclusively on legal texts, others can work in the fields of electronics, or computing and video games, for example. If you want to start a conversation with a translator, this question can be a good starting point.

Besides knowing languages, what do you need to be a good translator?

– Alternative to “I studied for a semester in [country Z], I think I could be a translator”.

Just as being a lawyer requires more than memorizing laws or being a firefighter means much more than putting out fires with a hose, to be a translator you don’t just need to know languages. Of course, a thorough knowledge of one or more foreign languages and of one’s own mother-tongue is essential, but translation requires many other skills: cultural, technical, etc.

What are your rates? Do you charge extra for anything, or offer discounts of any kind?

– Alternative to “is that what you’re trying to charge me? You’re not a translator, you’re a thief!”

In fact, you should never say the phrase above. To anyone. To devalue the work of others is insulting. It’s normal that you won’t know how much a professional in a new field charges, so you shouldn’t be afraid to ask. Before requesting a translation, ask everything you need to know and don’t hesitate to share details about your project with the translator. You never know where a mutually respectful negotiation might lead.

What impact do you think machine translation may have on the future of the industry?

– Alternative to “translating? But Google can do that!”

Machine translation is here to stay, that’s the reality. Although Google’s is the most famous, there are lots of them, some of which are very advanced. However, they are still far from being able to replace human translators. What does exist is the discipline of post-editing, in which a professinal lingusit “fixes” an automatic translation. What will the future hold for us? It’s not yet clear, but there are some very interesting possibilities.