Agency-related woes
Thread poster: xxxsonja29

Spanish to English
+ ...
Sep 18, 2005

Hello all,

Please allow me to describe a situation I find myself in, and to draw on your knowledge and experience.

Well, here goes.

About 3 months ago I completed a long (over 10,000 words) translation for an agency. Let's call it text A. It was a fairly specialized text, which involved attention to detail, some research, and terminological consistency. I submitted my translation way ahead of the deadline. The agency was ecstatic, full of praise. I got paid on time, everything was peachy keen.icon_smile.gif

Ever since I have been bombarded with work from that agency, no problem. They are happy with me, I am happy with them. (I wish I did not have to wait 45 days or more to get paid, but I try to focus on the upside.)

A couple weeks ago, I was asked to translate text B. I could immediately see that B was derivative from A. Now, you could not just cut-and-paste from A to put together a translation of B, but once you had done your homework with A (tricky syntax, tough terms) B was (almost) a breeze: it was familiar territory.

On my own initiative I first reviewed my translation of A against the original, so as to refresh my memory as to the (approved) terminological choices, and then tackled B. Again, I delivered well within my deadline, they acknowledged receipt with thanks, and all was well.

Yesterday, however, I got a rude (!!!) email from them saying that some of the terminology in B was "incorrect" and would I please consult the attached file and use it as reference to correct the "errors" in B. I opened the attched file and, to my amazement, saw that it was my own translation of A: MY work, which I had already consulted when tackling terminology in B. What is more, they just used the word "incorrect" in general, but did not refer to any specific problem areas in the text.

I bit my tongue and wrote back to say that the "sample text" they provided was my work and that I had made sure it was 100% consistent with project B. And would they please, at least, highlight the "incorrect" terms to help me locate the problem areas, if any.

Now, waiting for their response, all I want to do is take care of this as painlessly as possible and GET PAID. (Unfortunately they have a policy where invoices are submitted at the end of the month and then they pay (at least) a month later...). I do not want them to use this as an excuse to withhold (part of) payment, dodge their responsibility to pay me in full, etc. What do I do? Do you discern possible pitfalls here? Could it just be an error? What is the smart way to deal with this and avoid burning bridges, at least until my fee is in my account?

May I just add that I always remain at the agency's/client's disposal for adjustment to my translations for 5 days following submission. It is part of my job and I have never shirked this part, but for the life of me I really cannot figure these people out here...

Thank you for reading all this and many TIA for any tips and insights.



Sylvia Smith  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:45
French to English
change of staff or new employee Sep 20, 2005

Hello Sonja,

What a frustrating situation! I understand why you would be concerned.

Just some ideas - is is possible that there was a change of staff at the agency, perhaps a new employee that was not familiar with your previous work or reputation with the agency? And it could be that their lack of response so far means they realize that they may have been mistaken and are looking at how to best resolve the problem. (Sometimes not answering at all is easier than admitting you were wrong.)

Hope this helps, and good luck!

Kind regards,


xxxMarc P  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:45
German to English
+ ...
Agency-related woes Sep 20, 2005

The agency has obviously made an error, and my immediate reaction would be to have a chuckle and not lose any sleep over it. Call your customer and explain - they ought to be embarrassed.

On the other hand, though, I wonder what made them query the terminology in Text B. From what you say, it clearly can't be the consistency with Text A. So is it possible that the end customer has taken a closer look at Text B, and is unhappy with the terminology?

This would mean that the terminology in Text A may also not be to the end customer's satisfaction, but the end customer and the agency may not necessarily have realized that.

From my experience, there is a strong tendency for things that have made it into print to be taken as gospel. (Fans of Dutch literature - are there any?! - can ponder mevrouw Pieterse's classic assertion "maar het staat in een boek" in Multatuli's Woutertje Pieterse). Admittedly, this trend has waned a little during the Internet era. But it is not unusual for an agency, in particular, to take the view that if an end customer doesn't complain, the work is OK. (This is an inevitable consequence of defining quality assurance in terms of customer satisfaction - the "stack of paid invoices" quality metric.) By the same token, if the end customer's customers don't fall around laughing at a translation, the end customer may assume that it is OK.

This can lead to a situation which I have observed on many occasions in which an end customer provides legacy material intended to help the translator. The end customer assumes that it is reliable, and because the end customer has provided it, the agency assumes the same. I have even experienced agencies insisting that their translators adhere to existing terminology even if they know it to be incorrect: presumably, they think that this absolves them of any responsibility, and liability is more important than quality.

So, besides pointing out their obvious error to the agency, the proper response might be to ask them what made them question the terminology in Text B in the first place.



