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How common is this: neither agency nor publishing house nor end client has a professional editor
Thread poster: Sarah Elizabeth

Sarah Elizabeth
Italy
Local time: 21:11
Italian to English
Mar 14, 2014

Hi,

I recently had a frustrating experience with a client and am interested in hearing how common situations like it are, whether or not the behaviour of the parties involved can be considered professional and whether or not they can be considered up to the project taken on. In my own experience, it is a highly unusual situation and the parties involved should not be taking on projects into English.

I was asked to translate a few long chapters of a scholarly book from Italian into English. The book was co-written by two prominent Italian academics, each of whom has clocked a number of years teaching and/or working in English-speaking countries or environments. The publishing house concerned is not one of the biggest names in Italy, but it is a serious one and important enough. The Italian translation agency in question specialises in publishing.

A few weeks after submitting the translation, I received an edited version of one of the three chapters I translated, and it was full of queries along the lines of (in Italian), why would you start a sentence with 'Speaking of X,' instead of 'Talking about X,'. Suffice it to say, the Italian who marked up the translation has a limited command of English.

This was already problematic, but made even more so when it came to light that the person who marked up the translation was the client of the client (the publishing house) of my client (the translation agency), and neither my client nor my client's client were able to verify or defend the quality of the translation, passing it on to me and asking me to respond to all of the queries and reassure the person who marked up the translation that everything was fine.

In my experience, and especially when it comes to a important book written by prominent international figures, the translator should not be the only person in the chain capable of verifying the quality of (his or her own!) translation -- and I would think this goes double when we are talking about an English translation.

My client (the translation agency) and my client's client (the publishing house) see it all as par for the course.

Again, in my experience this is not a normal, or in any way desirable, situation, for any of the parties involved.

What is your take?

Interested in hearing your thoughts,
Sarah


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Orrin Cummins  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 04:11
Japanese to English
+ ...
A textbook case of: Mar 14, 2014

http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/pass_the_buck

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Attila Piróth  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 21:11
Member
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Time for a conference call? Mar 14, 2014

Hi Sarah,

Of course it is not normal. And you know it perfectly well, as the arguments you put forward are strong.

But there are two issues here. The first: how to handle the queries. The second: how to ensure that your translation gets a thorough check by a competent person.

For the first, here are a few tips.

1. Make sure to waste the reviewer's time more than your own. Ask for detailed explanation about why they think it would be better to use "talking about X" than "speaking about X". Make it clear that as the purpose of this review seems to be to polish the English translation, it only makes sense to have those comments in English. This is likely to make your reviewer uncomfortable, so insist on it.

2. Insist on having a conference call with the reviewer, someone from the publisher who speaks good English and someone from your client who speak English in order to discuss some important points. Insist that the conversation should be in English. This might be difficult if all others share the same native language (Italian) which you also work with, but it is probably the easiest way to establish your linguistic authority. If it turns out to be impossible, then at the very least slip into English when discussing particular points. And insist that your reviewer should pronounce their suggestion in full. Make them explain not only why they think their solution is good but also why yours is bad. And if they come up with something like their solution "sounds more natural", something along the lines of "not to my native ears" is likely to end the debate.

3. Insist on the importance of subject-matter expertise and linguistic authority. That way you can give them a way to save face by proposing that the reviewer may be in a perfect position to judge subject-matter issues and whether the nuances of the original were interpreted correctly (if that's the case). As the reviewer if they felt they were equally competent on linguistic and stylistic issues, or whether including an experienced native English editor would be a better idea. Let them say it. And it will be easier for them to realize it or say it if you steered the conversation well and make them speak English (item 2 on this list). Once it is clear, you can explain that any detailed feedback on the reviewer's linguistic queries is well beyond the scope of your work.

Best,
Attila


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Frankie JB
France
English to French
+ ...
Shortcut? Mar 14, 2014

What's wrong Sarah?

