It has been said numerous times that the best reader is a translator. In fact, often it is hard for us to read a text for pleasure without thinking about how we would translate it. In our daily work we are used to using our critical eye to read then examine texts and carefully research them before we get on with the main task: translating.

So why is it useful to work with a translator with an inquisitive mind?

Since we are in the business of effective communication, a good translator will up front ask the client questions like what will the text be used for, who is the intended audience, where it will be used if these have not been made clear.  Often it can be difficult to know whether to ask or not, but in my opinion, if you have done plenty of research, and would like clear reassurance, then by all means ask your client, as this will help both parties to achieve your end goals.

A curious mind

A curious translator who carefully reads and dissects a target text is worth working with. They will identify the parts in a text that seem unclear, spot sentences that have a double meaning, notice typos or that missing comma and any other improvements that can be made to the text, then go back to the client, which is normally really appreciated (provided it is done politely, with good reason, in good spirits and the translator is not nitpicking for nitpicking’s sake). Why is this helpful? Because effectively it helps the client to improve the original text, to refine it and make it more precise, targeted and suitable for its audience.

Partnering and collaborating with your client

Just this morning I received an email from a client saying:

“This text is just to give you an idea of what we’ll be translating. Our Italian translator has pointed out places where our text can be improved for marketing purposes, so we will make those changes first before we proceed.”

When I read this I immediately thought: wow, there is an example of a translator who understands the true definition of partnering and collaboration with the client. When I started out as a translator, I was too guilty of “just translating the text” and not thinking about its greater use. Then after asking a few questions to a client as a text I received seemed poorly written and receiving his responses, I realised that doing so helped me to think about the text’s use in a wider framework. Clients appreciate that we want to work alongside them to achieve their goals and success. However, there is no doubt that there is the odd client out there who prefers we do not ask questions and just get on with the job. It is up to each individual to decide how to or whether we proceed to work with them.

Subject-matter related questions

In addition, a curious translator will also refer to subject-matter experts when other sources are unconvincing. My sister is a pharmacist, so I often refer to her if I have a question and she often provides me with the answer or secondary source material on those tough medical matters. She is fantastic.

Incompetent nit-wits?

Of course, a professional translator should always do their research and avoid asking needless or potentially annoying questions, as the last thing we would want to do is come across as an incompetent nit-wit, so a bit of common sense alongside all the research we put into our work never goes amiss.

In conclusion, in my experience asking questions has been positive for me. It has always made me feel more confident that I am working tight to the brief of my client. I feel we are working together and that they appreciate I have taken the time to go one step further than just translate.


What about you? Do you ask your clients questions? Does your approach differ where agencies and direct clients are involved? I would love to hear from you, so please feel free to leave a comment below.


4 thoughts on “Post 3: Why a translator who asks questions is a good thing…

  1. Hi Christina,
    I work with direct clients only and I always ask questions (I tell them beforehand that I will do so) and they generally give me then the name of the person directly in charge of the document.


    1. Hi Bénédicte,
      In my opinion you are working in the right way and it is good to tell them that you will have some questions beforehand. We are not mind readers, so this is definitely a good approach!


  2. Couldn’t agree more. I am a German to English translator in the field of technical translations and corporate communications. I am one of those translators who asks questions before and during the translation. It has always worked for me and is generally appreciated by my customers. I work mainly with agencies but make sure that they know my way of working before we start collaborating. If they are not prepared to pass on queries to the end customer/author of the text then I won’t work with them. Many of the agencies I work with even have templates for the communication between translator and end client. I think it is part of the added value we provide. We must point out inconsistencies, ambiguities and localisation issues. It’s not a matter of just asking the client to translate a term or a sentence for us, but to explain things that are not clear and cannot be resolved despite our extensive research. I understand that it might be difficult for young or inexperienced translators to do this, but we all need to promote the idea that this is the right thing to do, so that it becomes the norm.


    1. Hi Trish!
      Thank you for your comment. It was lovely to see. I like your point re the agencies you work who have templates for communication between client and translator. You have hit the nail on the head when you say it’s part of the added-value. I believe that all professional translators would produce more or less similar translations of a given text, but our extra value to a client lies in our ability to point out and provide this type of advice, to go above and beyond what the mere requirements. I hope to hear from you again! Greetings from Belfast!


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