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Client was too good... and not good enough
Thread poster: Arnaud HERVE

Arnaud HERVE  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 11:35
English to French
+ ...
Sep 21, 2009

Hi all, I just wanted to share with you an unpleasant but non important experience, the client and I eventually parting on bad terms.

The client was a scientist, and he wanted to have a semi-scientific presentation translated, promoting his activities.

Text was delivered and paid, no problem about that.

After delivery, he wrote back to me, asking to change some terms. It turned out that he had a knowledge of target language, a knowledge which I would describe as "good highschool student in foreign language class". Or good passive knowledge, if you wish, adding the fact that he knew his scientific field very well, of course.

More precisely, his ability was to read scientific texts in source language, and then write back to me because he had found a term here or there that was different from the term I had used. If you want an image, it was like he had the ability to read a thesaurus, then come up with words that were logically related, but not quite the right terms.

To give you an idea in English, the text being about geophysics, he wanted me to change from "mountain range" to "ridge", "chain", " cordillera", and so on...

My problem was that, as he wrote to me demanding those changes, I was already engaged in other works with other clients, and it would have taken me hours writing to him that this word was more natural than that word.

And he kept coming back, for other words, because he had read them somewhere, checking I don't know where on the Internet. And he was always logical in his demands, but never got a sense of the natural expression. And he was always warning me that he could check whatever I wrote, because he "understood" the language.

That's why, because I didn't see the end of it, I finally told him to look for another translator.

What can I say, as a conclusion? He was not ill-minded, and was even kind of right from his point of view. It is true that he was better than me in his field, because I could not match his twenty years or so of professional experience. It is also true that he could read the target language, and understand scientific texts in that language.

But in the end I had no time to give language lessons, find relevant references, reply exhaustively... and all that for free.


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Ali Bayraktar  Identity Verified
Turkey
Member (2007)
English to Turkish
+ ...
If it is not too late... Sep 21, 2009

then create a translation with his words on which he insists. (just by changing his words)

And then request him to show both translations to someone of his colleagues in the target language and also request this person's comments in written.

He will learn not to interfere with a translator's work.

By cutting your relationships with him you just sent him to create the same problems for another translator You would better resolve this issue once and forever.

Best Regards,

M. Ali


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NancyLynn
Canada
Local time: 05:35
Member (2002)
French to English
+ ...

MODERATOR
client education Sep 21, 2009

So he's an expert in his field; you're an expert in yours.

Now that you've suggested another translator, he will find his endless email exchange begin anew.

In due course, he'll learn that science is best left to scientists, and language best left to linguists!

Bon courage,

Nancy


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Claudia Alvis  Identity Verified
Peru
Local time: 04:35
Spanish
+ ...
he'll learn that science is best left to scientists, and language best left to linguists! Sep 21, 2009

Nancy Lynn Bogar wrote:

So he's an expert in his field; you're an expert in yours.

Now that you've suggested another translator, he will find his endless email exchange begin anew.

In due course, he'll learn that science is best left to scientists, and language best left to linguists!

Bon courage,

Nancy


Very true.

I took biology in school and university, that doesn't make me a biologist. Your client might have taken French in high school or wherever, that doesn't make him an expert in the language.

Some clients think that we make up words and terms, rely solely on dictionaries, or open the thesaurus close our eyes and pick any word, there's usually a lot of work and research involved. Unfortunately some clients don't understand this and, unless the demands are reasonable, we can't spend all our time explaining our choice of words. I sympathize with your situation Arnaud. Some clients do come up with the most ridiculous requests and we can't keep saying yes.


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Eleftherios Kritikakis  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 04:35
Member (2003)
Greek to English
+ ...
During my surgery Sep 22, 2009

During my surgery, I woke up and started telling the surgeon what to do, because I had read about that stuff somewhere when I was in college and I remembered a few things.

Nevertheless, what I should do in your case: I would tell the client that his choices are not that proper, since they were purely preferential I would charge for my time to make the changes, and then she would be responsible for the quality.


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Mohamed Mehenoun  Identity Verified
Algeria
Local time: 10:35
Member (2008)
English to French
+ ...
! Sep 22, 2009

Arnaud HERVE wrote:

Hi all, I just wanted to share with you an unpleasant but non important experience, the client and I eventually parting on bad terms.

The client was a scientist, and he wanted to have a semi-scientific presentation translated, promoting his activities.

Text was delivered and paid, no problem about that.

After delivery, he wrote back to me, asking to change some terms. It turned out that he had a knowledge of target language, a knowledge which I would describe as "good highschool student in foreign language class". Or good passive knowledge, if you wish, adding the fact that he knew his scientific field very well, of course.

