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Agency requesting a re-translation of one of my translations
Thread poster: Mark Sanderson

Mark Sanderson  Identity Verified
Taiwan
Local time: 14:14
Chinese to English
Sep 12, 2014

Hello everyone,

I completed a translation at the start of August for an agency. Earlier this week I received two questions from the client via the agency and made two changes to the target file. The changes simply involved two column headings in a table which I had made a little bit wordy/ too literal in my translation. The client made some good suggestions on how to improve the translation and I implemented them, along with a note apologising for being too literal in my translation.

The agency has now come back to me and told me that the client is not happy and wants the whole assignment re-translating - by me. They have requested that the file be translated in a paraphrasing style so that the client can understand the file more easily.

They have given me a two day deadline to complete the 15,000 Chinese source characters. Surely if the client is not happy with the translation they would ask for another translator to re-translate the file? Why request the same translator to do it again?

After checking the final version that the client received against the translation that I submitted, it seems like the file has gone through an editing process. I must agree that in some places the editor has made some excellent changes to the text and made my translation read much better. However, there are other instances where I question if the editor was actually a native speaker of the English language.

I think my mistake here was my note apologising for being too literal in my translation. They appear to have latched onto this and are using it as an excuse. I have requested more feedback from the client as all I have heard so far is that "the client is not happy". In which areas they are not happy I do not know.

Does anyone have any advice for this situation? This is the first time that I have experienced something like this.

Many thanks,

Mark Sanderson







[Edited at 2014-09-12 14:53 GMT]


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:14
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Toad Sep 12, 2014

Hi Mark,

This sounds like a thankless task, but if it's a good client who is likely to give you more work, maybe you should just "swallow the toad" (to use an Italian expression), do the job, and put it down to experience – although I fear that in this case, you may have put yourself in the position of having to show willingness to make any other changes the end user may request until such time as they declare themselves finally satisfied.

In retrospect, perhaps it might have been better not to have left any room for any suggestion that you might have done anything wrongly in your translation,or that anything about it could be improved (even if you privately think it could). Any admission of "weakness" can have the effect of inviting the other party to make additional requests without additional payment.

In future, what would you do to avoid anything like this ever happening again?




[Edited at 2014-09-12 15:17 GMT]


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 14:14
Chinese to English
Apology=minefield Sep 12, 2014

Just occasionally, this happens. I think the "business" solution is to never admit any fault and never apologise. I mean this literally - as I understand it, in large (particularly US) corporations, people are trained in how to convey sympathy without ever admitting fault or apologising for wrongdoing. But we're not corporations, we're human beings, and it would be a damn shame if we started doing the same thing.

I'm sure that that what's happened is what you've guessed. The end client is unhappy, for whatever reason. The agency knows you haven't done anything wrong, so they can't blame you; they don't want to pay for another translator to review/redo; so they're scrambling for a solution.

Most importantly: don't get sucked into playing games, like they're doing. Your objective should be to deliver best value to the (end) client. Stick to that. I would first continue to play humble: thank them for their feedback, emphasise that you are both working for the same goal (to please the end client. Ask if you can have direct contact with the editor. Don't say "direct contact with the client" because agencies freak out about that. Ask if you can talk to "the editor". Explain why you want to do so - to get a better idea of what changes need to be made.

They might give you direct contact, or they might not. If they don't, think about what the end client and the agency are after. It sounds like you're maybe dealing with an industry you don't know very well? You can ask if they know of any glossaries, or more likely, ask if they have any models you can follow: American companies in the same industry. Google the words they've given you to see if you can find more references, and ask if X is the style you should follow.

Sometimes you just can't please everyone. You have to satisfy the agency, and the agency has to satisfy the customer, and somewhere along the line there's a guy who just doesn't see things your way. It happens, and it's not the end of the world.


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:14
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Yep! Sep 12, 2014

Hi Phil

I think you and I are saying more or less the same thing.

Or as a fellow I used to work with as an architect, who had no creative talent but was a very effective hard-nosed negotiator of contracts, always used to say: "never admit liability".

One of his other favourite expressions was "it isn't a defect. It's a feature".

[Edited at 2014-09-12 15:36 GMT]


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 06:14
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
They have to give you more to go on Sep 12, 2014

Mark Sanderson wrote:
The agency has now come back to me and told me that the client is not happy and wants the whole assignment re-translating - by me. They have requested that the file be translated in a paraphrasing style so that the client can understand the file more easily.

So, are they saying there are errors in the text? Or that it isn't in the right register/conveying the message correctly? Or are they just saying that their level of English isn't sufficiently high to understand it all? It sounds rather as though it might be the latter. Do you really have to "dumb-down" your translation just because a source-language speaker can't understand it? No!

