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Feels like I'm trying to get Shafted for a Translation Job. What should I do?
Thread poster: DeniseC

DeniseC
Local time: 12:45
English to Spanish
May 25, 2012

Hi,
I just joined Proz so I could get some advice. Tomorrow in about 15 hours I am going to meet with some people that are trying to rip me off after spending the entire Mother's Day weekend (my son is 14 months old) working day and night to finish a 70 page document on Human Resource Manuals.

I received a call from someone who found me in the list of translators at the MVA here in the States. And she said she works with an agency and needed a translator to do a manual that needs to be done by Wednesday (she gave it to me Thursday evening after settling on the price). If later on she finds any corrections need to be made then we can do that later.

I accepted and finished it by Wednesday and was told that I would be paid on Friday. I asked to fill out a W-9 (don't know if that benefits me or them) and asked for all their information and we had emailed each other the agreement (not a contract, but at least its in writing) and after turning it in, she said I should receive it by Friday. Friday came, nothing, weekend came and went nothing. I call during the time and she says she's busy and she'll call me. Blah-blah. Next Wednesday rolls around and I am about to go into another assignment and she calls and says:

"We have looked over the document and it is horrible, our 'professional linguist' says that she doubts you are a native speaker and it is the worst writing she has seen. We have decided not to pay you until you make the correction necessary."

I AM CRUSHED!! I feel like I've been punched in the gut with my own fist. UGH!! Now they want to meet with me tomorrow to discuss the 'problems' with the job I did. And I am reading the thing and I think I translated alright, sure a few grammatical mistakes here and there. But nothing to write home about. And now they have my 60 page job and I have nothing.

I am going to meet with them tomorrow and they want me to proofreed and edit it. I translated a document and it was written in Spanish with all the airy fluff and all the run arounds that it included. And now I feel stuck and want to punch them out, but I can't and won't so my blood pressure is going up and I still don't know what I am going to say to them tomorrow :'(


 

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 18:45
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Put on your listening ears! May 25, 2012

DeniseC wrote:
I am going to meet with them tomorrow and they want me to proofreed and edit it. I translated a document and it was written in Spanish with all the airy fluff and all the run arounds that it included. And now I feel stuck and want to punch them out, but I can't and won't so my blood pressure is going up and I still don't know what I am going to say to them tomorrow :'(

Indeed it is very frustrating when a customer does not pay because of alleged quality reasons. However, given the past "bad experiences with translations" reported in your profile, I don't think you should say much. Instead, try to open your ears to what they have to say. I see a chance that they could be right, at least in some things...

As for the customer's attitude, in my opinion they are being very kind to meet with you in person and spend time discussing the issues. This is something that very rarely happens, and it could be an interesting opportunity for you to pinpoint possible weaknesses in your work and start a new drive of improvement with adequate training.

Good luck with the meeting!


 

Edward Potter  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 18:45
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Agreement May 25, 2012

Tomás Cano Binder, CT wrote:

... try to open your ears to what they have to say. I see a chance that they could be right, at least in some things...

As for the customer's attitude, in my opinion they are being very kind to meet with you in person and spend time discussing the issues. This is something that very rarely happens, and it could be an interesting opportunity for you to pinpoint possible weaknesses in your work and start a new drive of improvement with adequate training.

Good luck with the meeting!


I agree that this can be a good opportunity to improve your craft.

I might suggest you search the forums here on Proz to get some advice on managing and running your freelance business. You certainly have the enthusiasm, which is one of the most important ingredients for success. With some good advice that can be channeled into something very positive.

If I were in your spot, I would meet with the customer with an open mind. I would listen to their critique and objectively evaluate it. Depending on the situation, I might agree to either proof the text myself or get someone else to do it. I would also be prepared to offer some sort of discount.


