esterday I said goodbye to my colleagues from my interpreting traineeship at the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Zaragoza. I could write a dozen different posts about the lessons I learned over these three months (both literally and figuratively, since the material I interpreted consisted mostly of Masters lectures). Perhaps the other eleven will come later, but for…
3 Reasons Translators Are The New Hairdressers (I)
How am I supposed to know who is the right supplier?
Not long after moving to Madrid, I found myself in need of a haircut, and with no-one local to turn to for a recommendation, I had to choose one based only on my own observations. And thinking about how I made that decision, I’ve concluded that hairdressers and translators are really very similar: we look after your appearance, we vary in experience and specialisms… and we’re both pretty good with words! The main difference is that for a haircut, the customer kind of has to be physically present in the salon, while with translation, it all happens behind the scenes. This can leave clients feeling alienated and not in control: “How am I supposed to know who is the right supplier, or judge the quality of the end result?” But by examining the attributes to look for in a professional, we can see that choosing the right translator is a) just as important as choosing the right hairdresser, and b) just as easy… If you know how to look. So… how exactly are translators like hairdressers? I’ll tell you.
1 We look after your appearance.
If you’re having a text translated, especially if the intended audience is your potential or actual customer(s), it tends to be important for the translated text to look good. These days, less and less of our customer interaction takes place in person, so our customers’ first impressions of us are usually formed not by our physical appearance, but by our emails, our brochures, our online presence. Allowing a typo in the landing page of your website is the modern-day equivalent of turning up to a job interview or client meeting with a scruffy haircut. You look unprofessional, so people question whether they want to do business with you.
The difference here is that if you get a bad haircut, you can see that it’s bad. If you don’t speak the language of your translation to a native level, you may never know if there are typos, awkward turns of phrase, or if the language used is less convincing than the original and less likely to convert. So in fact, a bad translation is worse than a bad haircut, because you may never know why those foreign sales just aren’t coming in.
First impressions matter, whether it’s your haircut or the language on your website.
2 We all bring different things to the table.
All translators are not created equal. Unfortunately, like in hairdressing, there are no legal regulations governing the translation market: you don’t need to be certified, qualified or even speak a second language to call yourself a translator. I could pick up a pair of scissors and call myself a hairdresser; I could also, if I so desired, call myself an English-Bosnian translator, even though my Bosnian is pretty much limited to requesting a still mineral water and a glass of white wine, please.
But even among trained translators, we all have vastly differing skill sets. At the agency where I work, I share a desk with another French/Spanish > English translator who, on paper, is precisely as qualified and experienced as I am; but he handles legal and financial texts whereas I take on the more creative ones – fashion marketing, food and drink, brochures for hotel chains and customer relations. He knows case law like the back of his hand, but producing website copy in flawless and convincing English – copy that converts – comes more naturally to me. So, just like hairdressers, translators come in all shapes, sizes, levels of experience and specialisms; and (at least the latter two!) of these are the key to finding the right fit for your needs.
Anyone can call themselves a translator, even without any qualifications.
3 You can tell the good from the bad.
As I said earlier, a hair salon is a physical place, and you can tell instantly if the one you’re in is classy or tacky. You’re unlikely to ever find yourself in your translator’s office, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make the same reasoned estimates of the quality you can expect from them. Next week, by looking at the judgements we make based on the physical appearance of a hair salon, we’ll find that all of these clues can also be found in a translator’s online presence: you just need to know where to look.