E.g., 06/07/2020
E.g., 06/07/2020

Translation ABC: A Freelancer's Building Blocks

By: Miya Yokomori (Freelance)

06 March 2015

What do clients want? An accurate, high-quality translation for a reasonable price, quickly, perhaps. Miya Yokomori believes in an equilibrium, the sweet spot that works for both the client and the translator, which is attainable with efforts from both parties. One thing is often missing and yet integral to achieving this equilibrium is rather elementary – communication. 

As a translation professional working in this industry for over eight years, I try to stick to my translation ABC’s - Accuracy, Balance and Communication.

Accuracy is obviously the most essential quality for translations. What is written and the intended message in the source language need to be captured and delivered accurately and appropriately in the target language. Balance between quality and speed is another important aspect, which both the translator and the client should take into consideration. Generally speaking, it is inevitable that when there is not adequate time for a project, quality suffers. As much as I aim for perfection in my work - and believe me, I do - it is sometimes not humanly possible to achieve that 100% when there is only so much time. Communication between the translator and the client may not be raised as an important issue very often in the translation realm. However, I feel it deserves much more respect as it affects the other two factors in a number of ways.

Translation accuracy is determined by the general language ability of the translator, supported by their skills and diligence to do the necessary research, but also, in some cases, whether the client has provided necessary information for the translator to do their jobs optimally. Corporate lingo or internally used abbreviations and acronyms, for example, are one of those factors that make ordinary looking jobs more tricky and time consuming for external translators. Furthermore, dealing with a language such as Japanese in particular, which has various tones of speech or writing styles depending on context (such as, who is writing/speaking to whom), it is also often important to know some background information, including how and by whom the translation will be used. When the client understands that these pieces of supplementary information are actually important for translators to produce the best possible outputs, and actually care to communicate them with the translator, not only do they help the translator but also themselves as a result.

In order to attain a good balance between quality and speed, I try to follow my 85-15 rule. Get the essential 85% done and worry about the rest of the 15% when I can and when so expected. When I do not think I can accomplish the essential 85% in the given amount of time, I have no choice but to turn down the job request. Communication can play a role here as well. Sometimes clients need translations done only for internal, one-time purposes. Others are able to prioritize a particular part of the material above the rest. In the former case, maybe some extra editing/refinement can be spared for a quicker delivery. In the latter, I can narrow down my focus to distribute my time and efforts appropriately. This, consequently, comes down to the matter of priority and identifying the purpose of the translation request. That 15% can be the margin that is open for deadline and price negotiations. When I first started working with TV stations, for example, some directors would ask me to do a whole 20 minute video translation or a 30 page document translation as soon as possible. What I realized after a while is that they only really needed 10-20% of what they were asking for. Once we started communicating closely about what exactly they are looking for and how they wanted to use it for their shows, they were able to save quite a bit of time and budget and I was often saved from the stressful, panicky moments.  

Communication at the product delivery stage is also vital. There are few clients who give feedback or ask questions about the delivered translations. I assume  no news is good news in those cases. However, as a way of communicating with clients, I do leave some notes or sometimes even options for my client to review whenever possible and whenever necessary. I have seen many cases over the years, both with my own and other people’s work, where delivered translations have been edited by the client and ended up mistranslated. They sometimes decide something else is better than the original translation or misunderstand what the translator intended. From what I have learned, when confusion can be anticipated, spending the extra minute to communicate with the client is a good idea.

When building a long-term relationship with the translator is in the best interests of the client, communication can be viewed as a fixed cost that pays off for both the translator and the client over time. Feedback from clients is necessary to identify the gap between what they wanted and what they got so that there is room for growth. Even though the translation itself may have been perfectly accurate, often times they have certain preferences. Only with communication from the client can the translator tailor future translations to suit the client’s needs as closely as possible.

One translation project I've been working on with a government body for tourism materials involves quite a number of interactions before some of the products are finalized. We work together to end with a translation that is accurate but also the closest to what the client had in mind at the outset. What they are really looking for is  a language consultant, rather than "here is my best translation for what you gave me - thank you for your business, good day."

That being said, some people may also point out that the increase of communication also means an increase in the amount of work and time spent by both parties, thereby nullifying the efforts to achieve the equilibrium in terms of meeting both the client’s and the translator’s business interests. Sometimes this is indeed true and, in fact, may be exactly why this level of communication is often overlooked.

However, I would argue that there are many technologies available today which we can use to counter the issue. Google Drive and/or web-based project management tools such as Basecamp are great tools for easy and quick communication, for example. There are a number of online chat services available as well, which the client could use to keep in touch with their translators without the hassle of picking up their phone. This is something I would love to see my clients and agencies embrace more in the future.

Issues associated with a lack of communication in our business transactions often get “lost in translation” and, thus, may not be recognized as an important factor to improve upon. However, the more globalized the world becomes, the more our clients will demand accurate, higher-quality translations that are both cheaper and faster. The translation ABC’s may not be as easy as 1, 2, 3, but I believe communication, supported and promoted by technological advancements, can play an important role in pushing us towards the equilibrium to effectively deliver what clients want.

Miya Yokomori is a Japanese native freelance translator, interpreter and international business support provider with over eight years of diversified experience in multiple fields. Miya holds a B.A. in International Development Studies with a minor in Spanish from Saint Mary’s University, NS, Canada. After going back to Japan she became involved in subtitling projects for old films, which became her entering point to the translation industry. Miya’s passion for languages and curiosity for a variety of things have led her to build a dynamic career as a language professional, working with companies in various sizes, NPOs, television networks, and translation agencies. Her main fields of work include films, entertainment/media, sports, IT, business, social issues and marketing. She is currently based in Kanagawa, Japan.