Raising the image of the translation profession

The post I wrote about Chris Durban’s talk at the ITI Conference caused quite a stir. It generated more comments than any post on my blog so far (granted, the blog is only a month old, of course!).

The article touched on a whole host of issues which people felt moved to comment on:

  • There was some concern about the fact that Chris had actively “named and shamed” the translator and agency who delivered shoddy work (namely a translation that was taken straight from Google Translate).
  • The results of Chris’s experiment in themselves shocked most of us – the fact that not one of the translations she had commissioned was usable.
  • There was debate about the practicalities of signing our work, and a number of pros, cons and solutions were suggested.
  • And there was the underlying issue of how we can differentiate ourselves from these kinds of “cowboy” practices and raise the image of the translation profession as a whole.

Focus on the bright spots

Recently I read a fascinating book by Chip and Dan Heath, called Switch. One of the key messages in there is that, to achieve any kind of change, you need to “focus on the bright spots”. You need to start by looking for examples of people doing it right and find out what exactly they are doing and how this practice can be multiplied. Accentuate the positive!

I relate to this philosophy. For example, a couple of years ago I got involved in a project for the Society for Editors & Proofreaders, which is all about focusing on the positive. It aims to move beyond moaning about Greengrocers’ apostrophes and exposing silly typos, and instead gives positive examples of the difference a good editor can make to a text.

And maybe that’s what we need to do in translation too. Rather than highlighting the numerous examples of poorly translated signs and restaurant menus – however hilarious they may be – we should keep an eye out for positive, heart-warming examples of good-quality translations.

I have started doing this with websites. Whenever I come across an English version of a German website that is unusually well-translated I make a point of bookmarking it. Admittedly, I haven’t got many in my collection yet – indeed, the reason I started this project was precisely because they are so rare. But still, you have to start somewhere!

How can we help quality-seeking translation buyers?

Another thing we could do is offer advice to translation buyers on what they can do to protect themselves against shoddy translations. Very similar to the advice you find all over the web on how home owners can avoid being ripped off by cowboy builders. I already mentioned this idea in one of my comments on the “Thorny issue of quality” post.

So, let’s make an effort to move away from fruitless debates about peanuts and monkeys, and let’s focus on the bright spots instead. Including the fact that there are still plenty of translation clients out there who do value good quality and are also prepared to pay for it. We just need to help them find us.

8 Responses to Raising the image of the translation profession

  1. This post is like a breath of fresh air to me. Only this morning I wrote a blog post on how fruitless it is to moan about ‘falling prices’ in translation (http://tinyurl.com/3g8dwth). While I appreciate the sentiments behind the No Peanuts movement, I absolutely agree that the approach you suggest here could be very effective in the long run. If nothing else, it would be much more fun to hear about all the good translations out there rather than about the bad translators, or about the good translators being offered bad rates etc. etc. Do you think there would be any way of publicly ‘naming and celebrating’ the well-translated websites you’ve found?

  2. Nice positive post!

    To do a job well also means to be appreciated, respected and YES to be paid well.

    I am lucky in that I have a good client who not only pays well, but also openly gives praise for a job well done. In his words “Excellent translations at reasonable rates”; these words do count but it is sometimes hard to balance this against the never-ending offers of ridiculous rates. Ridiculous rates that are still the victim of “price dumping” – it’s these issues that need addressing in my opinion.

    Yes, like you I am one for looking on the bright side of good translation jobs, but are we going to let these crooks that offer 2€ an hour get away with it?

    Peanuts & monkeys would not be an issue if slave labour did not still exist in some shape or form!

  3. Very well put, Betti. I love that your editing association does this and you have transferred it into your translation business, too. Just yesterday I read yet another article on how things are “lost in translation” (regarding the Man Booker prize). If we could only start to look at the positive, as you suggest, translators and buyers would be much better off.

    Like Eline, I wonder if there is a way to name and celebrate good translations, other than just praising them on our individual websites/blogs. It’s something to think about.

    I’m new to your site and your blog, but you can count on seeing me here quite often now that I’ve found it!

  4. Very nicely put, Betti. The translation industry spends far too little time focusing on the ‘bright spots’ and celebrating excellent translations.

    Meanwhile the phrase ‘lost in translation’ carries so many negative connotations that I now wince every time I hear or read it, and seems I’m not alone in that!

    I think your initiative on SfeP is a great idea we could emulate in the translation industry. For starters, how about a Flickr group to share shining examples of translation and showcase what a difference they can make? People talk about quality in translation all the time, but if people could see it in action it could start to become more tangible.

  5. P.S. I hope you won’t make an example of me for the silly typos in my previous post 😉

    • Betti

      Many thanks for all the positive comments!

      I really like the idea of finding a way to publicly share and celebrate good translations.

      My first thought was a Tumblr or Posterous blog. But a Flickr group could also work. Even a link-sharing platform would probably be a start… Though, I’m afraid, I’m probably lacking the techie skills to set any of this up.

      I will have to think about it some more. But maybe someone else wants to take the initiative while I’m mulling it over?

      (@Philippa I didn’t see any typos. Were there any?)

  6. Couldn’t agree with you more, Betti, and I hope to see your collection of good examples some day. I learn nothing by seeing more examples of the same garbage I encounter from many sources day-in, day-out. I need the inspiration of competent peers.

  7. Hi Betti,
    Just discovered your blog, very good posts indeed!
    I think you’re absolutely right about being pro-active and not moaning about poor translation jobs.
    I also want to underline the fact that Chris wasn’t moaning – I know it’s not what you said, but maybe it’s what some of your readers might understand?
    The fact that she took the time to do the ‘mystery shopper’ experiment is just one of the many proofs that she is the most pro-active translator out there and that she does all she can to raise the standards of the profession.
    The fact that she mentioned the cowboy’s name could certainly be seen as an ethical issue, though I would argue that since there is no recognition of the profession, anyone can decide who’s and who’s not a proper member of the profession.
    If doctors are not doing their job properly, they get stricken off and can’t use their title anymore. And their name is published around because everyone MUST (shall?) know that they’ve done a bad job.
    Off course, translation is somehow more subjective than healthcare, but hey… that’s why it can cause so much stir!

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