Language Professionals celebrates 30 years in businessChristiane Lutze
This year Language Professionals celebrate their 30th year in business.
That’s quite a feat!
To mark this milestone, we had a chat with managing director Max Doerfler and manager Françoise Le Cossec about the highlights of the past three decades, working in the language industry, NAATI and giving an outlook for the future.
Q: Language Professionals has been established in 1988 in Sydney. How and why did you start your translation and interpreting company?
Max: I had recently graduated with a degree in translation and interpreting and had several years’ experience as a translator and interpreter. I was working as Officer-in-Charge of Interpreters (courts, police, public schools etc.) for a NSW state government department, when I decided that my vision of a highly professional translation and interpreting service managed by accomplished language professionals could only be achieved by establishing my own firm which I aptly named Language Professionals.
Françoise: I joined Language Professionals as a business partner in 1996 after being ‘head-hunted’ from SBS Television where I was working as a full-time French subtitler.
Max: Françoise helped to transform Language Professionals into a comprehensive language solutions company, always being at the leading edge of new developments in DTP and multimedia. The company continues to enjoy an outstanding reputation and works with a small permanent team of dedicated language professionals from various backgrounds.
I think we must be doing something right to have succeeded for 30 years and still be serving the requirements of regular clients.
Q: How has the business developed since then?
Max: We started out in a serviced-office set-up in the CBD with a small room and 2 desks. Later, when we began to do in-house multilingual desktop publishing, we moved to a larger office in order to accommodate more desks for translators to type their work straight into our system. Most translators at that time, especially those with non-western languages, did not have or could not afford a computer and either provided their translations handwritten or typewritten via snail mail, fax or courier.
Françoise: I remember during some projects which involved a large number of languages all desks and computers were occupied. We needed much space and staff at that time. Now that almost everyone has their own laptop, smartphone and whatnot we are more productive with half the staff.
Q: What was your most memorable project – in translation or interpreting? What are you most proud of?
Max: The most memorable project in LangPro’s history was certainly the 2000 Sydney Olympics bid, both in terms of the scope of work and the excitement gripping the country in the lead-up and during the Games. We were often working throughout the night, with translators occupying all desks in the office.
Françoise: Yes, we worked through many weekends, and in the final stages of the bid process we also put in extra efforts throughout the Christmas and New Year season. The night Sydney was announced as host of the 2000 Olympics, the excitement in the city was unbelievable and people spontaneously erupted into celebrations on the streets. The atmosphere was amazing and lasted for several years.
Max: Being selected as the provider of simultaneous interpreting services for the G20 Leaders’ Summit in Brisbane in 2014 was another great milestone for us. In terms of international interpreting projects Language Professionals works in close collaboration with Bertold Schmitt, who has played an instrumental role in this area as our Conference Services Manager for the last 20 years.
Naturally, these high-profile projects are just the tip of the iceberg. We are good at what we do and excel in providing top-quality service for any kind of project. We treat every project with importance: from the translation of a one page birth certificate to an intricately designed brochure, from on-site interpreting at a doctor’s appointment to interpreting at a ministerial meeting.
Q: Tell us a little bit more about your clients.
Max: Our clients cover a wide spectrum including corporate clients of all kinds and sizes as well as public authorities and government departments and private individuals. Of course, we can’t get into details here and name any names. We are proud of the close and long-term relationships we have with some major organisations.
We have developed special expertise in the area of immigration related translation, handling thousands of documents a year. The professional quality of our translations is important to the visa application process and outcomes. Overall, translation impacts on people in all domains.
Françoise: We gain some remarkable insights into people’s lives and issues through our work. We are aware of the enormous responsibility that comes with this access to information and treat all documents with utmost confidentiality. As professional translators and interpreters we adhere to the AUSIT Code of Ethics.
Q: What would you tell your younger selves about starting the business? What lessons have you learnt along the way?
