Those of you who have been following me along either here or on twitter might know already that I work part-time as a translator. There’s a whole lot of interest in my job and I get loads of questions every time I mention it. Today, I’m focusing on what you as a client can do to improve your experience with translating services – and end up saving money, time or nerves. Of course, in this text I am only speaking for myself. Different translators have different approaches, but these few points are what I consider interaction etiquette.

I love my job, I really do. Being a translator is wonderful – I get to contribute to international understanding, practise my lingual abilities, read and write interesting things and I even get paid for all of this. Jackpot, right? Definitely, if your nerves are strong as graphene and you posses the ability to speak, think and write in two languages at the same time while sipping coffee, keeping your cat from ingesting sticky notes and/or your pet fish, and giving your Mom an update on your recent life events.1
I get to work from home (which is both a blessing and a curse) with flexible hours (which is great, because I’m never late for work, but also comes with a free pack of bloodshot eyes at 4:30am with ten more pages to go). Again, I consider myself lucky. Translation is a wonderful thing that broadens horizons and gives me the opportunity for great experiences.

Okay, real talk now. It’s not all fluffy puppies and rainbow clouds. I have the pleasure to be part of a project team, where I have a (somewhat) regular income, awesome (and most of all competent) colleagues and job safety. However, that shit doesn’t really pay my bills, so from time to time I do freelance work as well. And then there’s them. My mind often adequately supplies hooves and horns for those special clients from hell.
Now there’s you, your regular everyday good person, thinking about hiring a translator. Let me help you stray away from the path that leads straight down to being a client from hell – by sticking to these simple rules.2

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Don’t be an asshole

It’s actually really sad I have to mention this, but just because you pay us we’re not becoming your slaves. We also do not have to be grateful for your generous self giving us work. This is a professional relationship and we should both strive for productivity. Also, put in at least some sort of minimum effort when it comes to communicating. Nobody likes to receive e-mails full of typos and drunk switch-a-roos.

Be upfront

You have certain ideas of how your translation work should turn out – great. Let me know ahead so I’m not spending 40+ hours on something to make us both sad. If you refer to cats as catterwockies that’s absolutely cool. If you want that in your translation – also cool. Just don’t expect me to know about your little quirks and the way you handle things. To be clear: of course I’ll use specialized terminology, that’s part of my job, but if you stray very far from all linguistic realities, should you probably let me know.

Know what you are paying for

I am a translator. I am not an interpreter. I am also not a corrector or lector. I cannot fix your texts for you, nor can I come interpret at your business dinner. I give full disclosure of which services are included and which are not, still – you should know the differences between these jobs and hire an according professional in your desired area.3 Also, translator doesn’t necessarily mean translator – there’s specialized/business/legal/literary translators. If you will ask a business translator like me to translate literature, prepare to have your magnum opus sound like coffee machine’s user manual.

Supply adequate raw materials

This point goes hand in hand with the above mentioned. I cannot save what you didn’t feel like properly doing in the first place. If you give me a text full of inconsistencies and factual errors, you will get just that back – but in another language. Let’s be clear on one thing though: That’s not my passive-aggressive way of telling you that you suck (not exclusively, at least). In 99% of all cases, your area of expertise isn’t mine. If I (incompetently) started altering the raw materials for them to make sense, ho boy. Changed meanings, low content quality, whatever. You choose. I’m not opening that Pandora’s Box. It’s your job to quality check the content, it is my job to supply adequate quality language. Deal? Deal.

Check your source language

Make sure the materials you supply are consistent with what you want to receive back. If you have slang language in your base materials, you will get slang language in your translation. Again, I am not altering the tone or lingual nuances on my own – I usually do not have any sort of context for the project.
Also, a couple of spelling mistakes are no biggie. I might roll my eyes if they are really bad, but that’s about it. Make sure the sentences can be understood with knowledge of the relevant specialized terminology though – if you let lose so much all you produce is gibberish, I’ll probably nope the fuck out and send the text right back to you. I’ll also charge you for my wasted time. Just fyi.

Don’t be greedy

Money’s tight, I know, I know. Still, if you want a professional looking translation, don’t do it yourself unless you have excellent, near native proficiency in both the target as well as the source language. Then, have someone proofread – someone like me. If your lingual competences are excellent, that can save you a whole lot of cash. If they are not, it will probably end up costing the same (or more if you are really bad) and your translation might still sound awkward. Also, there’s nothing more I love doing than exchanging every accent in a 120 page Powerpoint presentation for an actual, real apostrophe4 and reversing German capitalization rules to English standard (I hope you can see me holding up my neon-lettered sarcasm sign). Sometimes, I have to face beauties like dog-nuts (no, no, no, that is something entirely different than a sweet treat), customer execution (yes, we can execute the project, and yes, we can also execute the customer, but that will probably get us into trouble) and seemingly endless hypotaxis that would make Heinrich von Kleist very sad (that rumbling sound is probably him spinning in his grave). Pay attention to these things and you’ll save us both time and trouble.

 Don’t try to flirt with me

I’m not hitting on you, I’m nice because that is common courtesy. We are in a professional relationship, nothing more, nothing less. God, I wish I didn’t have to add this point, but holy moly you guys have no idea what kind of white knights I have already been confronted with. Also, don’t text my work number because my voice “sounded super pretty” and you felt we “had a connection”. I will terminate our professional relationship faster than you can say “learn to take a compliment”.

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Those are very simple, doable things. The TL;DR is literally be nice & what you see is what you get – a little attentiveness can go a long way.

Again, I love my job. I love interacting with so many interesting people on a daily base, I love diving into new topics and familiarizing myself with new terminology. Translation work is awesome. Be a good client and make it a tad more awesome.

Okay, real talk now. There is no way I’m letting this ode to my job fade out without my favorite wording accident ever.

“So, yes, we are effectively hoping for spontaneous customer combustion directly at the shelf in aisle five.”5

Get the mops out people, we’re going on a lingual cleaning trip.


1 Seriously. Call your Mom immediately. As soon as you will be done with translation work your brain will be a mushy, inarticulate paste of sadness and despair.
2 I should turn that into a clickbait article. I really should.
3 I mean, well I can do your copy-editing for you, but trust me, you wouldn’t want that.
4 If you are using accents as apostrophes we probably cannot be friends, sorry. It’s really not that hard. An accent goes over the letter, an apostrophe next to it. Jesus.
5 Spontaneous. Customer. Decision. I almost choked on my coffee reading that one.

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