This is the second part of the Feedback in Translation series. You can find Part 1, “What to Expect,” here.
By Anna Livermore
The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.
– Henry Ford
When was the last time you received feedback on your work? Were you happy with it? Did it sting a little? Did you learn anything from it?
Receiving feedback from clients is important by all accounts, especially as detailed review of one’s work can be hard to come by. The fact that an agency or a direct client takes time to provide feedback (that is more than just a numerical value on an arbitrary scale) is a great sign: it means that they value the work you do and are willing to invest in making the relationship more productive[i].
However, receiving feedback is just the beginning. What really matters is how we respond to it and what we learn from it.
Being able to respond to feedback constructively is a key skill for building trust and rapport with clients[ii] and coworkers, if you hold an in-house position. If they know they can count on your cooperation in achieving the quality of translation that they require, you are more likely to receive repeat business and referrals.
One of the main difficulties with processing feedback is the fact that in translation it usually entails finding faults in the target text and informing the translator of those faults. One look at the ProZ[iii] contest supports that: the number of mistakes (dislikes) fellow translators highlight in translations submitted to the competition by far exceeds the number of merit points (likes) those entries receive. There is a reason for that: our job demands perfectionism. And although research proves that receiving negative feedback is critical to improving one’s performance, it also suggests that dealing with negative feedback can be difficult, because initially people tend to feel defensive[iv].
It does take some effort not to take it personally but to remember that feedback is not an attack on your skills. It is worth remembering that the intention of any editor is (or should be) to improve the target text, to work on its readability and style, iron out mistakes that slipped through your net and to identify any localization issues.
It is therefore important not to rush your response, but to read everything carefully and consider the nature of the corrections and why an editor would make them. Some corrections will be obvious (grammar, style, register, word choice), others might contradict what you thought was the right solution, and then, of course, there is the grey area of preferential corrections that do not improve the quality of a target text but “sound better” to the reviewer.
Responding to feedback constructively does not mean agreeing to everything that a client says and corrects. A lot of the time feedback from agency and direct client reviewers will be valid: they might insist on using specific terminology that conveys their market expertise, or they might feel that a change of register would better suit their brand identity. But there will be times when you should defend your choices. Some inexperienced direct clients might question the target text from a position of translation and localization ignorance: for instance, insisting that every word in a title is capitalized in a Russian target text, which is not the norm, or making corrections to a translation based on the logic “but I saw it on other photographers’ websites written this way (albeit completely ungrammatical).” Cases like this are a great opportunity to establish yourself as an expert in what you do and provide valuable advice to your clients.
If you do challenge any corrections made to your translation, make sure you can back everything up with reputable sources (corpora, references to style guides and grammar manuals etc.). Personally, I also try to keep it simple: when discussing feedback with direct clients who wouldn’t know their gerund from their participle, I aim to uncomplicate the information for them and put it in terms that they can relate to. Doing so can be challenging sometimes, but will certainly earn you some extra points with clients.
And of course, don’t forget that the process of deconstructing feedback and analyzing it for the purpose of responding to a client will benefit you in other ways too:
- The most obvious reason is that the analysis enables us to perfect our translation skills. It is equivalent to satisfaction surveys other service providers send out to try and understand how well they are doing in addressing their customers’ needs. Here is a little trick I developed after I took my first ATA Certification practice test: I would analyze feedback from every test translation and project I completed and categorize every mistake according to the ATA Certification exam rubric[v]. This gave me an insight into areas I could improve, allowing me to focus my efforts.
- Other reasons include understanding the tone of voice, style and terminology different clients prefer and expect in future assignments to ensure the consistency of how their brand is presented. We do not have a crystal ball, and even the most thorough project brief won’t always cover everything.
- And finally, the type of feedback received speaks volumes about the client, where translation fits into their business and how much they value it—information that can be useful when analyzing your client database.
Anna Livermore is an English>Russian and German>Russian translator and former marketing specialist. With a linguistics degree from the Oxford Brookes University and a Professional Diploma in marketing, she came to specialize in translating marketing materials, corporate communications, website content and various components of SEM. She is a member of the Slavic Languages Division’s Social Media team. Contact: email@example.com
[ii] Source: http://www.cambridge.org/elt/blog/2014/03/17/five-reasons-feedback-may-important-skill/) accessed 10/15/18
[iii] Source: https://www.proz.com/translation-contests/pair/2834 accessed 10/20/18
[iv] Source: https://hbr.org/2018/05/the-right-way-to-respond-to-negative-feedback accessed 10/20/18