Is it an unreasonable request?
Thread poster: Omar Osman

Omar Osman
Singapore
Local time: 06:24
Member
English to Somali
+ ...
Oct 14, 2004

Hi colleagues,
Will you accept this kind of request from a client or translation company?

“It is vitally important that translations are as near 100% accurate as is humanly possible and your translation will be read by a native proof reader. More than 1 mistake (error, not a preference) per 500 words of your translation may cause us to invoke some financial penalties.”

The language combination is from English into Somali, we (Somali translators) don't have the facility of a spell check, or the possibilities to use translation tools such as Trados or DejaVu. The Somali written language is only 30 years old and never had the chance to develop to the standard of a European language (we don’t have reference document or a proper dictionary like Oxford Dictionaries). On top of that we have lost most of the scholars in the 14 years civil war. We have to work and make up 30% of words that don't exist in Somali; we also have dialect issues from different clans and tribes in Somalia. It is not easy to make a document that will be understood by all Somalis.
It seems to me the client is trying to save money and put pressure on the translator, I also believe he is lying about the use of proofreader, otherwise I would not see the problem. The final product will be printed in a newspaper. The word count is 9000 words, which means less then 17 mistakes.
I declined the job, as I believe that no one can guarantee a 100% correct translation in Somali, did you come across request like this in your language combination? Am I out of touch? I am in this business for 7 years and never come across this. I also translate around 20,000 words per month into Somali.


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Derek Gill Franßen  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 06:24
German to English
+ ...
Finanacial penalties?! Oct 14, 2004

Omar's client wrote:
“It is vitally important that translations are as near 100% accurate as is humanly possible and your translation will be read by a native proof reader. More than 1 mistake (error, not a preference) per 500 words of your translation may cause us to invoke some financial penalties.”

Tell your client to "get real".
Omar wrote:
Am I out of touch?

Your reaction seems pretty normal to me.

[Edited at 2004-10-14 08:32]


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Graciela Carlyle  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 05:24
English to Spanish
+ ...
yes it is (IMHO) Oct 14, 2004

Omar Osman wrote:
“It is vitally important that translations are as near 100% accurate as is humanly possible and your translation will be read by a native proof reader. More than 1 mistake (error, not a preference) per 500 words of your translation may cause us to invoke some financial penalties.”


Hi Omar,
I don't know what rate the reasonable expectations of mistakes in translations is, but we have to accept that we're humans and as such we *might* make unvoluntary mistakes, no matter how much effort we put.
These people are opening their umbrella before it rains, and by the tone of it, I'm sure it will rain at their end (no matter what the weather was like at yours).
I take that last sentence as a threat and I wouldn't work for them even if they asked me to translate only ONE word for the best possible rate, because they will find the way of twisting it into a mistake.
IMHO you've done the right thing.

Stay well,
Grace.


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Korina Hansel  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:24
English to German
To err is human! Oct 14, 2004

Dear Omar Osman,

I think we all agree that quality is highly impotant in our business and that we alsways stive to deliver a translation which is as accurate as possible. However, such a request sounds very improfessional. To err is human! Besides taking into consideration what you said about the state of the Somali language I wonder on what kind of reference material a proofreader is giong to base his/her correction of the translation?
It would be interesting to inquire whether the agency/client was aware of this special situation or not. Anyway, even for my language pair, English-German, I would be very reluctant to accept this kind of request - unless, of course, the initial rate was so high that one could live with the mentioned financial penalties!

Regards,

Korina


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Alaa Zeineldine  Identity Verified
Egypt
Local time: 07:24
Member (2002)
English to Arabic
+ ...
Facts and figures Oct 14, 2004

If your turnaround is 2000 words/day, that is 4 mistakes a day decided by the reviewer and the axe falls. Pretty cruel, or maybe a way to get discounts while making you feel obliged.

If this were not serious, I would test their intentions by accepting only if the whole amount of each penaly goes to the reviewer; but of course don't do this!


