Watch your language!

anarkyThe webinar I gave with James on websites for translators went really well yesterday, but at the end, I completely misunderstood a question and ended up giving Really Bad Advice. I was able to correct myself once I realised my mistake.
The question was: “If you’re not able to write perfectly in your second language, should you still write the copy for your website, knowing that it will contain a few mistakes?” Because I was fiddling with my headset, I missed some of the question and thought it was about professional communications with clients. I said that most people are very forgiving of mistakes made by someone writing in their second language and that as long as the client knows this and that the message is clearly conveyed, a few minor mistakes shouldn’t be a problem.
Your website, however, is another matter altogether. As we explained in the webinar, a translator’s website is a shop window: it must be attractive and make the visitor want to know more. It’s the chance to engage with potential customers and present one’s abilities and competencies and as translation professionals, we just cannot afford to have language mistakes in it. Even when writing in our second language, errors will reflect badly on our integrity and attention to detail and this why the English side of my site is carefully proofread by a native English speaker. This includes almost every blog entry – not the small ones, which I’m confident I can get right so long as I use simple language, but definitely the longer ones, which may involve delving into issues a bit more deeply and having to convey more complicated concepts. Typos are one thing, but if I want to be taken seriously as a translation professional, I must show language the respect that it is due.

By |2016-10-18T15:48:49+00:00May 12th, 2010|Marketing and networking|6 Comments

About the Author:

I am Céline Graciet, a freelance English to French translator. Since 2003 I’ve been writing on all sorts of areas linked to translation and the life of a translator.


  1. Sarah Dillon May 13, 2010 at 8:19 am

    FWIW I didn’t realise the question referred specifically to website copy either, so your answer made perfect sense to me. Especially given how long I agonise before pressing “send” on client emails.

  2. céline May 13, 2010 at 8:47 am

    Well, that’s nice to hear. I felt a bit silly giving my opinion in a very confident voice, only to make a 360 degree turn a minute later once I understood what was going on…

  3. Leslie May 18, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    I love your website and am a fairly regular reader. I’m a French to English translator and am constantly amazed at your blog posts in flawless English. So it was funny you should make a little typo in this sentence: “…this why the English side of my site is carefully proofread”.

  4. céline May 18, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    Ha! Clearly not carefully enough 🙂 Thanks!

  5. Bela May 21, 2010 at 2:45 am

    Your proofreader also missed this in that same sentence ‘[…] by a native Engligh speaker.’
    I worked for five years as a production editor and proofreader in a large London publishing house, I am totally neurotic about errors in what I write (whether in my mother tongue or in English). My blog posts are not proofread, but occasionally I get an email from my (British) partner pointing out something I missed. After 30 years in the UK, I can’t afford to make mistakes in emails to potential employers either: I would lose all credibility. Before the advent of email, I remember a BBC producer phoning me supposedly to ask me a question, but in reality to check what my English was like before he entrusted me with his precious text. Twenty-three years later, I still work for him from time to time. You can never relax.

  6. steve vitek May 24, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    I agree that if we can have a native speaker proofread what we translate or write, we should do that. But I don’t do that with my translations because it would add 15% to the cost and extend the turnaround time, and I would probably lose much more than 15% of my customers.
    I also think that one should remember that “native fluency” is a dynamic, not a static concept.
    George W. Bush is a native speaker of English and his English is just atrocious. Henry Kissinger is not a native speaker of English and he speaks with a heavy German accent. However, although he will occasionally make a mistake, presumably because English is not hist first language, he speaks much better English than G.W.B. and many supposedly highly educated native speakers of English.
    Incidentally, when I saw Henry Kissinger on a German TV show in Germany in 1981 or 82, he spoke English in a discussion while everybody else spoke German. At one point he took off his headphones and listened to the conversation in German, and then put them back on. Clearly, he was not able to participate in the discussion in German.
    Some people simply don’t have a native language any more. I am one of them. I happen to think that it is much more fun to be able to express yourself in a foreign language rather than in the one that is or was your first language.
    Native speakers don’t know what they are missing.

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