Why do you translate?

I met up recently with Audrey Burke of Burke Consulting Group to talk about market research. It’s such a nebulous concept to me—and I don’t think I’m alone in saying so. What it boils down to is, learning about your clients’ goals and motivations and figuring out how to demonstrate that you fit in with that vision. (This does not mean changing yourself to suit them.)

Now, to me, this last statement is also a bit nebulous. Or fluffy. Or whatever you want to call it to avoid simply saying, “Huh?” But after talking with Audrey at length about this, I think I can tell you the best way to fake understanding:

Ask yourself, “Why do I translate?”

What motivates you to work with texts day in, day out? What keeps you going (besides money) on that awkward middle stretch of an arduous project when you just want to quit and call it cocktail hour? Whatever your answer, write it down. Find examples from recent projects that can help you flesh out that idea. Why? Because in marketing land, those are your “case studies.” Those are the stories that help bridge the gap between what motivates you and what motivates your client.

For example, this is how I would answer: I translate because I think it is important for people to have access to information and services, regardless of language. How do I put that into practice? I’ll give you one example:

A young man was seeking political asylum and the filing date was fast approaching. I (virtually) sat down with his legal advocate to figure out how to get his supporting documents into English and notarized in time for the filing date. There weren’t enough hours to translate everything fresh like the advocate first wanted; luckily, we discovered some documents from the draft stage that cut our working time by more than half. We met the deadline, and the case was successful!

What does this story show a client? We have the same goal: we want the case to be successful. And translation played a key role in this particular situation.

(For more stories like this one, try reading Found in Translation by Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche.)


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