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Translators, whether they are freelancers or work as part of a team in a translation agency, are often reluctant to ask their clients questions. Yet when questions are relevant and posed carefully they can lead to a better quality translation and save time in the long run as answers can prevent misunderstanding which has to be rectified in the long run, anyway.

There are several reasons why translators don’t ask the questions they really should be asking about a project they have been handed or are a part of. One reason is that the translator may feel that clients think they don’t know their job properly or that they should find out the answers on their own. Another simpler reason is that it does take time to phrase questions, wait for answers and then read through them and adjust what they were going to do. Clients are often very busy with whatever their normal work entails and often do not respond to questions quickly, compounding the frustration. This also applies to project managers where the translation project is shared by several translators in a team.

To help the task of posing the right questions at the right time, here are some suggestions which may make the task of asking questions easier.


  1. Ensure that your question is aimed at the client’s language level. It can be particularly frustrating for clients to try and understand what you as a translator are trying to ask when the language used is not that of the client. It is better to phrase the question carefully in simpler language which can be understood.
  1. Try and rephrase the questions so that they are “closed.” Open ended questions may lead to confusion for the client and you may end up with answers to something you never asked in the first place. Closed questions basically have only a few possible answers. The simplest closed questions of them all are those that have “Yes” or “No” answers. One way to change an open question about a translation topic into a closed question is to pose what you think is intended and ask whether this is correct – yes or no? A series of questions like these are easy to answer and take surprisingly less time. The corollary to that is that it takes you as the question poser more time to construct them.
  1. Use your team’s “common language” for all questions. If you are working as part of a multilingual team, there will be a common language to be used, whatever the languages that are being translated from or to. Use that common language as the language in which to phrase your questions. It may or may not be the language of the client.
  1. Check the template you have been given before asking questions. You may have been given a template to follow, either by the client or the project manager if you have one. Always carefully check the template before asking questions as the answers to those questions may have been provided by the template.  Templates typically include style preferences and the use of units, dates, times etc.
  1. Review your questions before sending them to the client. Just as you would review and proofread the translations you compete, you should do this for your questions as well. Imagine that you are the client receiving the questions. Do your questions seem clear and answerable? Have they already been answered? How important are the questions in relation to your translation task?



Clients have a role to play in making translation tasks easily understood as well

Asking questions is just as important for clients as it is for translators, although the questions are of a different character. Clients are not always experts in the subject content of what they wish to be translated. They are also not necessarily fluent in the language of either the source or the target reader. Clients have a responsibility to try and ensure they have reviewed their translation task ahead of submitting it to the translator to eliminate as many possible queries as possible.