May 10, 2010

First impressions

"You never get a second chance to make a first impression". We've all heard that old saying, intended to strike fear into the hearts of new graduates and make them obsess endlessly on what shoes to wear for their first job interview.

It's a relevant saying for translators as well. Not so much for the shoes, but for starting a relationship which might come to remunerative fruition. Make a bad first impression and you might not get a chance to make the second, third, fourth and fifth impressions that are on the path to a long-term relationship with a client.

Maybe your shoes are tasteful ands shined, your suit is well-tailored, your dialect and accent(s) are attuned to the selling situation, your CV is perfectly polished, and your web site is a showcase of competence. But while you are fine-tuning your professional packaging, have you had a look lately at what your professional associations and translation provider portals are doing for you or to you?

This isn't another rant about half-naked fat ladies and prostitution ads on ProZ. The Master of the Translation Workhouse has gots RuleZ agin dat sorta ting nowdays. But while the wannapro PortalZ are repainting the walls and job posting boards as part of the Great Reformation Inspired By The Terrible Swift Petition Against Low Rates and the More Respectable Associations For Highly Qualified And Moral Superior Professionals are promoting the highest standards of practice and educating the world about just how necessary we micro-SLPs really are and why our rates really need to be much, much higher, honest truly, has anyone bothered to have a look at these jokers' home pages?

If I fork over $150 each year or some other amount of money I might otherwise spend on wine, song and women (not necessarily in that order, though I've found that this progression is generally suited to maximizing ROI), I want to see that the recipient of the money is making an effort to give me a good return on my money.

These returns can take many forms: access to information, professional fellowship (of rings and otherwise), training, legal advice, service directories which may lead to potential client contacts, payment practices databases and much more. One portal for hire noted for its security breaches and the theft from its servers of translators' personal data even offers online project tracking, customer lists and invoicing. The value propositions are staggering in their variety and occasionally in their audacity.

But this little tour will focus on one small thing. I put myself in the role of a translation buyer who speaks only English and who has an important contract to be translated from German into English. Price is no object, quality – especially legal accuracy – are essential. No monkeys, please! My choice of this scenario is based on my own language pairs and the desire to end up as the "winner" of this prospect's search. You are welcome to try a similar case for whatever language pairs interest you. Post the results in a comment here; there may be others interested in what you observe.

I decided to have a look at the "first impression", defined as the area visible on my Lenovo S10-2 netbook's restricted screen. If what I see doesn't make me want to go further, I'll give up and turn the task over to my purchasing agent, who understands that price is the only real determinant of quality and that the best German to English translators are hiding in the hills of Mongolia in a yurt with UMTS connectivity. Best of all, you can pay them in yak butter, which is currently trading at a favorable rate with peanuts.

I chose the home pages of various translators' associations in English- and German-speaking countries as well as the home pages of various portals on which I have had or do have a "profile" of some sort. (Whether I maintain that profile is another matter and a subject for a future essay.) So now it's time to go on tour in search of the Perfect German to English Translator for my contract:

The American Translators Association
I like blue, so I'll stick around and admire the colors for a few seconds in any case. Need a translator? Well, yes I do. So I'm off to look for Mr. or Ms. Perfect in the online directory... and those hints about costly translation mistakes will keep my mind focused on the real priorities. No monkeys, please!

Learn the basics? I don't want to learn anything. Looking for work? Free account? Well, my boss is a bit of a jerk, but I'm sleeping with his wife, so I'd like to keep my job. So no thanks. I'll look for that translator, thank you. But wait! 30% faster translation with that Trados AutoSuggest thing? Sounds great, I want one of those. And a side of fries. And a bag of peanuts. But wait! Over 300,000 registered FREElancers? And 77 of them logged in? The other 299,923+ of them must be working hard. And while I'm at it, sure I'll collaborate. It was good enough for the French, wasn't it, and they make those great fries. I'll take mine with mayo, European style. And in this globalized world, I am ready to buy online now. SDL Trados Studio 2009 here I come, sell me a translator. With or without a tail.

The Mouse That Roared (ADÜ Nord)

Great. "About us" in English and that's it. Does "us" include that translator I want? The right one? Where do I find him? This form you mentioned is all in German, what am I supposed to do with that? To hell with it, the purchasing guy took German in high school and he's got a fresh supply of yak butter. Let him deal with it.

Translators Café

Busy place. Yes, I'll take a cup of java. Black, like my soul. Am I a language professional? Well, I'm a professional and I use language, so I suppose so. And I've always fancied myself as a cunning linguist, so if this is the place to meet clients, I'm game. Love that rogues' gallery. I wonder if one of them is the rogue I'm looking for. The maverick translator who will do my contract and give me what I want. The one on the left? She can go on top! Now I was looking, looking for....


Maybe they've got some issues. Maybe they're invalid, not sure. Maybe I'll check 'em out and see if I can find a translator. After this sobering experience (sober? in Melbourne?), let's look at

Go Translators

Go directly to translators. Do not waste time. Just get your project placed and move on. OK, I can do that.

Those Funny Swiss

When the Gnome of Zurich isn't busy taking my money and sweet-talking my wife, his fellow travellers in the local translators' association are trying to let me know they're available in what I think might be French, German and Italian. Too bad, this contract is from my partner in Zug, and a local might have known better about the Swiss legal terminology, which I'm told differs from real German. All I know is English. And a bit of Spanish from my friendly neighbors. Tu madre que hombre, y'know? Chungo, chungo, chungo.


We're past the Dawning of the Age. And our prime, too, it seems: What can I expect of you? Probably not much. Let's start by looking for that translator. But not here I guess. I don't need tweeting twits, I need a translator. A good one. But how am I supposed to sort out all these bozos?

The Canadian Translators, Terminologist and Interpreters Council

Canadians are nice, if a bit boring. Maple syrup is cool. And I hear they were nicer to their native peoples. If I want a vision I can follow Siberian tradition and take some mushrooms for that, but I'm on a mission to find that translator right now, so I'll be moving on....

to those University Guys in Austria

Well, they have a search function to find my translator. That's good. But I'll have to check my document carefully when it gets retyped in the other language, because I don't want those funny question mark diamonds for apostrophes.

The German Association of Interpreters and Translators (BDÜ)

Hm. German ads. Frames. Reminds me of those web pages my grandfather used to program. But hey, I can search in English for the translator I want. I just hope that person knows more about capitalization in English than the author of the home page.


Trust those Brits to get an unruly guy like me sorted out and back on track to find a translator. I think I'll just select that Directory of Members wherever it is and get right on with it, cheerio. But first I'll stay here for a while and absorb the rays from that blue layout. Love that blue. But lose that stupid animation at the upper right.

1 comment:

  1. A wonderful idea, comparing translator's internet portals from a customer's point of view. An interesting and fun read, thanks!


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