Agency deducting for spelling mistakes
Thread poster: Sophie Paterson
Sophie Paterson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:41
Spanish to English
+ ...
May 28, 2012

Hello everyone

I've been reading several entries on similar topics, but would really appreciate some advice on my particular case:

I got work from a new agency, very low rates, but I accepted as it was rather a dry spell... A free test, a few small jobs - no complaints. Then I was asked to translate their website (approx. 10,000 words), for the same low rate. A couple of weeks went by with no news. Then I received an email informing me that they would be deducting €0,01 from the original rate for 'finalizing the spell check' and 'making additional changes to the text'. I looked at their website and could find no substantial changes, other than the fact I had removed a hyphen from their company name (which they had had to replace) and a few other minor words.

I queried the deduction by asking for the files to be sent back to me so that I could see the changes, but was told that I would be able to see the new changes online next week. The PM sent an email saying that words were mis-spelled and that I had not run a spell check. Looking at my files right now, I can see the wiggly red lines for the foreign words, so I'm assuming I must have! It has now transpired that they wanted the website in US English, rather than British. But this was never specifically requested, and I didn’t think to enquire given the previous few jobs I’d done for them and the fact I was pretty sure they knew I was British. She also said I'd spelled the company name wrong i.e. removed the hyphen (this is true - a silly thing to do!!!) and that although she can't remember all the corrections, it took her at least 5 hours.

Now, I would have been quite happy to correct my error on the company name/US English by going through all the files and doing that correction myself, obviously free of charge. But they never asked me.

At the moment, I have not found any other 'serious' mistakes or mis-translations, etc... Just the spelling/spell-check misunderstanding. Is it reasonable for them to charge me for this?

I am going to wait to see what other changes are made to the English version of the website – I can already see that they have corrected the hyphen issue online so I’m confused as to why they would they would do that and not these other changes they’re talking about...

I do understand that it costs agencies money to proofread shoddy work (and indeed I always offer to revise/correct for free after the initial submission), but I can't help feeling that I'm on the sharp end of the stick here (or at least I do at the moment, before I see what other changes are made!)

Thanks very much for reading to the end of this lengthy post!!!!


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neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 01:41
Spanish to English
+ ...
Forewarned is forearmed May 28, 2012

You live and learn. The best policy is probably (well, I do this anyway) to always ask whether the client wants UK or US English - for example, I proof a lot of academic texts for publishing and some Journals only accept US English spelling and style, others accept both UK and US, and some who used to fall into the latter category now only accept US English too.

Caveat: the differences between US and UK variants are not only in the spelling - vocabulary, style, punctuation and things like capitalisation also follow slightly different patterns. There are even variations between different parts of the USA, for example between north and south.

I'd put it down to experience... vive la difference

PS: As for the hyphen thingy, the other day one of my clients sent me a text to translate and they had spelt (US = spelled) their own company name both with AND without a hyphen. Go figure.

[Edited at 2012-05-28 18:09 GMT]


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XXXphxxx  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:41
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Two things come to mind. May 28, 2012

1) I'm not altogether clear what you mean by the 'spelling misunderstanding'. If it is U.S./U.K. English then there are more differences between the two than just spelling. If the agency wanted U.S. English it was up to them to specify, since you're based in the U.K. I cannot imagine why they would have presumed you would have U.S. English.
2) If the problem was the spelling and the missing hyphen it strikes me as something that could very easily have been returned to you for amendments. The person reviewing the file would very swiftly have realised that there had been a misunderstanding re. U.S./U.K. and could have returned the file to you to correct this (frankly for an extra charge realising that they should have specified this when assigning the job). Equally, a missing hyphen could be replaced in seconds with a global Find/Replace. Unilaterally making a deduction from your invoice after performing a review based on spelling alone is, in my opinion, not a very honourable way to behave - nor can I see how it amounted to 5 hours of work.
I wouldn't accept it and I would ask where in their emails they specified that U.S. English was required.


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Sophie Paterson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:41
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Hm, interesting... May 28, 2012

Thank very much for your comments, Neil & Lisa.

Looking at my translation on their website right now, I can see that they've changed some spellings (e.g. 's' to 'z') and replaced the hyphen. Practically everything else is letter-for-letter. The question niggling me most is if they needed to rework everything to suit an American readership (and spent hours doing so), why would they not post those changes immediately along with the corrected spellings?

I'll definitely ask them about specifying US English - I can't see it in my emails, at any rate!

