• Loie Favre

8 practical managerial lessons I learned in handling freelance translators

While working as a manager where my responsibilities included recruiting, hiring and training translators and writers, I started to see trends or patterns, and develop a sort of sixth sense about people in the translation and editorial world. While talking face-to-face, testing and training to working full-on with professional translators and language specialists, I was able to put my finger on some key learnings and establish some standards of my own.

Finding your own personal hacks and standards in any job are like personal wins. Image copyright Andrea Piacquadio

1. Hiring spouses, friends and acquaintances as freelancers is a risky business.

There have been times when management or others have encouraged the hiring of spouses or friends, and though this can work, it is always tricky. Of course, this person still needs to be tested, but if the working relationship turns sour, this may have an effect on your personal one too. Though it may be really tempting to help someone out, and you can if they are truly qualified or have a talent you are certain of, it’s like walking on thin ice, so tread carefully.

2. A lot of people don’t know how to market themselves.

This doesn’t just apply to translators, but to anyone that I have interviewed. This has a lot to do with either owning what you do and talking about it, or knowing what the hiring person wants to hear. My recommendation to anyone being interviewed is to be vocal and charismatic about what you know, who you are, and how you could help the company. Always remember to come back to the topic of the opportunity at hand, as opposed to things you did many years ago.

3. The people that stand out are those who are involved in more than just their task.

The language experts who stood out the most to me were those who made an effort to improve the quality of the company’s content by notifying me of any errors in the source text, asking questions about context, checking website content for consistency in their own texts and alerting me if they spotted any issues there. I also appreciate comments about translations that they may be proofreading. This isn’t about squealing on the person in a negative way, but rather offering improvement suggestions.

4. Rush jobs are not impressive.

Though a project manager might be super happy about the fact that a translation was submitted ahead of the due date, this can also backfire if the quality is up to par. I’d advise translators to keep their speed demons for the response time to emails and messages, and simply deliver tasks on time.

Don’t rush, just be timely! Image Copyright Andrea Piacquadio

5. Always look for new talent, the old talent might not be what you were expecting.

Keeping your freelancers in check is a big part of quality management. The thing is, we shouldn’t rest on our laurels and take anything for granted — striving for excellence should not be just in the beginning of a cooperation, but throughout. I have worked with agencies who had translators working on my projects for a while, and never questioned or re-tested them. And they were surprised when I made complaints after repeated errors. This is why frequent quality checks are important as well as proofreading each text that will be seen by the public.

6. Translators aren’t always writers.

This can be ascertained at many points while cooperating with a translator. They might have succeeded in a translation test, but then as the work starts, I notice that their heavy writing just doesn’t cut it. This is why I encourage anyone who wants to be a translator, or who wishes to improve their skills any time in their career, to practice writing in their native language or take a course. In this industry, you also need to be good at writing and knowledgeable in your field.

7. Style is just as important as grammar.

Translation agencies give some mistakes in translated texts more weight than others, like grammar or spelling, which are indeed grave errors to commit. However, in my opinion and based on what I have experienced in the industry, a contextually appropriate style is just as crucial, and this ties into my first point about knowing how to write well. In so many of the tests that I get back, I see the same clunky, lifeless and loveless translations. Whether or not the assigning party has instructed the translator to adapt, the latter needs to do this, at least to some extent. A good place to start is by including the idioms from the target language, and then go from there.

8. Testing research capabilities are just as important than the actual translation or writing test.

This is a point I have explained in my article about which types of questions employers should ask translators. And linguists should be aware that managers do look for this, too. It’s about being able to justify why they translated text in one way and not another, and ultimately providing a very industry-appropriate translation, whether it be a manual, a patent, Marketing copy or a book translation.

These are just some of the things that I picked up along the way as a project manager that have helped me and companies be better.