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Agency proofreaders - how many mistakes is it 'normal' for them to find?
Thread poster: Wendy Cummings

Wendy Cummings  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 14:59
Member (2006)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Sep 20, 2005

I have just started out as a part time translator, and fortunately I have been able to obtain most of my work until now from private clients. Very rarely (that I know of)has my work been proofread.

However, I have recently started doing some work for agencies, and I am learning its a bit of a different ballgame.

Trying to ignore the 'how long is a piece of string' aspect, and if we accept that the translator is professional and of a good standard: how many mistakes is it usual for an agency proofreader to find?

One query was of my use of an abbreviation, when the ST had written the phrase in full.

A second comment was on the use of the word 'expeditious'. At first the proofreader had not liked it, was going to change it to 'prompt', then did some internet research, found that 'expeditious' was correct, and so left it. Was that worth the comment?

On the job that I have just completed today (approx 4000 words) the proofreader made 9 comments.

Should I be concerned about the quality of my work?


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Lindsay Sabadosa  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 09:59
Member (2004)
Italian to English
+ ...
Not a problem Sep 20, 2005

You said nine "mistakes" but for one the proofreader decided that you were correct. That doesn't really sound like a lot (provided, of course, they were all regarding word choice and not grammar/syntax/spelling issues). If you have found an agency where you are allowed to comment, discuss and critique your translations, you should consider yourself lucky. Unless I'm missing something, what you described sounds like healthy discussion, not necessarily a bad thing. And I think it is nice to see what the proofreader was thinking, why s/he selected or changed a word, etc. We only get better if we never stop learning...
Best,
LNS


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Angela Arnone  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:59
Member (2004)
Italian to English
+ ...
Not bad - 9 comments! Sep 20, 2005

Some customers just want you to get the feel of the way they work.
A couple of typos can slip through.
Comments aren't complaints.
It does have to be water off a duck's back really.

I just did a job for prestigious photography museum and they edited my translation (asked me only one thing). I know it will go out with my name on it but it won't be 100% what I wrote.
I got no feedback except for the one query so I'm presuming no news was good news .... in the sense that there were bound to be mistakes and types on 60+ pages and 30 pages of notes, but they obviously took that into account.

Start worrying when they start arguing about why you used a word and you know it's right and they won't accept it. Then you've got problems! Comments? Nah!
Angela


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Todd Field  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:59
Member (2003)
Portuguese to English
Agency changes are quite common Sep 20, 2005

9 changes in 4,000 words, in my opinion, suggests that you have nothing to worry about. Agencies regularly change translations before delivering them to their customers.

The most common reason stems from the very nature of what we do: because translation is a subjective, human process, no two professionals will come up with the exact same interpretation of a given problem. For instance, the KudoZ system would probably not exist if every abstract translation question had a single, definitive answer.

The agency could also have their own agenda in terms of stylistic preferences, special instructions from their customer, and so on. The translator's job is simply to convey concepts as accurately and consistently as possible using his/her linguistic, cross-cultural and writing skills. From there, the agency's job is to ensure that the final text meets the customer's specific needs, whatever they may be.

Of course, there are times when a proofreader's changes can detract from the quality of a text. I think every experienced translator has their share of horror stories on this subject, like the non-native proofreader who, thinking he/she knows better, completely destroys the credibility of your carefully composed translation with his/her shockingly incorrect "corrections".

All you can do is do your best. If you are paid on time and get repeat business, you have accomplished your goal, even if you lose a bit of "ownership" in your translations when proofreaders decide to make changes.

Best of luck to you!

Todd


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Parrot  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 15:59
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Mistakes are one thing Sep 20, 2005

variations are another. A person put in charge of unifying a text outsourced to four different translators may have to deal with variations, through no one's fault. Then, there is the expedient of researching the appropriate corpus literature, which some proofreaders may overlook. (I like keeping an open channel with the proofreaders for this reason, since we find more open ground between us). All such things taken into consideration, 4 changes made to a 1,200-word text in an organization requiring a specific type of language is generally acceptable.

What should worry an agency is the kind of error being evaluated: a misread source text is a serious flaw, and if it occurs repeatedly, you may have a problem.


