It is not just professionalism among translators that is vital to our industry, but project managers, too. Unprofessional project managers that do not understand the business will cause a company to fail – leading to poor recruitment, client complaints, and potential ruin.
I had a recent encounter with a rather unprofessional agency, and thought I would share my experiences and the warning signs I noted. Feel free to add your own experiences and personal alarm bells in the comments.
After seeing what looked like a relevant job posting on ProZ, I decided to respond to their request for more translators in my language combination and specialisation. Despite their later interest (well, they obviously DID look at my application), I decided I would rather not work with such an agency. Look for the warning signs.
Firstly, this agency does not have a company profile at ProZ.com and so cannot be found on the ProZ Blue Board, a vital tool in checking what others have said about a given agency.
Next, although I gave them the benefit of the doubt at the time, I was surprised to see that their online application form was actually hosted on Google Docs and not on their own servers. I thought perhaps it was just easier to use.
I diligently completed the form, and they responded to ask for further details – strange, seeing as the form and my attached CV had been pretty self-explanatory. More suspicious was the fact it came from a free gmail email address – not a registered domain.
In the email, they asked some rather strange questions. Firstly, they asked if I translated into my foreign language, and from a language that I only reported myself to be “very good” in. Secondly, they asked me if I translated into my native tongue from languages I only reported to be a beginner in. Furthermore, they appeared to assume my absolute maximum word count (8,000, in extreme circumstances, under long hours and using translation memory software) would be normal, and asked whether they could expect quality of a good enough standard that they would not have to proofread it.
Anyone else feel a little confused?
The form asked about all languages spoken by the applicant, even those that are not fluent. I assumed this was just to get a round picture or to see what languages the person could do business in. I didn’t expect to receive any comments regarding anything but translation into English (reported native language) from German (reported fluent language).
Oddity 1: Target language – non-native (German)
…So why, then, did they ask if I could translate into German? There is a widely acknowledged difference between a linguist’s native and foreign language competencies. Aside from those that are truly bilingual, we will never be able to express ourselves as competently in our foreign languages as we do our mother tongue. Even among bilinguals, there is often a bias that results from a monolingual education – even if another language is spoken in the home. We will potentially be able to understand things as well as a native speaker, but rarely express ourselves as freely. This is simply the difference between passive and active vocabulary. There also remains the potential for grammatical error, or failure to consider culture-specific connotations of certain vocabulary and expressions. The list goes on. As such, it is considered extremely unprofessional to translate into one’s non-native language.
Oddity 2: Source language – very good proficiency (Dutch)
Not only do they expect me to translate into my non-native German, but they expect me to do so from a language that I only report to be very good in. Ludicrous! At present, I would not translate from Dutch into my native English. Yes, I can understand it pretty well, but by no means do I have the cultural knowledge or linguistic proficiency required. This was made quite clear on the form!
Oddity 3: Translate between two non-native languages?
Further to the above, this is even more strange. Do you think they are just a bit lazy on recruitment?
Oddity 4: Source language – beginner proficiency?
…As if the previous suggestions were not mad enough! Yes, I might roughly be able to translate “Iki bilet, lütfen” from Turkish into passable English (2 tickets, please), but if we went much further I think we would have difficulty. Translation professionals certainly would not translate from a language they report only “beginner” proficiency in.
Oddity 5: 8000 words per day
That is not quite what I stated. I stated my standard was up to 4,000 a day, working normal hours, but I have been known to manage up to 8,000 occasionally, in my specialism, using CAT tools, and working an extra long shift. When most translators seem to translate around 2-3,000 words per day, it seems a bit ludicrous to suddenly expect that 8,000 is sustainable and 9-5!
Oddity 6: skip the proofreading?
This is possibly the weirdest statement of all. What kind of agency is willing to forego proofreading, even for the best of translators, working within their specialism? Not only that, but they say this already – so are they willing to let me loose on a client without proofing my work, even before they have confirmed my high standards? Utter madness, and liable to land them in hot water.
Oddity 7: Still no mention of a registered domain name in the footer
Very, very suspicious. How do they intend to attract clients, then?
So, as you can see, this ‘agency’ gave me more than a few reasons to not bother pursuing further. I am somewhat more curious to hear from other translators who have received similar messages, or whether anyone out there has their own theories about who is playing have-a-go project manager?
Conclusion: Expect professionalism, but appreciate a good agency and / or Project Manager
As has probably been made clear, there are some basics about the translation industry that any project manager should be expected to know. Simple things like what languages are appropriate as source and target languages, for example. If they are not aware of this, it is unlikely they will understand in other translation-specific business issues, such as why a 10,000 word document cannot be translated by 5pm after receiving it at 10am that morning. People not aware of such basic details are charlatans, clearly new to the business and not very committed.
I also found the lack of desire to proofread very worrying. It certainly suggests they do not expect repeat business, indeed, if so, how can one be sure the invoice will be paid in full and on time? Even with the best intentions to pay, a bad project manager will eventually suffer financially from their unprofessionalism and this could have a negative knock-on effect.
Lastly, it is very shocking that a genuine agency would not have its own website. Web-hosting and domain packages are so cheap these days, most translators have one too. Moreover, how do they expect to find work? I hope at least this casual attitude encourages translators to put more energy into their own promotional efforts.
I wonder how project managers feel reading about such charlatans. I am sure that employment with a translation agency is not as easy as these hacks would like to assume. It certainly takes more than gmail email address and Google Docs to run a translation agency. In fact, project managers, as far as my experience tells me, tend to have similar training and/or experience in languages to some translators, most are usually multilingual, and highly skilled. They are also knowledgeable of the industry and what the art of translation actually involves. Questions such as those asked above really should not need asking.
On the bright side, I have been lucky to work with some very skilled, friendly and professional Project Managers. Each time something like this happens, we should take a step back and appreciate all those valuable, professional project managers with whom we have the pleasure to work.