More precisely, his ability was to read scientific texts in source language, and then write back to me because he had found a term here or there that was different from the term I had used. If you want an image, it was like he had the ability to read a thesaurus, then come up with words that were logically related, but not quite the right terms.

To give you an idea in English, the text being about geophysics, he wanted me to change from "mountain range" to "ridge", "chain", " cordillera", and so on...

My problem was that, as he wrote to me demanding those changes, I was already engaged in other works with other clients, and it would have taken me hours writing to him that this word was more natural than that word.

And he kept coming back, for other words, because he had read them somewhere, checking I don't know where on the Internet. And he was always logical in his demands, but never got a sense of the natural expression. And he was always warning me that he could check whatever I wrote, because he "understood" the language.

That's why, because I didn't see the end of it, I finally told him to look for another translator.

What can I say, as a conclusion? He was not ill-minded, and was even kind of right from his point of view. It is true that he was better than me in his field, because I could not match his twenty years or so of professional experience. It is also true that he could read the target language, and understand scientific texts in that language.

But in the end I had no time to give language lessons, find relevant references, reply exhaustively... and all that for free.


Hello,

If it's not too late and you want to get rid of the bitter taste he left you, just ask him to assemble all his complaints in a doc file or an excel sheet, which should be final.

Just change the terms with the WORD tool if possible and dedicate it some time if you can.

If you feel confident by your translation, send him the two files and tell him that you are willing to ask for another expert's opinion ! Either someone he knows - and I mean one of his peers- or a third party which you would pay 10% of the translation price if your way of translating was bad or else he will pay the third party because he was just being a pest !(of course you have to turn it well if you actually ask him to).

Best regards,


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 11:35
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
"Kunde ist König" Sep 22, 2009

Am I too old fashioned?

I am a translator and strive for perfection in every job, but the customer is the geologist and can read specialised publications and websites in the target language about his trade.

In this situation, before doing any change, I would have compiled a list of changes requested, would have sent it to the customer asking for his confirmation that those are the changes he wished and asking to add any other changes to be made. Once the final list of changes was agreed, I would have implemented them in one go (for free) as an unepected addition to the job.

If any or all of the changes are unreasonable in your opinion and changing the words is very time consuming, and in case of second or third rounds of changes, I would have suggested an additional charge for the changes.

In Spain we say "If you close a door, leave a window open". The result of your approach is not only a lost customer, but also a customer who distrusts translators... :-/

[Edited at 2009-09-22 07:32 GMT]


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Nicole Schnell  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 02:35
English to German
+ ...
Ahem. The "old German saying". Sep 22, 2009

Tomás Cano Binder, CT wrote:

(An old German saying meaning: "The customer is the king.")


Please note that the original meaning refers to vagabonds, rogues and hobos who would explore the best addresses for their purposes.



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Erik Freitag  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 11:35
Member (2006)
Dutch to German
+ ...
Maybe he had a point? Sep 22, 2009

Dear Arnaud,

I'm not questioning your work, but generally speaking, I think we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that your client might actually have had a point. Scientific language isn't made to sound "natural" in the first instance, but to be precise. Often, terms in highly specialized language do sound unnatural to the uninitiated ear.

More than once I have encountered clients who weren't able to produce a clear sentence in my target language, but knew their terminology quite well in both source and target language. For me as a translator, this is an excellent opportunity to learn.

Kind regards,
Erik


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Patricia Lane  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 11:35
French to English
+ ...
Good point Sep 22, 2009

Erik has made a valuable point, and it may be part of the issue here.

Otherwise, one of the ways to set limits on this type of situation is clear terms of sale. IMHO, it is the translator's responsibility to provide after sale service (explaining terminology choices, making changes if they are legitimate, etc.) and to specify a time frame during which these exchanges take place. After that time is passed, if more revisions are requested, they can be invoiced at the translator's hourly rate.


Patricia


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 11:35
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Wow Sep 22, 2009

Nicole Schnell wrote:
Tomás Cano Binder, CT wrote:
(An old German saying meaning: "The customer is the king.")

Please note that the original meaning refers to vagabonds, rogues and hobos who would explore the best addresses for their purposes.

I certainly had no idea! Thanks a lot for sharing Nicole.


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 11:35
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Exactly Sep 22, 2009

efreitag wrote:
More than once I have encountered clients who weren't able to produce a clear sentence in my target language, but knew their terminology quite well in both source and target language. For me as a translator, this is an excellent opportunity to learn.

