Jost Zetzsche Tool Kit

Monday, September 26, 2005

Disturbing thoughts: Is translation a non-value activity?

At times I am asked to come to the client's premises to do translations, whenever the work is of confidential nature and/or is too cumbersome to handle at home. In the case I am going to cite here, there were bundles of French technical drawings in hard copy and I had a merry time translating them.

Enough of background. The contact officer and I were discussing the company's translation requirements. He told me that his bosses wanted him to make do without translation, as the work was at a preliminary stage and one was not sure of getting the order. Hence cost has to be cut. Here the offending word comes in. The bosses said to him that translation is a "non-value service", as it does not bring in money directly. Though taken aback, I was delighted with the opportunity to talk and talk about translation.

My arguments in a nutshell:
Translation is vital, as the client has to understand in the first place the principal's requirements expressed in another language. At this point of time, it is an investment and as is the case in all investments, there can be no 100% guarantee of getting fat returns. After all, the principal may not like the client's rates and not give the order. It is not the fault of translation. Without translation no meaningful offer can be given.

The above mindset of a typical client results in there being no budget provision for translations and in the translation activity not finding a place in the bar charts. Everybody assumes that translation involves just copying into another language and it is just common sense. This is an important drawback for projects involving two parties speaking different languages. Poor fellow, the contact officer had a glazed look after nearly 30 minutes of my onslaught of words.

A few words about the situation obtaining in India. Indian companies have English as the working language and this language is known to many people in Europe, especially in the German and French speaking countries. The top people going to Europe for negotiations get by almost without interpreters and if at all any interpreter is required, the host looks after that. Foreign visitors to India do speak acceptable level of English and more often than not interpreters are not required.

This situation is the main reason why our entrepreneurs are lulled into a sense of false security. Because they were able to pull along without interpreters, they think that their engineers and other officials in the next rung of management can do the same thing. Unfortunately this does not apply to translations of the vast documentation and they are obliged to hire us. But this is bothering them and hence they give statements such as those indicating that translation is a non-value activity. They try to use this argument to browbeat us translators into accepting low rates. This cuts no ice with me, as given half a chance, I start waxing eloquent in favour of my profession. And I stand firm and manage to get good rates.

The reason for this posting is to share my thoughts with my friends in a sympathetic atmosphere and get more points in favor of our case. I request my translator / interpreter colleagues to give more inputs on this question that touches us all.


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