CHAPTER 2 - PROFESSIONALISM

JUSTIFYING AND EXPLAINING YOUR DECISIONS

A translator must be able to make decisions, to stop working on a translation at a certain point and decide that the translation is done. However, they must be able to justify the decisions to themselves as well as to the client and possible critics or commentators. Informed decisions are the key, whether we are talking about price, quality, time management or solicitation of clients.

Language and its usage are nuanced and ever-changing, and different people may have profoundly different views of what’s right. Therefore someone working with language must tolerate imperfection and uncertainty. You must try your best, but people make mistakes and not every text or interpreting situation is perfect. The same goes for the client’s internal jargon and use of language.

Professionals know what to do and can justify to the client why one solution is suitable while another one isn’t. They can look at the situation from the client’s point of view and understand what is best for them and for their client. Professionals are able to highlight their expertise in the field and to explain to the client what it is that the client really wants (in other words, what is the smartest thing to do).

The translator gives the client clear, precise and compact answers to questions and clearly presents the pros and cons of the alternatives. The client then chooses the ones that suit them the best. They may prefer an expression that the translator can’t recommend. In such a case the translator needs to tell the client clearly and politely that they can’t agree with the solution. The client doesn’t need to be an expert on grammar or the target culture, but the translator must be able to justify their solutions. Do not be condescending when you explain things to the client, but instead make your case in a way that won’t make the client feel patronized. Present reports, comments and justifications so that the client doesn’t feel stupid. This is often called ‘training the client’ in the translation industry. It is necessary, but must be done correctly – kindly and politely.

Every once in a while a coordinator of a foreign agency or a foreign client may ask questions about the special characteristics of Finnish (grammatical cases and other features that are unfamiliar to the client). Answering the same questions again and again can be annoying, but even if you have already answered the same question four times in a day, keep in mind that the fifth one to ask is just as clueless as the four others. You may have explained grammatical cases in Finnish several times, but do it again just as helpfully and patiently as before. It’s not the client’s fault that they are yet another person who doesn’t know. They may not have been in contact with the Finnish language before, and may not ever return to bother you with their questions. There is a reason why they are asking you – you are the expert. You can make your own job easier by, for example, formulating answers to the frequently asked questions on the desktop of your computer. From there you can simply select the suitable answer. The client gets a proper answer and respects your expertise, and your blood pressure remains under control.