The Mystery Shopper experience was a report from a little experiment Chris had carried out in 2001, where she posed as a translation buyer and commissioned a number of short translations from different freelance translators and translation agencies.
Chris made a point of being “the perfect customer”: she gave a detailed brief (the key message being that the translation should be of a very high quality), the translators were given the opportunity to set their own deadline and rate, and she also stressed that she was available and happy to answer any questions.
The first thing that surprised her was how low the quoted prices were throughout. The next thing she found unsettling was that none of the translators in her mystery shopping sample came back with any queries at all. They simply delivered their translations – of which not one was usable!
Her conclusion, in her own words, was: “Boy, being a translation buyer is really rough!”
Second time lucky?
In 2010, Chris decided to repeat the experiment. The one main improvement was that this time a few of the translators came back to her with queries. Some of those queries were slightly less intelligent than others, but some were very valid questions.
Chris, who is clearly a “glass-half-full” sort of person, was encouraged by this and felt it was a sign that things are improving.
The quality of the translations themselves was also slightly better than in the first experiment – apart from the one that was taken straight from Google Translate! (And Chris was not shy about naming and shaming the perpetrators, both the agency and the individual translator behind this.)
Nevertheless, the issue of quality in translations – and the fact that the end client is often not in a position to judge the quality of the product he is buying – remains a serious concern for the industry. How can a client who really wants a good job be sure he gets a good job?
Translators have an image to build and protect
Chris’s crusade is for translators to take ownership of their work – by signing it with their name. She sees the anonymity predominant in the industry as a key cause of the problem. Translators should be encouraged to stand up for their work – which of course also means owning up to it.
As Chris put it: “I am confident in the quality of my work” is a good message to put out to the world. And what better way of saying that than by putting your name on it.
At the end of her talk, Chris threw down the gauntlet – quite literally – in the form of a gardening glove and challenged all translators to start signing their work, as of tomorrow! It is something we can all start doing immediately and it doesn’t cost anything either.
In practice, of course, there are a number of reasons why this may not work. We can all put our name at the end of the Word document we send back to our client. But whether that means our name will then appear on the finished product is another matter.
And, Chris herself admitted that putting your name on web copy, for example, is a tricky issue because the content changes and may well be messed about with by the end client at a later stage. So, if you do manage to get your name on it, you’d be well advised to keep checking back and, if necessary, ask for your name to be removed!
With printed material, again, it very much depends on the type of work you do plus, perhaps, how close you are to the end client. For books or, say, catalogues for art exhibitions it seems to be common practice to include the translator’s name in the prelim pages. Indeed, in my experience, publishers often do this as a matter of fact without needing to be prompted to do so. On a job I did recently, they even offered to include my website address (and I had only been doing the editing for this one).
But for brochures or adverts it is unlikely that the translator will be able to get their name on there anywhere. After all, copywriters don’t usually get a chance to put their name on the material they’ve written either. Who knows, there might be a similar campaign going on in the copywriting community! Perhaps we should join forces!?