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Friday, September 17, 2010

Communication Is Power

Few of the current generation of translators remember the times when translation was a lonely profession and the translator had the opportunity to meet other translators only in person or over the phone.

Then came FLEFO, which allowed us to communicate with our colleagues instantly and across oceans and national borders, the mailing list of Lantra-L, and the newsgroup sci.lang.translation. Today we are all linked via hundreds of websites, mailing lists, and social networking utilities. These tools allow us not only to consult fellow translators all over the world about a technical term or an idiom, but also to exchange information and experiences about specific clients. We can also ask for and receive advice from experienced colleagues on how to handle certain business situations.

In the old days we were almost powerless against a client who refused to pay for work performed. Today, in addition to the dozens of mailing lists that cater to translators working in certain languages or certain areas of expertise (patents, law, medicine), we have sites and facilities dedicated to defending our business interests regardless of our language combination or specialization. Payment practices and client rating sites such as ProZ, Ted Wozniak's Payment Practices, or the Translator Client Review List can be used both for obtaining information about potential clients before accepting a job and for denouncing a client who has reneged on his obligation to pay for a translation done.

It is difficult to overestimate the power of tens of thousands of translators in permanent contact with each other, exchanging information and acting on it by deciding on how to deal with a certain client or whether to do business with that client at all. It is perfectly conceivable that a translator in Thailand is offered a job from France but, after consulting one of the payment practices lists, refuses to accept it because a colleague living in Argentina once had a bad experience with that French client.

Today, an individual or company who fails to pay or otherwise mistreats translators cannot expect to stay in business for long. Deadbeats are no longer dealing with individual translators, but with the entire global translator community, electronically interlinked and exchanging information at the speed of light. And those translators who fail to make use of this novel opportunity put themselves at a disadvantage in a business world that ignores national borders and physical distances.