Category: For Individuals

Does your translator ask questions?

A good translation provider should ask them. From very generic ones before the project starts, such as asking you about the purpose and audience of your content, to more technical ones, such as preferred terminology or style, questions are a sign of a professional approach. This is the equivalent of the gathering of requirements in business analysis speak.

Have you ever sent a file to translate and you felt that it disappeared in a big black hole? This is indeed a dangerous situation. This may mean that your translation provider is making assumptions.

“Yes, but”, I hear some say, “you are asking your clients to do your job for you.”

“Isn’t searching for information part and parcel of translators’ or translation project managers’ job?”

Absolutely yes.

If reference material exists and is easily available, translators should refrain from sending the client every single question that might come to mind. They should also read the WHOLE text you sent before asking about that ambiguous term on page 1.

But if your software is still WiP and it only exists in a demo version, a manual, a specification or access to that demo will provide invaluable insight to your internal terminology.

 Questions can reveal errors or inconsistencies in your source files, and consequently help improve these documents.

Questions can save you legal issues in the target market. For instance, a translator may ask you whether you considered including relevant allergen information when they adapt a marketing copy for your food product.

Dealing with questions can be time-consuming. It can be frustrating, especially if you are swamped with them every hour. A good translator will batch them for you and communicate regularly.

Pertinent questions, transferred to a qualified person in your organisation, answered willingly, are crucial for a good end result. This communication flow will ensure that everyone gets the right information without wasting time and can meet the expected quality level.

 What is your experience? Have you been frustrated by lack of communication or, on the contrary, lack of autonomy of your translation provider?

Fellow translators, what pertinent questions have made a real difference to your client and their project? Have you solved their pain points?

Too much “thank you” in France puts you in the position of inferiority

When I lived in the UK, I often heard a judgement about French businesses, restaurants or commerce that the customer service is rude and unhelpful.

It is true to say that phrases such as “I’m afraid we don’t…” or “I am really sorry, but” are not really part of the French language. The excessive use of sorry, please and thank-you is unnatural. We simply follow other codes to express the same tone and message. (Hint: try to start your conversation in a bar or a café in Paris with a “Bonjour” instead of “Excuse me” and see the difference.) There are actually business coaches in France who actively discourage salespeople from starting a pitch with a “thank you for receiving me today”, because, they argue, this puts them in a position of inferiority. And this is in a country where selling in just one meeting with a prospective client is notoriously difficult! You don’t want to look like you are asking a favour when you want to affirm yourself as a potential business partner. When you sell, you actually solve somebody’s problem, so who should thank whom in the end?

Here is what the French professionals say

For the past year, I have been teaching business English to many professionals in Normandy. They are all business owners or sales staff, with many years of successful careers in industry, retail or e-commerce under their belts. Some already work with international clients or suppliers, e.g. in Germany or Italy. They are all stunned when I show them British or American business writing or play telephone conversations. Their typical reaction is: “Why do I have to thank people at the start AND at the end of the letter (conversation)? I have already done it!”

Yep, you got it: helpful, but proud.

Less is more

So, do we not thank people for their business, or for queries or enquiries?

Yes, we do, but… whilst we would say it once, it’s not going to happen more than that in a phone call or a letter. In France, we serve customers for sure, but we do not grovel.

If you complain to a French company, do not expect a response starting with “Dear Mrs Dubois, thank you for your letter about your compensation claim”. A customer is being difficult? We respond to their query or complaint, but we do not thank them for being a pain in the backside.

Status vs. money

The priorities are somewhat different. In the so-called Anglo-Saxon countries, the customer is the king. Not so much in France. Status and dignity are more important than money. A professional you do business with (or a Parisian waiter, for that matter!) wants to be treated as an individual in an equal-playing field, not like a serf. Salespeople will not bend over backwards to you to get a sale.

High vs. low context culture

The French culture is also more “high context” than say, British or American. The meaning is more understated. We don’t tend to repeat information or summarise action points at the end of a business meeting. The cues in communication tend to be more implicit (the famous sous-entendus). If you repeat the same information or recap constantly, you may run a risk of offending your audience. They may think that you patronise them, or worse: that you don’t trust them.

The other meaning of “thank you”

If you have ever travelled around France, have you noticed how often in French we say “thank you” where an English speaker would say “please”?  It makes an instruction sound more assertive. So, where an English sign would say “Please do not park here”, in French it will say “Merci de ne pas stationner”. The same rule applies in business writing. An English email would say: “Please confirm your availability.” In French, we thank instead: “Merci de confirmer”. “Thank you” is an assertive “please”

(Here comes a side note, but I can’t help it: You can see in France poor, but alas frequent translations like this one: “Thank you for not parking here”. I have seen many of these in Normandy and even in a well-known museum in Paris😮. It is high time that tourist boards or local authorities stopped using machine translation for tourist information, but that is another topic altogether. Rant over.)

Too much thank you

Working in multicultural contexts

I must say that even after 22 years of living in an English-speaking country I have remained French in many ways. My translation business coach, Jenae Spry, invariably starts every webinar or Q&A session with: “Thank you guys so much for hanging out with me, I know you guys are so busy”. And every time I cannot help thinking: “Why are you thanking me again? I am paying you for this service, so of course, I am tuning in!” 😊

Straightaway though, my little culture-awareness voice answers: “Yes, but she is American, and this is the way she manages business communication with her clients. She sells me a coaching service and she thanks me for the business”.

If like me, you like the topic of cultural differences, I highly recommend the fabulous book by Erin Meyer: “The Culture Map” ( https://www.erinmeyer.com/book ). That map is very complex, but the most important lesson I have learned from her book is this: try to put yourself in other people’s shoes and understand their perspective. What may seem rude or cold in one culture may be a sign of respect and self-respect in the other.

My clients

Here is just a small selection of the wonderful translation clients I have had the pleasure of working with. I am proud I could support their export strategies with well-considered and impactful translation and localisation services.

Advances in technology bring people closer

On the International Translation Day, 30 September, I read the recent ProZ report by Henry Dotterer and Jared Tabor about the changing face of our industry and the human response to technological innovation. (https://www.proz.com/industry-report/2019_human_response). According to the authors of this report, the translation industry changes can be categorised into three areas: AutomationIntimacy and Scale.

 

Automation includes technological changes such as translation management systems, AI and machine translation.

 

By Scale we mean the ever-increasing size of LSPs, freelance databases, broader quality spectrum and the sheer amount of source content. It is worth noting that the increase in scale favours specialisation, a trend that most translators embrace.

 

The one I find most interesting is Intimacy. In this automated and machine-embracing world “many clients are leaning towards direct contact with freelancers and knowing who is translating their content” in the interest of quality.

 

A recent example comes from the hotel guest acquisition platform Siteminder. Their Head of Localization, Matthias Borngrebe, says that he works with a pool of 15 translators and copywriters. Asked to describe their outsourcing approach, Borngrebe said that they “don’t work much with ‘anonymous’ translators from agencies. Working directly with freelance translators makes it easier for us to ensure quality.”

 

Freelancers are being called on to understand the clients and markets they are serving more intimately. As this intimacy increases, those who cultivate soft skills and who are business savvy are the ones who will come out ahead. For many freelancers, work with direct clients can prove both (mutually) satisfying and economically attractive.

 

It seems that advances in technology actually bring people closer and make us want to develop a closer relationship.

 

Is this your experience as well?