Do you think it's illegitimate for an end client to ask questions to the original translator about the choices s/he made? I don't, at least they show interest in you, unlike some who don't go without showing how much annoyed they are with your questions for them...

Are you sure it means that there's no capable people in-between both ends of the chain? Or isn't it just the logical way of handling client queries to forward them to the source? Do you think someone can answer those questions in your place? Asking you to do it doesn't mean nobody can do it... In a trial, do you want someone 1) you don't know and 2) maybe foreign to the story to defend your case or wouldn't you rather do it yourself?

The only bothering part of the story is that it may be painful for your ego to be asked to justify yourself inquisitively by someone who appears to be far from a genius, or say at least some notches under your own intellectual level (I like to refer to this situation as the "misunderstood genius phenomenon")... And perhaps, too, the time it takes... But in the end IMHO there's nothing abnormal, it's part and parcel of the job... Now you have to prove that you know your job better than them, that your reasoning is more sophisticated than theirs, and possibly seize the opportunity to educate them a bit, respectfully...

In bocca al luppo anyway...


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Laurence Fogarty  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 21:11
Member (2012)
Italian to English
+ ...
Another experience Mar 14, 2014

Sarah's report reminded of a couple of experiences I have had.
I too work in the IT>EN pair: once an Italian agency contacted me for a translation. In trying to agree a deadline with the agency it turned out that as the agency had no competence in English (the owner was straightforward about it) the submitted translation would not be checked/reviewed and would go directly to the agency's client.
I couldn't believe that an agency would operate in this way, but my impression now is that it may not be totally uncommon. After all, reviewers have to be paid too !
I also found out that a test translation of mine from Italian to English had been assessed by a non-native speaker. Needless to say I found this out by accident, and the agency were not best pleased that I knew this. In fact they denied it was the case, even after I had pointed out to them the errors made by the reviewer in reviewing the test - there were a number of them, in fact.
So you really have to be ready for every kind of surprise in this business - Sarah, it seems like in your case you too had a big surprise. I completely relate to your frustration at being 'expertly' assessed by a non-expert.


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philgoddard
United States
Member (2009)
German to English
+ ...
I sympathize too. Mar 14, 2014

In my experience, this happens a few times a year.

Good agencies go into bat for you because they know you're good. Bad agencies dump the problem in your lap and, because they need the client more than they need you, they're more likely to side with the client.

The obvious question to ask the agency is: If my translation is full of mistakes, why did you pass it on to the client?

And I love Attila's idea of "waste the reviewer's time more than your own". I'll remember that next time.


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 20:11
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
So simple, yet so perfect! Mar 14, 2014

Attila Piróth wrote:
1. Make sure to waste the reviewer's time more than your own. Ask for detailed explanation about why they think it would be better to use "talking about X" than "speaking about X". Make it clear that as the purpose of this review seems to be to polish the English translation, it only makes sense to have those comments in English. This is likely to make your reviewer uncomfortable, so insist on it.

Thank you so much for that, Attila - like all the best ideas, it's ridiculously obvious and so simple to put in place, yet it will save time, effort and self-respect. I always rush to defend my work (unless it was clearly the result of a "senior moment"). I suppose that's natural, but it will be so much better to ask the client for their reason for challenging it. I look forward to putting that tip into practice.

I agree with you, Sarah. Maybe proofreading can be skipped for some jobs, but if the translation of a book by prominent academics isn't worth the price of a second pair of (suitable) eyes, maybe the the authors should simply have translated it themselves. Apart from anything else, you say you translated "a few long chapters". So what about consistency checking? Who's going to do that? Or are they just going to go straight for publication?

Personally, I would want to put into writing that if non-professionals are going to edit my text, then I cannot accept responsibility for any errors; nor for the inevitable differences in style, register and/or terminology compared with the rest of the book.


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Texte Style
Local time: 21:11
French to English
egos and genius Mar 14, 2014

Frankie JB wrote:

What's wrong Sarah?