 

Carol Rush  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:45
French to English
+ ...
I had a similar situation May 25, 2012

I was in a similar situation as you have just experienced. I translated a very large document on a very small timescale, for an agency that I had a long and very good working relationship with. In our discussions, I was assured that the documents would be proofread by one of their staff, and in fact I had several emails from said proofreader to clarify one or two things.
I also sent follow up emails to make sure that the client was happy, the work was OK, etc.
FOUR MONTHS later - I received an email saying that the client was VERY unhappy, that my translation was TERRIBLE and that it would need to be done again. I asked them for examples of what the client was unhappy about. Out of 12 long documents, I received only one document that had been 'proofed' by the client. Every single mistake highlighted was a basic proofreading error such as spelling errors. However, the vast majority was just a different way of saying the translated sentence. My meaning was correct, they had just worded it a different way.
I tried several times to get the other 11 documents, but never received them. I stuck to my guns and reminded them that they had assured me that the docs were going to be proofread, especially as I had done them in such a short time. No comment from them on this one.
In the end they insisted that they had to have the work edited by other translators, even though I offered to do it for them at no charge - they then insisted that they would not pay me for this work. They took the amount out of subsequent invoices for work I had done.

This experience was an enormous knock to my translation confidence. I have never received such a negative response to my work, and in fact, a large job I have just done has received nothing but praise for my excellent work.

It was a horrible experience, but I decided to just move on. There was not much I could do as the agency is in another country, but I feel I was graceful about it, and I made sure that I stuck to my guns, I felt OK with the translation, but if they were so insistently unhappy about it, there was nothing I could do. I have moved on and subsequently found other, lucrative and interesting opportunities.

You are fortunate that you can meet with them - don't back down. If you believe that what you have translated is correct, then point that out to them. If you have made a mistake, then accept it gracefully. At the end of the day, as the other posters have pointed out, you can learn from whatever mistakes you may have made, you can learn to be confident in yourself, but at the end of the day, don't stress about it. Deal with it, learn from it, and then move on. You will be a stronger person and translator for it.


 

Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 19:45
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Take it as a lesson in business May 25, 2012

You should not take rush-jobs if you are not used to do them and if the subject is not familiar to you. Every translator has had such experiences, just go through it and look forward. Next time at least insist on payment in advance for rush work.

 

christela (X)
The problem is there May 25, 2012

Carol Rush wrote:

This experience was an enormous knock to my translation confidence.


I am actually in the situation where I don't want to take on other translation jobs for several clients. I have a MA in translation and more than 20 years of experience for trusted clients who generally trust me, but if I am not good enough or if I cannot deliver what they want, why should I go on. This lack of diplomacy (because it is) totally undermined my enthusiasm.


 

neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 18:45
Spanish to English
+ ...
Courage of your convictions May 25, 2012

Edward Potter wrote:

If I were in your spot, I would meet with the customer with an open mind. I would listen to their critique and objectively evaluate it. Depending on the situation, I might agree to either proof the text myself or get someone else to do it. I would also be prepared to offer some sort of discount.


I agree. If you really think your work was acceptable, why not get it checked by an impartial third party? A fresh pair of eyes often shows up little things that you might have missed, especially due to the rush you were in with the unrealistic deadline mentioned.


 

Alison Kennedy  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 18:45
Member (2008)
Italian to English
+ ...
It works both ways ... May 25, 2012

I have had my translations critised (a good few years ago now) and have always adopted the policy that if the client is unhappy there must be a reason and the old adage "the customer is always right. I also take the view that it is better to get some money in than none at all. Compromise is the word. Give them a discount and get paid.
I have also outsourced translations both as a freelancer and while working for a law firm. I remember one large project for financial statements that came back to me in such an incomprehensible state in English that I didn't pay and the translators actually tried to sue me for the EUR 3000. They gave up very quickly. I have also sent warning letters to agencies and clients for default on payment threatening legal action. While in the law firm, I had native French and German speaking lawyers and, based on the premise all lawyers are notoriously difficult to please, I got regular complaints from them but defended the translator/translation if I felt it to be of "acceptable quality and accuracy".

Good luck with the meeting and just think of the benefits of getting 70-80% of the invoice into your bank account.


 

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 18:45
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Indeed May 25, 2012

Alison Kenedy wrote:
I have had my translations critised (a good few years ago now) and have always adopted the policy that if the client is unhappy there must be a reason and the old adage "the customer is always right".

