Polite Translator: Politeness in Business Communication

Translators see translation agencies as a root of all evil. Agencies see translators the same way. Each feels superior to the other, but when it comes to business communication… Birds of a feather flock together.

angel-489524_1920Country borders were not the only thing the almighty Internet erased. It managed to erase the distance between nations, making it possible for people from different parts of the world to communicate with each other in real time, creating new and destroying old patterns of communication.

I was sixteen when I first started to communicate in the Internet. I immediately got addicted to various forums (my addiction was healed when University ate all my time) and at first felt weird when people three times my age asked me to address them with “ты” (friendly, singular “you”). Being a polite girl, it took me a lot of time to stop addressing people with “Вы” (respectful, plural “you”).

According to Krystian Aparta, “you” is one of the most difficult words to translate.

As I started my professional activities locally in Ukraine and then expanded my market to Russia, all communications were carried out in polite “Вы” register. E-mail exchanges started with “Good morning/good afternoon/hello” and ended with “С уважением”. Things changed when my translation activities turned truly international.

I still receive “Dear Iryna/good morning/hello” messages, but now letters in my inbox also start with “Hey there!”.


Communication experts suggest following your client’s/customer’s lead and addressing them the same way they addressed you, but I don’t feel comfortable starting my business e-mail with “Hey”. I might be old-fashioned, but I will stick to politeness for as long as possible.

When you think one can’t fall any lower, you see the new bottom.

“Dear linguist”, or even better “Dear linguists”, are e-mails that go straight to the trash. If the sender can’t be even bothered to replace “linguist” with my name then why should I waste my time on messages that were obviously send to hundreds other translators.

In this respect, translators are no better. I bet both the companies who offer language services and who don’t get at least a dozen e-mails per day that start with “Dear Sir/Madam” or “To whom it may concern”.

That’s where two parallel lines convolute and cross. Despite diametrically different business models of translators and translation agencies, they have one thing in common — inability to maintain human approach.

Translation is a profession, but it also has a business side to it. On their way to success, people take “Nothing personal, it’s just business” way too far. Yes, of course, business should not be too personal, but neither should it be so dehumanized that one would prefer talking to a robot rather than dealing with an actual person. Trying to stay as impersonal and businesslike as possible, we damage interpersonal relationships we already have or miss an opportunity to build new ones.

Sure, translators, project managers, language coordinators, marketing specialists and other people who may or may not require translation services are busy, but saying “Good morning”, “How are you doing?”, “Please” and “Thank you” won’t kill us. It may take extra ten seconds of our time, but payback on these ten seconds may be colossal. In general, people prefer to deal with people they like and trust. If you want your client to come back to you with more work, you’d better be nice. Being nasty and cooperative is hardly a good way to gain regular clientele.

hello-1546041_1280First impressions are the most lasting. We are language service providers, so for us the best and often the only way to impress our potential customers is through our language. We are the books that are judged by their covers through the way we communicate. Our manner of writing is our selling point. If we failed to catch the eye through e-mails, no one is going to look at our CVs and other credentials to give us second chance to shine and prove our worth.

Be human. Show respect. Treat people like your equals. Business is impersonal, but it is not inhuman.

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