Translation time warp

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Old time clockFrom the strange requests department

The first week of January 2012, I was asked for a quote from Lithuanian to English. The prospect forgot, I suppose, that mastering the source language is necessary to the translation process.

The third week in January 2012, a prospect who was referred to me by an existing client asked for a quote to translate their new brochure.

“Terrific! I’ll be glad to,” I emailed back, “could you send me your file please?”

“I’ll do that when I get back from vacation in three weeks,” said the prospect.

Things that make you go hmmm…

Remember the 1990 song by C&C Music Factory “Things that Make You go Hmmmm…”?


Following up

So mid-February comes around, and Thunderbird dings to remind me to circle back to the prospect.

Hi prospect, hope you had a nice holiday, if you still wish me to quote for your project, please email me the document.

The following day (this gal is not stressed a t  a l l !), she writes back asking for my postal address to send me their brochure.

Say what?


No reference here to George Orwell’s masterpiece.

1984 was the last time a client sent a document to be translated by snail mail. I remember because that was the year I bought my first computer – the first “transportable” model ever made, a NEC Multispeed. It changed my life, bye-bye CorrectoType!

And the year I got my first email address, way back when one connected using noisy dial-up, CompuServe and lines of code to communicate electronically.

I was an early adopter. Most of my clients caught on pretty quickly.  But I was in New York. When I moved to France in 1995, many still looked at me as if I’d arrived from Mars when I’d speak of email and the Internet.


So 28 years later, this gal’s email threw me for a loop. (Where yo’ been, girl?) Were she asking me to translate a previously published book, written on a typewriter or by hand, I’d understand. But the current version of a commercial brochure that’s just been DTP’d?

So, in 2012, what do you do?

You Tweet about it. Translators like to share off-the-wall requests with one another. Among commenters, Corinne McKay quipped this one was worthy of a blog post.

Then I shot off another email to the prospect (tenor of message, not how I expressed it):

Having the print version is great. Seeing the layout and images will help ensure text and visuals mesh compellingly. You can email me the PDF (internal dialog: will she know what a PDF is? Surely they approved galleys before having the darn thing printed?), and here is my snail mail address in any event.

But let me warn you, dear prospect, we’re in 2012. Professional translators have electronic tools now that help us work better; we use computers, glossaries, check coherence and all that fun stuff. We like Word files. Working from a hard copy is a royal pain in the neck. And it takes a heck of a lot more time to craft a translation that is fit-for-purpose and glitch-free. Yeah, I can work from a hard copy, but it’ll cost ya’ and I know you are budget conscious. Scrounge around, I’m sure you’ll find an electronic version tucked away on someone’s computer. 

I suppose I’ll get a response in the middle of next week sometime. She should be in a rush by then, maybe… I’ll let you know.

Meanwhile, life goes on, with more predictable translation projects and some challenging copywriting ones.

What off-the-wall requests have you had so far this year? Make us laugh, it’s healthful!


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Comments: 4

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  • There’s one that was posted to a large number of Polish translators, in summary:

    An organisation researching shopping habits is looking for a translator to translate a 60-pages long market research document from English into Polish within 2 weeks. The successful applicant will receive a valuable recommendation.

    How funny…

    • Oh goody! A valuable recommendation! Wouldn’t it be great to send that right on to your landlord to pay the rent!!

      Got a message from my prospect this morning… “All other quotes have been established this way.” Not sure yet how I want to phrase my response…Suggestions welcome!

  • Great post, Patricia! Thanks for letting me manipulate you into writing it 🙂 The other funny thing is that “low tech” requests come from surprising places: I always think of the publishing industry as relatively tech-savvy, and I’ve now had *two* publishers send me a book in the mail for a quote (?). On the positive side, your non-stressed client could be a positive; nice change from 2,500 words for tomorrow! And thanks for the fun memory of CorrectoType too!

    • Thanks Corinne. It was an easy arm twist :-), fun post to write. I’m not holding my breath for this project; instincts tell me to duck. It’s important to listen to that inner voice!