Trial and tribulations of a translator – some thoughts

Starting a new business is like Walking on thin ice

I started Extra Speech in 1995 while I was a student in Portsmouth, in the UK.

I had that famous, you know, “aha moment”. I had all the images in my head about what the business would be like and I knew that is what I wanted to do.

For me, the business made sense. I had that idea to start a translation business because I had a passion for languages and cultures. Also, I had an interest in business. Similarly, I wanted to have control over shaping my future and being able to make a difference in the world.

Consequently, within a few months, I did the legal paperwork to officially start my business. And so, in 1995, I was in business as an English to French Freelance translator.

In the early days, I started working for a small translation agency, which was fun and interesting, and challenging too. At the time, I was mostly translating user guides and manuals, marketing and sales literature, and interpreting.

Yet, the vision I had already for my business was not just translating. In addition, I wanted to help companies by improving their image and the perception of their product via translation.

As of today, that vision still remains, and I can safely say that I’m as excited about the business today as I was back then in 1995. Most importantly, I’m still helping clients succeed overseas and here at home.

Translation and work ethics

The code of ethics for translators contains all kinds of values: confidentiality, respect, dignity, privacy, accuracy to name a few.

All the items on the code of ethics are equally important. They really set the foundation for the training that soon to be translators and interpreters need, to be effective. Yet, one of the three that standout is translating accurately.

Knowing that translators, when they are dealing with different cultures, have to still convey the meaning of what is being said and translate everything that is being said.

On top of that, they have to keep everything confidential.

Moreover, they also have to keep an impartial attitude when they are translating and remain neutral.

This applies two interpreters as well.

That is important because sometimes non-English speakers might ask an interpreter for advice such as ‘What would you do? Would you have this procedure done?’ and the interpreters are in a powerful position because they speak multiple languages and they understand both cultures. Yet, they have to remain impartial in that scenario.

Having that code of ethics is really important as a foundation.

There was a study recently that just came out talking about the challenges of working with an untrained interpreter and a trained interpreter.

It was really interesting. They quantified the impact of errors that were made by highly trained interpreters compared to errors that were made by less trained or untrained interpreters. What they found is that for interpreters who had very little or no training – volunteers for example in a hospital – that over 20% of the mistakes that those interpreters made could have had a negative impact on the patient.

On the other hand, on the errors that the highly trained interpreters made, only 2% of those errors were likely to have a negative or harmful impact on the patient.

Furthermore, they found that the highly trained interpreters made many fewer mistakes, so that the total impact of training was very obvious.

Examples of difficult translations

Translation case study 1

I had a case that I had found really difficult, which involved a human resources manager of a local manufacturing company. She requested a price quotation for translating their entire human resources and safety procedures.

After they’ve received a quote about how much that would cost them, the human resources manager said that the price was higher than she had budgeted. And why couldn’t you just translate the last page of the manual? Which was sort of the knowledgement of receipt and understanding, just a sign off page.

Well, this was a challenge because to be asked to translate just the knowledgement and understanding page vs. the entire training and safety manual is a little disturbing. When clients are looking to get something translated, it is really thinking about who the audience is and how it is going to be used. At the end of the day, though, I could help this customer. I advised her to reduce the amount of text to be translated so as to budget for translations while still making sure that employees were safe in the workplace.

The question being, is there anything that I can do to make the document more internationally friendly? If it it is a training manual or an instruction manual, perhaps some of the lengthy text could be replaced by some diagrams or some charts so that makes it less wordy to translate? So it is more cost effective to translate that way. There are different strategies that I can work with clients to make a document easily translatable so that the message is getting across accurately and on budget.

Translation case study 2

Another situation involved a doctor who had a patient.

The patient said he couldn’t speak English. Yet, the doctor said, “Yes, you can speak English. You’re just sort of faking it.”

The client had requested an interpreter for this patient. It was documented in the system that the patient had a French language limitation and needed an interpreter. When the appointment was scheduled, I arrived early for the appointment. Yet, surprisingly, the meeting was already taking place. Everyone had got a little ahead of schedule.

They were already meeting. Therefore when I went into the room and was told that I wasn’t needed. Yet, when I would look at the patient, his body language clearly showed that he didn’t understand what was going on. The purpose of this appointment was – as a matter of fact – a pre-surgery consult – going over what was going to happen with the surgery. How to prepare for surgery, the usual – not to eat anything, not to drink anything within a certain amount of time. Because there would be serious complications that could result if the protocol is not followed.

Therefore when I realised that the patient didn’t speak French, I intervened with the provider. He was very insistent that the patient did in fact speak French. There was obviously a cultural competency of cultural awareness that was lacking. Surprisingly, the provider was an immigrant who was from a non-French-speaking country.

Nevertheless, I stepped more in the role, in this case, of an advocate, to be able to make sure that the patient was able to get the care needed. Yet, the provider was still again insisting on just going forward. He said I could leave and go help someone else. Before then, I – as a matter of fact – verified, asking direct questions to the patient, ‘do you understand?’ and the patient said, ‘No, I do not understand.’

I then politely went out of the room and was able to come back in with a supervisor. This in some way resolved the situation. The provider later worked with the supervisor. They got additional training and information about how to be you culturally appropriate and culturally sensitive and the importance of being able to accurately communicate.

That was a very complex situation.

The importance for the translator or the interpreter of maintaining objectivity

It is very important to maintain objectivity, to maintain both parties or all participants in an interpreting session, to trust that the interpreter is going to be impartial.

