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Client insists on "correcting" my work
Thread poster: Joshua Pepper

Joshua Pepper  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:27
French to English
+ ...
Nov 7, 2011

Hi,

I'm writing out of interest about your thoughts and experience regarding a peculiar relationship that I seem to have developed with one of my clients - he insists on correcting my work.

The documents are non-technical papers with a scientific theme (without being too specific), and my client is extremely knowledgeable in this field. I am also reasonably knowledgeable in this field (that's how I got the job!), and the papers are pretty general in scope, requiring just a small amount of insight and terminology, both of which I am certain I have. It may be worth noting that he is the actual author of what he is getting me to translate, and his English is reasonable, though far from flawless.

I get the impression that my client is very worried about getting a "faithful" translation, and not particularly worried about getting a translation that feels "perfectly natural" (which is perfectly laudable!). However, though I do feel some of his edits are constructive and useful, I get the feeling that mostly what is happening is my vocabulary is being replaced by less specific and less elegant alternatives, and my sentence structure is being chewed to bits. When reading through a couple of "final versions" I often cringe due to inconsistencies in style and word-flow.

I'm not really looking to force any changes upon my client - after all, he is happy with what he gets, and that is what I am being paid for. But I do find it difficult to take pride in these particular documents, which is unfortunate because they relate to one of my favorite topics. I'm interested in hearing whatever anybody might have to say about this.

Thanks,
Joshua Pepper


 

Mark Thompson  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 15:27
Member
Portuguese to English
Softly softly Nov 8, 2011

Hello Joshua,

I have had this experience on one or two occasions, with the 'correction' coming from people who are specialist in the subject and think that a week's tourism in London or a few months of twice-weekly English classes makes them an expert in the language.

It's a tightrope, because we clearly don't want to lose good clients.

However, as my own pride in what I do does not permit me to accept such unqualified interference, particularly when it turns my well-written text into an abomination, I had to react - always politely, patiently and gracefully, while at the same time pointing out that I'm the linguist and they are the client, and that I'm the one who can make their documents the most 'readable' to other native speakers of my language.

In doing this I have gone to considerable lengths to explain that it's 'native speaker feel' that is as important as grammatically and structurally correct constructions and that the English language is so rich that I have myriad choices of phrase at my disposal and a good eye for a natural, flowing, attractive piece of writing - something non-linguists generally do not understand, and in my experience (with a few exceptions), the more technical the person, the less linguistically intelligent they tend to be.

I have brought a couple of clients round in this way - tact, diplomacy and bags of patience over time.

Good luck!


 

Joshua Pepper  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:27
French to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks. Nov 8, 2011

Thanks for your post Mark! I can relate to absolutely everything that you just said.

Perhaps I should mention though that I am corresponding with the client via an agency, which just complicates things further...

I'm not sure that I'm confident enough to try and "sway" the client (I'm still rather new to the profession), and I'm really not sure that it's actually worth it in this particular case. Still, this is undoubtedly valuable experience and insight - I will definitely try to anticipate such problems in future.

Thanks.


 

trebla
Canada
Local time: 14:27
French to English
The client is always right Nov 8, 2011

I can understand your frustration, but in my view, the client is paying the freight, and if he or she says "tomaytow" when you KNOW it should be "tomahto", I'd let it ride.

 

Katalin Horváth McClure  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:27
Member (2002)
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Target audience? Nov 8, 2011

There are situations when the most natural English is not what the client needs. For example, if the readers of the document are mainly non-native English speakers, than simple sentence structures, even though they may be less elegant, are better. Think about scientific papers that are written for peers from all over the world, whose native language is not English. In such cases it may be necessary to go for the "least common denominator" approach, and focus on simple, straightforward writing and getting the terminology right.
You could save yourself from frustration if you discuss these stylistic issues with the client, and verify his/her preferences before the job, or if it is a series of jobs, during the first few projects. Try to have a constructive dialogue, but if you can't convince the client, just do what he/she wants you to do. Unless the translation is incorrect, let him/her use his/her preferences.
The end product will not bear your name, will it?


 

Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 02:27
Chinese to English
Agree with Mark Nov 8, 2011

I've had the same thing, and have actually had to walk away from jobs, because the client literally said to me, "we don't want the English to be too readable."

