I’ve got toothache, would you mind taking a look? (Or, why we should trust professionals a little more)

Ask anyone their opinion on what to do about a problem with your teeth, and you will undoubtedly receive the same advice: go and see your dentist. This is no surprise. After all, they are experts and professionally trained. They should know exactly what to do and should do a good job. I would argue that dentists don’t really suffer from an image problem. We may complain about the high charges, but, essentially, everyone knows that they have all completed extensive training and that there is no one in a better position to look after your teeth.

This same rationale should apply in most professions, that those performing it at a professional level have done extensive training or education, and are best placed to handle the job at hand. However, many industries seem to suffer from an image problem or lack of understanding among those outside the industry, which can lead to a lack of trust. To briefly stay with the medical profession, there seems to be less trust in the veterinary industry compared to dentistry. Although veterinarians are qualified doctors and have done extensive training, there does seem to be some distrust amongst clients, many of whom may feel they understand their pet’s needs better or will trust the local dog breeder’s advice over the vet. Perhaps the veterinary industry suffers from an image problem?

The health of ourselves and our pets is highly important which is why the medical profession is very interesting for illustrative purposes. The translation business also seems to suffer from an image problem, probably stemming from a simple lack of understanding of what translators do. This doesn’t stop people from assuming or guessing, however. The general perception is that translators are really good at speaking foreign languages. While this is often true, there is a lot more to being a translator. The translation profession is a multi-disciplinary domain, with expertise required in writing, grammar, editing, linguistics, literature and sociology, not to mention the specific areas of knowledge needed for various subject matters, such as medicine, law, mining, IT, etc. A professional translator will have studied and gained experience in several or all of these areas of expertise.

Unfortunately, the assumption that professional translators are just “really good at speaking foreign languages” , or that machines can do it these days, can cause problems when evaluating translation agencies. One of the all-too-common approaches is for potential clients to ask their own employees to evaluate translations based on the fact that these employees speak the particular language in question. “Hey, Sergio from Accounts speaks Spanish so he should know good Spanish when he sees it, right?” Well, possibly, but is he qualified to judge a professional Spanish translation? Does every English speaker also possess excellent English spelling, grammar and writing skills? Is the local dog breeder qualified to accurately diagnose the medical condition of your puppy?

We may seek advice from Sergio and dog breeders because we know them, maybe like them and more importantly, we may trust them. These reasons are all perfectly valid but the question should still be asked: can you really trust them on this particular subject? Ask yourself how qualified they really are, might they be feeling they should be critical, is it in their interests to be objective? Perhaps we blindly trust dentists too much, perhaps we should all be exercising the same caution we do for other professions. It is certainly not unreasonable to get second, even third opinions and to perform due diligence when using or buying any service.

So, how do we evaluate a good translation company? For the same reasons you may approach someone you know and trust for their advice, it’s surely a good idea to get to know that company. Get to know their processes, their other clients, their quality control and of course their people. If you do want an internal review, choose those who are qualified to make objective assessments on language and get them to perform blind tests with several translation agencies. Remember that it may take some time for translation agencies to really get to know the brand and product, which is why client feedback is certainly important and to be encouraged. Even allowing for some time for this client-vendor relationship to build, you should still be able to form a relatively quick impression of that agency’s professionalism and quality standards.

Understanding a little more about an industry and the expertise of those who work in it can go a long way to removing distrust and scepticism. There are charlatans in every field, but once you’ve done your due diligence to ensure you’re not dealing with those, perhaps we should all learn to trust the professionals a bit more and be comforted that there is no one in a better position to look after your project.

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