Do you think it's illegitimate for an end client to ask questions to the original translator about the choices s/he made? I don't, at least they show interest in you, unlike some who don't go without showing how much annoyed they are with your questions for them...

Are you sure it means that there's no capable people in-between both ends of the chain? Or isn't it just the logical way of handling client queries to forward them to the source? Do you think someone can answer those questions in your place? Asking you to do it doesn't mean nobody can do it... In a trial, do you want someone 1) you don't know and 2) maybe foreign to the story to defend your case or wouldn't you rather do it yourself?

The only bothering part of the story is that it may be painful for your ego to be asked to justify yourself inquisitively by someone who appears to be far from a genius, or say at least some notches under your own intellectual level (I like to refer to this situation as the "misunderstood genius phenomenon")... And perhaps, too, the time it takes... But in the end IMHO there's nothing abnormal, it's part and parcel of the job... Now you have to prove that you know your job better than them, that your reasoning is more sophisticated than theirs, and possibly seize the opportunity to educate them a bit, respectfully...

In bocca al luppo anyway...


Of course the end client should be allowed to ask questions, but the translator should not be bothered with purely subjective idiocies like the difference between speaking and talking. In other words, the editor should be competent at the very least.

When I was a PM I I would always protect the translator from stupid questions like these. I mostly didn't even bother to mention complaints to the translators unless it was a mistake of theirs that had slipped past my beady proofreading eye (this would most often be due to the fact that I didn't know the subject matter well enough, since unfortunately I was obliged to proof texts in fields where I was out of my depth - this sort of thing is all too common in small agencies).

And I wouldn't call this a case of misunderstood genius because the expression rather implies a degree of craziness which I do not detect in Sarah's post (however much of a genius she may be at translating)


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 03:11
Chinese to English
Not so much the corrections as the distance Mar 15, 2014

I sympathise. It is ridiculous that both the publisher and agency are failing to take any responsibility for the text. On the other hand, I don't generally mind that much having an author as a proofreader. Authors are often wrong, and you can't work with them *in the same way* as you work with a professional proofreader, but they have a lot of interesting things to say about the text. BUT: you have to be allowed to actually work *with* the author, to enter into a direct dialogue and exchange. The professionalism of a good translator and a good proofreader make it possible for the two of them to work at one remove, through the mediation of an agency. If the proofreader isn't a professional, but an author, we can still work with them, but it must be direct.

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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:11
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Proof-read before sending Mar 15, 2014

The obvious answer here is "get someone to proof-read your translation before you send it".

No?


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Texte Style
Local time: 21:11
French to English
proofreading Mar 15, 2014

Tom in London wrote:

The obvious answer here is "get someone to proof-read your translation before you send it".

No?


That won't help with questions like "why put speaking and not talking".

And it's the publisher's client who is asking these questions.

I would say that if you have paid for a translation you really should check at least a fair-sized portion of it to see whether it's been translated properly.

The annoying thing here is that nobody is bothering to take on the airhead's questions and the translator is being obliged to waste a lot of time.

Someone, somewhere along the line should be going through the questions and handling the stupid questions, only passing on any pertinent ones.


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Sarah Elizabeth
Italy
Local time: 21:11
Italian to English
TOPIC STARTER
'Passing the buck' Mar 15, 2014



This is certainly what it seems like, Orrin.

The most frustrating thing being that the queries made by the person who marked up the translation are the queries of someone who does not have a strong command of English and either the translation agency and the publishing house do not have anyone on staff or in their freelancer pools capable of recognising the nature of the queries or couldn't be bothered, passing it all on to me. In either case, not professional behaviour.

(This not being an issue of explaining to a client the whys behind certain word choices, but rather of 'teaching' English: the answer to why I chose 'Speaking of X' instead of 'Talking about X' is because the former is correct and the latter is not.)


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Orrin Cummins  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 04:11
Japanese to English
+ ...
Not obvious Mar 15, 2014

Tom in London wrote:

The obvious answer here is "get someone to proof-read your translation before you send it".

No?