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Wendy Cummings  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 14:59
Member (2006)
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Feeling better! Sep 20, 2005

Thanks for all the comments so far, it has made me feel reassured and look at the situation in a different light.

Having read through those 9 comments again,

1 = formatting preferences of the agency
2 = use of abbreviations vs full text
1 = one spelling mistake
1 = spelling preference (hyphenated/unhyphenated)
3 = preferred synonyms
1 = small comprehension error

So its actually not that bad after all!


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Lisa Davey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 14:59
German to English
Justifying your existence Sep 20, 2005

I guess you also have to take into account the fact that the proofreader has to justify their existence. S/he is being paid to check your work carefully. If s/he sends it back to the agency with no comments at all, s/he runs the risk of the agency thinking s/he hasn't even looked at it.
I proofread a document for an agency recently. The translator may have been irritated that I changed the terminology from American to British English. It wasn't *wrong* - just different -and I was doing the job I'd been asked to do.
Give a document to 4 translators and you'll get 4 versions. Sometimes it's just a question of preference, rather than a case of right and wrong.


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xxxLia Fail  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 15:59
Spanish to English
+ ...
2 errors of 9 'errors'... Sep 20, 2005

Wendy Leech wrote:

Thanks for all the comments so far, it has made me feel reassured and look at the situation in a different light.

Having read through those 9 comments again,

1 = formatting preferences of the agency
2 = use of abbreviations vs full text
1 = one spelling mistake
1 = spelling preference (hyphenated/unhyphenated)
3 = preferred synonyms
1 = small comprehension error

So its actually not that bad after all!



Of your list of 9 errors, only 2 could be considered real errors - i.e. errors that would be likely to be objectively considered as errors by a number of reviewers - as opposed to preferences - i.e. subjective issues. Namely: spelling and comprehension.

And maybe the use of an abbreviation, depending. For example, it's good practice to spell out a term that is widely used at its first appearance and include the abbreviation in brackets, then use the abbreviation (or why else include it?). But some authors tend to be inconsistent, and you may decide to be consistent for them:-)


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Stephen Rifkind  Identity Verified
Israel
Local time: 16:59
Member (2004)
French to English
+ ...
Special Russian English problem Sep 21, 2005

I noticed by chance that the incident in question was with a Russian to English translation. I in the past year have had 3 such "discussions" with agencies, all involving Russian to English. While a certain amount was my fault and I've learned from my mistakes, it seems to me that there is a fundamental problem with Russian to English translation: Russian sentence structure is so different from that of English that they are countless ways to skin a cat, some involving an entirely different set of words from the original. If you translate literally, it comes out "Russian" English. If you translate the idea, you are not translating "correctly".

Do other Russian to English translators have the same problem?

Stephen Rifkind


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Roberta Anderson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 15:59
Member (2001)
English to Italian
+ ...
comments vs errors Sep 21, 2005

There is a substancial difference between 9 comments and 9 errors!

2 of the agencies I work for have a standard feedback/evaluation form to track translators performance. As you mention in your second post, they are required to comment on different kind of issues (typos, grammar, style, terminology, consistency, punctuation, orignal meaning...) and for each issue they specify whether it is a minor or a major one, or whether is is purely a preference issue not to be counted in the overall total (but to keep in mind for future projects)
Then the quality level is calculated in relation to the translation length and an overall evaluation is given, including in some cases a personal comment.

To give you an example of the rating mechanism:
In the most recent one I received, for a 1000 words text the proofreader flagged 3 minor issues, accounting for a 99,70% evaluation rate, which falls within the "meets expectations" bracket and the overall comment was "Good translation, the client style and terminology has been applied to the letter.". So, in spite of the 3 issues in 1000 words, I know I'm in line with what the client expects. Your 9 comments in a 4000 words text are probably comparable to this case.
In a previous one, on a 685 words translation, 1 minor issue was flagged, overall rate was 99,85% accuracy, falling within the "exceed expectations" bracket.

As a translator, this is useful to get an idea of what the client is looking for, and gauge your future work accordingly. For instance, in a recent evaluation form it was flagged that I changed a word in a sentence that came from the TM - I thought my change was an improvement on the TM tanslation, and it would be ok as it did not have an impact on consistency. The comment, though, was to stick to client-approved existing translations. So now I know, and should I feel the urge in future to change a word I'll either refrain or submit a note documenting the change and my reasoning behind it.