And yes, I suppose there'll be a few bumps in the translation road... But hopefully I'll never forget to ask which variation of English people want from now on...


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XXXphxxx  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:41
Portuguese to English
+ ...
The onus isn't on you. May 28, 2012

Sophie Paterson wrote:

But hopefully I'll never forget to ask which variation of English people want from now on...



If you book a translator in the UK, the default is of course that they are offering UK English. If you were an American national living in the UK and you claimed to be astonished that a client had presumed you would be offering UK English then I would say you were being unreasonable. If it was US English they were after, they should have specified it, it sounds to me as if someone in the agency has made a mistake booking the wrong translator and they are trying to get you to pay for it. It's a shoddy way to behave.


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LEXpert  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 18:41
Member (2008)
Croatian to English
+ ...
@Neilmac, "Northern" and "Southern" US English? May 28, 2012

neilmac wrote:

There are even variations between different parts of the USA, for example between north and south.


I can assure you that, accents aside, there are no differences in standard English between the North and South of the US.


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Giles Watson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 01:41
Italian to English
Cut your losses May 28, 2012

Hi Sophie,

If neither you nor the client specified a dialect or style guide at the outset, you are unlikely to reach a mutually satisfactory resolution of the dispute.

Since the rate involved is, as you say, very low, it is probably not worth your while insisting. Get what you can out of the customer and move on to the more profitable projects which will probably have arrived in your inbox in the meanwhile.

In future, it might be an idea to stipulate default UK and US style guides of your choice in your offer to avoid this sort of inconvenience.


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Armorel Young  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:41
German to English
I'd be parting company May 28, 2012

A website is a business's shop front, so if the business concerned isn't prepared to pay to have it done really well that to me has worrying implications about their standards overall. And 10,000 words is no small job - that's a week's work in many people's book, and needs to be paid for accordingly.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of it, the agency has handled it badly. It would have been much better if they had apologised for the misunderstanding and for their failure to communicate better - that way you could have established a good working relationship for the future. Just knocking down the price without adequate communication is heavy-handed and no way to run a business. It doesn't bode well.

I can understand that you may need or want the work and are reluctant to lose them as a client, but if it were me I think I'd want to drop them and look for work elsewhere. Alternatively, since they are a new agency and presumably learning the ropes, it might just be that they're a bit out of their depth too and could in time be persuaded to work in a more cooperative and communicative fashion.


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Peter Shortall  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:41
Member
French to English
+ ...
Terms and conditions: a two-way street May 28, 2012

Sounds to me like they're seizing on something that is clear-cut (the missing hyphen), which they know you will acknowledge as an error, and padding it out with other less clear-cut things to persuade you that you're in the wrong here, possibly in the hope that you're not confident or assertive enough to object. My observations:

First, the rate, which you describe as very low. Did you attempt to negotiate a higher one? I can understand why, during a lean spell, half a loaf may seem better than no bread at all, but on the other hand, quiet periods can also be used to scout for better-paying work. One of the reasons why I wouldn't accept less than my normal rate is that if you're not careful, you can fall into a kind of "rate trap" which is difficult to get out of. Once you start taking on lower-paid jobs, you may end up being too busy to accept higher-paid jobs. If you turn higher-paying clients away, you may become reliant on the lower-paying ones.

I have to wonder what kind of company assigns a job requiring US English to someone in the UK who never claimed to speak it.

Because "errors" can be a rather subjective matter, and because even the most experienced translators are human, it may be worth your while doing what some translators do and state how you plan to deal with errors/corrections in your terms and conditions (I don't know if you have any - if not, maybe it's time to adopt some?) For example, some translator Ts and Cs I've read say that if errors are found, the translator should be given the opportunity to correct them at no extra charge, and that any discounts will be applied at the translator's discretion. That gives you some leeway to be generous in cases where you think you genuinely have messed up badly, but also protects you in cases where an agency is simply trying it on. You could also stipulate that your target language is UK English and that this is what the client will get! Signing an agency's terms and conditions doesn't mean that you can't set your own at the same time.