To some extent I would imagine it depends on what the text is about. If it's a marketing text, and you translated it pretty literally then they could (possibly) have reason to complain. But if you rewrite it, who's to say they're going to like it any better? I think you need to insist that the agency tell you exactly what the end client requires. If they can't do that then it must be up to them to sort out the problem with their client.


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 01:14
Russian to English
+ ...
No, don't do it. Sep 12, 2014

Paraphrasing--if they do not understand legal or financial language, let them hire an interpreter--I am serious--English to English. There are legal language interpreters as well--monolingual.

They are just playing games, and want things done for free.


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Verlow Junior, MITI
Brazil
Local time: 03:14
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Complaints from a single language editor Sep 12, 2014

I sometimes get annoying complaints from editors who remove text, change sentences and terms, and complain about the quality of my work. And then I find out that they don't understand any Portuguese, and only edit the finished translation. And then the client complains that the text is different, and wants to know why the translator did not follow the original text. Complete incompetence in the internal quality process of the agency.

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Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 07:14
English to Polish
+ ...
... Sep 12, 2014

I completed a translation at the start of August for an agency. Earlier this week I received two questions from the client via the agency and made two changes to the target file. The changes simply involved two column headings in a table which I had made a little bit wordy/ too literal in my translation. The client made some good suggestions on how to improve the translation and I implemented them, along with a note apologising for being too literal in my translation.


Perhaps you were too quick to apologize, but no one can tell without looking at your translation. There are different approaches to translation, and full localization/domestication is by far not the only right way, no matter what some people tell you. It's even hard to define what's too literal — you were most probably too literal if you took a marketing text written in vibrant, unstilted modern Chinese and intended for the average English-speaking consumer, and made it read like Sun Tzu:

If fighting is sure to result in victory, than you must fight, even though the ruler forbid it; if fighting will not result in victory, then you must not fight even at the ruler's bidding.

Else, it was probably a matter of style. Perhaps better or worse, but still style.

There are many not so smart thinking linguists (ready enough for the ordinary mental job but not for a more serious mental exercise until they train up a bit), who think that in order not to be 'literal' you need to actively disguise the translation and actively avoid any hint of formal equivalence. That's poor, lazy thinking, unfortunately not too rare in arts, business and other less intellectually rigorous disciplines. Don't listen to that sort of thing. (But if you want to succeed in business, you do need to listen to your clients.)

The agency has now come back to me and told me that the client is not happy and wants the whole assignment re-translating - by me. They have requested that the file be translated in a paraphrasing style so that the client can understand the file more easily.


It seems they are reasonably sure that you can do the job the way they want it to be done. Perhaps they trust in your knowledge of Chinese and of the subject matter and in your English writing skills and the only issue here is how you should employ them (according to your client).

They have requested that the file be translated in a paraphrasing style so that the client can understand the file more easily.


Sounds like the classic free edit or customer service issue. It's understandable that the client should want that, but it's also understandable that you'd prefer to get paid for the effort. A balance needs to be struck. Let me say one thing very clearly, though: translating is not explaining. Your job is not to make originals understood. Your job is not to achieve the client's goals or meet the client's desires. Your job is to get the text from Chinese into English, making sure its quality doesn't become worse in the process.

If you did somehow manage to convert a legible Chinese text into an illegible English text that'd be one thing, but if your client wants you to improve the presentation, let alone the structure, of the content, then that's called editing and is a separate, different type of service that may be combined with translation into a single package for convenience but is not part of it by default. To base a complaint on that sort of unspoken expection having been unmet would be absurd.

They have given me a two day deadline to complete the 15,000 Chinese source characters. Surely if the client is not happy with the translation they would ask for another translator to re-translate the file? Why request the same translator to do it again?


See above: Perhaps they have no issue with your qualifications but only your methods. Plus, they'd need to find and pay another translator — and, in their own minds, they may be doing you a favour by giving you the opportunity to keep your fee on condition of some remedial work.

After checking the final version that the client received against the translation that I submitted, it seems like the file has gone through an editing process. I must agree that in some places the editor has made some excellent changes to the text and made my translation read much better. However, there are other instances where I question if the editor was actually a native speaker of the English language.


Perhaps it was a very experienced first or second generation Chinese immigrant under considerable influence from his own or his parents' first language. There are many places in the world where translators and clients don't agree with the native-speakers-only rule. Some translators who are native speakers of the source rather than the target language are actually quite good. Some native speakers are horrible, and most aren't perfect anyway.

I think my mistake here was my note apologising for being too literal in my translation. They appear to have latched onto this and are using it as an excuse. I have requested more feedback from the client as all I have heard so far is that "the client is not happy". In which areas they are not happy I do not know.


There is a fine line between apologizing for a real issue and accepting 'the client is not happy' complaints.

Does anyone have any advice for this situation? This is the first time that I have experienced something like this.