Spanish to English
+ ...
Riddle solved...! Sep 20, 2005

Hello Sylvia and Marc,

First of all, many thanks for your reassuring and insightful replies!

Well, you'll never guess what happened. A few hours ago, I received a sweet, apologetic email and an explanation of the misunderstanding... No, there was no new employee involved, nor had the end-client even looked at my work yet, let alone object to the terminology. What I was told happened was that 1) it had slipped their mind that B was derivative from A, 2) they erroneously assumed that B should be identical to A (earlier and later drafts, presumably), 3) they took a glance at B and saw that it "looked" different to A, 4) sent me A as a sample, having forgotten that it was my work in the first place, 5) phrased their request to me inaccurately, as there was no issue of terminological incorrectness after all.

Now that it is all happily over, I can be amused by the whole thing... but it does feel scary, doesn't it? I wonder how forbearing an agency would be if it had been the freelancer who had committed the oversights 1-5 above...icon_biggrin.gif:D:D

Again, guys, THANKS A MILLION!



Ritu Bhanot  Identity Verified
Member (2006)
French to Hindi
+ ...
Glossary Oct 2, 2005

I've a query regarding an agency which does not actually qualify as a complaint but just a question as to Is it a normal practice?...
An agency has sent me a test saying that there's a future job and it's a test for the same... but it's a whole page of specialised terms that they want me to translate as a Test... and somehow it does not seem right...
I mean there were two pages of specific terms and they have sent it to two translators and requested them to do one page each as a Test Translation.
I have done Test Translations of 100 words or so... but this one seems to be like a glossary and I'm a bit concerned as to they might just make their glossary and then give the work to another translator or may be their in-house translator... I would have done all the hard work for free!!!
I have this hestitation as it is sort of common practice by some agencies and...
Anyways, I'd like to know your views.
Should I do it? Or not?
Is there a catch? Or am I imagining things?
Hope to have your views.


Julie Allison  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:45
Spanish to English
+ ...
Not everyone is who they say they are and they are certainly not professional Nov 3, 2005

Hi Sylvia,
I had a similar situation to you (please see money matters posts) where I was given excuse after excuse about the quality of the work, so I asked to please see the errors they are basing their complaint on, which by the way did not come till several weeks later. Now, some months on, they have not provided this or paid. If I have made a mistake I will correct or make some other reparation. My e-mails were not responded to until I made a BB entry and, surprise surprise, on going public, they found themselves capable of responding to me. But guess, what? They were sarcastic and came up with yet another new excuse. Maybe we're dealing with the same one.

To get back to your situation - Never agree to anything without a written and signed agreement, if not a Purchase Order. Professionally, it should not take any more than a couple of days to get back to you to inform you of mistakes in your work, and it is only fair that you correct them as requested. But weeks on, just when payment is due? Smells a bit to me!

A small translation sample is always appropriate for a first time client, if requested, typically, no more than 500 words.That should be enough to determine whether your work is of a suitable standard for a particular job. I once had someone contact me asking for a translation into a language that was not my own and stated "well, it's getting on a bit now and I really need this job doing". Personally, that's not something I would take on, but the agency cannot blame you for not being a native speaker if they were happy for you to do the job as a non-native speaker in the first place, surely?

Regarding the "nastiness", what sort of language is acceptable in a professional context? There is terminology and approaches I would use at home or with friends, but never to clients, agencies or potential business contacts. And I don't mean swear language, eg crappy, crap, rubbish, - general sarcasm such as putting your professional designations after repeated use of your name in their response (yes, that happened!)(MA, DPSI etc), - at the very bottom of the page a "P.S.",eg, "P.S. thanks for the "polite" reminder". Just not professional!

I even had someone whose service I complained about mirror my letter, using every adjective etc I had used! How do some people stay in business with such an uncaring approach to their reputation?

[Edited at 2005-11-03 08:49]


Allesklar  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:15
English to German
+ ...
test translations Nov 8, 2005

I have done a few test translations, which have led to good contacts and also have refused to do a few others. For some agencies it is a valid way of trying to see if you meet their standards when they are sifting through dozens of quotes they received for a job, but there also seem to be a few dodgy ones who try to use this as a way to get work done for free. Try to find out as much as you can about the customer (check their website, ask other translators if they know them, check the blue board...) and trust your own judgement.

As a general rule, I would say that test translations should be no longer than 200 - 300 words, have no deadline and not look like a real job, i.e. it should only be a brief passage, not an entire leaflet.

If they seem at all rude, pushy or unreasonable, just don't do it - they won't get any better when there is money involved...


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