A chiropractic approach to finding editors and translators

by Anton Van Iersel

The human body is so complex we’ve divided it up and given the work of repairing it to different medical specialists. All you need to do is find the right one, in the hope that the aches you’re experiencing in one place are not related to something happening elsewhere in the body your chosen specialist doesn’t deal with. I’ve spent years trying to fix my back problems with specialists, and just as long trying to find editors and translators my company can hire. Both problems cause me a good deal of grief, but how are they related?

Anton Van Iersel

I was tempted to limp back into bed this morning when the ever-present “Ouch!” and “Umpff!” on my way to the kettle again tested my patience with my own body. But I had another interview on my schedule. While sipping my first cup of tea I wondered whether today’s candidate would be worth my heroic effort to get into first gear. At least my review of her first editing assignment for us did not test my patience. Pressing my knuckles into my lumbar spine, it occurred to me that finding the right therapist was somehow similar to the luck I was having in finding a linguist with the right qualifications to join our team. My thoughts, at least, moved into second gear.

Naming the countless specialized medical practitioners, indications, treatments and therapies I’ve become familiar with over the last four years would be showing off a degree of acquired expertise in all things hip and spinal. So we’ll leave out the details.

The big picture

Reviewing here all the issues, arguments, approaches, technologies and essential qualifications employed in “healing” the pain points of communication across language barriers is difficult, too – especially since, like therapy alternatives, many of them work only in very specific cases. As a person devoted professionally to corporate communications for the last 24 years, I want the big picture that works in my field and helps me find the right people to resolve the pain points I’ve encountered. Six weeks ago I visited a chiropractor whose examination explained why all the treatments I had undergone so far didn’t and couldn’t work. His therapy is working. What am I looking for in the interview this morning?

I was a keen jogger until sharp cramps in my right leg put me in search of relief from pain that no amount of stretching would resolve. Being not too obviously crooked when standing in front of my first orthopedist, he suspected that a pinched nerve somewhere in my lumbar spine was the cause of the problem: in the tube I go for a scan, out of the hospital I come some weeks later with the slipped disc removed. It felt something like a gross “misunderstanding” when the pain, against all expectations, still did not go away. What did my orthopedist overlook?

Photo credit: Thomas Lefebvre

Finding the core issue

Once they’ve perhaps scanned over a text, most translators will get to work straight away, helped in many cases by tools that, at a stretch, suggest a translation if one already exists. But “operating” on a text line by line is not a good idea and could lead to a misunderstanding of what the author intended to say. If the core issue is not in focus, the text could be misinterpreted. Ouch!

The core issue was overlooked by my second orthopedist as well, who also got to work straight away to correct what was seen as the fault of the first. Removing the scar tissue from my first operation and the slipped disc for a second time was a disaster. My faith in orthopedists has all but vanished. I associate their efforts with the idea of me editing a translation without understanding the source text – because on that basis, there’s slim chance I’ll find out why any translation is inadequate.

My chiropractor really did take the time to get to the root of my “core issue”: no other specialist had noticed my lopsided hip. It twisted the vertebrae and the discs between them, through my lumbar spine, right up to my neck! Yes, I had problems up there too, but no orthopedists seemed to think they were related. I learned from the chiropractor that unless the hip is trained into proper balance and the vertebrae return to their proper position, there’s no chance of any operation succeeding, if I even need one now. My trip to the kettle each morning is no longer a hobble, since training now comes first.

Interconnected ideas

Chiropractors take a look at the whole apparatus that keeps our bodies in motion: skeletal structure, muscles, tendons, nerves, the works. And a good chiropractor knows how to make them interact smoothly and effectively through the whole body. At the risk of overusing analogies here, good editors and translators take a look at the whole context of the content they’re working on: the organization they’re writing about, the issues surrounding the content, the author’s core message, and who is supposed to benefit from it, just to mention the basics.

So I’m looking for people with a chiropractic approach to the work they do. People who are not just specialists in specific fields, but rather who have a good grasp of the interaction taking place in a corporate environment – where communication depends on a true understanding of how content from different sources forms a body of interconnected ideas. Taking the time to see these relationships is what puts the message contained in each text smoothly and effectively in motion.

Speaking of motion: desk people like me should get more of it to avoid backaches. But if any of my colleagues complain about one these days, I tell them to see a chiropractor before they go anywhere else: for them it’s simply a question of following the best practice I know they already apply as editors and translators to their own work each day.

When I got up less than quickly from my desk to greet my American candidate for the interview, the first thing she asked was “Have you seen a chiropractor?” Before long she’s making some inspiring analogies…

I don’t think she would let any misunderstandings slip by.

2 responses to “A chiropractic approach to finding editors and translators”

  1. Interesting analogy.
    But you mention something essential: “My chiropractor really did take the time to get to the root of my “core issue…”” Time and consideration for the patient as well as a global approach.
    Depending on the text to be translated, translating too can be painful , but most of the time it is a lot of fun…especially with a reliable client-translator relationship and reasonable deadlines leaving time to do research.

    • Hi Madelise,

      Perhaps tight deadlines are another painpoint? In today’s digital world, the path from source text to final online publication gets shorter all the time. Projects with a long lead time are rare. Since it is unwise to neglect research, the only plausible solution is to build up knowledge about the customer’s business: over time, you can reduce the amount of new research that has to be done, providing, as in our case, you concentrate your efforts on a select group of clients who are always served by the same team of translators and editors.

      If only all the medical specialists would work as a team. It would be a lot easier to solve most back problems!

      Thanks very much for your comment!

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