When the client does not understand the complexity of what you need to do.
May 29, 2015 § 4 Comments
The title above would probably apply to most of what you are dealing with at this precise moment. It usually applies to much of what we do as interpreters, but sometimes it really goes overboard. I was recently part of a big project that involved the transcription, translation, and review of hundreds of hours of recordings needed for a trial in the United States. In the past I did a respectable amount of work in this field, although I must confess that I have never been a fan of transcription and translation. To me, it is too passive and it requires of more patience than I can possibly have.
My idea of having a good time does not include sitting down for endless hours listening to poor quality soundtracks, endlessly rewinding some recordings, and trying to understand mumblings. I don’t do it often because it is not my cup of tea, but I fully understand how difficult it is to produce a professional transcription and translation that can be used and defended in court. I know how hard it is to work as a transcriber/translator, I am aware of the little money that many of them make, and I have seen how underappreciated they are.
As professional interpreters, sometimes we have to bite the bullet and do some work that is not our favorite. A good client, an interesting project, and especially a high paying assignment will put us in a situation where we cannot say no. This is what happened to me when I was asked to be a part of a very qualified team that tackled this huge transcription/translation project. In my everyday practice I am constantly asked to do transcriptions, and I usually refer them to an elite group of colleagues who do an excellent job, charge what professionals should charge for their services, and make me look good in the eyes of my client who requested the service. It was precisely because of the colleagues that were part of the assignment that I decided to join the team for the assignment in question. I have to tell you that the transcriber/translator team for this job may have been the “dream team”, but the client was definitely not.
The first thing that became evident was that the client had no idea of what a transcription/translation was. A real transcriber must have the skills of an interpreter and a translator. He needs to “listen” to an oral statement, write it down, and translate that written text into the target language. A transcriber has to make a written record that accurately includes word by word what was said in the source language, and then, he must apply all of the target language grammar rules just as a professional translator does. This process requires time, a very long time.
The concept of one hour of work for one minute of recording was foreign to this client, and I think that at the beginning they did not believe us. The assignment was on a tight schedule because of some court deadlines that had to be met, so we were asked to produce the transcriptions/translations in three weeks! Of course this was impossible, so the agreement was to provide part of the work by said date.
It was going to be difficult, but the transcription team was very good, so we decided that this was achievable. Unfortunately, two of the three weeks went by as the transcribers had to wrestle their client to the ground in order to get the correct materials needed to start the transcriptions. Some files were missing, others were misplaced, the recordings were in very different formats, and so were the transcriptions by the investigative agency. Audio and video files had a different name and number from their corresponding written files. Some files were compressed and no password was provided to the transcribers, others were missing, and a single disc would contain audio and text files in very different formats that required different software as well. We requested a meeting with the client but the request was denied. At that point I thought about jumping ship, buy my professionalism and loyalty to my colleagues made me stay.
The entire process was like this. I don’t want to bore you with details about expected problems such as poor sound, unintelligible words, and impossible slang, that all comes with the territory, and many transcribers/translators do this type of work because they like to solve problems.
Many of the obstacles we faced during the assignment were unnecessary, they had little to do with the complexities of transcribing wiretaps and phone calls; they all came from a lack of understanding and an unwillingness to learn about these aspects of a judicial process that are frequently present in those cases involving non-English speakers. At the end, we as team managed to get a meeting with a different person who was high in the client’s organizational chart. This individual listened to our concerns and understood the complexity of the task. We received new materials and were granted access to all files and persons we needed. As a result of this change, and because of an epic effort, our professional transcribers/translators fulfilled their professional duty and contractual obligation and the job got done.
Unfortunately, the “victory” came at an extremely high cost (time and money) because of the ignorance of the client. It is clear that experiences like this one can be used in the future to help us educate other clients so they can avoid unnecessary expenses and we can produce top-quality transcription/translation work for a truly professional fee. I now ask you to please share with us some of your war stories as a transcriber/translator, especially the ones that had to do with a bad client. Tell us what you did to educate the client, and to simply get them to provide what you needed to do your job.