Championing the translation profession

We translators often lament that the market doesn’t appreciate us: our professional status is low, and getting potential clients to understand what we can do for them is like pulling teeth. Bad translations are rife, perpetrated and perpetuated even by organisations purporting to offer high-quality products and services – organisations that should know better (but clearly don’t).

What is to be done? Beyond ranting, sniggering or becoming embittered, that is. Beyond faintly frustrated, quasi-resentful, badly targeted preaching to the wall.

In other words, what can translators do individually, collectively and constructively to boost our profession’s profile and status, to make “the market” more receptive and, in particular, to raise awareness of the real benefits that translators bring to business, industry, the public and society in general?

We need to stimulate a cultural change. Through an effort that’s part marketing, part campaign, part client education.

As individual translators, we can smoke out and pursue prospects who do understand the value of a professional translation. Many of us already do so independently in our marketing. But what is being and could be done collectively? Through the professional institutes and associations, for instance, as an obvious starting point.

Some touch on this in their mission statements, albeit without quite hitting the nail on the head, it seems. The ITI is “one of the primary sources of information on [translation and interpreting] services to government, industry, the media and the general public.” The CIoL “aims to enhance and promote the value of languages and language skills in the public interest … [and] be an authoritative voice promoting … the professional status of language work.” FIT focuses on “promoting professionalism”; IAPTI, on the “defense of the translating and interpreting profession”, which is commendable as long as defence does not turn into defensiveness.

What, specifically and practically, do our professional institutes and associations do to address these issues? To educate, raise awareness and promote our value to our “target markets”. What outreach initiatives have there been with chambers of commerce, trade associations, embassies, industry bodies, and so on? What results have been achieved? Is anything holding us back from doing more? For, clearly, there is much progress to be made.

Perhaps it is a problem that many/most of our (end-)clients and prospects are based in our source-language countries, where the texts are produced. If the UK translator institutes are not active in Italy, for example, then Italian businesses will probably remain unaware of the benefits of Italian>English translation; similarly, maybe the Italian translator associations feel no incentive to promote the value of IT>EN services in Italy, if the vast majority of their members are Italians translating EN>IT. Perhaps there is scope for greater cooperation with translator associations in foreign countries, e.g. with other FIT members?

To communicate the translation profession’s value effectively to businesspeople, we need some hard figures – a business case, some undeniable arguments that prove how translation helps the bottom line. How a professional translation of a landing page grew leads/conversions/sales for Giovanni’s Prosecco by 49%. Or whatever. I broached this subject with the ITI last year, offering to supply the translations for an A/B test, for instance. The offer is still open.

So let’s raise the status of our profession. Not necessarily among the general public, as they have no particular reason to care about translation, but among the people who do. “People with a vested interest in getting it right in areas they care deeply about – healthcare providers intent on saving lives; legal counsel defending undocumented immigrants; businesses promoting painstakingly developed products in a fiercely competitive global market; start-ups on the cusp of stock-market listing…”, to quote Chris Durban.

So what can we do? What if, for example, we had a concerted campaign to coincide with Translation Day in September (which gives us plenty of time to organise something)? What if every member of every professional association in every country gave a presentation to their chamber of commerce, spread the word at a networking event, wrote an article in their source language, or contacted prospects directly to explain the benefits of what we do?

How much could we achieve, I wonder?

What could you do?

A version of this article was published in the March-April 2016 edition of the ITI Bulletin