Professional Feedback


The best feedback I ever received was in response to a translation for a new agency several years ago. The proofreader had a problem with the terminology I had used, explaining that the most authoritative reference in this field was this particular lexicon which I had obviously not used. I was fairly new to the field, so I immediately went out and got my hands on this holy grail of terminology, which has been a life-saver on more than a few occasions since. So even though the critique stung a bit, I am grateful for it because it told me something I really needed to know in a straightforward, non-offensive way.

The worst feedback I ever encountered, on the other hand, was when I was doing a final QA check on a translation by a colleague which had already been proofread. The translation did need a lot of work, but the proofreader had added increasingly frustrated personal comments in the margin about the translator’s deficiencies. Finally, when the translator rendered “voorwand” as “inferior wall” the proofreader exploded “Here we go again! How can anyone not know this means “posterior wall!” Unfortunately — or to be totally honest, amusingly — the proofreader was wrong as well, as “voorwand” means “anterior wall”.

This incident has stayed with me because by using such an unnecessarily petty, adversarial tone, the proofreader lowered himself in my estimation more than the hapless translator. And if I had been a client, these outbursts most certainly would not have given me any reason to take translation seriously as a profession.

A lot has been written about the fact that many people don’t really know what translators/interpreters actually do. This is frustrating, but on the other hand, it means we still have every opportunity to shape public perception of what the profession is all about, and one major factor which determines how people perceive us is how we interact .

I think law and medicine have some traditions worth pondering. During a trial, all interactions are codified; each party takes turns according to strict rules and no matter how heated tempers get, there is a standard of conduct that must be observed or you will be held in contempt. The message is that the ideal and the pursuit of justice (even if individuals fall short), are worthy of respect, and that the legal profession is therefore worthy of respect (lawyer jokes notwithstanding).

Same with the medical profession. What stands out in the thousands of Dutch medical documents I’ve translated over the years is the formality with which doctors refer to each other.  It’s always “Dear colleague”, “I entrust my patient to your excellent care”, “thank you for your faith in me in referring your patient”, etc. The only glimpse of frustration I ever got was in a medical report where a doctor stated, “the reasons for my colleague’s approach are not entirely clear to me”. Translation: “I have no idea what the **** he was thinking.” It made me laugh because it was so unusual. But if this type of comment was commonplace, I wonder what it would do to my estimation of the profession.

I’m not trying to get everybody to gather ‘round the campfire to hold hands and sing kumbaya; wherever you have two people you’re going to have disagreement, and that can be healthy. But how we do it makes a difference in people’s perception of our profession. A little judicious formality and courtesy helps assign value to what we do. I’d say that overall, this is already the rule in the linguist community, and I’ve learned a lot myself just by watching more experienced colleagues interact. But sometimes the exception is what people remember, like the angry proofreader I mentioned above.

Have any of you had experiences that reflected well or poorly on our profession?

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