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How do you handle factual errors from the source text?
Thread poster: xxxmafia
Jan 16, 2009

Do you translate whatever it's on the source regardless of its factual errors (e.g. the president of XXX organization is AAA but he/she should be BBB)?

If the volume is not large, normally I would add a note or send the agency an email to ask for advice.

However, I am handling quite a large volume this time, by just reading the source text, I already encounter more than 30 factual errors and I am not even half way through yet.
If I leave a note on every error, should I give them both correct and incorrect translation. If so,
that means I will be translating twice for some source words. Or, put it another way, am I actually doing an extra proofreading job for the source text that I am not charge for?

Please share your experience.


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Paul Cohen  Identity Verified
Greenland
Local time: 00:58
German to English
+ ...
Tread softly -- don't give them ammunition to shoot the messenger Jan 16, 2009

Hi mafia,

If you have a source text that is riddled with factual errors, I would say your best bet would be to go ahead and translate the text as it actually should be (yes, fix the mistakes) and include an extra file for the client listing the areas where you have corrected the original text. For example, "I've translated this as President of "BBB" although the source text says "AAA" because it appears to be an error. If it's not an error, it should be President of AAA."

You can provide them with both options in the separate file, but make your translation as accurate as possible, with no mess or clutter. That way you're calling attention to these areas, proving that you are a diligent translator, and giving the client an opportunity to double-check the accuracy of your corrections. If there are a large number of factual errors, you might use the commentary tool in Word to help the reader find the areas in question. You decide how to give them a heads up.

If it turns out that all of your changes are bona fide, the customer will probably be delighted... or insulted (see story below). It all depends on how diplomatic you are!

Whatever you do, please be aware that some clients are very touchy about translators checking on their facts.

Now I'm sure some of my colleagues on ProZ.com will say, "Paul, why not ask the client to check his/her facts and get back to you?" Yes, that's the "recommended" way to do things. But I've worked for years as journalist, so unless I am working directly for the author, I prefer to check the facts myself, assuming the information is readily available, and let the client decide if I've found a mistake or not. Besides, if there is a long chain of command between you and the author, as is often the case, getting feedback can be an extremely long and laborious process.

But there is a risk...

Shooting the messenger
I once did a translation for an agency that had received a text from another agency that was providing marketing services for a transport supply company that had just landed a contract in the US. The text said that the supplier was selling parts for hundreds of streetcars in a large US city.

Streetcars in America? That was very odd. I happen to have spent a lot of time in that particular city and I know for a fact that it has no streetcar network, at least it didn't the last time I was there, so the alarm bells immediately went off in my head.

Unsatisfied with the inconclusive information that I had found on the Web, I called the city mass transit authority in the States and enquired about the "streetcars". It turned out the supplier was supplying parts for commuter trains, not streetcars. I was able to correct the text and move on.

Fine. I should have just fixed it in the English text and written "I have changed this to commuter rail cars (or whatever it was) because there are NO streetcars in city X".

Instead I put my foot in my mouth and mentioned that I had called the mass transit authority. The marketing agency threw a fit because the mass transit authority in the US is their client's end customer. They were afraid that somehow this mistake would reflect poorly on them.

The result? They made a big stink about me "meddling in business that didn't concern me in the least" and said that I had no right to call their client's end customer (I was given this feedback indirectly through the agency that had actually hired me). And then things got absolutely absurd. They actually insisted on leaving the mistake in both the English translation and the original version! It was visible on the Web for months after this.

NOTE: I did NOT contact the agency's client. You should never do that. I was merely contacting their client's end customer through the appropriate channel, i.e., the PR department, and I did so anonymously.

Sometimes, in this world of egos and egomaniacs, it's not about being right, it's about saving face. I assume that the original text had already been released, so admitting any mistakes would have embarrassed the marketing pros with their client. Instead of correcting the error, they decided to shoot the messenger.

Tread softly, be careful, and if you call a company or an organization to check on "the facts" -- for God's sake do it anonymously and, if possible, keep your research techniques to yourself. It should be enough just to make the necessary changes and point out the mistakes and hope that it earns you brownie points with the client for providing free copy editing.

And if you're not careful, you'll get a slap on the wrist.

[Edited at 2009-01-16 20:02 GMT]

[Edited at 2009-01-16 20:08 GMT]


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Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 05:58
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
What kind of errors Jan 16, 2009

If you think the author was only careless you could ask "did you really mean that, sounds odd to me". But there are cases where the author really thinks he's right and then you must translate as he wants. Or turn the job down.

Regards
Heinrich


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xxxLia Fail  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 04:58
Spanish to English
+ ...
a reviser or a client? Jan 16, 2009

mafia wrote:

Do you translate whatever it's on the source regardless of its factual errors (e.g. the president of XXX organization is AAA but he/she should be BBB)?

