By Marion Rhodes
English~German translator

I recently had a brief insights session with a career coach to outline the next steps on my path towards business success. After 8 years of building my freelance business, I figured I had reached a point where my translation career might benefit from some outside of the box perspective. 

It didn’t take long before the career coach suggested that probably the biggest factor that’s standing in my way right now is my propensity for perfectionism. Checking and double-checking every translation is a huge time-suck, she determined. 

To help you understand, here’s how my translation process works:

1. Translate sentence by sentence
2. Read over the finished translation, comparing source and target sentence by sentence and making edits
3. Print the translation and read over it as a whole one more time, highlighting further edits (I always find some)
4. Make the edits determined in step 3 in the digital file 
5. Read over the final document on the computer one more time before sending the completed translation to the client


The coach therefore suggested I work with a professional to get over my “perfectionism challenge” so that I may free up more time to work on new projects. After all, more projects = more money. Simple, right?

The truth is, I frequently run into situations where I have to turn down assignments, mostly from agencies, because tight deadlines wouldn’t allow me to go through my regular translation process. I figure if I can’t do it right, I won’t do it at all. After all, I have a reputation to uphold. 

Yet the more I thought about the coach’s advice, the more I realized that I don’t want to change my approach. To me, my perfectionism is a strength, not a weakness. As a freelance translator, my goal is to provide my clients with 100% perfect translations. I want my translations to be something I can be proud of, and if that means going over them again and again, then this is simply the cost of doing business for me. 

I do not believe that perfectionism is a bad thing in my profession. Sure, there are plenty of translators whose work process is less time-consuming than mine. They finish translations faster, allowing them to have a higher turnaround and to handle more projects overall. I am not saying that those translators don’t deliver good work (though we all know many of them don’t). All I can say is that I do not believe that I would be able to produce translations that are up to my own standard if I cut corners in my translation process. I may translate less, but I can charge more because my work is worth it. 

So I told the career coach that I appreciated her advice but would rather not address my “perfectionism challenge.” I told her I considered it an asset, not a liability. I don’t think she agreed, but it doesn’t matter. 

If I learned anything during our brief conversation, it is that we translators need to make sure those who don’t belong to our sub-species understand the value of high quality translations and the process that goes into them. I can understand that to an outsider, my 5-step process might seem excessive. But I imagine that other professional translators follow similarly thorough approaches. Am I right?

About the author - Marion Rhodes


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  • Anita

    July 1, 2014 at 5:59 pm

    My process is pretty much the same and I have been wondering if I am being too obsessive and if it is taking too much time. I agree that quality is of utmost importance and I refuse to send anything less than my best. However, I have been playing around with ways to streamline my process (reading the source text in its entirety first, rereading a section aloud before translating the next, etc.)

    I have also brainstormed other possibilities. I can have the final revision done by a colleague (depending on the project), which would free me up for extra work and/or add more clients who are willing to pay well for quality.

  • morristraduction

    July 4, 2014 at 6:02 am

    Nice one Marion. If it’s any consolation, my process is almost identical…although it’s also quite fast…

  • morristraduction

    July 4, 2014 at 6:03 am

    Although that looks like a lot of edits if that’s a real photo! 😀 I use a highlighter and find that’s enough of a springboard for me to remember what I wanted to change back on the screen…

  • germanxl8or

    July 5, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    Thanks for your comments, Andrew. It is real, but this was a particularly challenging translation (a translation of a fellow translators work, no less!), which brought out my OCD tendencies even more than usual. It looks bad because I rewrite the sentences tight there on paper, too. 😉

  • germanxl8or

    July 5, 2014 at 3:10 pm

    Thanks, Anita. Reading the entire source text first can be quite time-consuming for longer documents, unfortunately. Of course, having a colleague review the translation is the best situation, hands down. However, when I am sending a text to a translation agency, I want it to be perfect before their reviewer lays eyes on it – and hiring a proofreader myself with agency rates is just not feasible. So I guess I am stuck with my approach and can only hope that over time, it will continue to get faster and faster.

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