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A translator you know to be good in "IT" says they are also good in "legal". Is it probably true?
Thread poster: Henry Dotterer
May 31

Hi folks,

In connection with the "public alpha" release of the new ProZ Find directory, we are experimenting with different approaches to ranking of translators and interpreters. As we do so, some thoughts and questions come to mind. I'd like to get some quick reactions, from freelancers and clients, to one question in particular.

Let's say there is a translator who you know to be highly qualified in a given area of expertise. Let's say this person is top-notch in the IT field. You've worked with them, or outsourced to them, you respect and know them. They do good work, they ask questions as appropriate, deliver on time, and so forth.

If such a person tells you that they can also do legal work, how certain are you that this is the case?

Another way to ask this might be: In your experience, how likely is it that a person who is known to be a very good translator or interpreter in a given field of expertise, will also be qualified in any other field that he or she claims to work in?

Just for fun, I am using the "inclusive" format for this posting. This is a format that we have had since 2004, I think (it was called "focus"), but that has only been used about ten times. Basically, in the interest of making it easy for a large number of people to participate in a discussion and be heard, the number and length of postings is limited.

And before someone says it, we do plan to add a "Like" button soon.icon_smile.gif


 
Quite certain May 31

Under the circumstances you describe, I would be quite certain and trust what a trusted supplier told me, well knowing there is no such thing as absolute certainty in this business. I have been disappointed many times when outsourcing to translators I didn't know who, according to their credentials, should be able to deliver good quality, but didn't, so the personal element is more important to me.

"Can do legal work" does not mean "can do any legal work", and not all legal work requires an international human rights lawyer.


 
Too many variables May 31

I see the point of your question, but this is very hard to pinpoint, and creating too many restrictions will be counterproductive.

For example, I have majored in Legal Linguistics, have a degree in human resources, and a Bachelor's in translation. Also, I have extensive experience with renewables acquired during 2 years as a project manager, I have worked as an English language teacher for 2 years, and I have subtitled around 80+ movies + I have been working as a freelance translator for the past 8 years.

Am I proficient in all of the fields mentioned above or am I proficient in none of the above?

Would you entrust me a contract translation? What about an HR presentation on internal company rules? What about movie subtitles or a methodology guidebook for teachers?


[Edited at 2018-05-31 19:13 GMT]

[Edited at 2018-05-31 19:14 GMT]


 
Yes May 31

I agree with Thomas.

 
@Henry May 31

Henry Dotterer wrote:
If such a person tells you that they can also do legal work, how certain are you that this is the case?


No matter how much I trust a colleague whom I've not met personally, I would not simply believe him concerning his skill in another field, but rather take his comment to mean "I am willing to do X" instead of "I am also an expert at X". However, if there are other indications that he is an expert at X, then I'll be more eager to give him the benefit of any doubt.

Another way to ask this might be: In your experience, how likely is it that a person who is known to be a very good translator or interpreter in a given field of expertise, will also be qualified in any other field that he or she claims to work in?


More likely than not.

Just for fun, I am using the "inclusive" format for this posting.


This feature would simply discourage people from quoting, since quoted text also counts towards the character limit.

[Edited at 2018-05-31 19:49 GMT]


 
If you trust them May 31

One of the code of professional conducts reads

To represent our qualifications, capabilities and responsibilities honestly and to always work within them

If I truly trust a colleague, with whom I share the same value and beliefs, and I believe that they uphold the value, then I am confident that they are telling the truth.

The colleague might not have a degree in the legal realm, but may have had enough hands-on experience and practices to make such claim.


 
In my experience, May 31

very few people who claim they can "do legal" can actually do legal. What is even more appalling is that some of them are actually lawyers.

Oh, and then there are those who think "legal" is vital statistics records, such as birth and marriage certificates, etc.

Oy vey!


 
Probabilites are not of much use May 31

what is relevant is the specific case.

It well may be probable that having more than one field of expertise is unlikely, but not believing someone that they could do perfectly well 2 (or more) areas of specialisation on the grounds of "probabilistic reasoning" could be counterproductive - shooting yourself in the foot by ignoring someone with real expertise and giving preference to someone claiming only one field of expertise but in fact not having much advanced knowledge of even that one field.

Probabilistic reasoning might be good enough if you want an acceptable average (you don't care about receiving some rubbish work if you also get some brilliant work), but mu guess is that clients would rather have each translation being of some minimum standard.

There is also another element that counts: not the already acquired knowledge, but the capacity to acquire new knowledge when necessary.

Even in fields you are familiar with, you will find from time to time completely new (to you) terms. If you don't have good methods for researching these new concepts and the background knowledge to understand them, any previous "expertise" is of not much use (in one, two or three fields makes no difference).

One extreme example of that is IT - it's developing so fast that if you are not capable of continuous learning, any expertise you have is quickly gone.

