[EN] Rhythm, rhyme or reason

or: on the virtue of patience


And, you received a project. You know the field. You know roughly how many hours it will take – and you have a good idea on which resources you are going to need and you have people on speed-dial in case you get stuck. You receive your deadline and the contacts of the rest of your team – ok… sometimes there’s no team, just the client. You setup your Omega, copy the TMs, the glossaries, adjust your segments. By the time you’re done, the coffee pot has boiled already, you pick up a couple of banana cookies and get ready for the next… however long it takes for you to reach the desert Knackered Isle.

Soon you fall into the flow, where your brain automatically edits out all the sounds and the only thing in existence is you, your screen and the graceful tapping in the rhythm of your thoughts. Occasionally, it occurs to you that the whole process is beautifully automated – almost – and that the only boundary to your work is your typing speed.

In those moments you never question your choices. And just when you pause in disbelief that this is your job and you are actually making a living doing this, reality contributes a tap at the balcony door; “Now what?!”

Projects without setbacks are among the rarest things in my life. Not being interrupted by the “latest dramatic shift” or the “urgent catastrophe in need of immediate attention” happens only when the text is brief and takes up few hours of my time.

Sometimes it’s the colleagues. They are the easiest to deal with, since if you are working as a part of a team you are all on the same page and sometimes is just a matter of synchronisation. Things are resolved easily in a single email and couple of references. Second possibility: it’s the proof-reader or the editor – truth be told, most of them are kind and fair in their use of criticism; they often include comments formed as questions and suggestions, rather than direct corrections.

now-1432953_1920Sometimes, however, a beast is unleashed and you are flooded with comments which contain no constructive criticism and the only thing that is perfectly clear is that “that portion of the text is to be changed in its entirety NOW!!! – what were you thinking using that phrase. Pick up a textbook once in a while!!!” The likelihood of such email increases closer to the deadline.

Everyone is under pressure, you included. The third possibility is that the client will personally contact you with a question, request or correction of the original. This is generally dealt with easily, but it takes up time and it will affect your pace and your progress on the project.

In all of the situations above there is only one suggestion which is the single most repeated and universally ignored one: Start working on your project AS SOON AS YOU GET IT! On the first day, work for as long as you can. If you have the patience, make a draft translation and then start slashing a la Bruce Campbell in the “Evil Dead”.

The greatest stress, however, is related to the bane of any translator’s existence: Google Translate. Don’t get me wrong: Google is definitely the best machine translation out there. It is very useful for the basic communication when you don’t speak the language; professionally, it offers you a CAT integration via an API key for about 10-15€, but for as good as it can be it is rubbish with field specific terms and profession related translations from and into south Slavic languages. It fares a bit better with Italian.

business-19156_1920After ten years of all kind of remarks and attempts at corrections you learn to let your ego down the drain and accept that Google related meltdowns from people who don’t really know how machine translation works will inevitably happen. Let’s say you have a client who checks every text you send in Google Translate in order to make sure it is adequate. The problem results from either lack of appropriate terminology or the character limit of the Google Translate box. Both will result in a rage filled email bordering on offensive and inappropriate. In such cases, your first instinct is to fight back and argue your case with the client who obviously has no idea what they are talking about, and is meddling in things beyond their abilities. Your first instinct is always wrong.

Since the remark usually arrives by email the first thing you need to do after reading is get up, fold your laptop and make a nice cup of tea. Coffee is acceptable, too, but I prefer tea. So, you make your tea, take a couple more of those banana cookies, turn on the radio, flip through TV channels, search through your list of Art and Literature blogs, see who’s published what this morning. When you find an activity to accompany your tea, concentrate on it. Whatever you do, ignore the urge to go back and reread that email. The tea and the browsing should take some 20-30 minutes. 20-30 minutes should be enough for your anger to tone down, and now you can start solving the problem with a clear head.

Open the email, read it again – it may contain valid corrections (which is unlikely, but still, read it again) Start replying to the remarks in the order in which they were given. Explain your choice of words, cite the source – that last one is really important – for example: for legal texts you can reference Eur-Lex, for politics OSCE, for accounting one of the Big Four, etc. As long as you use a reputable resource you can rest assured that the client will accept your choice.

It is of utmost importance that, despite the lack of respect from the client, you yourself never cross the bottom line of basic human decency. What is more, if you can find it in yourself to commend the client for one thing or another, you should definitely do that.

I am not breaking new ground here, folks, but if you have decided to make a living by translating your success lives and dies by your reputation. Your goal is no dissatisfied clients. This means swallowing your pride. In most cases you will get a positive review and praise of your services at the end of it all. When you resolve the issue and turn in the project you are free to refuse any future project from that client. When the client comes back with a different project – which usually happens before the month expires – you will get the chance to give them a piece of your mind, should you wish to do so. I personally tend to say that I am too busy to take on another project. This may result in an offer of a higher fee or some such perk – which may, but most often doesn’t affect my decision: money was made for spending and counting, my sanity, however… you can decide differently, if you wish.

I, honestly, just want to get back as quickly as possible to my text, my screen, the magnificent disappearing of sense of time followed by the soft tap, tap, tap of the keyboard in the rhythm of my thoughts.

In bilico tra santi e falsi dei