or Why so many questions?


When you visit a doctor for the first time, he asks you the usual questions about the vaccinations and the illnesses you had an so on. The doctor needs this information for your medical history: the better he knows you, the better he can help you. This procedure is called anamnesis.

The medical profession and the one of a translator have much in common. To begin with, both are regulated by the same tax legislation, both being eligible for free-lance job. Both the doctor and the translator must respect people's privacy and they both have to interfere with the private life of the people who need their services: the doctor has to ask you to take your clothes, the translator may be needed during a trial. Therefore, it is only natural, that the translator applies some of the doctor's methods, in particular, anamnesis.

Imagine that you are calling a translation agency: you have a document that requires translation. You would like to know:

а) how much it would cost you,
b) how long it would take for a translation to be done.

You probably do not know this, but the translator needs to ask some questions of his own in order to be able to answer yours. And believe it or not, they are more than two:

  1. What is the direction of translation, its source and target languages ?

  2. What is the subject area of the source text?

  3. What is the volume/length of the text?

  4. How urgent is the order: will you be able to await it for a week or it is needed for the day after tomorrow?

Having obtained answers for these standard questions, the translator usually is ready to tell what the approximative quote is. Nevertheless, in order to provide a high quality translation he also needs to know the following:

  1. Who is the translation's target audience? Which institution requires the translation, who will read it?

  2. Are there any special requests for translation: should it be normal, abridged or enriched with explanations?

Besides that, when a written translation is required, the client is usually asked about the format of the source text: paper/digital, modifiable/unmodifiable. It's the 21st century, people!

On the other hand, when there is an order for an interpreting session, the interpreter requires the “case papers” in order to get prepared. Those can be speeches, lectures, orations etc. (see the article Translator's Rights and Duties).

For a written translation of a text of specific matter the translation may need some reference materials on the subject, or some advice of an expert, from a Ph. D. in mathematics to a priest [1]. If the client is an expert himself in the field in question, it is in his best interests to assist the translator, especially if the client is also the author of the source text. You know what they say: if you want something to be done, do it yourself. At least, part of it.

Translation or interpreting in not a one-way road from manufacturer to customer, it is partnership and cooperation. Help your translator and he will help you. Just like a doctor.

References :

  1. Alekseeva, I. S. Translator's Professional Training. St. Petersburg: Perspektiva, Soyuz Publishng House, 2008. pp. 162-163