Book translation with source text full of errors - What to do?
Thread poster: Stefanie Sendelbach

Stefanie Sendelbach  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 02:18
Member (2003)
English to German
+ ...
Feb 17, 2004

Dear colleagues,

I need to ask your opinion here. The situation is as follows:

I agreed to translate a book of about 550 pages from English to German. After my agreement only, I received the book and started work on it. Soon I learned that the author doesn't seem to care much about the quality of his own book. There are thousands of mistakes like:
- A person is introduced by name and in the next line this name is written completely different.
- Generally there are typos in all kinds of words and names, even in the name of the main character.
- There are words that don’t even exist in English.
- Counting errors like: "There were four friends in College and Hostel. The two friends in College were A and B. The four friends in Hostel were C, D and E.” Does this make sense to anybody?
- Paragraphs and sentences begin with one topic and switch to another topic without any bridging.
and many more...

I mentioned the huge amount of mistakes in an email to the agency, but all they said is: "The author knows about the mistakes. You don't need to waste your time in writing them out."

The agreement with the agency is this: I send them the translation in three batches and they pay me in three batches. The first third is due soon and I am thinking of backing out of the job after having sent them the first third. If the author doesn’t care about his quality of work, it is his personal right to think so. But I do care about the quality of my work and with a text like this it is just not possible to transform the whole thing into a good piece of literature.

I even started omitting parts that are just too illogical. But this again doesn’t really speak for a good translation job, does it.

When I agreed on translating the book, it was not for the money as the payment for this job is very low. I agreed because I thought it would look good on my resume to have a whole book translated. But with a book of such quality I really wouldn't want anybody to know that I had my hands in this.

What would you do?

Thank you for your input.


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lien
Netherlands
Local time: 02:18
English to French
+ ...
I would too Feb 17, 2004

I would also take my hands off the book. 550 pages long !

Send everything back after they paid you what you have already translated. Too much trouble.


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Kevin Fulton  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 20:18
German to English
Was this book privately published? Feb 17, 2004

Most works of fiction generally go through some sort of copy editing process before they're published. It sounds like this one didn't which makes me wonder whether this book was self-published or was published by a vanity press.

My suggestion would be to wait to see whether you get paid for what you've done so far, then try to get out of the project altogether (saying you can possibly do justice to such a lovely work of art). And if you can't do that, make sure you are **NOT** credited as the translator (normally translators have to fight *for* credit). You don't need to have your name connected with this stinker.
Kevin


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Pawel Bartoszewicz  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:18
English to Polish
+ ...
Do not edit Feb 17, 2004

Maybe the author made all these 'mistakes' deliberately to achieve some artistic result? I would translate the text as it stands trying to render all of these inconsistencies in the translation. See what the agency says after receiving the first batch.

Greetings,
Pawel


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GoodWords  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 19:18
Spanish to English
+ ...
Risk vs. potential gain Feb 17, 2004

sundari wrote:
I agreed because I thought it would look good on my resume to have a whole book translated. But with a book of such quality I really wouldn't want anybody to know that I had my hands in this.


You have identified the crucial issue here. It does not seem as though the possible prestige of translating a book is worth the very real risk of having your name associated with this turkey.

I would stop right now, and ask payment only for your work up to this point, perhaps even with a discount, if you feel you can afford it.


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Stefanie Sendelbach  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 02:18
Member (2003)
English to German
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks! Feb 17, 2004

Kfulton wrote:

It sounds like this one didn't which makes me wonder whether this book was self-published or was published by a vanity press.


Yes, it is privately published. The agency had told me that they would pay so low as it was for a non-profit organisation. Well, which ist true...

I learned from the preface of the book that the author won a certain amount of money and spends it on translating his own book into more than 20 languages and thus making it the book that is translated into most languages in his country.


Kfulton wrote:

My suggestion would be to wait to see whether you get paid for what you've done so far, then try to get out of the project altogether.


Even if I don't get paid, the price is really so low, it wouldn't make a big difference.

Thanks Kevin and Lien for your inputs! I appreciate it.


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Stefanie Sendelbach  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 02:18
Member (2003)
English to German
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
I understand your point, Pawel Feb 17, 2004

Pawel Bartoszewicz wrote:

Maybe the author made all these 'mistakes' deliberately to achieve some artistic result? I would translate the text as it stands trying to render all of these inconsistencies in the translation. See what the agency says after receiving the first batch.

Greetings,
Pawel


I see where you are coming from, Pawel. And normally I would decide to act according to your suggestion.

But can you really leave something like: "American President Abhan Lincon" or "The famous Nobel Prize winner Albert Ensten"??

The errors are really of this kind (though I made up these ones here). I can't use them in my translation if I still want to seriously call myself a translator.

Thank you for your comment anyway!

[Edited at 2004-02-17 16:58]


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Tina Vonhof  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 18:18
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Needs editing first Feb 17, 2004

Hello Sundari,

If you were not expecting to get paid very much for this job, I would hand it back to them saying that you cannot translate this unless it is edited first. You may lose this client but so what?

It does tell you one thing though: never accept a job without having seen at least a few sample pages first.


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Zdenka Ivkovcic  Identity Verified
Croatia
Local time: 02:18
Member (2004)
English to Croatian
+ ...
Re: Book translation with source text full of errors - What to do? Feb 17, 2004

Long time ago, I was asked to translate several pages for a small company when their in-house translator was ill. There were more mistakes in it than I\'ve ever seen before in a written text, however, they insisted I translate it as it was. I did. Later on, when their translator saw my work, she told me I should never translate a single page in my life again. I learnt my lesson!

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Levan Namoradze  Identity Verified
Georgia
Local time: 05:18
Member (2005)
English to Georgian
+ ...
Another Disputable Opinion Feb 18, 2004

Well. That book could be something like 'The Flowers for Algernon'. Could it? Just read it once more (if you have not done so earlier). I mean, the Author could allow mistakes knowingly. May be, he/she needed to describe a narrow-minded person like in the book above.

However, may be you are right. Then you should just suspend translation.


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