If the volume is not large, normally I would add a note or send the agency an email to ask for advice.

However, I am handling quite a large volume this time, by just reading the source text, I already encounter more than 30 factual errors and I am not even half way through yet.
If I leave a note on every error, should I give them both correct and incorrect translation. If so,
that means I will be translating twice for some source words. Or, put it another way, am I actually doing an extra proofreading job for the source text that I am not charge for?

Please share your experience.





I would typically correct all errors in a translations and point them all out, but in a large text I might actually mark all of them and then in a near-final round, decide which ones should really be notified and which ones I should just correct myself(assuming overwhelming evidence in favour of my decision).

Sometimes we don't know who we are correcting for, however.

For example, I recently did a translation with a lot of errors, and, for reasons I won't say in the interest of brevity, I worked on the assumption that my text would be revised by a colleague. And I do this kind of commentary to spare my colleague duplication of effort in checking out the same oddities as I detected. So I pointed out each and every translation problem, in English.

However, if I'd known that the job was going directly to the client, I'd have resolved most of teh problems and would have pointed out the major errors in their language.


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FarkasAndras
Local time: 04:58
English to Hungarian
+ ...
- Jan 16, 2009

mafia wrote:

Do you translate whatever it's on the source regardless of its factual errors (e.g. the president of XXX organization is AAA but he/she should be BBB)?
Please share your experience.


If the mistake is obvious (figure evidently off by a digit or three etc.) I just correct it and usually make a comment in a txt file I send along with the translation stating that I changed X to Y. I figure that reassures the client that the translator was not asleep at the wheel.
If the situation is a bit less clear I add a note in said txt along the lines of "Page 3 says XXX, I believe this might be a mistake. I translated faithfully but the author might have meant YYY which should be translated as ZZZ."
Of course, writing 30 of these would be time consuming.


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ntext  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 21:58
Partial member
German to English
+ ...
What is the purpose of the translation? Jan 16, 2009

There is another important question to consider: Why is the text being translated?

Take, for example, a technical manual.

Scenario A: A company wants to market its product in another country and therefore has the manual for that product translated into the language spoken in the foreign country. The purpose of the translation is ultimately to help users in that country understand how the product works. If the original manual contains an error, it would obviously not be helpful to recreate that error in the translation. The target readership of the manual doesn't want to know what the original manual says; they want to know how the product works.

Scenario B: A technical manual is an exhibit in an international law suit. To allow lawyers / judges / jurors understand the manual even though they don't speak the language in which it is written, the manual is being translated. If the original manual contains an error, the target readership of the translation may find that very interesting and important. In this case it would be wrong for the translator to gloss over the error.

How many translators does it take to change a light bulb? Depends on the context.


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FarkasAndras
Local time: 04:58
English to Hungarian
+ ...
- Jan 17, 2009

ntext wrote:


Scenario B: A technical manual is an exhibit in an international law suit. To allow lawyers / judges / jurors understand the manual even though they don't speak the language in which it is written, the manual is being translated. If the original manual contains an error...


You're just being obtuse on purpose here.
In any such case the client would tell the translator about the situation.

[Edited at 2009-01-17 12:09 GMT]


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Roman Bulkiewicz  Identity Verified
Ukraine
Local time: 05:58
Member (2004)
English to Ukrainian
+ ...
ask the client Jan 17, 2009

mafia wrote:
If the volume is not large, normally I would add a note or send the agency an email to ask for advice.

However, I am handling quite a large volume this time, by just reading the source text, I already encounter more than 30 factual errors and I am not even half way through yet.


Tell this to the agency and ask what to do. Make it clear that discussing each error would be time-consuming and thus should be paid for as a separate service (or very, very much appreciated by the agency as a big, big courtesy on your part, making you a so, so valuable translator).

[Edited at 2009-01-17 11:45 GMT]


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Roman Bulkiewicz  Identity Verified
Ukraine
Local time: 05:58
Member (2004)
English to Ukrainian
+ ...
what if... Jan 17, 2009

Paul Cohen wrote:
The result? They made a big stink about me "meddling in business that didn't concern me in the least" and said that I had no right to call their client's end customer (I was given this feedback indirectly through the agency that had actually hired me). And then things got absolutely absurd. They actually insisted on leaving the mistake in both the English translation and the original version!


What if they wanted to lie?


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Paul Cohen  Identity Verified
Greenland
Local time: 00:58
German to English
+ ...
You never know Jan 17, 2009

Roman Bulkiewicz wrote:

What if they wanted to lie?