As I understand it, they want to take roughly €100 off you for what you describe as "no substantial changes", which they claim took five hours or more to make. Does that claim seem believable to you? To me, it sounds as though they may well be trying it on, and I've read about plenty of similar cases in these forums, so it's something we all have to watch out for. From our point of view, the trouble is that since we translators are usually so accommodating as to wait (typically a month) before being paid, rather than expecting money up front, this means that we effectively hand agencies the opportunity to hold our money to ransom. In the event of a dispute over alleged mistakes, we know that if we don't back down and give the agency the discount it demands, the dispute will continue and our invoice won't be paid at all. So what do translators do in that situation? Judging by the forum postings I've read, it seems that a fair few back down just to escape the hassle and salvage something from the situation. This is where terms and conditions can protect us.

I agree with Armorel that this client isn't worth keeping. Dishonest and poorly-run agencies tend to be on the lower end of the pay scale; I'm not sure whether your agency is dishonest, but it certainly sounds like it isn't being well run. Clients that pay more should treat you better in non-financial ways too, as a rule.


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 08:41
Chinese to English
What does the contract say? May 29, 2012

If you've done a few jobs with this agency, I assume you've signed a contract by now. Have a look at what it says and get in their faces with it.

Some contracts do have mechanisms for docking your pay - see what onus there is on them to demonstrate problems with the text. But many contracts don't. They just specify that you will correct the text until the agency is happy. If that's the case, there is no basis for what they're doing.

Don't be afraid to be mean at this point. There is no good relationship to maintain with this agency - they destroyed it. So you can be as prickly and inflexible as you like.


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Germaine  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 19:41
Member (2005)
English to French
+ ...
My 2 cents... May 29, 2012

Sophie Paterson wrote:

I got work from a new agency, very low rates... A free test, a few small jobs - no complaints. Then... their website (approx. 10,000 words), for the same low rate... Then I received an email informing me that they would be deducting €0,01 from the original rate for 'finalizing the spell check' and 'making additional changes to the text'...


The way I see it:

First, the agency tested you with a free test and few small jobs and small pay.

Second, they assessed you're good - in fact, good enough to be entrusted with their website - and even more at such low rate.

Third, I find it revealing that they charge you (do they have a PO?) for finalizing spell check (vs. doing) and to making additional changes (vs. corrections) to the text. (Ok... I maybe spending too much time with lawyers! but still, were I running an agency, unless the issue is minor, I can't see why I wouldn't ask the translator to "finalize" the job I'm paying for.)

I wonder what pourcentage 0,01 $ represents over a "very low rate"? If you're paying more than 10% for having the client deciding to "finalize" the job itself, it seems to me that you're being taken advantage of.

I fully understand that a little bread is better than no bread at all, but at some point in time, you have to learn to ask for a raise, directly or indirectly (Sorry, I'm not available right now. You will understand that I cannot give you priority when my other clients are paying 20%/30% more) and diversify your practice. Every raise is hard to get, but it's even harder when you start too low and stay there too long.

[Edited at 2012-05-29 03:32 GMT]


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 01:41
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Exactly - Customer mismanaged the project May 29, 2012

Lisa Simpson, MCIL wrote:
If you book a translator in the UK, the default is of course that they are offering UK English. If you were an American national living in the UK and you claimed to be astonished that a client had presumed you would be offering UK English then I would say you were being unreasonable. If it was US English they were after, they should have specified it, it sounds to me as if someone in the agency has made a mistake booking the wrong translator and they are trying to get you to pay for it. It's a shoddy way to behave.

Exactly my thoughts. If they wanted US English they should have booked an American translator, or maybe hire Sophie and add a round of editing by a US translator.


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Sophie Paterson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:41
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Many thanks indeed May 29, 2012

Dear everyone

Firstly, thanks very much for your comments - I really appreciate you taking time out of your day to respond with advice and ideas.

I'll definitely be following up on some of your suggestions about setting up my own T&Cs and to beware low rates! In business as in life, I'm rather a soft touch (!) so I will have to try to work on my assertiveness when it comes to rates and, well, general business nous (i.e. getting things clear before starting a job, etc.)...

Well, if I don't manage to fight my corner well enough this time at least it will have been an experience to remember on the learning curve!

Thanks again, everyone. You've all been very helpful.


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xxxLucyPatterso
English
Low paying jobs = red flag Jun 4, 2012

I have learned to avoid these low-paying jobs. They will usually involve some sort of stress (reluctance to pay the agreed amount, unprofessional agency etc.).

Even if you are getting anxious about a quiet period of work and would rather be working on a low-profit, high workload/stress job than nothing at all, it might be more beneficial to your long-term career to focus on gaining some higher-quality clients who pay 10x as much and acquiring additional skills.


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