Translation skills are undervalued

I have been thinking a lot about educating clients about translation. In May 2014, I attended the International Conference on Economic, Business, Financial and Institutional Translation in Alicante, Spain
( Afterwards, I reflected on what I learnt. The main thing was that, despite the efforts of translation organisations such as the Institute of Translation and Interpreting and the American Translators Association, many companies still do not understand the benefits of professional translation. During the conference, I attended a session on tourism translation. One of the speakers discussed her campaign to convince a regional tourism board to improve the quality of their translations. This campaign which had so far met with little success. Other speakers during the session continued in the same tone. They all agreed that the tourism industry as a whole appears to believe that travellers will accept poor translations as part of the holiday experience. However, studies show that this is not the case and potential customers are in fact likely to avoid tourist attractions as a result of these poor translations. The topic of discussion here was tourism translation. However, many translators with other specialisations have pointed out the same fact – that clients or customers often reject a product or service because of poor or misleading translations.


Why clients still need to be educated about translation

Educating clients about translationThe most obvious reason why translation (and interpreting) is undervalued is that people do not understand what these professions involve. In the UK, the key may lie in people’s attitudes to foreign languages. Languages are poorly taught in schools and university language departments are closing. This highlights the fact that many British people do not regard language skills as important because “English is the global language: everyone speaks it”. Until people realise that this is not true, it will be very difficult to improve the status of translation and interpreting as professions. When it comes to translation into English the situation is more complicated. Potential buyers of translation do not seem to realise the negative impact poor language can have on their business. Many also seem to think that translation is typing up a document in another language and therefore requires less time and effort than writing.


How should we be educating clients about translation?

Since there is clearly a need to educate potential clients on the benefits of professional translation, how should we do this? Many translators suggest sending potential clients improved versions of translated text found on their website, etc. However, care must be taken with this approach not to appear to patronise the potential client.

What do you think? What has been your experience of educating potential clients?





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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Alison Hughes

    Great post Louise. On my recent trip to France I came across a small champagne cooperative who showed me the English version of their literature saying ‘we know it’s terrible because all our English-speaking visitors kill themsleves laughing at it’. They had seen me give my card to the owner of another champagne company and asked for one too. Maybe we should just spread our marketing net very wide and hope we find companies who have no idea how to get a good translation and actually want one? Are we wasting our time with a too-targeted approach which is falling on deaf ears?

  2. Oliver Lawrence

    Hi Louise, you mention some studies showing that potential customers are put off a restaurant, hotel or attraction by translations.
    Was that Inga Michaeli’s talk?
    Do you have any references?
    I’d like to follow up on that specifically; do drop me a line at

    1. Louise Souter

      Hi Oliver,

      No it was not Inga Michaeli’s talk. I read an article in a travel industry magazine a few years ago which referenced several studies which suggested that many tourists find the poor English (which was presumed to be a translation) on some hotel websites and other travel information offputting and the conference made me think about it again. Unfortunately I seem to have lost the article. The talks during the session I refer to were:

      Rebeca Cristina López González (University of Vigo)
      Post Tourism Online: Bridging the Cultural Gap between Describing a Galician City and Attracting Foreign Visitors

      Jorge Soto Almela (Universidad Católica de Murcia, España)
      Traducción turística: ¿traducción especial(izada)?
      Tourist translation: special(ized) translation?

      Francisca Suau Jiménez & Laura Ramírez-Polo (IULMA / Universitat de València)
      La traducción estratégica de páginas web de hoteles: un elemento necesario para la persuasión del cliente
      The translation of hotel websites: aspects of discourse and localization necessary to persuade customers

      Ángela Flores (Universidad de Salamanca, España)
      La traducción/comercialización de la “Chambre d’hôtes” y de la “Table d’hôtes”: por una necesaria transparencia para que la oferta funcione
      The translation/commercialization of “Chambre d’hôtes” and “Table d’hôtes”: for a necessary transparency for the supply to work

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