How to handle a tricky situation (Mod: quality problems with original text)
Thread poster: Natasha Dupuy

Natasha Dupuy  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:05
French to English
Jun 21, 2006


I am hoping some of you have experienced this situation before and will be able to advise me!
I am doing an English to French translation that I accepted thinking the original language of the text was actually English. Unfortunately the text was translated into English from another language and the quality of the translation is quite shocking. Not knowing who performed the translation (could be in-house at the client's, a family member of the client's, a long-standing working relationship), I am not sure how to approach the situation.
I have tactfully told them that I am having trouble understanding some of the text and asked if they could liaise with the translator on my behalf, however they only suggested I e-mail them my questions and they would try to help me themselves. They then also asked me to point out any spelling mistakes I might find.
What I really want to tell them is that they need to have the whole document proof-read and reworked... *sigh*
Would greatly appreciate your input!

[Subject edited by staff or moderator 2006-06-21 16:12]

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Rosa Maria Duenas Rios  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:05
It has happened before... Jun 21, 2006

I ended refusing the job (EN-SP translation) on the basis that the original (supposedly in English, but most probably machine translated from another language) was not comprehensible (I could not care less who translated it!).

I lost the client, but I am sure it was the most sane and strightforwad decision for me. Otherwise, I would have gotten a headache trying to decipher what the original meant, would have been underpayed (the time spend would have not justified the price per word), and would have not been satisfied with the translation (bad quality original, bad quality translation?), not to mention loosing more time with the requests from the agency to point out what is not understandable, and spelling mistakes, as in your case!

So, I saved myself a headache, lost time and money, and was available for another, more professional client.

[Edited at 2006-06-21 16:51]

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Jerónimo Fernández  Identity Verified
English to Spanish
+ ...
My 2 cents Jun 21, 2006

Hi Natasha,

Whenever I find something unclear in texts I translate, I create a table in Word with 5 columns:

1) Source text reads: Here I copy the bit I can't fully understand. Ideally I copy a whole sentence and not single words, so the context helps my customer know what I can't understand.
2) Where does it read so: File, page, section, paragraph, column, whatever.
3) Provisional translation: Here I copy my provisional translation, when and if I can figure out one.
4) Question/Comment: Here I ask the question. In my experience, it's a good idea to write "multiple choice" questions, ie: instead of writing "I can't understand this sentence", I write: "Does this sentence mean xxx or rather yyy?". Other than this, I leave comments such as "typo in source text: it should read xxx instead of yyy"
5) Answer: I leave this blank so that my customer answers my questions.

Obviously, if there are lots of mistakes, this is so time-consuming, and it seems to be the case of your text.

In your situation, I'd take the fist page or the first, say, 15 mistakes (whatever comes first) and fill the table. Hopefully that way the customer wil notice that the English text quality is sub-par. If not, I'd point out that "maybe" it's a good idea that they have that whole document proof-read and reworked if they plan to publish it.

To me the point is not going to the customer saying "this text sucks", but rather pointing out the advantages of having it right.

If they refuse to have it checked, unless they pay a lot, I'd turn the job down: it takes a lot of time to try make sense of nonsense.

As for you checking the mistakes (again, if there's a lot of them), in my opinion that's another job apart from the translation.

Hope this helps.

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Steven Sidore  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:05
Member (2003)
German to English
Check the text beforehand Jun 21, 2006

Bummer, that's a bad situation.

The lesson in this sad tale is to always, every single time, ask to see the text before agreeing to do it, and then actually look through it. Sure, for longer pieces none of us probably has the time to read through the whole thing before giving the green light, but skim it all and choose a few spots at random to check for comprehensibility. It'll save a lot of this headache.

Good luck!

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Local time: 13:05
Member (2003)
English to Danish
+ ...
Think of your workload - the client doesn't! Jun 21, 2006

What I mean to say is that you should care less what the client might think of you and more about what kind of workload you are signing up for trying to make sense of this mess.

What I have done in these situations - there have been 3 or 4 - is that I have told the client straight ahead (usually after a couple of pages so filled with nonsense that my head started spinning) that this what not comprehensible, and that I would not be able to put my name to a translation of this text.

I have not - as - yet (knock on wood) - lost a client over this; rather the contrary. Twice the client thanked me and returned the text to their client (I guess this job then went on to another poor unsuspecting translator - hmmm...).
One time I actually ended up getting the same job back having been translated this time be a more qualified translator, and once I was asked to do my best with what I had, because my client already knew and had pointed out to the end client that this was pure BS.

In the end it's YOUR name on this translation - and if anyone disputes it, you're going to have to explain howcome you attempted to translate something incomprehensible - Okay, worst case scenario, but that's how I see it.

Oh, and as to the spelling mistakes - that's not your job! If they care, they should have hired a proofreader in the first place.

[Edited at 2006-06-21 19:43]

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Jonathan Faydi  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:05
Dutch to French
+ ...
Tell them! Jun 21, 2006

What are you afraid of? You are responsible for a good translation. If the text is badly written just say it is badly written and ambiguous... There is nothing wrong about it and it might open their eyes on the fact that the boss' son is not such a good translator...

Seriously I would tell them. It is also a sign of professionnality.

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Natasha Dupuy  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:05
French to English
Thanks... Jun 26, 2006

Hi everyone,

Sorry it's taken me a few days to respond to your comments which were very helpful.
Jonathan's drove home it home with: "What are you afraid of?"
The client in question is long-standing and gives me a lot of work, so I guess I was afraid of stepping on someone's toes. I took all of your comments on board and ended up telling the client that the whole text needed re-working in order to be up to standard for publishing. They actually came back and told me I was absolutely right, explained the situation and remained 100% available for any clarifications I needed.
I finished the job but needless to say I have now learnt my lesson... as a few of you suggested, next time I will definitely be asking to see the text first!
Thanks again...

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