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What if the source document says something stupid?
Thread poster: Alex Jones
Alex Jones
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:59
Japanese to English
+ ...
Dec 24, 2003

What if you are translating a document, and you come across a factual error, internal contradiction etc? Of course, translators are only obliged to translate meaning verbatim - but in certain cases is it worth just slipping in a little note like "By the way, Bulgaria is not in South America." Will this get you more custom, or offend the writer, or is it just a good deed or none of a translator's business?

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CELC Inc
Local time: 15:59
Japanese to English
+ ...
Depends on the customer Dec 24, 2003

As a fellow J-E translator, first let me express my sympathies. Japanese source docs (outside of the technical fields) are notorious for egregious factual, grammatical, and stylistic errors.

My own experience leads me to believe that the wisest policy is to conisder your client and your market. My agency does a lot of work locally in tourism. This field requires that you provide the client with useful tips like, "Actually, your phone number is XXX-XXXX," and "That festival is in June, not March." We have built a rep for being better than the original and for being attentive to such errors; as a subcontractor this makes the contractor look good and subsequently makes them want to outsource to us again.
On the other hand, we have had a few clients, especially in more technical fields or in a direct contracting relationship with the original client, who resent this intrusion on their time and offense to their honor.
In balance, I would guess we have lost a lot less business than we have gained, but choose your battles wisely.


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Denyce Seow  Identity Verified
Singapore
Local time: 14:59
Member (2004)
Chinese to English
"HUMAN" translation Dec 24, 2003

Usually in this case, I would gather all the "errors" and highlight them to my client. This is critical because:

1. If they are publishing the original document too, they HAVE to know that these "errors" exist.

2. It will affect MY translation. Call it "rubbish in, rubbish out".

If we just ignore the errors and translate it as it is, then how different are we from machine translations?????

So far, none of my client thinks that this is offensive. In fact, all of them appreciate that I took this extra mile.




Alex Jones wrote:

What if you are translating a document, and you come across a factual error, internal contradiction etc? Of course, translators are only obliged to translate meaning verbatim - but in certain cases is it worth just slipping in a little note like "By the way, Bulgaria is not in South America." Will this get you more custom, or offend the writer, or is it just a good deed or none of a translator's business?


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sylver  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:59
English to French
Is it not? Dec 24, 2003

Alex Jones wrote:

What if you are translating a document, and you come across a factual error, internal contradiction etc? Of course, translators are only obliged to translate meaning verbatim - but in certain cases is it worth just slipping in a little note like "By the way, Bulgaria is not in South America." Will this get you more custom, or offend the writer, or is it just a good deed or none of a translator's business?


lol. Query is the way to go. Slip a note to your customer asking about it. Normally the customer should be thankful for pointing out a mistake, and sometimes it can be a life saver too. Depending on what it is, a mistake could have pretty dire consequences.

I once picked up on a discrepancy with allowed temperature values for some heavy machinery. Reported it. If the original values had been used, they would have blown the whole thing apart, and the operators around it too.

In that specific case, the client just said "correct, please change the values to...". No "thanks" or "well done", and that's the last job I received from them, so I can't garantee that reporting errors is a sure way to win his gratitude, but it should be done nevertheless.

Cheers,
Sylver

NB: I regularly report on possible error and mistakes and most clients are fine with it. So, reporting doesn't necessarily means loosing a client, but when a client can be lost for that reason, I would rather not work with him in the first place, so I guess it's all right.


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Alaa Zeineldine  Identity Verified
Egypt
Local time: 08:59
Member (2002)
English to Arabic
+ ...
The agency will appreciate it Dec 24, 2003

[quote]sylver wrote:

Alex Jones wrote:

...

NB: I regularly report on possible error and mistakes and most clients are fine with it. So, reporting doesn't necessarily means loosing a client, but when a client can be lost for that reason, I would rather not work with him in the first place, so I guess it's all right.


Considering that in most cases your immediate client will be an agency, this allows the project manager to make a judgment call. I usually compile all the relevant notes and email them with the final job to the agency. They always appreciate it because it helps their professional image with their client. So in most cases, it is good ethics and good for the business.


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xxxPaul Roige
Spain
Local time: 07:59
English to Spanish
+ ...
Ah, cool topic! Dec 24, 2003

Alex Jones wrote:

What if you are translating a document, and you come across a factual error, internal contradiction etc? Of course, translators are only obliged to translate meaning verbatim - but in certain cases is it worth just slipping in a little note like "By the way, Bulgaria is not in South America." Will this get you more custom, or offend the writer, or is it just a good deed or none of a translator's business?


Really, I often wonder and never dare ask here... I learnt to be very, very and even very very subtle on how I approach the client when I find even the smallest tiniest wee mistake. You see, oftentimes the client is the author of the text you're translating. Ouch.
So, what about something like "sir, miss, are you reeeeally sure that this is what you reeeeeally mean?" Let them find out for themselves, they'll appreciate that.
Anyway, yesterday I found a conditional in a contract clause and all my alarm bells went bonkers and nearly got struck by act of God. It took ten minutes of my fast disappearing time on earth to get myself together and find a way to tell the agency to tell the client to... Gosh, took them only minutes (unheard of in this neck of the woods) to come back to moi to say "ae ae, we mean "shall"!!!!!). For once I got thanked too, that was cool.
Words that help: "may", "please", "perhaps", "do you mean", "what about", ... Don't, "I know about this and..." which translates as "smart ***!" (self-moderated for posting purposes).
But in the meantime (ie: draft), just translate what it says, even if Bulgaria ain't in Bulgaria.
Thanks for raising this topic.
Merry mastakes
Paul

[Edited at 2003-12-24 20:17]


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xxxsarahl
Local time: 22:59
English to French
+ ...
Talk to the right person! Dec 24, 2003

My Japanese clients are always grateful when I point out mistakes, they don't want to look stupid. The trick is to find the right person to talk to, and establish trust. In my experience, it was even easier with Japanese clients.

