The human being needs to compare to its peers, to classify and categorize. He needs hierarchy to fight anarchy and be reassured. Human societies force us to constantly show our mettle.
Throughout life, we are watched by others. It begins in the womb, just to be sure that you look like something human. Then when you’re born, your parents count your twenty fingers. At school, teachers want you to have 10/10 in math (don’t worry if you have a little less, it’s not as important as fingers). And then in high school, college, exams, etc… And it’s not over yet.
Translation is no different. Our work is scanned and criticism is fierce when quality standards are not met. Praise, even deserved, are much less spontaneous.
Some outsourcers can go really far and treat their colleagues as students, not equals. Think about those translation agencies school-like evaluation systems, by awarding marks to translators for each project. The final mark is an average based on criteria such as the use of appropriate terminology, compliance with instructions, layout, etc. Others are less objective, such as a turn of phrase. If the mark is good, don’t expect a word. But beware if you supposedly failed!
Anyway, I really don’t think it’s the best way to tell who’s good enough and who’s not.
I’ve been confronted to more or less justified remarks several times during my (still short) career. If I generally accept them well enough (as a way to improve), the last time, it hurt more than it should have. I can see several reasons:
- On the principle: it’s never nice to hear that your work isn’t entirely satisfying, and the nature rather exceptional makes it even more significant.
- On the form: an single line email sent by a manager, like some heavies coming out of nowhere to pack your stuff in a cardboard box and showing you the way out. Attached to this email was a document compiling tactless and hurting comments about my work, probably written by the mischievous spirit of a reviewer who got out on the wrong side of the bed.
- Also, the stark lack of right to reply. Here, the translator is not involved in the review process, as it may be the case in some other agencies or international organizations. It is therefore impossible to justify your choices and defend your work. The all-powerful agency does not tolerate dissent.
So what reaction should you adopt in this situation? There are several scenarios:
- Criticisms are justified. Don’t worry (easier said than done) and try to understand what happened. Maybe you were tired, overwhelmed or working on a text you didn’t like…. Take the comments into account, thank the proofreader and avoid making the same mistakes again. You may want to start a glossary for this client or hang on your wall the things you should remember for the next project. Also, take some time off; accidents happen, and a little rest can often fix things.
- Criticisms are not justified. You are sure your work is good and that the proofreader has some kind of a grudge against you? Pick up your phone (or go to the agency, if possible) for a real discussion. Be very tactful, or you might lose a source of income: try not to stubbornly reject everything, give concrete examples and use reliable resources. If this is impossible, perhaps it is time to find a more accommodating client. Whatever happens, never cry foul, it’s never a good thing.
- Some is justified and some isn’t. The solution is in both points above.
In any case, act like a professional. Try to get detailed comments, be objective, acknowledge your mistakes and fight for your choices. Feedback should help you move forward, not convince you that this job isn’t made for you.
If you have faced criticism too, please share your experience and reaction in the comments below.
(Thanks to Vanessa and Magali, who helped be with this post)