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client questions perfectly good translation
Thread poster: Anne Koth

Anne Koth  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:31
German to English
Jan 6, 2005


I'm (still) just starting out in translation and have been doing a course, so have some idea what's going on, but don't have any qualification yet. I've been given a few translations anyway, and once or twice the client has questioned my choice of word, when in fact what I wrote is perfectly correct. Once, for example, I wrote "a cost estimate" and was asked if it was a typo for "cost estimated", or wasn't "cost estimation" better? Another time I wrote something like "he requested that it be sent" and was asked if it shouldn't actually read "that it was sent".

I've been doing my best to answer queries in an authoritative, knowledgeable manner - I've had some experience of this over the years as an English teacher - but has anyone got any good advice on dealing with this sort of thing?

Does this still happen to qualified translators, too? Or do people trust you more?

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Kevin Kelly  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:31
Member (2005)
Russian to English
+ ...
It still happens to me after 30 years! Jan 6, 2005


Don't let it bother you. Whether you have one year of experience or 30 years, if you are translating into your native language and have confidence that you have correctly translated something, then YOU are the final authority. The most you owe anyone who questions your work is a brief, polite explanation of why you are correct. If, indeed, you are incorrect (and you should be the judge) then it's nice to thank the person for pointing out your mistake.

This occasionally happens to me, although I must say that it is most frequently my ProZ colleagues casting doubt on the correctness of one of my KudoZ answers (into English). Sad to say, there are people who do a lot of translation out of their native language into English who feel it necessary to 'protect their turf' in this manner.

This is not to suggest that I, or you, or any translator working into his/her native language is incapable of making a meaning error or missing some nuance of the source text, but I find it extremely annoying when a non-native English speaking colleague tells me "it's just not said that way in English."

If it's a client questioning my translation I tend to show more patience; there's no point in alienating a client for the sake of my own pride. However, I refuse to spend an inordinate amount of type explaining my choice of words to someone who, having hired me, should presumably be confident of my abilities.

Incidentally, in my experience this sort of thing occurs more frequently in the interpreting realm.

So, you may as well get used to it, because it's likely to continue at some level or another.

Best regards,

Kevin Kelly

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xxxHirschmann  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:31
English to German
+ ...
Very often, so-called "project managers" of translation agencies ... Jan 6, 2005

... are what was called "typists" - or more complimentary "secretaries" - in the past, before the emergence of computers at every office workplace.

Only very rarely, people working in translation agencies or an end user's company are (qualified) translators themselves.

I haven't been criticized very often during the 27 years I work as a free-lance technical translator but it still happens every now and then that some goof who's still wet behind the ears, whose native language is not German and to whom the technical contents of the source text is only double Dutch thinks she/he knows better than I how to translate a certain sentence, phrase or word.

In this case, I call the owner or a top executive of the client's company, telling her/him it would be best to fire that goof to avoid that the latter continues to get on people's wick.

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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:31
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Stick to your guns! Jan 6, 2005

Especially with English you have to get used to people questioning you. 'Everyone' speaks English (after a fashion...). There are different variations and dialects, and no 'Academy' to arbitrate, so people defend their ideas and 'logic' tooth and claw.

Everything can be said in different ways, so you do have to weigh your words, and ocasionally admit that the client has found a better suggestion than the one you came up with.

But I worked for a couple of years with an experienced translator whose job it was to deal with all 'queries' about English at the agency. He too is a teacher, and could quote chapter and verse in Michael Swan or other textbooks.

He politely but firmly explained why the translator had chosen this or that expression, and especially in legal texts or technical terminology, he usually convinced the client that the translator was right. He often made them feel they had learnt something new, and were lucky to have such brilliant people working for them!

Don't get defensive. It IS easier to discuss someone else's work than your own, but if you are diplomatic and patient, and can explain the nuances of meaning involved, you often end up impressing the client with your expertise.

The other side of the coin was that this same translator used to check with clients about their terminology, kept glossaries and wordlists, and was extremely conscientious about getting things right before he sent anything off.

The trick is to make it clear that you are the linguist, and the client is the expert in their technology - respect breeds respect.

Best of luck!

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Stefan Keller  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:31
English to German
Are you being serious? Jan 6, 2005

Dear Mr. Hirschmann,

Hirschmann wrote:
In this case, I call the owner or a top executive of the client's company, telling her/him it would be best to fire that goof to avoid that the latter continues to get on people's wick.

Who do you think you are? I can only hope you didn't actually *mean* what you posted...

Stefan (who has *only* 8 years of experience but who met a lot of very capable project managers, whose jobs, btw., comprise much more than dealing with translations returned to them)

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Evert DELOOF-SYS  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:31
English to Dutch
+ ...
Hold your horses please Jan 6, 2005

Shouldn't we understand better than most people that there are several ways of expressing oneself?

