Be Brave as a Newbie Translator – Ask Away!

Last Updated On: March 9, 2021


Be Brave as a Newbie Translator

Many new translators just establishing their career are often so glad they actually have some clients and an income that they are shy about asking their prospective client too many questions. It is a mistake to think that asking questions or seeking clarity about a translation project will make you seem stupid. It’s far to get everything right in advance than soldier on with a project you are not too sure of the parameters.

Of course, there are clients and then there are clients. Some clients are very organised and provide precise instructions about the project they want you to complete. Others are more laissez-faire and may just let you puzzle a task out all on your own. That’s fine as long as they are happy to go along with any decisions you make, but if there are any doubts about what you should be doing it is far preferable to insist on finding out before you start. In any case, you will want to know how long the text is, i.e. how many words, any particular details about the language to be used, i.e. are there any cultural nuances or rules that you should be aware of in regard to the intended readership of the material you have been asked to translate. All of this will be needed for you to give a realistic quote for how much you are going to charge the client.


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    Don’t be afraid to turn down a project if you think it is out of your depth. As a new translator, you won’t have had too much experience translating, but you should already have been thinking of what particular translation niche you want to specialise in. A request for a legal translation may not be sensible for you to take on if you have no experience of this field. On the other hand, if you have a medical background, it may not be sensible to take on a project involving translating a marketing website.

    One way to avoid feeling silly about asking questions is to devise a standard questionnaire for clients to fill in before you consider providing them with a quote.

    In the questionnaire, you can ask about things like:

    • What language pairs are intended?
    • What is the target readership?
    • How long is the text?
    • What is the subject matter?
    • Are there any privacy considerations or is the information particularly sensitive?
    • How quickly does the client want the job done?
    • Has the client worked with a translator or translation agency before?
    • Is there a style guide, glossary of terminology preferred, tone guide?
    • Do you have a maximum budget for the project?

    Based on the answers you should have a good idea whether it is up your street and whether the client is in the organised or disorganised category as mentioned above. If you think it is a good project to work with and let’s face it this is something that you won’t know for sure until you have developed some experience, it is worth contacting the client by phone and talking through the project in advance, especially if there are answers to the questionnaire that were obscure or you need further clarification. You should aim to do this as quickly as you can after receiving the returned questionnaire.

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