Translators ask a simple question before taking on any new gig: Are my skills right for this task? It’s challenging to answer with so many unknowns. How technical is the language… Do I know enough about the topic? This article talks about how translators can get answers through signaling.
What is Signaling?
Signaling, in short, is indicating something to another person. Think presidential candidates pummeling the airways with advertisements. The idea is pretty simple, but let’s dig a little deeper.
Where signaling becomes a little more complex is when people don’t know much about each other – what academics call ‘imperfect information’. If someone who needs a translation (a client) doesn’t know much about a translator, they’ll probably go to someone else they know more about, like an agency. The translator - regardless of their quality level - can't differentiate themselves, and contracts with an agency as well. So, what we don't know about each other can keep us from being able to directly contract with one another.
This isn’t the best-case scenario for either translator or client. The client gets service provided by any translator provided by the agency. The translator ends up providing service at commodity-level prices. The goal for the translator should be to minimize what the client doesn’t know. How’s this work?
Signaling a Standard
Translators may signal to clients about their quality level by getting relevant certifications or training. But, it’s also so important to understand just what is signaled through certs and training - they signal a standard, not the individual.
Only service providers that pass their certification/training will signal that they can perform at a certain standard. Even so, it’s the standard that is being signaled, and...
The client is left wondering: Is this translator right for my task?
Signaling Individual Quality through Networking
Signals also come through a professional network, which is built through previous clients. This is great for the client and service provider, because recommendations come from trusted people who observed the actual work done in-action. If done well, a virtuous circle of networking should develop. On the flip side, though, people are much more likely to signal when they’ve got bad things to say. So, there is huge motivation not to take on tasks that are more than one can chew on!
It’s pretty obvious that only experienced service providers will grow their network enough to be signaled consistently. This puts up a huge barrier for excellent - but new - translators. Networks take a lot of time and experience to build, so...
The translator is left wondering: How can I build a professional network?
Signaling through an Online Identity
Online platforms hold a special place on this list, because they only happen through the direct efforts of the service provider (in the same way as happens with certificates and training), and the efforts of a community (in the same way as happens with networking).
But – how do you know if you’re using them right? One way we analyze this is through Klout, where some of the biggest names in the industry have high scores, like Tess Whitty and Marta Stelmaszak. At this level, LinkedIn, Twitter, FB and the other platforms don’t simply work as discrete elements of an online identity. Rather, they support one another to design a single online identity.
Translators that signal competence online get the message out to clients by building such an identity. Those that signal but are not competent are filtered out. Those that don’t signal online remain unknown.
We think service providers that signal well will be more likely to be found by the right type of client for the right type of task. Signaling well means signaling about yourself, signaling positive things, and signaling to many people. So, the question has really changed to 'Have I signaled well enough so that the right client is asking me about the right task?'
This post was written by Michael Grez and Tian Huang of Intran Solutions, providers of Chinese/English conference interpretation and translation.