Max: Trust your instinct and take manageable risks. Be prepared to work hard and put in long hours, all without the security and regular salary a normal job may bring. Keep an open and fine-tuned mind to recognise opportunities and threats. Choose your staff wisely. But above all, operate the business and perform your work with integrity. It may sound like a cliché to some, but the litmus test is whether I am comfortable looking my staff, my clients and my freelance colleagues (and myself) in the eyes without any guilt, shame or regrets.
Françoise: I agree. At the end of the day it is important to make a decent income as well, but – in our view – not at the expense of integrity and quality.
Q: What is your favourite part about your job?
Max: Translation and interpreting has been my second career in life, after working as a registered nurse in Germany and Australia. I have never looked back after the decision to change careers back in 1984. I enjoy the variety, the challenges and the ultimate satisfaction I get from a job well done.
It has been said that the knowledge of an experienced translator or interpreter can or should be as vast as the ocean… but only one inch deep. I appreciate the astonishing diversity of people and their expertise and wisdom as well as their approach to life. Sometimes the contacts established in the course of my work will result in other assignments for Language Professionals, if clients are happy with the outcomes.
Q: Now, be honest, not every translation or interpreting project can be interesting. How do you keep yourselves entertained in the day-to-day running of a business?
Max: As is the case with any other work, translation and interpreting cannot be never-ending excitement and joy. There are mundane tasks as well. I know that the research I do for every single job is excellent practice for some future assignments. Actually, the concepts and terminology I learn during a translation project might be valuable for a future interpreting job in a related field and vice versa. I feel any research I do enhances my general knowledge and widens my horizon, so it’s never actually a wasted effort.
Françoise: The final product we deliver to our clients must be of the highest quality. Even typing out endless rows of numbers and formatting tables is important. The client will base certain decisions and actions on the information provided, so typing in wrong figures or leaving out a paragraph or sentence can have serious consequences for our clients. Therefore we check every translation carefully before sending it out.
Max: I feel the entertainment lies in the variety and diversity we encounter at Language Professionals every day, not only in terms of projects but also the individual personalities and cultural nuances we come across in our interaction with translators from so many backgrounds.
Q: What is the single-most annoying question you get asked by clients on a daily basis?
Max: It is not easy for non-translators to appreciate the skill, experience and effort required to produce a professional translation. But I still get taken aback when people think we can translate faster than they themselves can type the same document, e.g. wanting to get 100 pages translated by tomorrow!
And I heard a funny one from a colleague the other day: During the tea break at an international convention a delegate came up to me for a bit of small talk. At some stage he asked “I have always wondered why there are two of you in the interpreting booth. Would you mind telling the reason?” So I replied “Well, one of us listens and the other speaks…”
Françoise: We sometimes get questions from clients along the lines of “I translated the document myself – can you just put your NAATI stamp on it?” We have to refuse this as a matter work ethic. Our team of translators are professionals who work on documents each using their individual style. So even though the client might have prepared a translation of their document and probably spent a long time finding the right wording for it, we can only take this as a reference, but will produce our own translation.
Q: What challenges have you faced in your 30 years? How do you, for example, always manage to find the right translator for each job?
Max: The variety of our work brings with it a variety of challenges, most of which we are able to meet confidently because of our experience and processes. We started off with a panel of freelance colleagues which has evolved over the years. We have good personal, commercial, local, national and international networks and are always able to find suitable translators, although it may occasionally require some time.
When we manage a large project with a tight deadline, we sometimes engage several translators for the same language as we would otherwise not be able to deliver on time. It’s important for the translators to liaise directly with each other and agree on specific terminology and language register. We usually try to have only one translator complete a project and explain that preference to our clients, however, there are times when a client will accept some stylistic inconsistency between different translators in order to get the job back by their preferred deadline.
Anyway, it is our job to manage and deliver projects to our clients at the required level of quality and by the agreed deadline. The client would not want to know how difficult it can be at times to accomplish that. We always manage somehow and if we run into issues or delays we communicate proactively with the client.
