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.