I have to say I disagree with Katalin. It's a rare client that really understands who their target audience is, or what kind of English (or other target language) would be best for communicating with the audience. Nor do I accept for an instant that awkward internationalese is somehow easier to understand for non-native English scientists. This is the knowledge we bring to the table as language professionals: that clear, correct English is always the best way to ensure your document is well received.

I sometimes find myself in a weird position where clients seem desperate to get my approval for their mangled versions. "I see how you've translated this, but don't you think this hyperliteral version that my computer dictionary spat out is better?" At these points, I think we have to be clear on two things:

1) The document belongs to the client, and they can do whatever they want with it.

2) My professional advice is that you use my version. I can explain to you how and why it will be more effective. And I'm not going to change that advice (unless you present some really stellar arguments).

Tactful and firm is definitely the way to go. And it works with decent clients.


 

Steve Melling  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 20:27
French to English
+ ...
Lose-lose situation Nov 8, 2011

This is one of the most frustrating aspects of our job and applies, I feel, mainly to English translators. In my opinion, there is no ideal solution hence my title. I have learnt to bite my lip and be pragmatic however disheartening it is.

 

telefpro
Local time: 23:57
Portuguese to English
+ ...
it happens Nov 8, 2011

In technical translations our words may be correct but clients know the words they want to use, and they are not worng sometimes, industry specific

 

Michael Wetzel  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 20:27
German to English
would not do this for an agency Nov 8, 2011

Hello,
It is also important to remember that subject-specific texts (even if intended for a fairly general audience) contain a lot of terms and also collocations (e. g. verbs or adjectives linked to specific nouns) that look ridiculous even to generally knowledgeable readers. Massive amounts of passive and cleft sentences can also be perfectly normal. These are conventions related to the subject matter and text genre and generally have priority over "linguistic quality" in a universal, abstract sense.

I have a few clients that I exhaustively discuss my translations with, although these are all direct clients. I can't imagine doing this through an agency and at agency prices. With an agency, I think that I would OK everything that is not positively wrong, reject everything that is positively wrong, and leave it to the end-client or PM to do what they want with this information. After the fact and whenever I had some free time, I would also assess the clients' changes in more detail with (for example) well-reasoned Google regional searches and use them to improve my glossaries. Subject experts who consistently read English research often have a lot more to teach us than we would expect.

Sincerely,
Michael

[Edited at 2011-11-08 09:47 GMT]


 

neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 20:27
Spanish to English
+ ...
Nicely put Nov 8, 2011

Mark Thompson wrote:
... It's a tightrope, because we clearly don't want to lose good clients.

However, as my own pride in what I do does not permit me to accept such unqualified interference, particularly when it turns my well-written text into an abomination, I had to react - always politely, patiently and gracefully, while at the same time pointing out that I'm the linguist and they are the client, and that I'm the one who can make their documents the most 'readable' to other native speakers of my language.

In doing this I have gone to considerable lengths to explain that it's 'native speaker feel' that is as important as grammatically and structurally correct constructions and that the English language is so rich that I have myriad choices of phrase at my disposal and a good eye for a natural, flowing, attractive piece of writing - something non-linguists generally do not understand, and in my experience (with a few exceptions), the more technical the person, the less linguistically intelligent they tend to be.

I have brought a couple of clients round in this way - tact, diplomacy and bags of patience over time.




Sums up the situation and feelings involved perfectly. The style of the text in Joshua's post points to a quality final product for his client/s and I truly sympathise.

Unfortunately, as my hyperbolic mini-rants on proz may suggest, "tact, diplomacy and bags of patience" are not my strong point and I find this kind of issue hard to deal with. Occasionally I find it is simply better to go with "the customer is always right" and swallow my pride/indignation. Like buses, there'll be another one along soon...


 

neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 20:27
Spanish to English
+ ...
Good point Nov 8, 2011

Katalin Horvath McClure wrote:

There are situations when the most natural English is not what the client needs. For example, if the readers of the document are mainly non-native English speakers, than simple sentence structures, even though they may be less elegant, are better. Think about scientific papers that are written for peers from all over the world, whose native language is not English. In such cases it may be necessary to go for the "least common denominator" approach, and focus on simple, straightforward writing and getting the terminology right.


