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I Want It All, I Want It Now!

Real-Time Translations

Have you ever received a translation request on Friday evening due on Monday 9 a.m., or on Christmas Eve for Boxing day? If you are a translator, your answer is probably a big yes.

Why are translations increasingly urgent? This is especially true for my specialisation – economics and finance – but also in other industries, legal, technical, marketing, etc., from what I read in the forums and translators’ groups.


Although I strongly believe that MT, “Gurgle” translate and PEMT are not a threat to professional specialised translators, machine translation and other automation systems have increased the perception that translation is real time, that you can translate a sentence into another language in a blink.

Even our relatives, friends and families have no idea of what we do as translators. We know foreign languages, all the languages of the world, and all the words in any language of the world…“How do you say pomegranate in German?” Personally, I have no idea, I have to look it up in the dictionary!

I have been an English>Italian financial translator for 23 years now, and financial translations have always been urgent, it is their intrinsic nature since financial markets evolve very rapidly. However, new translation needs emerged with social media, blogs, Facebook corporate pages and websites, as well as new regulations and reporting requirements. More than a need, it is often the perception of a need. You must publish your product, your news, your article before competitors, in real time and in many different languages. That is also the case for EU documents, just to make an example.

Translation volumes increased too. I am sure you all know about the survey from Common Sense Advisory. They interviewed more than 3000 non-English mothertongue consumers in 2014. The survey revealed that potential clients do not buy on-line, if information is not in their native language. Moreover, 75% of respondents buy only when they can find information in their mothertongue, and this percentage increases to 85.3% for financial and insurance services (and other expensive products, such as cars).

Are all these translation requests really urgent? “Urgent” means an unavoidable emergency. For example, a client is suddenly granted a job interview unexpectedly, and needs to present some papers within 48 hours. This is truly urgent.

However, many times translations are requested with very strict deadlines only because of lack of organization. Based on my direct in-house experience at two translation companies in the past, I know that most project managers do not ask clients when they actually need the translation. They refer to standards, e.g. 2,500 or 3,000 words per day, regardless of the translator’s availability. They guarantee a standard delivery to the client, and in order to respect it, they need to change translators continuously for the same project or split the text among more translators.

How many times did the client contact you several days after delivery to ask for clarifications? They want the translation urgently, but they open the file after one week. Sometimes they perfectly know they will need to prepare a collection of documents for an important meeting weeks in advance, though they inform the translator only at the last minute, requesting 100 pages in a weekend. They did not write 100 pages in a day, they have been preparing the meeting (and relevant documents) for a couple of weeks!

Sure, your potential clients may not know how long it takes to translate their documents. They are not translators. That’s why we should inform our regular clients about how we work to streamline the process. Professional translators do not accept unrealistic deadlines, they educate the client, share and ask information. If a client always asks me translations in real time, but I understand that they do not even open the file for a week, I will not trust them any longer. Trust is not only the client’s trust for his provider, it’s also the translator’s trust for her client. It is part of a win-win relationship, of mutual trust. I will deliver my work on time, and you ask realistic deadlines and understand when something is not within professional standards.

Accepting this real-time commoditized market, not asking for adequate payment, acting unprofessionally, without putting “quality and value” limits to clients’ requests, translators spoil the market. It is a vicious circle of unprofessionalism.

I strongly believe that the translators of the future are not only linguistics, or specialized professionals, they are consultants. We should help clients decide what needs to be translated (and what not), we should explain how long it takes to do a professional “value” work, we share information, we collaborate in organizing deadlines and find solutions.

First of all, professional translators ask the right questions: what is the destination market? Your target audience? Your ideal client? Do you have any reference material? What is your brand tone and message?

Professional translators anticipate needs. If I know a new regulation on accounting reports will be published, I prepare and advice the client about translation requirements. If my client often participates in tenders, I will explain that I need time to complete the translation process, I help him to organise the entire translation process. I must know my client, understand her objectives, learn his processes. I will try to understand who is my contact, adopting a proactive approach. I need – and share – information.

Translation is not a commodity, it is a complex service. Translators also need feedback to give clients what they need, to give them value, to improve our service. Translators often forget they are free to choose their ideal clients as well.

What if the translation is really urgent? Professional translators will be prepared thanks to specialisation, well-managed resources (glossaries, memories, document management!), a network of fellow translators. Professional translators know how to search and where to find the adequate terminology. They prepare style guides. They know how to manage their time. In one word, they are ready!

Whether emergencies are only perceived (we will put on our consultant hat, inform and educate our clients) or real (something we can solve with good planning, specialisation, and professionalism), I believe that our actions as translators and human beings are too often driven by fear: fear to lose a client, fear not to have enough work, fear to give the wrong impression. Fear is driven by short-termism.

All practical solutions (from style guides to memories, to specialisation) will be of no use if our attitude, our mentality is wrong. Marie Brotnov explained this very well in her post on the translator/prisoner’s dilemma.


If our approach as professional translators is not collaborative (and I underline once again the word professional to distinguish from unprofessionals with whom we do not compete), if we do not collaborate (even tacitly) to achieve the best solutions for the entire translation industry, if we accept peanuts, unrealistic deadlines, if we are driven by fear and not by professionalism -like other categories such as lawyer, doctors,…- if we do not embrace a different mind-set, clients may not be able to recognise professionalism and value in the mass of unqualified services. It is OUR FAULT when we do not communicate our value, and gain visibility as translators… opsss as “professional” translators.

Happy new year to all professional and would-be professional translators!


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