I’ve come to the conclusion that unprofessional and/or unskilled translators aren’t awarded work just because they are cheap. They are awarded work because they are willing to do whatever it takes to give the client what they want.
This quote reminded me of how important it is for translators to offer a service that is truly relevant. Replace “YouTube” with “unskilled translators”, and “Hollywood” with “professional translators” (!), and see what you think.
“… Even the most popular YouTube clips may totally fail in the standard Hollywood definition of production quality, in that the video is low-resolution and badly lit, the sound quality awful, and the plots nonexistent.
But none of that matters, because the most important thing is relevance. We’ll always choose a “low-quality” video of something we actually want over a “high-quality” video of something we don’t.”
Tech Is Too Cheap to Meter: It’s Time to Manage for Abundance, Not Scarcity. Chris Anderson. Wired Magazine, 22.06.09 (my emphasis)
If translation becomes too cheap to charge for, what else are you offering that clients might actually want and be willing to pay for? (Note I’m referring to language services only here. But I’m not here to judge – I know what it takes to support yourself through university ;))
Producing beautifully written prose that is perfectly faithful to the original is just a small part of what it means to be a freelance translator. We’re also required to apply a broad spectrum of translation-related skills to any number of communicative tasks.
The key to being relevant is applying these skills to clearly contribute to an end result that:
a. the client wants
b. the client is aware that they want.
These end results will vary according to who you work for, but may include things like increased sales, winning a tender or greater exposure among their own target clients.
We are hired to meet a want (or a need) as perceived by the translation buyer, regardless of how “valid” we may deem that want or need ourselves.
That’s not to say we can’t have an active influence on the buyer, for example by drawing attention to an unmet need, by trying to amend their perception, or ultimately, by declining a job.
But sometimes half the battle is disentangling what the client needs and what you think the client needs. This shift in perspective isn’t always easy for a translator.
It seems to me that viewing ourselves as providers of professional services, instead of producers of translation products, is a significant step towards ensuring we remain relevant.
It’s also a way to forge a future for ourselves free from the fear of being rendered redundant or irrelevant by technological or economic changes.