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Ten things a translator needs – number 6

This sixth blog post addresses the tricky subject of openness to criticism.

The reality of the translation world is that many translators are freelancers working from home. Being part of a team alongside more experienced colleagues is the exception.

This encourages self-reliance on the one hand, but it also creates a comfort zone where there is little or no feedback or criticism. It’s a bit like those heady first journeys alone at the wheel of a car after passing one’s driving test: the instructor’s watchful eye and running commentary are replaced by a confidence that is not always justified.

The result in the translation world is that any criticism tends to trigger a defensive reaction. Of course, most people don’t like being criticised, especially after putting a lot of time and effort into a piece of work. What should be an opportunity to learn can easily become a frustrating and disappointing experience for both sides. Customers can help by framing criticism in a positive way. “I’m not sure about something on page 4” is obviously much more diplomatic than “There’s a glaring mistake on page 4” – and is more likely to lead to a good outcome.

For their part, translators need to accept that clients will often have a greater insight into the subject matter and in many cases also possess strong language skills. They may also be simply concerned about preserving a “house style” that has been developed over time in the language in question, with an established set of terms and key phrases. In an ideal world, the translator will have been provided with any existing documents that might be relevant, to avoid this kind of issue arising, but not every customer will be aware of the importance of reference material.

Our own process includes a checking stage that generates feedback and (constructive) criticism every day. Anyone used to such a system would be unlikely to want to go it alone again – two heads are definitely better than one.

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