Exactly. No matter whether we feel that our translation is perfect, if the customer is unhappy then the translation is not OK. A big component in translation is to learn the customer; and another one is to teach the customer.


 

Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:45
Hebrew to English
Love the title! "Shafted" with a capital "S" :-) May 25, 2012

Haven't really got much to say that hasn't already been said.

The customer is sometimes right. Not 'always', not 'never'.

Go there with an open mind.

⇨ Be prepared to defend usage that you feel is ironclad.

⇨ Be prepared to eat humble pie for instances when you have erred.


 

Alex Lago  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 18:45
Member (2009)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Breathe May 25, 2012

Sounds like they may be right, you yourself mention in your profile that you have had problems with translations (why on earth would you put that on your profile?) I mean come on if it's happened often enough for you to mention it, I would think there is something to it.

You need to be sure you have calmed down before you have the meeting, you need to try and stay calm and professional and not take this personally, listen and think twice before saying anything, because my guess is it will turn out they are right (your own profile doesn't bode well).

You are going into this meeting with the wrong attitude, just the fact that they are willing to meet you in person and explain the problems shows they care, they are giving you a rare opportunity so take advantage of it, if they wanted to shaft you I doubt very much they would be willing to meet in person.

Listen, really listen to what they have to say. If they are right accept it, if they are wrong explain why you think they are wrong but do so calmly.


 

Anna Spanoudaki-Thurm  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 18:45
Member (2009)
German to Greek
+ ...
Check the Blue Board May 25, 2012

It would be useful to check the Blue Board. A low rating could indicate that this is a standard practice this agency follows.
In any case, even if the translation is of poor quality, they carry part of the responsibility, since they offered you such a assignment without ensuring that they are happy with what you can offer.
I habe to add that the fact that they offer you a meeting speaks for them. Make the best of it!


 

Angela Dickson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:45
French to English
+ ...
Feelings May 25, 2012

DeniseC wrote:

I AM CRUSHED!! I feel like I've been punched in the gut with my own fist. UGH!! Now they want to meet with me tomorrow to discuss the 'problems' with the job I did. And I am reading the thing and I think I translated alright, sure a few grammatical mistakes here and there. But nothing to write home about. And now they have my 60 page job and I have nothing.


There is a lot in your posting about how you are feeling; this isn't really relevant, because this is business. Put your feelings aside when you go into this meeting, and be prepared to listen to what they have to say.

If you did a good job, be prepared to explain why your version is correct and why they should trust your expert knowledge.

If you didn't do a good job (why did you send off a job with "a few grammatical mistakes here and there"?) then be prepared to put the problems right.

Basically, you and the client need to ask whether the document you produced is usable for the stated purpose, and can be understood by a reader who doesn't understand the source language. Keep this in mind, and between you you can produce a good translation.

[Edited at 2012-05-25 12:33 GMT]


 

Armorel Young  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:45
German to English
Meeting is a good thing May 25, 2012

Although it may be a difficult meeting, I take it as a really good sign that they are prepared to meet with you and talk things through - that is a far more satisfactory way of addressing the problems than sending each other increasingly acrimonious emails.

But I am worried that you admit that you made some grammatical mistakes and seem to think that is acceptable. A translator should have a sufficiently good grasp of the language not to make grammatical mistakes. You may need to apologise rather than try to sweep this under the carpet (and either check your work more carefully or get it proofread in future).


 

Jennifer Forbes  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:45
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
Stay professional May 25, 2012

As others here have said, however tired you may feel and however fed up you are with this agency, the fact that they're prepared to meet you and discuss the problems is a good sign and a great opportunity to learn. We all make mistakes. If we don't admit them, we won't improve.
I'm sure you are indeed upset that, with a 14-month old son and having worked all through Mother's Day weekend, etc., they don't seem to appreciate your efforts, but my advice to you is: don't mention either of those facts during your meeting with them. They don't need to know your personal circumstances and to bring them up might make you look unprofessional.
Wishing you all the best,
Jenny


 
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