Re-reading the OP, I don't see how you arrived at this conclusion. A good proofreader would not make purely cosmetic changes...so how would hiring one help her in this case?


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Sarah Elizabeth
Italy
Local time: 21:11
Italian to English
TOPIC STARTER
'Proof-read before sending' Mar 15, 2014

Tom in London wrote:

The obvious answer here is "get someone to proof-read your translation before you send it".

No?


Hi Tom, this isn't an issue of proofreading. I did proofread the file before sending it, as I always do. The queries were not about typos or errors, but rather perceived errors queried by my client's client's client, who has a weak command of English.

My example in the original post was that of Speaking of X/Talking about X: to give more detail, the person who marked up the translation queried 'Speaking of X', describing it (in Italian) as an 'idiomatic phrase that perplexes [him]' and could not fathom why I had used such wording rather than the 'correct' phrase, 'Talking about X'. (Well, that would be because 'Talking about X' would be incorrect.)

Another example of an idiomatic phrase that perplexed this person was 'on a par with', and this phrase was marked, in Italian, as 'not English'.

My point is that neither the translation agency nor the publishing house was willing or able to respond to this person's queries, asking me to do so. But really, is it the translator's job to explain to the client of the client of the translator's client that yes, 'on a par with' is correct English? Shouldn't the translation agency and/or the publishing house (the person who marked up the translation was the client of the publishing house) be capable of this? The translation agency in question indeed states on its website that it verifies the quality of all translations prior to delivery to its clients.

If there is a specialised translation agency and a serious publishing house standing between the translator and the publishing house's client, shouldn't someone at either the translation agency or the publishing house be able to recognise that 'Speaking of X' is correct English and 'Talking about X' is not?


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Sarah Elizabeth
Italy
Local time: 21:11
Italian to English
TOPIC STARTER
food for thought - thanks, Attila Mar 15, 2014

Attila Piróth wrote:

Hi Sarah,

Of course it is not normal. And you know it perfectly well, as the arguments you put forward are strong.

But there are two issues here. The first: how to handle the queries. The second: how to ensure that your translation gets a thorough check by a competent person.

For the first, here are a few tips.

1. Make sure to waste the reviewer's time more than your own. Ask for detailed explanation about why they think it would be better to use "talking about X" than "speaking about X". Make it clear that as the purpose of this review seems to be to polish the English translation, it only makes sense to have those comments in English. This is likely to make your reviewer uncomfortable, so insist on it.

2. Insist on having a conference call with the reviewer, someone from the publisher who speaks good English and someone from your client who speak English in order to discuss some important points. Insist that the conversation should be in English. This might be difficult if all others share the same native language (Italian) which you also work with, but it is probably the easiest way to establish your linguistic authority. If it turns out to be impossible, then at the very least slip into English when discussing particular points. And insist that your reviewer should pronounce their suggestion in full. Make them explain not only why they think their solution is good but also why yours is bad. And if they come up with something like their solution "sounds more natural", something along the lines of "not to my native ears" is likely to end the debate.

3. Insist on the importance of subject-matter expertise and linguistic authority. That way you can give them a way to save face by proposing that the reviewer may be in a perfect position to judge subject-matter issues and whether the nuances of the original were interpreted correctly (if that's the case). As the reviewer if they felt they were equally competent on linguistic and stylistic issues, or whether including an experienced native English editor would be a better idea. Let them say it. And it will be easier for them to realize it or say it if you steered the conversation well and make them speak English (item 2 on this list). Once it is clear, you can explain that any detailed feedback on the reviewer's linguistic queries is well beyond the scope of your work.

Best,
Attila


Thank you for this really interesting, well-thought out post. It is full of great ideas for handling tricky situations -- I have already returned to it several times, wanting to think about your tips and then think about them again!

The biggest 'take home' for me is the idea of always assuming that there is someone with sufficient target-language skills involved in the editing process, even when one knows that there is no such person involved, in order to remind everyone at the table that this really is a necessity.


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