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Ethics: Translating Student Essays
Thread poster: Michael Piper
Michael Piper  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:22
English to Spanish
+ ...
Dec 5, 2005

I just received a request for quote from a person who wants me to translate an essay into Spanish. It seems to be a university student essay (dealing with consumer loyalty), but I am not sure.

Here are my questions:

1) Is it ethical to translate a student essay that may or may not be turned in as the student's own original work or translation? On what basis would it not be ethical?

2) If (1) above is not ethical, then is it ethical for the Translator to inquire as to the intended use of the translation? What if the potential client says "None of your business." Wouldn't he be right?

3) Is it ethical/appropriate to say "We have a policy against providing translations for what appears to be a student assignment"?

Thanks in advance for your input.

Michael Piper
ATA-Certified (English>Spanish)

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Maria Karra  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:22
Member (2000)
Greek to English
+ ...
ethical Dec 5, 2005

Michael Piper wrote:
1) Is it ethical to translate a student essay that may or may not be turned in as the student's own original work or translation? On what basis would it not be ethical?

I don't think it is unethical, unless this is a translation course and what is graded is the translation and not the ideas analyzed.
(It doesn't seem to be the case here.)

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Paige Stanton  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:22
French to English
Hmm... Dec 5, 2005

Well, I think Michael's concern is that the paper is for a language class at university, so in this case the student would actually be cheating by having his ideas translated for him.

This is a tricky one and certainly requires some reflection. If you feel morally compelled to find out more about the intended use, why not just ask? If you do indeed get the "none of your business" response you were expecting, then you can decide whether to proceed or to tell the student that you cannot translate it based on your professional ethics. You might just make the student think twice about his or her own ethics, who knows!

I think it is great that you actually care about the intended use!

Let us know what happens!


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Olga Dubeshka  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:22
Russian to English
+ ...
It is up to you Dec 6, 2005

I personally would do it. We provide the service, not judging.
Your client is the one with faulty morals (or not?). But if you are feeling uneasy about it, you have a right to ask and inform
your client that it goes against your professional believes to
help people cheat.

I have another problem (also dealing with morals). I was asked to translate a personal letter that I think was not addressed to the client (I suspect it was for his girlfriend or wife). Moreover, it contained profanity and vulgar language. I refused
the job under pretences of strict code and rules. What is a translator to do in such situations? Really, are there any rules out there, or are we just "providing services" ?

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Angus Woo
Local time: 11:22
Chinese to English
+ ...
I don't think it's a problem. Dec 6, 2005

Many are doing that everyday. Even scholars do ask others to take a look at their papers from time to time. As long as the original paper is written by that person, I don't see any unethical wrongdoing here.

By translating it, supposedly you haven't changed or created anything. Therefore you are not a ghost writer. Nobody plagiarized in the whole process.

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Heike Behl, Ph.D.  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:22
Member (2003)
English to German
+ ...
Don't worry... Dec 6, 2005

I got a job like that ones. I just shook my head at students being able to dish out a good chunk of money (I made 80 bucks in about an hour since it was really easy to translate, I don't know how much the agency charged). Being also a language teacher, I have no doubt that the teacher will know immediately that the student didn't write it him/herself. Unless, that is, they add a good number of typical mistakes, which, of course, would spoil the A and render the whole effort pointless.

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Local time: 05:22
English to German
+ ...
If you feel uncomfortable about it... Dec 6, 2005

... don't do it.

On the other hand: as long as you can assume (or convince yourself) that your client wants the translation for his/her information only, translate and take the money.

I once was asked to read some English books and write an essay (on the subject of "Ethics in Marketing" of all things!). I turned the job down, because I knew it was someone's homework. The person, who offered the job (who was not the person supposed to do the homework) praised my ethical standards in such a way, I couldn't mistake the true meaning behind the praise: "You're stupid to pass up the opportunity to make good money." An attitude that was echoed by most of my friends with whom I talked about the incident. A posting in a translator's forum brought almost no replies, the few that came were non-commital.

The whole incident brought me to the following conclusions:
in similar cases in the future I will
1. decide based on my own ethics,
2. ignore any subsequent "praise" of my "highly moral conduct", "ethical standards" and the like,
3. not try to find anyone who understands my decision.

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Timothy Barton
Local time: 05:22
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
Is the language graded? Dec 6, 2005

I think the most important aspect is whether the student is graded on language (ie, does he lose marks for spelling mistakes, etc). This doesn't only apply to language and translation courses. For example, if it's Journalism, then the quality of the language would also be graded.

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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:22
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
What it is to be used for is highly relevant Dec 6, 2005

It is a perfectly legitimate job to prepare theses, papers and research results for publication in the appropriate professional journals, conferences etc. where the content is the issue and the language just has to be as good as possible.

Often the language and 'style' requirements are very strict, and an expert doctor or research student may not be able to comply without help if he/she is not a native speaker of whatever the target language is. And then their results, however brilliant, are not published as they should be.

At a conference, a well-written, idiomatic text in 'neutral' language is far easier to understand than one with syntax and phrasing influenced by the author's native language, especially for members of the audience who come from different countries and think in their own brands of 'global English' (or whatever the lingua franca is). This is doubly important if it is to be read aloud, though nowadays printed resumes and abstracts do give the gist of what is said.

I am sure the same goes for Spanish. I would ask the client what the text was for, and be happy to help if it was legitimate, but have no problems explaining that I do not on principle help anyone to cheat.

I might also want to tailor the style to the purpose: a lecture has to be 'spoken' so that listeners can grasp it, while in a paper for a journal the language can be more complex if necessary.

I am in fact halfway through a thesis at the moment... and have not the slightest twinge of conscience about tidying up the English! But it won't be passed off as the student's unaided work... and I'm not altering the content, just checking details of grammar and punctuation.

Ask the client and follow your conscience every time.

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Alexandra Fakalou  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:22
Member (2004)
Greek to French
+ ...
I don't think you should think it twice!!!! Dec 6, 2005

Hm.... a question I had when I started working as a translator. Now, I know that early January and end of April are the periods that at least 30 students will visit me for the same reason.
I have two types of students that ask for my services ( - most of them nearly faint when they hear the rates)....

I've got who study abroad (usually England) and want me either to translate their whole projects or "have a look and correct any linguistic mistakes" (I hate this second option, I usually have to ask what they mean in every single sentence!!!).
The thing that surprised me the most was when I found out that their parents (who pay huge amounts for their children's education) are willing to participate in this "cheating" so that their beloved child gets at least a Pass - even if it's their third year abroad.... So, when I know that students ask for such services with their parents blessing, why would I care about morals???

As for the second type of students that ask for my services, I really feel bad about them. Unfortunately, there are many University Professors who want to write a book and found the easy way out!!! They assign translation projects to students as part of their course (most times such projects count for 50% of their total grade in a course!!). So, for example, someone who studies Electrical Engineering (even with very poor knowledge of English) has to translate projects that are highly professional. In this case I even lower my rate for poor students who won't pass the course if they come up with a poor translation.

Kisses to everyone


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