Perfection comes at a price

Perfection comes at a price

This week I’m welcoming Cristina Bertuccini to the blog for a guest post. A native Italian speaker with 15 years of experience as a professional translator and consecutive interpreter (IT-EN-FR), working for both direct clients and agencies, she trained formally in legal translation, interpreting, and terminology, and over the years she has specialised in the legal (business law) and cosmetics (skincare) fields. Committed to effective communication, accuracy and readability, she firmly believes in life-long learning and continues to hone her skills and deepen her knowledge in her specialty fields. When she is not working, she is active in various translation-related groups on Facebook to keep abreast of any new development in our profession and promote best practices among young colleagues.

Precious feedback is the key

What follows is the English translation of a post that appeared on a Facebook group for Italian translators in July 2017. It was written to reach out to those who are just starting out in our profession.

At the time, a few young translators were complaining about the unsustainable rates paid by agencies “because of the market”. Other criticized some agencies’ unprofessional behaviour. Most of them probably wondered whether all agencies were like this. A young translator asked how they could tell whether they were being treated fairly.

Unfortunately, it is well-known that some translators who never complain just put up with being paid peanuts, believe this is their only option, and accept that these agencies give timely feedback only when the quality is so poor that the end client refuses to pay for their work.

Any such price-driven LSP is consistently making sure there is no room for young talents to develop and thrive. Luckily, there are also agencies that put quality first, recognise talent when they see it and do their fair share to retain valuable translators.

I recently went to the dentist for my routine dental prophylaxis. Instead of the usual hygienist with “the velvet touch”, I was welcomed by a young dentist who has recently graduated with a major in oral implantology.
“Wow,” I thought, “What a luxury!”


Well, not really. My teeth did end up perfect, but in the process, I got some polishing paste on my cheeks and his slightly shaky, latex-gloved hands sealed off my nostrils. I will spare you the pain and any more unpleasant details but by the time he had finished I had tears in my eyes and felt like I’d been in a splatter movie.

I stood up, looked at my teeth in the mirror, and then told him that, although the excellent result came at the end of a rather painful process, I was happy with his work. I then gently drew his attention to what he could improve. I paid the due amount to the dental practice’s secretary without asking for any discount, retouched my make-up in the restroom and left.

At this point, I guess you are wondering, “What does this have to do with us?” Well, it’s like this.

In a group I belong to, someone recently asked about the characteristics of a “good agency”.

So imagine for a moment that you are like that young dentist.


The people at the “good agency” are patient enough to understand that you may be young and a little lacking in confidence, but you have studied and prepared for the job, so they choose to trust you. They complain the minimum necessary to make you more focused (“Next time, I’d rather have the polishing paste only on my teeth, perhaps”); they do not try to intimidate you by trampling on your self-esteem and dignity; and they provide you with the precious feedback you need to improve and become a full-fledged professional translator, one they would be happy to have on their team.

We have all been young, inexperienced and lacking in confidence. We have all made dubious translation choices, hit a bump on the road, and maybe made a blunder.

With experience, continuing study and practice, however, we can develop our “velvet touch”. Our pen then becomes light as a feather and precise as a needle. Basically, we learn how to do a great job. We know where to put the polishing paste, and we don’t suffocate our patients or draw blood.

However, it is never too soon to learn how to spot problem clients and agencies that care more about haggling for bargains than getting a job well done, and show them the door. The sooner we learn that, the better it is for our mental, physical and professional health.

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