Review by Eugenia Tietz-Sokolskaya
Topic: Dutch, Independent Contractors, Translation
Speaker: Joy Burrough-Boenisch
Haven’t we all, at some point or another, had to deal with a client best described as “opinionated”? Or noticed that our language skills needed a bit of brushing up? So it should come as no surprise that Joy Burrough-Boenisch’s unambiguously titled session was packed, including by plenty of people who didn’t know Dutch.
Joy, a British expat permanently residing in the Netherlands, set the stage with some important context: the Dutch have some of the highest English proficiency levels in the world among non-native speakers. Translators working in this environment find themselves constantly having to justify their translation choices—or discovering after the fact that their translations were subjected to “disimprovement” without their knowledge by clients overconfident in their own English skills.
Based on her own experiences and reactions she’s seen from her colleagues, Joy offered a few suggestions for reacting to disimprovement (whether suggested or already irreversible):
- At the far timid end of the spectrum, you can follow the “client is always right” mantra and let it go, especially if your name is not explicitly associated with the translation.
- At the other extreme, if a client is being particularly intransigent, drop them! One of Joy’s colleagues blacklisted an entire Dutch government ministry as a client for some particularly egregious edits and accompanying disrespectful treatment.
- There is, of course, a middle ground, mostly centered around tactfully voicing your objections, whether during the editing process or after the fact, respected authorities in hand to justify your objections. View the time spent justifying your version as an investment in your professional reputation.
- Speaking of professionalism, take a moment to step back and ask yourself if maybe the client is actually right. Do your research and be willing to admit it if you were wrong.
- Reiterate your advice against the changes in every communication, and if changes are made without your knowledge or against your advice, get it in writing that it was not your responsibility. In matters of law, it becomes particularly important to request a written statement that unauthorized changes were made.
When it came to resources to cite, Joy came out as a strong proponent of corpora, such as COCA (Corpus of Contemporary American English). In addition to researching the frequency of certain collocations across the language as a whole, they can be used to determine the register of a particular word or phrase.
Corpora also featured prominently in the first section of the talk, which covered language attrition, a particularly salient problem for expats like Joy, who work in a country where they are surrounded by a foreign language (and often by a lot of foreign-inflected English). Over time, this exposure begins to interfere with their native-speaker intuition for how English should sound. The first signs of trouble will show up in mixed-up prepositions and false friends, but language interference is at its most insidious where it affects style and rhetoric. Different languages prefer sentences of different lengths and different argumentation styles (do you state your conclusion first, then support it, or do you lead the reader gradually to your main point?), and these standards are so ingrained that we can barely articulate them, let alone notice when they start to slip.
Joy’s recommended treatment for language attrition is reading up on contrastive grammar and—you guessed it—making good use of corpora to check yourself on prepositions, word frequencies, and appropriateness for the specific text type. I would add that these approaches are also worthwhile for those of us not living abroad: if I spend long enough staring at a Russian source text, or worse, editing non-native translations from Russian, eventually I notice language interference rearing its ugly head as well. Listening to Joy’s engaging talk inspired me and gave me the tools to fight off language interference and remain professional in the face of client feedback.
Eugenia Tietz-Sokolskaya is an ATA-certified Russian to English translator specializing in legal and financial texts. She has a Master’s in Translation from Kent State (2016) and has been working freelance since graduating. She can be found at firstname.lastname@example.org and www.sokolskayatranslations.com.