Another "minor" point: having enough time / not rushing usually helps to maintain quality - unfortunately that's not a feature of the "outsourcing" corporate craze ...


 
There might be no strong correlation between good legal translation and law school training Jun 1

The Misha wrote:

very few people who claim they can "do legal" can actually do legal. What is even more appalling is that some of them are actually lawyers.

Oy vey!


Right. I know quite some ethnic lawyers who do not write that well in English are practicing laws in the USA.


 
+1 for inclusive Jun 1

If "inclusive" means shorter posts, I am for. Can we make it the default format? Nothing worse than those half-page rants.

 
IT? Jun 1

Computer hardware? Smartphones? Software UI? Cloud computing? Bitcoin? Meanwhile, it's hard for anyone who works in any area of IT to avoid working with EULAs and privacy notices, which are often boilerplate and use a fixed set of terms with standard translations and phrasing.

I also think anyone who is capable of working competently in only one field or a very restricted range is a very poor person indeed, and not just as a translator. It shows a lack of willingness or capacity to absorb information and learn new things, which will have a negative impact on all their work. They will have a narrower range of vocabulary and expression, and are more likely to be stumped by or mistranslate things that are not directly in their comfort zone (for example, legal texts that contain computing terminology).

Anyone who has received higher education and has a legitimate interest or two ought to be able to translate competently in several areas, especially in today's world where information is so readily accessible.


 
Agree Jun 1

Daniel Frisano wrote:

If "inclusive" means shorter posts, I am for. Can we make it the default format? Nothing worse than those half-page rants.

I never read those posts. I just give up.

Apart from this so as not to deviate from the main topic, if you've worked with the person for such a long time-your post seems to imply it- surely the person will have come out with the truth and said s/he knows something about the subject but that s/he is not a specialist. If the said person does not feel comfortable translating IT, surely that person would have put his/her cards on the table and said so? That is what happens in a relationship, whether face to face or online-and you, as outsourcer, will be able to gauge if the person is telling the truth if a successful business relationship has been ongoing as you said. Otherwise what does trust mean? Surely that person will not jeopardise his/her reputation (besides other things) by alleging s/he is a specialist in an area s/he is not good at? But being a specialist in law does not exclude being a specialist in one other area, though.

[Edited at 2018-06-01 07:15 GMT]


 
How does "inclusive" mean succinct? Jun 1

Speaking as a former PM, if a translator who I worked with regularly and appreciated for their IT work claimed to also be able to perform legal translations, I would trust them. They presumably wouldn't run the risk of losing my agency as a client by making wild claims.

If I had only given them one job so far, I might take their claims with a pinch of salt, but nevertheless take a chance on them if I had no reliable legal translator available.

Legal overlaps with literally everything, as does IT these days, so I'm perfectly willing to believe that someone is competent in more than one field. Very few translators are so highly specialised that they only work in one field. I remember one translator who only translated stuff about motorcycles and was incensed when I sent her something about bicycles. In fact she was not a full-time translator, she just did that on the side, and otherwise did other motorcycle-related work.


 
Who is the client? Jun 1

(1) I agree with everyone else that it makes sense to trust a person whom I had good reason to trust and who made a plausible claim.
(2) The search function should be flexible, because different clients have very different needs in this respect.

A generalist agency that decides it needs a different translator for every different subset of every field of translation is going to fail. There are clearly capable generalists out there and agencies could not exist if that were not the case.

It makes a lot of sense for a small direct client that only needs a handful of experts in one or a few subjects and types of texts for one or a few language pairs to invest time in gathering a pool of specialized translators.

I agree with Lincoln and Daryo that almost any specialist text involves research into other fields, so you can't be good at anything if you are not good at quickly familiarizing yourself with new areas.
On the other hand, personally, if I translated an IT text:
- I would have zero sense of whether I was choosing the right near-synonym and whether I was writing like people who write about IT.
- Without substantial background knowledge, the meaning of sentences (and words) often becomes very ambiguous.
- I would be pressed for time, because I would be doing a massive amount of research.
- My authors' writing would probably seem pompous, circuitous and full of jargon, because I would be a layperson reading a text for experts.

It's like translating into a foreign language: I can do the research and check for errors, but I lack an intuitive feeling for whether I am creating a good or a bad translation, and I can easily overlook mind-boggling errors.


 
I have had this experience Jun 1

Henry Dotterer wrote:

.....They do good work, they ask questions as appropriate, deliver on time, and so forth.

If such a person tells you that they can also do legal work, how certain are you that this is the case?....


In my opinion such a professional person would be honest. If they have no real expertise in the other field they would say so, and would politely turn down the job.

The only area of doubt, in the particular case mentioned, would be legal texts pertaining specifically to IT.


 
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