Tag Archives: marketing

Translator queries: more than just questions

I’ve just been helping a fellow translator to submit queries about her translation to a direct client, and it made me think about why we send queries to our clients.

Maybe the question seems stupid. Surely, we send queries when there is something we haven’t understood in the source text or if we are unsure about target language terminology, particularly if it might involve in-house language?

Not quite. Before submitting queries, I would ask the following questions.

Can the client reasonably be expected to help?

Seems obvious, but there’s no point asking a client who operates exclusively in the target language to help you decode the source text. Or asking a client who operates exclusively in the source language to help you resolve target language terminology issues.

How many queries do you have?

If your source text generates a vast quantity of queries, then either you have taken on a text which is beyond your capacities (your problem, not the client’s!) or the source text is seriously flawed. The latter is quite common, but the best solution is simply to make a general comment to this effect rather than to rub the client’s nose in every spelling mistake, grammatical error and logical non-sequitur. And if the text is genuinely untranslatable, then say so.

How easy/difficult is it for the client to answer your query?

Direct clients are often not language people. Vague questions (can you explain this to me?) tend to generate vague answers.

I always try to frame queries as one of the following:

  • a yes/no questions
  • a choice between a short list of alternatives
  • a request for a very specific piece of information.

And remember that clients may not have access to the individual responsible for generating the source text. For example, I quite often translate public tender specifications. My client is an LSP; their client is a (target-language) company considering submitting a bid; the author of the text is a (source-language) government defining the conditions for that bid. Nobody in my chain has access to the author, and the timeframe doesn’t usually allow for it, anyway. So it would be pointless for me to query ambiguous wordings in the source document in this instance.

Hidden benefits

It’s also worth thinking about what benefits you can get from the query process (besides the obvious one of obtaining information to improve your translation).

Start a conversation

One of the big challenges for any translator, whether working for direct clients or LSPs, is to build a relationship. Sparing use of queries will help you to start a conversation with your client. And feel free to use the exchange as an excuse to build a more personal relationship. (I often throw in little personal titbits – where I’m off to on my next holiday, a comment about my pets or whatever.)

Add quality

I’d be very wary of openly criticising a source text from a direct client, but do use queries as an opportunity to identify errors in the source text, in a non-judgemental way. For example, when translating financial reports you might be surprised at the frequency of material errors. I even alerted one client to a potentially catastrophic confusion between ‘millions’ and ‘billions’ in one text!

Blow your own trumpet

As translators, we are often invisible. People take our work for granted and only notice when things go wrong. I work for an LSP which often provides me with quite ‘rough’ source material (project documentation produced by field officers working for NGOs). I don’t generally query much in these texts, but I do usually include a comment to the effect that the source material was a little rough and ready but I think I’ve done rather a good job of turning it into something clear and readable.

Or you can use a query to draw attention to a particularly neat piece of work. I recently translated a tourism text which included the line ‘Salchichas alemanas, el arte del embutido gourmet‘ (Literally: German sausages: the art of gourmet sausage-making’). I translated this as ‘Germany – where wurst is best!‘ and checked with the client: ostensibly, to make sure they were happy with my creative approach, but really to flag up a piece of inspired brilliance in order to remind them why they needed me to translate their texts and not someone else.

Cover your back

I’m slightly wary of including this one. In fact, I think a lot of the over-use of queries by translators is probably sub-consciously prompted by a desire to avoid taking responsibility for the final product. (You can’t – it’s what you’re being paid for!) However, there are some exceptions to this rule. Where the source text is truly ropy (see above) then it’s worth mentioning it, in the politest possible terms – and perhaps rephrasing it as praise for one’s own work rather than criticism.

And where there is a specific issue which you really can’t resolve and can’t be expected to take responsibility for, then you may want that on record. I have one client who often asks me to translate software documentation while the software itself is still at the localisation stage. As a result, the target language screenshots are not necessarily available. I always flag this issue up to the client and specifically remind them that they will need to check my translations (with relevant sections highlighted) against the final target language version of the software, website etc.

How NOT to build your translator brand on Twitter


I should start by saying that I’m not keen on the whole concept of “person as brand”. (And one of the many benefits of not being brand-conscious is that you’re less likely to commit any of the crimes listed below.) However, the reality is that many translators are on Twitter to consciously build their brand, and there’s certainly an argument that, simply by connecting with colleagues and with existing or potential clients, your “brand” is at stake even if you deny its very existence.

Having got that caveat out of the way, here are some of my least favourite ways in which some over-enthusiastic advocates of personal branding are using Twitter (and helping to ruin it for the rest of us!).


I’m surprised at the number of translators who think it’s acceptable (let alone desirable) to post a generic advert for their services on a daily basis. This:

  • will annoy your followers
  • will give the impression that you are desperate for business
  • will negate any impact that a well-designed advert might have.


There seems to be a category of translator who has decided that the best way to project a professional image is to flood their Twitter feed with articles about marketing and business techniques. If you genuinely have insights to share, then please do so. (There are plenty of translator-entrepreneurs out there who have a lot to teach their colleagues.) However, if all you are doing is rehashing yet another tired list of “marketing tips”, “advice on obtaining direct clients”, “looking after your customer”, then please don’t. You will fool nobody.


Another common Tweet runs along the lines, “X% of the world’s population don’t read English. Why you should translate your website.” Who is this aimed at? Most of the followers of any translation-focused account fall into one of two camps: members of the translation industry (translators, LSPs, clients etc.); others (friends, family, social connections, old schoolfriends etc.). The members of the first camp have already got this message. The members of the second camp are not interested in it. Repeating the message ad nauseum will just annoy both groups (and make you look like an idiot along the way).


So what should people post? A good starting point is to restrict yourself to content that ticks at least one of the following boxes:

  • interesting
  • useful
  • funny.

In other words, instead of “building your brand”, just behave like the kind of human being that others might want to interact with. After all, we spend a lot of time saying that human beings are better than computers when it comes to translation. And we’re better than brands, too.

Copywriting and transcreation: a marriage made in hell?

On 8/10/16, I attended the ITI Scottish Network autumn event. Titled “Copywriting and transcreation: a marriage made in hell?”, it was delivered by Bill Maslen of The WordGym, and provided an interesting insight into the creative end of the translation industry. The points Bill made about understanding clients’ needs, the intended audience, and the purpose of the text are, in my opinion, applicable to all texts.