Bear with me, please.
Outstanding translation is usually draped in a cloak of invisibility: seamless and compelling, it passes for original text. That’s right: people forget that the report/article/maintenance manual/essay/speech they’re reading was born in another language.
Meanwhile, translators are a reclusive bunch, often happier with the word-on-the-page than with social interaction. Many have never met a client in the flesh. Discretion is the watchword: although most love language, few sign their work.
Is this a problem?
Well, yes. It means that most potential translation buyers know nothing about how translation is actually performed. How practitioners actually work.
Often clients don’t even think about translation until the crunch comes. Cue panic, tight deadlines, sucker solutions via machine translation, desperate scribbles by inlaws of friends-of-friends—flawed, even comical “translations” that yank the profession out of the shadows only to discredit it.
Today’s Ruckus Message for translators who want to turn this situation around: Forget the general public.
Instead target smaller groups—people with a vested interest in getting it right in areas they care deeply about. The meaningful specific rather than the wandering generality.
Healthcare providers intent on saving lives (or avoiding lawsuits) in Brooklyn—or Rennes.
Schools reaching out to immigrant parents and kids in Akron—or Aubervilliers or Furuset.
Legal counsel defending undocumented immigrants in East Anglia.
Businesses promoting painstakingly developed gluten-free products in a fiercely competitive global market.
Humanitarian groups bringing drinking water to villages in rural Cambodia.
Film makers reaching across national borders to connect with the hearts and minds of viewers around the world.
Start-ups on the cusp of stock-market listing, eager to attract international investment funds (and ultimately cash in their stock options).
International authorities dismantling nuclear weapons.
Crazed, passionate inventors seeking international patent protection for their latest breakthrough.
You get the picture. People who care.
And to connect with them, show them that you care, too. That you’ve cared enough to hone your language skills and writing skills—your art. That you’ve done the work; you’ve mastered their specialized subjects so well that you can pass a Turing test with your eyes closed. That you’ll go the extra mile, you’ll find solutions for even the trickiest language and cultural issues. You won’t bail when the pressure is on.
Once passionate folks who care have seen first-hand what you do, they’ll not only seek you out with more assignments, they’ll become your mouthpiece. They’ll talk you up to their tribe—enthusiastically and often spontaneously. And you can use their success stories to tell yours. To the general public, if you insist.