In this case, it was just an embarrassing mistake, a was a situation of "The Emperor Wears No Clothes" where everyone was paralyzed with fear and loathing. God forbid that we admit a mistake!

But you raise an interesting point, Roman. Perhaps mafia's client actually wants all the mistakes to remain right where they are. Who knows? Maybe the client is totally dissatisfied with the source text because it is filled with errors, and to prove his point to a person who only understands the target language, he has asked for a translation. Maybe he is involved in a legal battle and has to prove in court that he deserves compensation for the damages caused by this horribly inaccurate text?!

You never know. Perhaps mafia should scrupulously include every single error!

In any case, he/she should alert the client to the situation.


[Edited at 2009-01-17 17:21 GMT]


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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 22:58
English to French
+ ...
Depends on how frequent these factual errors are Jan 17, 2009

If I was working on a shorter file or one that contains only a few such errors, then yes, I would correct these mistakes (and highlight them in some way so the client knows what I corrected). Please, note that we are translators, and we are normally not supposed to touch the source text. When we do, the client needs to be aware of exactly what parts of the source text we changed.

However, on larger documents or ones where there are more than a few such errors, I would get in touch with the client as soon as I can see a pattern emerging, to let them know about this recurring problem. Then, I would simply highlight all occurrences of factual errors. The point is to give the client the means to improve the source text, not to improve their source text in their stead - that falls outside of the scope of translation.

I wouldn't waste time on correcting all errors and documenting them - on a larger file, this could mean working many hours without getting paid. This would be a case of source text that wasn't ready to be translated. As a translator, it's my job to let the client know about such problems, but it's not up to me to take the client's responsibilities. That would be a slippery slope in more than one way.


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Tomás Cano Binder, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 04:58
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Ask YOUR client Jan 17, 2009

Roman Bulkiewicz wrote:
Tell this to the agency and ask what to do. Make it clear that discussing each error would be time-consuming and thus should be paid for as a separate service (or very, very much appreciated by the agency as a big, big courtesy on your part, making you a so, so valuable translator).


Exactly. I see no other possible approach.


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PCovs
Denmark
Local time: 04:58
Member (2003)
English to Danish
+ ...
Precisely! Jan 17, 2009

Tomás Cano Binder, CT wrote:

Roman Bulkiewicz wrote:
Tell this to the agency and ask what to do. Make it clear that discussing each error would be time-consuming and thus should be paid for as a separate service (or very, very much appreciated by the agency as a big, big courtesy on your part, making you a so, so valuable translator).


Exactly. I see no other possible approach.


Yes, I would also ask the client, pointing out that this is not just the odd error, but actually several errors which would be rather time consuming to correct, and really this would not be within the scope of this particular job, would it?

I always point it out to my client, if I have major problems with the source text, e.g. extremely poor language (not mothertongue), major or repetitive inconcistencies, incomprehensibility for various reasons etc. etc. My client may or may not already be aware of these problems, but I have not yet had a negative response from my clients for letting them know.

After all, I feel responsible that the product I deliver to my client is a high quality product, but if the source text for some reason makes it impossible for me to deliver a product of high quality, I feel both obliged but also forced to tell my client about this up front. This way my client cannot later come back and say that I was responsible for this low quality product. I think this is an important point to have in mind also.


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Annett Hieber  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 04:58
English to German
I see two possibilities to proceed Jan 18, 2009

I, too, was faced with such a problem once. I see two possibilities:

a) Contact the agency/client (who gave you the PO!) before translating and
verify if he/she was aware of the errors or if they were indeed intended
(as some pointed out here).

b) What I did, because it was a direct client whom I knew well and I was
sure that it were real factual mistakes: I translated the text correctly
and pointed out the errors separately in a table-like form. The client
was very delighted (and thus returned to me with more work!).

You have to decide basing on your estimation of the individual client.

Good luck!

Annett


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Derek Gill Franßen  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 04:58
German to English
+ ...
Depends on (the nature of) the text... Jan 18, 2009

It depends on the nature of the text and on the nature of the errors.

I, for example, just barely finished translating a License Agreement from German into English. It was simply riddled with legal errors. I would estimate that almost half of the clauses in that agreement would not hold up in a court of law; some might even invalidate the entire contract.

Did I inform the client (a translating agency) of such errors? No.

As "wrong" as it may seem, often times--especially in contracts or in terms and conditions--such errors are made consciously. In fact, most terms and conditions are filled with legally invalid clauses. The reasoning is that if legally faulty clauses prevent 9 out of 10 plaintiffs from filing proceedings, then it may be worth it.

Besides, I am getting paid well for my translations, but I am not getting paid anywhere near what I would as an attorney to review the legality of what they are writing.

[Edited at 2009-01-18 12:32 GMT]


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