Customer always right?

English is a sensitive issue for many Italians. Until recently, it was infamously poorly taught in schools. Knowing English well is associated with career success, travel and worldliness. Many Italians I know who have a solid intermediate level of English will claim to know none. However, the paradoxical flip side of the coin of insecurity can be overconfidence. Clients asking for my services will often say they just don’t have the time to do it themselves. All over Italy are the disastrous results of people confident they needn’t pay a translator.

Because English skill is an ego-laden point here — correcting someone’s English can seem tantamount to calling them a rube — it takes tact to deal with non-native revisers. Italians with high-level English (and always correspondingly aware of their limitations) can be great revisers; their questions often lead me to better solutions. But I find it difficult to avoid getting tetchy with over-confident revisers. Some signs of overconfidence:

1) Translating slogans, section titles, etc. themselves. Recently, I just barely saved a client from printing up their staff T-shirts with a major grammar mistake in the English.

2) Sending “corrections” (“coocked ham”) to the English directly to the graphic designer and merely CCing the translator.

3) Rejecting the translator’s suggestions in favor of what “sounds right to them.”

4) Thinking it’s easy and should be paid accordingly.

I like to be helpful to my clients, and I understand how it can be hard — particularly for authors — to relinquish control. But I’d ask a little more faith, a little more humility, and perhaps a little independent Googling before querying common English phrases.

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