The importance of appearing confident
I've been neglecting this blog for some time, but thanks to a nice reminder from a reader, I'm back.
As translators, we need to be humble about our work. Translation spans so many fields, from foreign-language study, to writing, to subject-matter knowledge–not to mention the actual skill of translation–that it's nearly impossible to fully master every aspect of our profession.
Part of this humility means being willing to consider that you might be wrong. Even if I'm confident about a translation, I think seriously about any feedback I get. In fact, a lot of my mistakes come from translations I'm very confident about, because I'm less likely to do a lot of deep thinking over "simple" translations.
That said, translators also need to give their clients an appearance of confidence. If you don't seem confident about your translation, your client will be even less confident about it.
I experienced this early in my career, with one of my first clients. When this client asked whether an alternative translation would work, I'd accept their alternative whenever possible. If the client claimed that one of my translations was incorrect, I'd fix it to their liking.
Of course, being a new translator I made a lot more mistakes than I do now. And I was eager to please, because I didn't have a lot of clients.
But I was changing my translations even when my original was actually better (and their change was plain wrong). Over time, this client asked for more and more changes, to the point where they (native speakers of Japanese with dubious English-language ability) were "teaching" me the finer points of English grammar. Although this often provided some needed comic relief, it took time away from actual translation work, and hurt the quality of my translations.
I learned from that experience to stick to my guns with my translations. I consider my client's feedback, but if I still believe my translation to be the best, then I'll let the client know, and explain why. If the client still insists on the change, I'll make it–but letting the client know the problem.
It took a lot of work, and a lot of patient explaining, but over time my clients began to accept a response of "the original is better"; and they began asking fewer questions as well. Of course, I was also getting better over this time, but I'm certain that my greater show of confidence also helped.
Don't offer alternative translations
This is another way to appear to lack confidence. When you're not sure about how something should be translated, it can be tempting to offer a couple of alternatives for the client to choose from. You might even think that you're offering a greater service by doing this. I think that this is a mistake for a few reasons:
- It sends the message that you lack confidence.
- It makes the client choose, and people hate to make choices (they think they do, but are more satisfied when they don't have to make them).
- It assumes your client is better able to choose the right translation than you are (if so, why did they hire you?).
- It probably means you didn't ask enough questions about the purpose of the document (Is it for a general audience, or for engineers? For in-house use, or publication?). The more you know about what the document is for, the more sure you'll be about how to translate it.
Although it's important to be humble about your work, there's a fine line between humility and wishy-washiness. Just as important as accepting client feedback is projecting an attitude that says, "Trust me, I'm an expert."