What non-translators think of translators

Over the past few years, I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with more direct clients on a wide range of tasks: consulting, recruiting, managing, interpreting, and translating.

However, hearing what non-translators think of professional linguists… was not always pretty. Take a look at some of the comments I’ve heard from different buyers:

  • We’re an exclusive crowd. We can be difficult to talk to, hard to reach, and suspicious of outsiders (even though they are our potential clients).
  • We’re not the most flexible. In the interest of portraying confidence and defending our “turf,” we’re frequently unwilling to budge in any area of negotiation—which leaves the client wondering where their side of the win-win went.

arm wrestling

  • We are openly hostile towards technology. And it scares aware customers who aren’t sure why we’d take that stance, even though it could soothe some of those negotiation points.
  • We’re quirky. Sometimes a positive trait, sometimes a negative.
  • We’re incredibly intelligent. When we finally get talking, it’s clear we know a lot about our subject areas, languages, and cultures.
  • We help people move forward with their lives. People come to us with serious roadblocks to their business, immigration, healthcare needs… you name it. And when we can remove those for them, it’s a major relief.

I offer these as some free market research for all my fellow linguists (in the United States, at least), along with a challenge:

Let’s use the positive comments to our advantage, and change the negatives for the better. Lead with your knowledge, ask intelligent questions, and let people know you’re ready and willing to help them communicate. Talk to local business owners. Correct the myths about our industry.

We do amazing things every day. Our reputation should match that!

Have you heard these comments before? Do any of these surprise you? How do you address the good, the bad, and the ugly in your business interactions?


6 thoughts on “What non-translators think of translators

  1. Very interesting insights, thanks for sharing!
    The point about being hostile towards technology must have something to do the machine translation. If that’s the case, me (and most of my colleagues, I guess) are not being hostile towards technology as such, but rather towards the low quality that it provides at this point. We’ve got to learn to communicate it better, though.

    • I think the work translators do is often misunderstood. Clients new to translation services often bring tunnel vision to their project requests thinking that it is just words they are asking us to interpret. Most new clients lack the knowledge regarding the hidden component of language, that element that is attached to the hip of words, culture. If clients do not understand that culture and language go hand in hand we must take the time to bring awareness to this concept.
      Translators may be seen as reluctant users of technology, but I think this is not totally true. We like to use all those technology tools that make our work and lives easier and more organized. However, most of us probably are not big fans of MT precisely because of the cultural component hidden in language and not picked up most MT tools. This understanding of the symbiotic relationship between language and culture by translators and the lack thereof by some new clients may be the key to starting the right communication with our clients.
      Let’s present ourselves as experts of the language and the culture and what this implies in the process of translation.
      In my experience most people think that translators are simply bilingual people. I try to compare that view with that of what a professional artist, painter does. We all have the ability to pick up a color pencil or brush with paint, but only those with training or amazing inborn abilities will be able to capture the light and shadows in the scenery right in front of their eyes. Only a handful could truly produce a piece of art.

  2. Pingback: What non-translators think of translators | Lin...

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