[Edited at 2004-10-14 08:03]


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Harry Bornemann  Identity Verified
Mexico
English to German
+ ...
I would suggest a compromise Oct 14, 2004

a) half of the money paid in advance, and
b) to ensure the best possible quality you have to ask for
- a good rate for you as translator and
- another good rate for a reliable colleague as reviewer
So the client would only have to do a final check which is likely to be even 100% free of any major errors (in 9000 words)
(well, nearly 100% for Somali).
- it should be agreed that those objected expressions, for which you can prove that they are correct, will count the same penalties for the client as they would count for you, if they were in fact mistakes.
This way, your invoice total might even increase..


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Ralf Lemster  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 06:24
English to German
+ ...
Precise definition required Oct 14, 2004

Hi Omar,
As with (almost) any business proposition, there can be a level that's acceptable to both parties (whether that level can be reached is subject to negotiation, of course).

What's missing in the proposition you discussed is a precise definition of the penalties involved - without this, it's essentially a freebie to cut your invoice.

Given sufficient definition, as an independent entrepreneur, it's up to you to decide whether or not the associated risk is acceptable - of course, the price level paid is another important factor in the equation.

HTH, Ralf


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Mike Osman  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 05:24
Member (2013)
English to Somali
+ ...
It has happened to me before! The 100% error free request! Oct 14, 2004

I have to say it is not very fair to put pressure on the translator just because you want to save on a proofreader's costs.

And I think that is what's happening in this case.

I have been asked before to provide a English-Somali translation which was 100% free of mistakes. And I was being asked to guarantee it in writing.
Now as a Native Somali and with a few years behind me in this business, I knew that was an unreasonable request.
So I simply, just like you did Omar, turned down the job.

This is what I told the client, and your thoughts are welcome on this:
"If anybody says tells you that they can deliver a translation that's 100% free of errors, then that person is the least professional and least accurate translator (especially if the target language is Somali)that you can find in this industry".


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Parrot  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 06:24
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
I've seen such conditions on government contracts Oct 14, 2004

and governments are the biggest clients for exotic minority languages. However, they select providers through a screened bidding process. They also define what they mean by "major error" (usually not typos). And the financial penalties are applied to the provider.

It is thus up to the selected provider to implement the quality controls necessary. I have worked on such projects and had files returned to me twice, with proofreading comments. The agency then tries to hit a middle ground between translator and the proofreader (the proofreader can be wrong, too, you know), and the agreed-upon rendering is accepted as final. It can be a pain in the butt, but on the plus side, such jobs tend to pay well.

Apart from what you mention about a developmental written language (or vocabulary), another problem that arises in this type of job is cultural context. If the language is being applied outside its normal setting, it can be possible that some interpretations have to change.

For example, a "used car" in the developed countries is not an "old car" in the third world, where vehicles of up to 20 years can still have an appreciable market value. Extend this to insurance law and you'll find that many vehicles that a true-blue native speaker may consider "used cars" are no longer eligible for certain types of insurance coverage (sometimes they can't even be considered for embargo anymore). It takes a little practical thinking.


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Anil Goyal  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 10:54
English to Hindi
+ ...
Did you try to reason with the client? Oct 14, 2004

Quality may be an issue with the job and client has the right to ask for that. You match your price accordingly. However, given the real situation at the ground about Somali and as explained by you, you should have tried to discuss with the client. You have solid facts and I am sure they would have understood.

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Omar Osman
Singapore
Local time: 06:24
Member
English to Somali
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Client accepted ammendments to PO Oct 14, 2004

Dear all,
thank you for your comments on this matter. I have received a revised PO from the client where mistakes or penalty are not mentioned any longer. I have told them also your point of view, probably it helped them realise they were wrong.
Thank you again
Omar


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Sarah Downing  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:24
German to English
+ ...
Well done! Good outcome by the sounds of things Oct 14, 2004

Omar Osman wrote:

Dear all,
thank you for your comments on this matter. I have received a revised PO from the client where mistakes or penalty are not mentioned any longer. I have told them also your point of view, probably it helped them realise they were wrong.
Thank you again
Omar


This kind of thing really is unrealistic and, by the sounds of things, particularly unrealistic for languages like Somali (due to the reasons stated). I mean, I even see typing errors in top novels (Once I even saw a character called the wrong name, which could be potentially very confusing). I agree that a certain amount of quality assurance should be a matter of course, but some errors are pretty hard to avoid. I've even had the end customer pick up minor errors (e.g. an instead of a) that a second pair of eyes at the agency didn't pick up either.

