Jost Zetzsche Tool Kit

Monday, May 07, 2007

Need to educate the client - 1

With the globalization setting in, we translators have to be more vigilant with respect to the clients. An average client is blissfully ignorant of many aspects of translation. For example he is under the naive impression that translation is just a little above typing. He reasons that a typist types what she sees in the original, whereas a translator types after easily converting the original words into the target language. Thus, we have our work cut out for educating the client. Many translators do not do it, as they are too timid and think that the client is always right. But we will be just digging our own graves by keeping quiet. In this series of articles I will try to cover the clients’ misconceptions about us and the possibilities open to us to educate him politely but firmly by giving the right picture.
In this first installment, I will try to present the viewpoint of the client concerning the importance of translation. As usual I will draw liberally from my own experiences. Here goes.
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.

Now let me say 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 favor of my profession. And I stand firm and manage to get good rates.
The entire thing boils down to this: It is necessary to do things right the first time. It is true especially of the need to understand the client’s requirements in the first place. Given half a chance I talk the officer into showing me the proposed bar chart for the entire activity. More often than not translation does not find any mention and there is no budget earmarked specifically for that purpose. It is here that I point out the lacuna to the engineer in question. In one case the officer concerned was surprised on just calculating the number of words requiring translation and he arrived at a staggering figure. He was hitherto under the impression that translation expenditure can be met from contingencies. Poor fellow was shaken to the core. On incorporating the translation details in a suitable manner, there were no longer any bottlenecks in terms of delayed payments, as the incorrigible accountants insist on being informed about the correct head of account, any thing other than contingencies. This benefited me as well as my invoices were paid promptly.
In the next installments I will come up with more points regarding client education.