Monday, November 28, 2011

Manners: A Gaping Hole in the Translation Industry


Hailing originally from the ancient, sprawling bean fields of Nicaragua, I would consider myself to be a rather simple and old-fashioned man.

And while I do understand that not everyone shares the same set of values and social code, I do feel that there are a few certain basic points which any person living and working in modern society has the responsibility to not only learn, but to follow as well. On that note, I would like the opportunity to voice my opinion on a related matter in a brief open letter to the general translation community.

This particular grievance pertains mainly to translators in general, but also to many PMs as well: if you were blessed with the mental capacity to allow for the mastering of a language unrelated to your own, then one would assume that you would also have the ability to retain some of the manners, politesse, and general social niceties that I’m sure your parents must have taught you somewhere along the line. 

As a project manager, I deal with a wide variety of clients, translators, and other project managers. By default, all of these people are of adult age, and I would guess that most of them have at least finished high school or the equivalent thereof in their respective countries. Why then, I ask you, do I feel as though I’m trying to communicate with half-feral ghetto children when dealing with 1 out of 5 translators? This is not just a broad generalization – don’t get me wrong, the majority of the translators I deal with regularly are polite, considerate, and professional human beings. However there is also a relatively large group of translators who seem to have learned manners and couth from a rusty nail. No greetings, no “please/thank you/you’re welcome”s, no apologies for mistakes or tardiness, no common courtesy whatsoever. I receive ridiculous demands for rate raises and deadline extensions, and yet I also receive outright refusals to take responsibility for corrections or to answer questions from the end client. Although these are rather industry-specific examples, the general attitude reflects on all aspects of my day-to-day dealings with these people and I’m sure that the situation would change very little should they be members of a different profession. 

The way I see it – and I don’t mean to sound as though I consider myself to be “better” than anyone else – I am a project manager, which means that I not only dole out jobs and projects, but I also decide 1) how much to pay a translator, and 2) whether or not to hire a translator again. At the same time, as far as the translator is concerned, I am also a customer. Thinking of these two factors together confuses me even more... The question goes from “Why must you be so rude and disagreeable?” to “Why would you even think to be so rude and disagreeable toward not only a CUSTOMER (who, in this country, is supposed to be equal to “God”), but to the person who is at the same time temporarily-but-technically your BOSS, and who has the power to make the decisions regarding whether or not you ever get any quality work from them again?”

While the attitude and manners of a translator admittedly have nothing to do with the person’s actual work skill, they have a lot to do with my decision to work with them again in the future, and also with my decision regarding how much you get paid. I feel that this is an especially important factor, so please allow me to reiterate in capitals: I, THE PROJECT MANAGER, DECIDE HOW MUCH YOU GET PAID. Considering this, I would think that most people would decide to extend at least the most basic common courtesies and politeness to a person in this position, but apparently I’ve been placing overly high expectations on the general population.

Once again, I want to make it clear that these views do not cover ALL – or even most – of the translators I work with, only a certain percent. But as the number of translators with whom I work increases, the number of people with no sense of civility or courtesy does also. So please, heed my modest request: Manners were one of the first things you probably learned when you were a child. With the slightest bit of practice, they shouldn’t be that hard to remaster. Please do so.

E. Friedman