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Berni Armstrong  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:59
Member
English
+ ...
Don't always expect gratitude. Dec 24, 2003

I agree with those who say it is your duty to report these errors - suggesting truthful alternatives, if you know them.

But don't always expect gratitude. I pointed out - in the most polite "British English" way - a number of factual errors in a recent translation and was basically told to stick to my job and mind my own business. I did explain that I thought communicating something that made sense to the target audience WAS my business.... but that went down like a lead balloon too.

Then there are the cases where the client knows somehting of the target language, but not enough to appreciate all the nuances that a native is familiar with. In such cases it is not uncommon to get your translation criticised for not being literal enough - no amount of explaining that we do not say "Look for five legs on a cat" will suffice to convince said clients that you are not cheating them or dumbing down their purple prose.

All the best for the Christmas,

Take a break from your PCs and LIVE a little - go on! "One day is one day!"


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Nikki Graham  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:59
Partial member (2003)
Spanish to English
Egg on my face Dec 24, 2003

Yes, I always say something and usually the reaction is positive! Once one client got very cross about a mere translator pointing out a few errors, but I noticed that they were corrected in the original text when published!
Has it lost me any clients? No, I don't think so, not even when I've cried out mistake from the rooftops and been told that it's not actually a mistake at all (whoops - egg on MY face). But then again, if it has lost me these clients, they won't be missed as I prefer to "interact" and get things clear. It's very difficult to be perfect, but if everyone works together then perfection may just be possible!

Happy Christmas everyone. I hope it's a good one!


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Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 08:59
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Not to report it makes you look stupid... Dec 24, 2003

...if the client notices the mistake later on they could ask you: didn't you spot it when translating? then you could answer:
1. Oh yes, but I didn't care or dare
2. No, I'ms so stupid, sorry!

Keep in mind, that the only person after the author(s) who reads technical manuals and tourism brochures etc. from start to end is the translator.


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lien
Netherlands
Local time: 07:59
English to French
+ ...
Tell it Dec 24, 2003

I never thought it could be a problem. I usually send an apart doc with the translation to point out errors, mostly bad name spelling or like the one you quoted, I never had a thank but I did not expect one at all. Just doing your job.

I mean, I simply write : p. 24, on the original, XZY should be XYZ. Or : wrong numbering in the paragraphs p. 42 on the original, I corrected on the translation p. 46. (But in French, then, as I only translate into French)

[Edited at 2003-12-26 16:49]


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Özden Arıkan  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 07:59
Member
English to Turkish
It IS translator's business Dec 24, 2003

to report any factual mistake to the client. And as for a book or article to be published, for something as obvious as "Bulgaria is in South America" I would add a "translator's note" definitely.

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Kevin Fulton
United States
Local time: 01:59
German to English
Include a note Dec 24, 2003

Quite frequently the original document hasn't been edited, or even read.

I have a small (but growing) collection of passages which are either contradictory or make no sense. A favorite is a series of 8 worksteps, the first seven of which are lengthy and complicated. Number 8 is "Under no circumstances perform the above." I included a note indicating that something was missing.
Kevin


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xxxtazdog
Spain
Local time: 07:59
Spanish to English
+ ...
you have to say something Dec 24, 2003

I agree with the general consensus that you have to point errors out. I'm a great one for documenting mistakes (whether typos or factual errors) in the original, using a separate page of notes, and have never been taken to task for it by the client (whether direct clients or agencies). Sometimes they thank me, but usually no comment is made. I once translated a book about 19th-century painters, and it was chock full of mistakes: wrong dates (especially memorable was the case of one painter who died before he was born , wrong titles given to several of the paintings that were shown, and even one reproduction of a painting that had been printed backwards, etc. I was really glad in this case that I was dealing with an agency, as I would not have liked to confront the author/publisher with the information that this book, already published in Spanish, was so full of mistakes!

Anyway, if I see something that's wrong or even highly questionable, I always notify the client. I think it's part of my job.


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:59
English to Spanish
+ ...
It's part of the job Dec 24, 2003

I consider that it's part of my job to suggest corrections when I detect a possible inconsistency or factual error. I also tell my clients that it is one more service I offer, and it goes with the package, no extra charge! Also, if the text is not perfectly written, the version I supply will be improved and made more appropriate to the benefit of my client's image.

Granted, I work directly with my clients and I have a good relationship and good communication with them. That is what we need to strive for, first and foremost.

The task becomes much more difficult for those who have to work through agencies and deal with a non-responsive system that isolates them from the client. For those situations, all you can do is provide notes with your observations and hope for the best.

The above is of course applicable to client-generated documents only. If the document being translated is pre-existing and it has errors, then you translate it "warts and all" and explain the inconsistencies with notes or (sic) to point out that the error is in the original and not an error by the translator.

It is sad to see that the translator, as a vital part of the communications system, is often isolated and neglected. Perhaps that is what we need to strive to change.


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