Kisah kawan

How to produce satisfactory translations for your clients

By Sofia Mansoor

I was scheduled to speak in the 2014 Atmajaya TransCon on September 13, 2014, but something else came up and I had to cancel my presentation. So, here is what I had prepared for the conference.

Dear fellow translators,

Last July, I was so surprised when I received an email from Pak Evand Halim. I believe it was the first time he ever wrote me an email. He asked if I was willing to participate as a speaker in the 2014 Atmajaya TransCon. He explained that I could either give a speech in the Main Conference or in the Professional Sharing session. He also attached the conference flyer and registration form.

Relying on my past comprehensive experience, several ideas rapidly came to my mind. I have been in this business for about 30 years. And over the last fifteen years or so I have been a full time freelance translator cum editor cum reviewer. Twenty years before that, I was a managing editor at ITB Press or Penerbit ITB. My responsibility then was to manage all aspects of the textbook translation project, sponsored by the Government (the Directorate General of Higher Education or Direktorat Jenderal Pendidikan Tinggi). This project involved the translation of English textbooks to the Indonesian language.

In addition to managing the translation project for ITB Press, I had another major project – translation trainings – which was to qualify a significant number of competent textbook translators. From 1982 to 1997, I was directly involved in this project. These training activities ranged from inviting university professors/lecturers to forward a translation sample, selecting eligible participants based on their sample, and finally, participating in the 2-week trainings – three to four times a year – as a mentor.

So, today it is my pleasure to share with you some of my experiences and offering some critical criteria for managing your translation works.

* * *

My topic for today is “How to produce satisfactory translations for your clients”. Why do I choose this topic? The answer is simple. I have read a number of postings in FaceBook about the reaction of my fellow translators when they felt that they had been improperly assessed by the client’s reviewers. Some shared their anger, or even rage when they failed the test given by a translation agency. So, what do I do when I have to face a similar situation?

In my 15 years as a freelance translator and another 15 years having to deal with various translators with different personalities, I have learned how to produce the best translations, how to communicate with my PMs, and how to deal with annoying reviewers. In order to be successful, these are the lessons that I have learned.

1.    Only accept assignments which you feel comfortable with

When a PM asked you if you are available for a job, whether it’s a translation, editing, reviewing, or proofreading task, be sure to read the entire document to get an overview of what kind of task you are faced with. If there are certain sentences or terms that you are not familiar with and need a thorough survey, be sure you know how and from where you can get help. Also consider the time allocated for this task. Only if you are certain that you can handle the task within the required time frame, should you make the decision to take it.

Regarding the time allocation, my personal pace is translating 2500 words per day. So an ideal time allocation for a 10k-words document is 4 to 5 days. Usually, I manage to complete the task in 3 to 4 days. I then have one more day to do additional research, or fine tuning my translation.

For editing/review or proofreading, I usually set a goal of 1000 words per hour. Sometimes I can work faster if the translation is good or excellent, but there are times when I need more time to complete the task due to poor or substandard translations. If necessary, I will negotiate with my PMs about any additional required hours. Most of the time, my PMs modify their purchase orders, although there are times I just have to accept the previously accepted time allocated for the task. Normally, I don’t mind, especially if they are loyal clients for I am sure they will give me more jobs in the future.

2.    Don’t hesitate to decline any assignment you are not comfortable with

I have declined many job offers, especially when the subject matter is legal or technical. Even when they are of my own specialty, such as pharmacy or medical, I never hesitate to decline the offer if I feel they are too difficult for me. For example, I am not comfortable with documents associated with medical devices.

3.    If necessary, hire an editor and pay him/her from your own pocket

Sometimes, agencies rely solely on you to produce the best translation. They do not use editors to safe-guard the quality of your translation. You may feel that your translation can be made better by having another pair of eyes review it before you deliver the finished product to your PMs. If this is the case, by all means, hire a competent editor to help you. I often do this.

I have several fellow translators who help me with various topics. For instance, when there is a legal section in a document where I am not satisfied with my own translation, I will ask a colleague, who I know has a deeper understanding of the subject matter to check my translation. Of course I pay that individual properly.

One very important note is that you have to inform your PM when you ask a colleague to help you with certain parts of the source document or ask somebody else to edit your translation. This is especially important when you have signed the NDA (non-disclosure agreement).

4.    Don’t react on impulse or negatively to inputs or feed back from a reviewer

At times, I got some feed back from reviewers that at a glance seems to lower my spirit. Too many changes made by him/her. I admit, the first reaction might be “how dare he mess up with my translation!”

However, I have learned from experience that it doesn’t pay to react impulsively. Just read every comment with an open mind. If the changes are preferential – mostly so – just accept them as long as they are not wrong. Don’t spend too much energy arguing. But, be firm when the recommended changes are incorrect. Present your argument nicely but firmly, and don’t forget to provide references to support your argument. From my experience, PMs value strong and valid arguments and nine times out of ten have sided with me.

5.    Always, always, meet the deadline

Deadlines are sacred in our profession. In any profession. When you are offered a job, be sure to read the document briefly to have a feeling of its level of difficulty. Then, measure how many hours or days you will need to complete the task. Don’t forget to include the time for doing research, if necessary. And, don’t forget to keep in mind those other assignments that are on-going.

Once you have decided to take on that job offer, schedule your agenda accordingly. It is better to be ahead of the deadline so that you will have sufficient time to refine your translation.

Don’t expect to get repeat orders if you fail to meet the agreed deadlines!

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