To be (or not to be) an effective translator

In a recent article, Jenie Gabriel from the translation agency Gengo has been suggesting seven practices to improve one’s efficiency :

  1. Work quality assurance
  2. Continuous proofreading and reviewing
  3. Good customer relationship management
  4. Learning from feedback
  5. Stepping out of the comfort zone
  6. Meticulous time management
  7. Continuous learning and improvement

What kind of efficiency are we dealing with ?

Upon reading this advice, we instantly realize that it is not about time-saving nor organization or customer relationships improvement tools. It is rather a question of work improving than of “work more to earn more”.

Jenie Gabriel quotes Aristotle : “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit”.

Therefore, translators must aim for excellence. Why is that ? For the love of the profession, or for work ethics ? Partly, but it is mostly to stand out.

In a world where language service providers must meet increasing needs, the supply also rises, but with very different quality levels.

These habits would therefore rather be a way of determining the difference between a trained and experienced expert and others. Between someone who, through the quality of its work, manages to develop a loyal customer base with interesting and profitable projects, and someone forced to translate whatever is given to him.

Being efficient is not a matter of word count, but rather of gaining more savoir-faire and quality. It is not only about translating, but also building a reputation and making sure there will be more translation projects tomorrow.

Yet, the excellency standard set by this advice—while it allows long-term efficiency to the company—seems to contradict the short-term need to translate fast (and well) and therefore to be cost-effective.

Develop the habit to be effective (and vice versa)

“Time is money.” You could think that the time spent waiting for proofreads, sending e-mails and calling customers is wasted for translation.

Of course, but that is when practice steps in : the daily tasks get faster to carry out. By making sure that they keep improving for each new project, translators make less mistakes and thus spend less time reviewing their work. They gain efficiency in their short-term work.

Excellence and habit go hand in hand, just like Isaac Newton said : “When two forces unite, their efficiency double.”

Alexane Bébin

Translated by Sarah Deville

Proofread by Kim Condron

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How to better your proofreading technique

Translators and technical writers are supposed to write perfect texts in terms of linguistics, cultural adaptation and graphical norms. In any case, it is always possible to encounter a few mistakes. Be sure to thoroughly proofread the text to ensure your work is beyond reproach before it can be delivered. This part of the process is necessary to check that the final product is understandable, fluent and in compliance with the target audience. Below are a few pieces of advice which can prove useful to proofreading.


The goal of a proofreader is to spot mistakes which remained unnoticed in the text. To do so, the ability to focus is strongly required : you have to get rid of distractions of any kind -cellphone, radio, etc.- and to make sure you feel rested. Otherwise, fatigue can lead to a lack in focus. It is also preferable not to proofread your own work. It is easier for us to notice the mistakes others make compared to our own.

One should also read the text out loud to correct any rhythm issues before identifying grammatical or spelling mistakes.

Automated spellcheckers, no matter how useful of a tool they are, are not always 100 % accurate. One way to spot mistakes is to proofread the text starting from the end. It might seem illogical, but this technique allows for the eyes to focus on each and every word instead of focusing on long sentences. That way, our brain does not automatically correct mistakes according to their context -like it usually does when reading chronologically- but it is tricked into finding spelling mistakes and typos.

There are traps specifics to each language that the proofreader needs to pay attention to, such as homonyms for example. It is rather easy to confuse words which are spelled or pronounced the same way, even if they have different meanings.

Finally, numbers can also get in the way of proofreading if they aren’t written correctly. Proofreaders need to pay close attention to numbers whether they are working on a translation or a text written by a technical writer. If a number seems wrong, proofreaders need to rely on their common sense or do a quick research to correct any mistakes.

Francesca Laganella

Translated by Céline ECHILLEY