Translators & Project Managers – just like Fish and Chips!

Translators and Project Managers (PMs) are just like fish and chips: one won’t go without the other. Here’s a short guide on how to enjoy this recipe without giving yourself indigestion!

Rather than writing about what freelancers love or hate (or a similar rant from the Project Manager’s perspective), it’s possibly more useful for everybody to know what elements link translators and agencies together so tightly, and how they can work better together.

1. Be clear & polite

In explaining projects you have to be clear. But also polite! While freelancers like clear instructions and schematic lists/bullet points – they do help! – politeness must be always applied to all exchanges, even in just a few lines’ e-mail. A PM should be good at grammar too – as we give it for granted that translators are! – at least in his / her own language.

2. Know where to stand but step in if needed

A skilled PM should know his/her role of mediator but still has to be able to recognize when s/he needs to take action if something seems or sounds wrong. E.g. PMs should let the translator know if they’re worried that a particular term sounds weird and always ask them to quickly double-check. Of course, many PMs are accomplished linguists themselves, with language-related MAs, PhDs and professional memberships, so are qualified to question the translator in this regard.

3. Proper use of words – Because we’re linguists ain’t we?

Most ‘complaints’ are received based on a misuse of a basic word: mistake (aka error, if you like). Typos or slips of the tongues are always lurking round the corner, and even in the most functional relationships between freelancers and agencies, there’s at least one occasion when clients ring up because the ‘translation is utter rubbish’. Provided that we are working in good faith and that we are capable, professional and qualified, and of course assuming quality is there, unquestioned, I guess agencies should be on the translators’ side, as they chose him/her because they trusted his/her skills. PMs should indeed please clients when possible – business is business – but always striving to remain impartial, too.


4. File Format – aka: get me the right file NOW!

A good agency should make sure the client is aware that the format is everything to ensure a good translation and editing flow. The translator should ideally not be forced to

a) retype a document

b) have OCR systems to convert a scanned document to an editable text format

A good thing – time permitting – would be for non-editable texts to be typed for translators, to allow them to work at their fastest and best.

Special mention: Excels or What the heck were you thinking?

I know, it looks clean and neat (or so some people think) with all those ready-made, nicely-laid tables. I’m sure most clients think it’s the best thing since sliced bread. But my translation colleagues can confirm: Excel files are a translator’s worst nightmare and definitely are not suitable for long texts, especially for editing.

Here are a few reasons why:

– you cannot insert track changes (translators LOVE track changes – they make it so easy to see what edits have been made)

– comments are easily lost in the cells as they’re not immediately visible – I wouldn’t call a small red tab in a corner of a cell ‘flashy’.

– copy/paste problems may arise ie. some text is left out accidentally due to a limited amount of words allowed in the cell.

– Last but not least: they cause problems when used in conjunction with translation memory software such as Trados.

5. Editors and proofreaders: the evil twins?

The proofreader/editor is key. And that’s how it should be, again for the same ‘two pairs of eyes…’ adagio. Agencies should always include a proofreading stage (be it in-house or via a 2nd professional). Also, I wish that PMs made it clear with client reviewers what they’re expected to do. In short, it’s very unpleasant when a translation comes back and the PM – who has seen a series of red track changes on the doc – claims that ‘there are several mistakes’. Most of the time, it’s a matter of style. The PM needs to get to the bottom of what’s going on in the interests of both the client and translator.

1) don’t assume that comments/edits made to the translated document constitute errors in the work the translator has provided, reserve judgement. Equally don’t assume that the translator cannot in any way, shape or form be at fault – be impartial.

2) Ask the reviewer to explicitly point out whether the issues are a question or stylistic preference or actual errors. They need to provide examples.

PMs and Translators alike: by following these suggestions you can have a happier, more cooperative relationship with each other, and ultimately be more productive. Remember – we need each other, for what is fish without chips?!

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Guest Post by Valeria Aliperta.

Valeria Aliperta (BA MA Ass. ITI MCIL DPSI) is an Italian conference interpreter and translator based in London. She works from English, Spanish and French into Italian and her main fields of expertise are IT & web, fashion, design, marketing and advertising. She has a soft spot for blogging, technology and social media.