However, if the outcome is being jeopardised at some point, the interpreter then is allowed to advocate or intervene in a way that can get things back on track. The next case demonstrates that, where confidentiality is still being protected, I was able to intervene indirectly but very effectively to save a situation that was in jeopardy.

A “delicate” interpreting situation

I had interpreted for a number of appointments for a patient who had previously been in a gang.

Yes, you heard me – A gang.

Through the course of some previous appointments I had shared, it was interpreted that he had taken illegal drugs in the past. So during this particular appointment on that day, the provider needed to find out if the patient had taken drugs previously because that would hinder the treatment plan going forward for this other scenarios that he was dealing with.

It could have been dangerous.

And in fact, if he had taken illegal drugs before, then this new treatment plan would be very detrimental to his health.

So when interpreting, the provider said, ‘Have you taken any drugs previously?’ and the patient very quickly said matter-of-factly ’No, I didn’t’.

Of course, I am interpreting everything that is being said. Yet, in my mind, I’m thinking, oh my goodness, I know that is not accurate.

Now, I have the dilemma of knowing this information that is confidential. Yet, if I don’t share it, then what is going to happen to the patient’s health?

So again, I try and act very strategically and carefully, then realised: Okay, in order to not divulge confidentiality, I can as the interpreter, ask the provider to ask the question again and to explain the reasoning behind the question.

So the provider asked the question again, ‘Have you taken any drugs previously?’ and then why that was important and fortunately, the patient said this time, ’Well yes, to be honest, I have.

Yet, in my mind, I’m thinking, oh my goodness, I know that is not accurate. Now, I have the dilemma of knowing this information that is confidential. Yet, if I don’t share it, then what is going to happen to the patient’s health?

So again, I try and act very strategically and carefully, then realised: Okay, in order to not divulge confidentiality, I can as the interpreter, ask the provider to ask the question again and to explain the reasoning behind the question.

So the provider asked the question again, ‘Have you taken any drugs previously?’ and then why that was important and fortunately, the patient said this time, ’Well yes, to be honest, I have.

So they were able to find a new course of treatment for him. And his confidentiality was preserved.

Also, they didn’t report him. Everything went well. It could easily have gone off-track.

To conclude, I would say there is a very ethical tight. What is important for people to realise is that you can be bilingual, you can even be bicultural. Yet, it doesn’t mean that you can be an effective interpreter. So to make an interpreter effective, you have to have a lot of training.

After all, being bilingual and bicultural doesn’t mean that you are a good interpreter.

Translation

The same is true also on the translation side. An interpreter is someone who focuses on the spoken language and verbally and this is done by telephone by video, face-to-face, or in person. On the other side, there is document translation. Translators tend to focus on written words, working in their homes, all over the world.

It is not contextual.

And they also have a bit more time to find the exact words. Translators have to have training in the skills to be able to translate accurately, or the message can be completely missed.

Translation for Businesses

Whenever an organisation has language or cultural obstacles to overcome, they have a choice to make. If they decide to tackle those issues head-on, then they are going to have an opportunity to reduce costs, reduce risk and have better outcomes.

A wonderful study came out recently that – as a matter of fact – looked at CEOs from global companies. The study asked them, ‘Why do you think you are losing business opportunities overseas?’ or ‘How have you lost these contracts overseas?’ One of the things that they say was a primary reason, 49% of the time, the CEOs said that they lost big international deals because they did not have the language and cultural competence in that organisation. 85% of them said that they would have greater revenues, greater market share and increased profits if they had the translation resources.

In conclusion, it shows the importance of being culturally aware and culturally sensitive in business.

2 Replies to “Trial and tribulations of a translator – some thoughts”

  1. How would you like to Upload A SINGLE Video And
    RANK for 100 LANGUAGES !!!

    FACT #1

    ONLY 25% of the searches made online are in ENGLISH!
    And yet everybody focuses on trying to rank in ENGLISH!

    FACT #2
    YouTube is the 2nd BIGGEST website in the world…
    And still you focus all your efforts trying to rank and get traffic ONLY from Google!

    http://bit.ly/2PVgtFh

    DO THE MATH:

    With Over 3 Billion Searches A Month…

    All the visitors that you will ever need
    ARE ALREADY ON YOUTUBE!

    3 billion searches a month.
    75% are not in English…
    Do the math… 2.2 billion searches each month in foreign languages!

    Are you getting an idea on how much money you are leaving on the TABLE?

    http://bit.ly/2PVgtFh

    1. Hi Nelly,
      Thank you for your comment. You are absolutely right. The fact of the matter is:

    2. Translation Opens Your Business to Hundreds of millions of new people
    3. Visitors have a better chance to find your website/products when it’s in their language … and simply won’t if it’s only in English!
    4. When typing keywords in Google, Foreign clients are more likely to find your website if it’s in their language.
    5. Visit my other blog to find out more about what translation can do for your business at French Translation can help you grow your business

      This is also true for Youtube.

      I notice though that LingoBlaster uses Machine-Translation (MT). Yet, MT gives very poor results. Google Translate and other algorithm driven systems are great for the occasional word or to get the general sense of a sentence that you’d like to know the meaning of.
      Unfortunately, the one thing they lack is the understanding of cultural and linguistic context that a human translator provides. The result is that automatic translation is often incoherent and full of mistakes, (some of them quite bizarre) and can even create content that is offensive to your customers.

      When using a real translation, customers feel like you are close to them.
      It shows that YOU CARE.
      You make them feel special

      Why spend so much time creating good content on Youtube and spoil it with a bad translation?
      Your product is absolutely brilliant. There may be a way for you to link your app to real human translators?
      Let me know your thoughts.

      Regards
      Ollie

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