Charlie Bavington

Professional French to English Translator - Business and I.T.

Bringing a pragmatic eye to meeting your needs

Thinking it right, doing it wrong

August 24th, 2015 | Categories: business

‘Tis often said, including by me, that one factor in making a success of this translation lark (and many other larks, come to that) is to offer that bit extra and add value for the client, and so on. This seems intuitively likely to be true, all other things being equal.

But does this work when the client is not actually a client yet? Is it at all possible to offer a bit extra and add some kind of value before you’ve got the gig, in order to persuade a lead that you’re just the chap they’re looking for? It might be, but here’s a couple of tales of how it didn’t work out for me last month.

Enquirer no.1 was (probably still is) building a new social network. Despite my reservations as to whether the world really needs another social network, the enquiry was polite and professional so I followed it up positively. Or so I thought. The proposed home page was dominated by a “join” section for new members. Not unreasonable under the circs. And what was very first piece of information requested? To select whether, in the original, you are “Monsieur” or “Madame”.

These would have been practically the first words in the text to be translated, so I thought I’d make myself useful, and (along with the price and deadline as requested) point out that, at least in the English-speaking world, those two options alone, if translated as simply “Mr.” and “Mrs”, would not suffice. Being a helpful chap, I then suggested two options:
a) if the idea was simply to determine whether the person was male or female, then change the options in English to “male” and “female”;
b) if the idea was to be able to contact members using their preferred title, then at the very least they would need to add “Ms.” for English, and probably more options besides (Dr., Prof., etc.). Under either scenario, it would be worth considering moving the question to the main profile page.

And that, dear reader, was where the conversation ended.

Couple of weeks later, Enquirer no. 2 popped up, with some general interest texts on cars and motoring. The sample mentioned that car washes were sometimes to be found at motorway exits. True enough in France. Not so here in jolly England. I felt I needed information on the target readers and so (again, along with price and deadline guidelines) I asked where they would be – was the text for English-speaking motorists in France, in which case no issue, or was it a non-country-specific text for any motorists who can read English anywhere in which case we might need to adapt it or leave it out?

Answer, dear reader, came there none.

One obvious response is that, if they were unwilling to answer, perhaps they were from the “just translate what it says” school of problem resolution. I was therefore spared an experience that would have proved sub-optimal if not downright bloody annoying, and should light a candle of thanks for St Jerome, or something.

Equally, there is no hard evidence that it was the questions that brought about subsequent radio silence; it could have been the price or deadline. I just have a feeling my water that in both cases it was asking questions too early, in an attempt to show I had considered their request properly, that stymied the deal.

I’m not sure if any useful conclusions are to be drawn at this point, although re-reading the emails a month later, it is true that the additional comments do make them a bit lengthy, which is perhaps a dissuasive factor. But if nothing else, it might make a change for people to read a blog post that is not about what a splendid success the author is making of things, or how an awful blunder was happily averted at the last minute. Nope, I ballsed these approaches up.

Ah well, onwards and upwards, eh?

(And never come to me for marketing advice!)

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