Françoise: It is always hard to lose a good translator, either due to retirement, changes in life circumstances or illness, but it’s a reality of life. Therefore we usually have a number of regular translators per language on our books. 20 years ago we had problems when translators relocated to their country of origin, but with internet and email it no longer matters where our translators live. In fact, going back to their country assists in keeping up to date with contemporary language changes.
Q: How do you at LangPro cope with changing technologies and the likes of Google Translate? How does it affect your day-to-day business?
Max: We have embraced many technological changes as they make our lives easier and allow us to discard or update some cumbersome processes and improve the quality of our work.
In my view Google Translate is a good ‘gisting’ tool for clients to determine whether they may want certain documents translated professionally or not. It has certainly had an effect on our business, as a number of people are happy with the output they get from Google Translate. However, there are also many clients who continue to value the quality they get from human translators and avoid the risk of being misled by a machine.
It remains to be seen whether machine translation such as Google Translate will ever completely replace human translators, but I cannot see that happening too soon. Also, clients will still want humans to certify translations of important documents.
Françoise: On the other hand, translation memory software is a useful tool in our work. It enables translators to develop a database of completed translations which they can leverage for future work. It also helps them to maintain consistency in their terminology and translation approach while potentially reducing delivery timeframes. TM is not machine translation and requires a translator to use it properly. I see the development of TM software as a valuable gain for the translation industry.
Q: Do you see any impact on your business stemming from NAATI’s decision to change their accreditation system to certification? How will this affect your business and your contractors?
Françoise: We get notified from our translators or interpreters if they decided to move from accreditation to certification. It doesn’t have anything to say about the quality of their work. Whether a document is prepared by an accredited translator or a certified translator – it will still be recognised by the immigration department and other official bodies.
Max: But it is certainly a big threat to the livelihoods of individual accredited translators who refuse to transition, as they are no longer searchable in the NAATI directory. If they cannot be found online, they will not get contacted unless agencies already have their details on file.
In my view, the transition is too abrupt a change and everyone needs the certainty that the existing pool of reputable accredited translators will continue to be accessible to service providers. There are many excellent, highly experienced professional translators and interpreters who may not wish to go down the path of certification (I am one of them), and it is crucial that NAATI makes it clear to all stakeholders that current accreditation remains a valid credential. I personally do not think that a certified translator is in any way better or worse than an accredited translator.
Q: What is one word that you would use to describe your team?
Q: How do you plan to continue your business over the next, say, 30 years?
Max: My personal approach has never included any specific business planning or setting of targets, and many would think that to be foolish. I have always been driven by wanting to create a circle of quality and satisfaction connecting us, the client and our translator colleagues.
For much of our 30 years in business that has led to growth on its own. So natural growth is my preference. My cynical self views business plans as wishful thinking that may result in real outcomes, but I do understand that it provides people with motivation and direction.
Apart from that, I may want to take a step back in 5 to 10 years’ time, so I hope that new ideas will shape in the meantime as I won’t be working that much 30 years from now…
Q: How can people get in touch if they want to congratulate you on your success? Or if they have some language projects coming up in the future?
Max: If you don’t have our direct email address firstname.lastname@example.org yet, there are also a number of other ways to get in touch with us: either via our website’s Contact us page with telephone details and contact forms or via the new chat feature where one of our available staff members is logged in to assist you on the go. Otherwise looking us up on Facebook or Twitter and leaving a message also works well. Any message will be appreciated 🙂
Q: Any major announcements or upcoming events that we can share on this occasion?
Max: We have recently recruited a new team member to join Language Professionals on a part-time basis. Her name is Bella Poon and she will mainly be working in project management, but also has passed NAATI certification for Chinese in both translating and interpreting.
Françoise: At the beginning of the year 2018 we had our website re-designed, which was an exciting project for us. It presents us in a new light to our potential customers and we hope it’s now easier to get in touch with us.
Thank you, Max and Françoise! We wish you all the best for Language Professional’s future.