As an agency, this form is useful to evaluate the quality of the translator, his suitability for certain types of projects and end-clients, the amount of proofreading that will be necessary at their end... and to share this info in a structured way with other project managers within a large organisation.

When I get one of these forms after a project, it always feels a bit like school report day, but it is actually a very useful feedback and should be used to fine-tune your work to your clients expectations and preferences.

Roberta


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Wendy Cummings  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 14:59
Member (2006)
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
school reports Sep 21, 2005

Roberta Anderson wrote:

it always feels a bit like school report day,



Yes, that is exactly how it felt! Like I was getting a school report back with the teachers comments on it!!



Rifkind: This particular issue wasn't in fact Ru>En, although that is one of my pairs. It was Fr>En.

I do know what you mean though regarding sentence structure. When I was studying for my translation masters, my translation tutor was Danish, and he was teaching me Russian to English translation (that was my first problem!). In the very first lesson I remember him advocating 'literal translation' - he doesn't like splitting or joining sentences, if the ST uses italic text, then the TT has to as well, he would always like to stick to the word order as much as possible...

I wonder what a proofreader would have made of that!


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Moofi  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:59
Polish to English
+ ...
Clients arguing with Natives Sep 21, 2005

Stephen Rifkind wrote:

... Russian sentence structure is so different from that of English that they are countless ways to skin a cat, some involving an entirely different set of words from the original. If you translate literally, it comes out "Russian" English. If you translate the idea, you are not translating "correctly".


We do Polish - English, which contains similar pitfalls. Like Russian, Polish sentence structure is almost completely the reverse of English, and as you say, often requires the use of different words- and more or less of them- to convey the idea accurately.

A lot of agencys, clients and proofers do not seem to understand this. It's particularly a problem when doing Polish to English, as the majority of educated, proffesional Poles have a good to very good knowledge of English- but crucially- not a native knowledge! Some of the 'corrections' that the clients demand are based on this imperfect knowledge, and it's really frustrating having to tell them 'actually, it's ok the way we did it the first time- what you've changed it to is simply not English'.

Honestly, you would think that when a client is told by the agent that native speakers are working on their project, they wouldn't argue with it ¬_¬

[Edited at 2005-09-21 08:47]

[Edited at 2005-09-21 08:47]


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Parrot  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 15:59
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Don't take a negative view of the proofer Sep 21, 2005

and work with him/her as a peer. You just may end up a great team together for future jobs.

Style editors can get more finicky, but that's also because many people have many different definitions of "style" - ranging from the more objective Chicago Manual type of intervention to imposing a personal mark on the text. On the other hand, there are also a lot of people who don't even draw a line between proofreading and editing.


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Desi_vdb
United Kingdom
Local time: 14:59
Dutch to English
+ ...
don't worry Sep 23, 2005

Sorry, if I repeat things already mentioned above, but it is a long thread...

At the moment I'm proofreading documents, tracking changes, and it turns out pretty red. But I still think it is a good translation and the agency thinks so too. Agencies use proofreaders, because they are aware a translator cannot possibly hand in a perfect translation, and two spot more than one. Depending on the difficulty of the text, you can get away with a lot. Just remember:

- work as a team. If you are not sure of a term, don't guess. Jot it down and spend time on research. If you are not sure of the terminology after that, pass your question, including your suggestions, on to the agency when you hand in your work or before (depending on what your agency prefers).

- ask for feedback. The proofreader will appreciate this and will feel his or her work is not only rewarded by the quality of the text, but also by an improvement of future work of the translator.

- run a spellcheck. I can forgive many errors, but typos etc. is really annoying. And it greatly reduces any understanding I have for other errors.

- use vocabulary lists provided. You would be suprised how many translators come up with surprisingly new translations for words given.

So, 9 comments on 4000 words is not bad at all!


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Wendy Cummings  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 14:59
Member (2006)
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
friends not foe! Sep 26, 2005

Thanks everyone. I guess its all too easy to see the agency as the enemy, whereas we should be working with them and using any feedback as constructively as possible.

Agencies are friends, not foe!


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