In short, let's keep it friendly and polite.

Many thanks in advance!

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Andy Watkinson
Local time: 22:31
Catalan to English
+ ...
Give them an English class Jan 7, 2005

Hi Anne,

I unwittingly started a new thread when attempting to post the following suggestion - I think it's called "technologically-challenged"

Anyway, as someone above has already pointed out, this happens to all translators, especially in English, because "everyone knows English".

One idea is to give the client an English class - a long one.

I was questioned once because I'd placed an adjective after a noun and, of course, in English they "always" precede the noun.

This was the second time that particular client had questioned something so I decided to give him an English class.

I called him up, said I found his question fascinating and enthusiastically launched into a long explanation of how there were many such instances in English....usually influenced by the French original.

Court martial
Secretary General
Director General
letters patent..etc....

This, naturally, took me on to the subject of past participles and the fact that, whereas Spanish and English no longer distinguish between transitive/intransitive (have/haber), in French and German the difference had been retained (étre/sein).

This then led to a painfully long explanation of the difference between "analytic" and "desinence-based" languages in general....and so on.....

He succeeded in interrupting me after about 20 minutes of this and never questioned me again.


[Edited at 2005-01-07 15:04]

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United States
Local time: 16:31
Spanish to English
+ ...
Everyone knows English... yeah right Jan 7, 2005

When I was working in-house I had some people question virtually every single word I chose. Eventually they realized that I knew what I was doing, and with a combination of gentle explanations, long English classes, and a few harsh yet carefully chosen words, the questioning died down considerably (it never stops completely, but then again it irritates you less).

What irritates me is that everyone seems to think that they "own" the English language and can give their authoritative opinion on anything related to it. Also, that English is somehow an easy language.

I also get the impression (maybe it's just me) that bad English is somehow more acceptable than bad Spanish, bad French or bad any other language. Anyone who has studied English for two years in their local English academy feels that he or she is qualified to translate from and INTO English.

I've also heard that English is an "easy" language to learn, not so Spanish, Italian, French with their nuances and "wide variety of synonyms," not to mention the Asian languages with their complex writing systems.

Without getting into the whole debate of what exactly qualifies someone as a translator, I believe that whoever translates English MUST know it well, since it is in fact a very rich language with many nuances and cultural references (on both sides of the pond), even in technical or financial texts, that are very easy to miss. I've seen and had to reject too many translations that completely misunderstood what the original English was trying to say.

Reminds me of the saying "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing."

[Edited at 2005-01-07 15:37]

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Local time: 22:31
English to Spanish
+ ...
It depends on the correction Jan 9, 2005

I as a translator know that I am by no means 100% expert in the fields I work with. There are things like the "internal lingo" of company x, y or z that I cannot know upon taking on a first time translation for them. Hence I do have to correct many things and have to have feedback from the company itself as far as terminology.

I do however understand what you mean when it comes to small corrections that really do not add to or improve the translated document itself. Especially when they come from someone that asked you to translate the document for them in the first place. That person or company obviously trusted your ability enough to do the job right. On the other hand it is good taht the client gives you some sort of feedback, even if it is a bit annoying...I just finished work with a client, re-translating a complete document that someone else had already translated for them, and because the company trusted so blindly in this one person, they did not revise the translation, the good thing is that one of the lawyers working for them detected a mistake in the translation that could have cost one of the board members a 6 year prison term. I guess what I am trying to say is that there really is no right answer for it...just trying to be diplomatic if the clients do come with questions ans suggestions...who knows...sometimes they might be right...besides...they are the ones that are paying you...and if they happen to be wrong then you can always point out and explain why you chose the phrases or terms you chose...doing so in a very polite manner...listeing to them and giving them that bit of time they need makes them feel like like you care enough to do the most perfect job possible for them...and taking the time to explain your choices also give the client a better sense of the person they have working for them and the trustwrothiness of this person...namely you.

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Claudia Iglesias  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:31
Member (2002)
Spanish to French
+ ...
It happens in all languages Jan 9, 2005

I was asked, very politely, whether I hadn't forgotten a sentence, because Summer, Winter, Autumn and Spring, which had capitals in English were translated without capitals in French.

Diplomacy, patience, attention to what's being said (just in case), explanations and references to justify choices is a good set of tools. In the same line, when I hesitate between two terms, I chose the one that's easier to justify, I'm always thinking of that possibility.


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Aleksandr Okunev
Local time: 23:31
English to Russian
An example Jan 9, 2005

I once had an in-house guy (field rep) who always changed 'reimburse' to 'refund' in my translations, and *vice versa*.
He did have a Hornby dictionary on his desk, yep...

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Anne Koth  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:31
German to English
Thanks, it's reassuring Jan 9, 2005

... to know that it is quite common. I'm going to look around for some guidelines on translating (in German) to give to clients who don't usually deal with the subject.

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