I remember one case several years ago in which I had the valuable experience of having a long conversation with the chief engineer of an end customer in Spain. He of course was no linguist, but wanted to explain some terms he had corrected in my translation.

Of course I did not like the idea of seeing my terms changed (I had gathered them from reasonably knowledgeable sources) as it meant spending some 5-6 hours changing them in a very long translation, but I did learn a lot about the specifics of their product and market. By carefully listening to the customer and making good notes about the terms they use and prefer, I opened the door to a healthy long-term relationship.


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KSL Berlin  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 10:35
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
A not-infrequent dilemma Sep 22, 2009

Interesting situation, Arnaud, and well described. We've faced similar challenges with a few customers over the years, and this sort of thing is by no means confined to technical texts. If I had a euro for every time I engaged in an exchange with a German client who offered me unusable English alternatives for the word I had chosen, we could be having this discussion on my yacht while my servants provide us with cool drinks.

Since I wasn't part of that exchange, I can't say if you closed the door too soon, should have slammed it earlier or left it open altogether. That's for you to decide, of course. It's frustrating to give "language lessons" when other projects demand your attention, but depending on how these are handled, it is also an opportunity to establish better communication with the customer. The way you describe this person, he sounds generally pleasant, though the "warning" does seem a bit odd.

If faced with a large number of requested changes which I feel are wrong or a waste of time, I usually respond to a few points with careful documentation of my reasons, including examples, and then I inform the client that further such efforts will be charged at standard rates. However, I make very sure beforehand that I am armed with a cannon to kill the sparrows: if there is any doubt regarding terminology, I usually keep quiet and do more research and discuss the matter as I have time. A typical scenario, however, often involves simple stuff like someone messing up verb agreement, using wrong prepositions and - as you described it more or less - drunken thesaurus choices.

Something else I often do which might be useful to you in such situations is to prepare a glossary of key terminology before or after the translation work. (If it's a big project I usually make a preliminary glossary based on statistical frequency of the terms.) The client gets a copy of this at various stages, and we discuss it as needed. This is also a nice tool for proofreading - a quick overview in which "trouble" might be spotted early. Many of these glossaries take on a life of their own and get re-used in later projects, with requests to update them for pay. Even without the money I find that they focus discussions with the client nicely and provide a "history" of terms so that forgetful people don't try to cover the same ground time and again.

Another reason I like the project glossary approach is that sometimes there are perfectly legitimate alternative terms, or some which apply better for particular text registers that the client may use. Then these glossaries become a useful "client preference file" of sorts to keep me from going astray with other terminology residing in my TEnT.


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Nicole Schnell  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 02:35
English to German
+ ...
Similar case here. Sep 22, 2009

Tomás Cano Binder, CT wrote:

efreitag wrote:
More than once I have encountered clients who weren't able to produce a clear sentence in my target language, but knew their terminology quite well in both source and target language. For me as a translator, this is an excellent opportunity to learn.

I remember one case several years ago in which I had the valuable experience of having a long conversation with the chief engineer of an end customer in Spain. He of course was no linguist, but wanted to explain some terms he had corrected in my translation.

Of course I did not like the idea of seeing my terms changed (I had gathered them from reasonably knowledgeable sources) as it meant spending some 5-6 hours changing them in a very long translation, but I did learn a lot about the specifics of their product and market. By carefully listening to the customer and making good notes about the terms they use and prefer, I opened the door to a healthy long-term relationship.


I once translated the application papers for a scientist (medical research). At first she drove me nuts as she insisted on her own terminology. Then I understood that it was HER CV and HER application and SHE was the one who would have to elaborate her documents face-to-face with her interviewers at this German research institute within her own scope of German vocabulary.

She was a pain in the neck. However, that's what translators do at times: Going the extra mile. Later on I heard that her application was very, very successful. Cool!! I love my profession.

There is one thing, though: I asked her to bundle her edits, or I would have to charge extra for any additional round.


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Lawyer-Linguist  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 10:35
Dutch to English
+ ...
Precisely Sep 22, 2009

Nicole Schnell wrote:

There is one thing, though: I asked her to bundle her edits, or I would have to charge extra for any additional round.


That's exactly what I do with direct clients -- specify a time frame from the outset (in my case, five working days) and request a single email with any changes. From my side, I undertake to respond within 48 hours (i.e. not at the client's whim, as I am inevitably busy with other work). It's part of the after-sales service.

Obviously, if the matter is more urgent because of court filing dates, etc, I work out a different schedule with the client beforehand.

Anything beyond that is charged.

Like Kevin, I provide a glossary for these type of jobs. It is the only structured way to deal with it in my opinion.



[Edited at 2009-09-22 08:30 GMT]


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