Business, Perspective, Translation


The often dysfunctional relationship between project managers and freelance translators may stem from a simple lack of communication. BY SUSAN AYOOB

In a fast-paced, deadline-driven industry, freelance translators and project managers communicate constantly, yet there is often a lack of true communication between both parties. In a way, this is understandable, since there is often little time to discuss details when a project has a short turn-around time. Call, confirm, translate, and deliver. Yet regardless of a project’s scope—be it the translation of a few sentences in Word or a file consisting of thousands of words and involving the management of a hefty translation memory—clear project instructions are an absolute must in order to ensure an on-time, accurate delivery (as well as the avoidance of headaches on both sides). I have worked as both a project coordinator and a freelance translator, and I know that there are certain things that project managers would love for freelance translators to know, and likewise, translators often wish that project managers could do some things a bit differently.
Though I cannot speak for what is the norm at different translation companies, at the companies where I worked, we evaluated vendors constantly, both formally and informally. Freelancers can keep these five words in mind if they want to stand out from the pack: be easy to work with.
Respond promptly, for one thing. Whether your preferred method of contact is email or phone, once you’re contacted, please let the project manager know as soon as possible whether you’ll be available or not. And please, if there is any doubt as to whether you’ll be unavailable or out of town or otherwise occupied during the duration of the project, please say no, as searching for a replacement mid-project can be a bit stressful, to say the least.

Much of what project managers would like from freelancers, in general, is honesty. If you are not comfortable with a certain program, be it TagEditor or Wordfast or Passolo, please say so, as any resulting file errors will take time to fix—though as a general rule, learning and becomingfamiliar with various translation memory programs is very, very advisable. Try to embrace, if you haven’t already, the various technologies available to you as a translator. Not only will it make your work more consistent and efficient, but you will find that more doors open to you if you are fluent not only in your language pair, but in TRADOS as well.

Much of what project managers would like from freelancers, in general, is honesty.

Project managers will send some sort of instructions with the project. If anything is unclear, be sure to clarify with the PM before you begin the project. Are you unable to open one of the files? Were you sent the wrong TM by mistake? Is anything in the instructions unclear? Let the project manager know. It is easier to iron out any wrinkles in a project at the outset than halfway through, or worse, upon delivery of the files.

However, the translator should not be in the position to have to untangle line after line of difficult to understand or irrelevant instructions. This takes us to what translators need from project managers; namely, clear project instructions. A simple, straightforward project requires brief, clear project instructions. Conversely, a more complex project should come with instructions that leave no room for doubt. The issues addressed should include:

  • File format and file name: will they remain the same or should they change (i.e., include language code such as _EN, _IT, etc.).
  • Usage of glossaries, style guides and TMs (same as for similar, previous projects, or new ones).
  • Who should receive the file next, and who should be cc’ed on the delivery (editor, original translator, same PM, accounting, etc.).
  • If files are uploaded to an FTP, provide the link and password for the site
  • With regards to one language spoken in various countries, such as Spanish, French and English, please specify which variant is to be used. For example, do you need Canadian French or European French? U.S. Spanish, European Spanish, or Latin American Spanish? Traditional or Simplified Chinese? I was once sent a document for editing, and only once I had reached the second page did I realize that it was in British English (I am not British).

The preceding is a list of some of the most important information regarding a project that translators need in order to deliver accurate files to the project manager by the appropriate deadline. In an industry predicated on the importance of communication, it is the internal communication that occurs during the life of a translation project that can often mean the difference between a smooth project and one filled with frenzied back and forth phone calls and emails between PM and translator. Communication is what this industry is all about; let’s commit to doing it better. SA