Derek Chappell

Bring in the Natives!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Internet, Promotion 6 Comments

women in Volendam dressOkay, I had promised myself not to do it.

At least, not for a while.

Yet, I find myself doing it again.

And the thing is: I don’t feel so bad about it.

Today, I’ll talk about


Rest assured. I’m not going to rehash my You’ve seen it. At the LinkedIn Voice Over Professionals group they’re still beating that dead horse. Click here if you’d like to join the fuss and the fun.

Since I left the Canadians, business has never been better, but that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about. I really want to talk about a few of my favorite topics: language, marketing, standards and blogging.


You see, what the folks at “voices” understood from day one, is that free content is one of the best ways to attract visitors to your website. A good blog has people stay for a while and it makes them come back again and again. Voice123 has a blog as well; the Edge Studio is stepping up its blogging efforts and recently, Bodalgo joined the club.

Can you keep up with all the content? I certainly can’t! Thank goodness Derek Chappell reads them all and he posts the best blogs of the week on his own blog. 

Vox Daily is the official blog of Over the years it has grown into a huge database of informative articles about every aspect of the industry. Most of the content is original. Sometimes the stories come from other sources.

I applaud the writers of Vox Daily for keeping this thing going with such creativity and consistency. As you know, I only blog once a week and frankly, that’s all I can handle.

As a native of the Netherlands, I was drawn to a recent Vox Daily article by Stephanie Ciccarelli, called “What is a Native Speaker?” In it, Ciccarelli outlines the advantages of hiring a native speaker. She cites a conversation with Spanish voice talent Simone Fojgiel who told her that

“70% of the projects she receives from her clients that were translated from English into Spanish, required revisions. Some even needed complete overhauls due to poor translation work.”

Stephanie concludes:

“Before we start pointing fingers at translators in general, we need to take a deep breath and consider why some translations may be poor, inaccurate or altogether baffling. My dear friends, it all comes to down to whether or not the translator is a native speaker of the language they’re translating in.”

I’m a native Dutch speaker and I recognize Simone’s observations. However, I don’t believe non-native speakers bare the full blame for poorly translated scripts. In my experience, bad translations are often the direct result of:

  1. carelessness or ignorance on the part of cheap clients;
  2. amateur-translators using translation software;
  3. lack of standards, quality control and overall professionalism.

The question is: what to do about it?


Sometimes I talk myself into believing that one of my missions is to educate the ignorant. Allow me to illustrate.

A few months ago, I received an invitation to voice a Dutch language course for beginners. The budget was low and the sample script was filled with language that might have been in vogue some seventy years ago. Today, no Dutchman would ever use these outdated expressions. My guess is that the producers of the course had adapted an old guide after the copyright had expired. Perhaps they were unaware of the archaic language because they didn’t speak Dutch.

Rather than refusing the job out of hand, I auditioned for it, just to have an opportunity to get in touch with the client. I told them that the language in the guide was old-fashioned and that it would mislead people into believing they were learning Dutch as it is spoken today. I gave them several examples to illustrate my point. I also suggested that I could help them bring this language course into the 21st century.

Did I get a thank you note or even an acknowledgement that my comments were received?

Of course not.

I’m only a native speaker who was trying to offer some added value. Why on earth would they listen to me?


According to Ciccarelli, Simone Fojgel has…

“made it her mission to protect, preserve and propel the brand image of her English clients as they step out boldly in effort to communicate to Spanish-speaking audiences.”

Not only does Simone review, prep and (re)write copy for her clients, she directs voice talent “to guarantee their performance is just right for the target audience.”

In that respect, Simone and I are on the same page. Both of us reach out to clients and offer to better their products. But after my experience with that Dutch language course, I asked myself:

Is it the job of a native voice talent to save a client’s reputation and turn a trash translation into a treasure?

I’m not so sure anymore, and I’ll explain why.


1. First and foremost: You can provide people with information but you can’t be sure they’ll actually understand. And even if they do, it doesn’t mean that they will act upon it. Why should I waste my time talking to a client who doesn’t even want to listen? Let them produce that old-fashioned language course without my help. Perhaps they need to learn things the hard way. 

2. In order to be open to a solution, the client has to admit that there’s a problem in the first place. Here’s the thing. Clients don’t always see a problem. All they see is an added expense you call a solution.

3. A bad translation is only a symptom of a greater underlying cause. Clients are often more interested in treating symptoms.

I believe in fixing a problem at the root level. If a faucet is leaking, you don’t hire someone to mop up the floor thinking that this will solve everything. You call a pro to replace the washers, the o-ring or the seals. Unfortunately, not all clients think that way. They’d rather pay for cheap labor instead of hiring a more expensive pro. The worst scripts usually come from clients with bargain basement budgets. Not exactly my target market.

4. Is it worth my time?

Before I became a full-time voice-over, I worked as a professional translator and I hated it. I used to spend 14-hour days ruining my back in front of a computer screen translating boring market research, user manuals and legal documents. As a voice-over, I can make in thirty minutes what would take me a week of translation work. You do the math.

5. Leave it to the experts.

Being a native speaker doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re a great translator. Just as people underestimate what it takes to be a voice-over, people have no idea how hard it is to become an accredited translator. Even though I’m an academically trained linguist, I am happy to pass translation projects on to the natives who do this for a living.

Now, does all of this mean that I’ll never offer to correct a weak translation or tweak a text no matter what?

If the client is open to suggestions and is willing to spend some extra money on additional services, I’m game. As a voice-over, it is in my best interest to be associated with a stellar production. If it wins me some bonus points with a customer, better still!

So, at times, being a native speaker does translate into more business, but obviously not from the folks who were looking for a voice for that outdated Dutch language course. I believe the program is in the making as we speak. Unchanged.

And where did I find that job, by the way?


Right before I ended my membership. 


Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

photo credit: screenpunk via photopin cc