I hadn't consider this as a possible reason for the client's behaviour.

Readability is an important criterion in research papers, although I do find when revising/proofing academic works that many doubts regarding terms or style are met with "we copied it from another published paper" or "that's the way that author X uses it"...


 

neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 20:27
Spanish to English
+ ...
Par for the course Nov 8, 2011

Michael Wetzel wrote:

I have a few clients that I exhaustively discuss my translations with, although these are all direct clients. I can't imagine doing this through an agency and at agency prices. ...
Subject experts who consistently read English research often have a lot more to teach us than we would expect.

Sincerely,
Michael

[Edited at 2011-11-08 09:47 GMT]


It is often impossible to discuss or clear up terms through agencies, especially when they "don't want to bother" the client.

My clients working in BIO research certainly tend to know much more about the subject matter than I do - in this process I see my contribution as merely the icing on the cake, and only rarely do inconsistencies or errors come up that are not directly language-related.


 

Attila Piróth  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 20:27
Member
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Arrange a personal meeting Nov 8, 2011

if feasible, and if the distance is prohibitively large, a video chat or at least a phone call. But an in-person meeting is definitely better.

While many scientists write a reasonably good English, and may feel qualified to correct your version quite easily in writing, there won't be a question of linguistic authority when it comes to speaking face to face. Establishing your linguistic authority is the first important step.

Of course, the author can provide very useful input. Subject-matter specialists tend to know terminology very well, and they may be well versed in the usual collocations of the field. From your post it seems that you already benefit from this contribution and appreciate it.

When it comes to natural sounding solutions, they may be way off the mark. Journal articles written by non-native subject-matter specialists from all over the world are no yardsticks of linguistic quality. Even if the editors of the journal do not weed out awkward linguistic constructions, you should point out to the author that you can add that value.

Take a well-written article from the journal written by a native speaker. Great if you can find a formulation that you also tried to use but your author corrected. Highlight some good solutions and explain what makes it sound good (idiomatic but clear, precise formulation, etc.). Select another article written by a non-native, which contains similar awkward solutions to the ones suggested by the author. Point out that yes, this will also pass through the editors but there are more elegant ways to formulate it, without making it more difficult to read.

Katalin makes a very important point about style, which if often simple in these journals. Contacting the editors of the journal and asking for written guidelines is highly recommended.

Once you have discussed all that with the author, you should draw up a solution for sharing the responsibilities: choosing the right terminology is his/her turf, while grammar and text flow is yours. It is perfectly fine to make suggestions on each other's turf but any such suggestion should be amply substantiated. For example, by citing articles in the given journal or books written by native speakers. Of course, such references are still not perfectly authoritative - but the aim of this move is to give him/her some homework to do before bombarding you with too many suggestions. Making them spend some of their time with checking/preparing their suggestion can seriously reduce their eagerness.

Best,
Attila


 

Robert Forstag  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:27
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Let the client do what he/she will... Nov 8, 2011

A more pragmatic and elegant approach here would be--given that it seems you've made your preferences clear--to let the client in question make whatever changes he or she wants, but not to discuss them with you afterward. This way, the client is happy and you don't have to waste your time listening justifications for changes that you don't agree with.

As long as the client continues to use your services and doesn't try to coerce you to translate in a manner you are uncomfortable with, why not simply avert any unnecessary conflict?

[Edited at 2011-11-08 11:01 GMT]


 

Neptunia
Local time: 20:27
Italian to English
from the other side Nov 8, 2011

I also agree with Katalin in that sometimes something might not be our first choice of fluent English but that it might actually read more clearly to an audience of English-as-a-second language users. I just recently compromised on a correction to my work for just that reason.

The clients who know just enough to be dangerous are problematic but it is disheartening to hear translators say that they allow interference/incorrect language because the client wants it that way. ...a sad reality of the business I suppose.

In a former job I had the occasion to be on the other end of things and found a translator and a copyeditor who were both so demanding and strict with me, insisting on double-checking any changes and seeing final drafts of everything (in case I had messed up their text!) that I felt that I was working for them instead of the other way around. Of course we all had to make some compromises, but in the end I felt protected by their professional rigor.


 
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