When the Translation Client Thinks They Know the Language

Someone embarking on a career as a professional translator may not be able to imagine how many surprises or funny stories can emerge from this job. In my opinion, this is what makes this profession one of the most interesting professions to work in.

Let me tell you about an experience I had with a client who wanted a translation from Spanish to Brazilian Portuguese. The client was from a Spanish online dating company and he wanted his web site to grow in the Brazilian market. Sometimes people who speak Spanish assume they have “some understanding” of the Portuguese language, which makes it a bit hard for us as translators to work with them.

One time, when I had finished translating a piece and sent it to my client, he started to send phrases back to me, asking why I translated them in that way. He was very confused about the use of the second person and the two similar possessive pronouns “suyo” (in Spanish) and “seu” (in Portuguese). This is because one critical difference between Brazilian Portuguese and Spanish (from Spain) is that in Brazilian Portuguese we often use “seu” to refer to the second person or “você,” while in Spain “suyo” is only ever used to refer to the formal third person or “Usted.”

This really messed with the client’s head, because he was that sort of translation client who had “some knowledge” of the Portuguese language, but not enough. With that kind of client you must have a bit more patience and must spend more time and energy explaining why you have to do things in a certain way. Only after addressing the client’s concerns will the project go smoothly. I like these clients because they challenge you to display your knowledge as best you can.

Sometimes working as a translator is not enough, and you have to be prepared to help your client with his or her concerns. You have to act as a linguistic and cultural bridge and provide suggestions, as this helps to build trust between you and your client and good relationships are critical to any business relationship, translation and elsewhere.

About Valéria Oliveira

I am a native Brazilian Portuguese translator currently living in Valencia, Spain. I hold a degree in administration with an emphasis on marketing. I mainly work translating web sites, apps, online magazines and other content between English, Spanish and Portuguese.