I recently had an agency complaining to me because of about 2 minor errors such as an instead of a (something similar that basically couldn't be picked up by the spellcheck). She was embarrassed because she didn't have time to check the document before sending it off - things like this really annoy me, because I feel that an agency is also bound to quality assurance otherwise they might as well pay us the full price, but then this is probably going a bit off-topic.

What I'm trying to say is that certain errors shouldn't occur - changes of meaning, etc., spelling errors, but there are errors that are always going to occur because they're hard to pick up (like the ones mentioned above) and expecting work that is 100% error-free all the time is not only unrealistic, it's expecting us to be superhuman!

Good luck and don't let them get you down!

Sarah

[Edited at 2004-10-14 16:59]


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xxxLia Fail  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 06:24
Spanish to English
+ ...
I think a client is entitled to expect 99% perfection Oct 14, 2004

Ralf Lemster wrote:

Hi Omar,
As with (almost) any business proposition, there can be a level that's acceptable to both parties (whether that level can be reached is subject to negotiation, of course).

What's missing in the proposition you discussed is a precise definition of the penalties involved - without this, it's essentially a freebie to cut your invoice.

Given sufficient definition, as an independent entrepreneur, it's up to you to decide whether or not the associated risk is acceptable - of course, the price level paid is another important factor in the equation.

HTH, Ralf


Precisely!

For example, ERROR should be classified (e.g. as unacceptable/acceptable, as linguistic/terminological, as grammatical/punctuation/spelling, etc), which means you would have to discuss this with a client. I personally wouldn't want a SINGLE error in any size text, and I think one per 500 words might in fact be what I would allow myself as a margin of error (and I'd still be kicking myslef!).

IF they want 100% or 99% perfection, then take that into account in pricing and deadline.

The other thing that needs definition beforehand is the FINANCIAL PENALTY. Fair enough to penalise poor quality I think, but the actual degree of penalisation should be established beforehand, on the basis of the definition and scale of error.

I wouldn't accept those conditions as they stand, but I would be willing to work out details with the client. I think it's only reasonable that - given the right pay and a suitable deadline - a client can expect near-pefection or perfection.

In reply to Omar:

You said that the client said: "The language combination is from English into Somali, we (Somali translators) don't have the facility of a spell check, or the possibilities to use translation tools such as Trados or DejaVu. The Somali written language is only 30 years old and never had the chance to develop to the standard of a European language (we don’t have reference document or a proper dictionary like Oxford Dictionaries). On top of that we have lost most of the scholars in the 14 years civil war. We have to work and make up 30% of words that don't exist in Somali; we also have dialect issues from different clans and tribes in Somalia. It is not easy to make a document that will be understood by all Somalis".

Aspiring to 'perfection' for a language that has long-established writing and spelling standards, dictionary traditions, etc, is OK, but given that, apparently, somali doesn't have these, this job actually sounds like a nightmare!

According to what your client says, there is no gold standard for Somali. If there is no fixed or near-fixed standard for a language, then it's going to be impossible to get it right! No spellcheck, no dictionary, and on top of that, to cater to a number of dialects at once? They are actually asking the impossible:-) perfection issues aside.


[Edited at 2004-10-14 14:16]

[Edited at 2004-10-14 14:19]


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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 06:24
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Really the best possible solution Oct 15, 2004

Omar Osman wrote:

Dear all,
thank you for your comments on this matter. I have received a revised PO from the client where mistakes or penalty are not mentioned any longer. I have told them also your point of view, probably it helped them realise they were wrong.
Thank you again
Omar


Congratulations!
Converting difficult clients into good ones by 'education' and negotiations is doing everyone a favour.

It heightens respect for the translating profession when people understand what we are doing (and that it takes time etc. etc.). So better working conditions for translators.

It also means that everyone else will get a better service and end users will understand each other better across language barriers. Every drop in the ocean counts!


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