It seems your client has a business model in which a service will not end before the client, as Tom puts it, declares himself finally satisfied. There is nothing wrong with that per se, but it's important to understand each other's expectations. As long as nobody discussed free rewriters based on pure satisfaction with you beforehand, and as long as you didn't clearly deviate from some previously agreed specifications, you should be pretty safe in declining.

[Edited at 2014-09-12 16:36 GMT]


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philgoddard
United States
German to English
+ ...
Obvious question to the agency: Sep 12, 2014

If my translation was unsatisfactory, why did you send it to the client?

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Kaiya J. Diannen  Identity Verified
Australia
Member (2008)
German to English
Agree with Sheila & Łukasz on these points Sep 12, 2014

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz wrote:

Let me say one thing very clearly, though: translating is not explaining. Your job is not to make originals understood. Your job is not to achieve the client's goals or meet the client's desires. Your job is to get the text from Chinese into English, making sure its quality doesn't become worse in the process.

Sheila Wilson wrote:

So, are they saying there are errors in the text? Or that it isn't in the right register/conveying the message correctly? Or are they just saying that their level of English isn't sufficiently high to understand it all? It sounds rather as though it might be the latter. Do you really have to "dumb-down" your translation just because a source-language speaker can't understand it? No!

To some extent I would imagine it depends on what the text is about. If it's a marketing text, and you translated it pretty literally then they could (possibly) have reason to complain. But if you rewrite it, who's to say they're going to like it any better? I think you need to insist that the agency tell you exactly what the end client requires. If they can't do that then it must be up to them to sort out the problem with their client.


We all want our clients to be happy, and we all want to think that the work we've turned in is as good as any of our colleagues could also produce (or better). It's natural (and in our best business interest) to want to remedy the situation as quickly as possible to everyone's satisfaction if these outcomes turn out not to be true. But this must have its limitations.

I especially agree with Sheila's points here - the agency simply hasn't told you enough to complete the task the PM is requesting, and in line with Łukasz' comment, it's likely not your job (at least not without additional remuneration) to complete this kind of task in the first place.

Producing actual errors is one thing - wherever possible, errors should be corrected by the original translator/team immediately and free of charge.

Style is a second matter and a very tricky one - if the style doesn't match the original, isn't idiomatic in the target language, isn't appropriate for the target audience, or simply doesn't give the impression of being written by a native speaker of the target language, this can be a legitimate source of client dissatisfaction and needs to be addressed. Sometimes the original translator can re-write the translation, especially if specific guidelines and examples are given. Sometimes, however, due to skill level, experience, subject knowledge, or even just personal style, the original translator is simply not the appropriate person to produce the desired translation, and (monetary) concessions may have to be made - that depends on the particular situation.

As pointed out (at least obliquely), if this or any other aspect of the translation was not good enough (esp. after going through an editing process) but was still turned over to the agency's client, this is as much the agency's fault as yours, if not more so.

But "paraphrasing" a text (or even "paraphrasing" an existing translation) is most definitely a separate service. If it turns out that this is the core purpose of the request, you should treat it as a new, separate project and let the agency know as politely as possible that what the PM is asking for is outside the original project scope and must be remunerated separately. Also, don't shy away from letting the PM know whether the (requested) deadline is feasible or appropriate. Since in this case it would be a new project, you need to take the reins politely - sympathetically - but firmly (as uncomfortable as that may be) and be the one to propose the expected remuneration and scheduling.

[Edited at 2014-09-14 03:44 GMT]


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Andy Watkinson
Spain
Local time: 07:14
Member
Catalan to English
+ ...
cf. Sheila Sep 13, 2014

Mark Sanderson wrote:

The agency has now come back to me and told me that the client is not happy (......)


That's it. The client's not happy. So do 15,000 characters in 48 hours.

Sorry, the "client" must produce a detailed list, specifying exactly which word/expression/interpretations they deem unfit and explain why.

Anything less than due justification of their grievances by a complaining client is a joke.

Of course, who says all this really originated with the client...?


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Mark Sanderson  Identity Verified
Taiwan
Local time: 14:14
Chinese to English
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks for the replies. Sep 13, 2014

Thank you for all of the wonderful replies. This forum really is a great resource for translators!

In future, what would you do to avoid anything like this ever happening again?


As Phil has already pointed out - don't be so quick to apologise and offer explanations when fixing client errors. Simply fix them and move on! Having been exposed to Chinese culture for so long I really should have a better understanding of the concept of "saving face".

All of the posters who replied stating that I should ask for further feedback from the client are exactly right. Unfortunately the agency has only resent the initial complaint regarding the two table headings and has not yet provided any further feedback why the whole document needs re-translating. I have clearly specified what I require in order to process their request for a re-translation and am currently waiting for their reply.


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Giovanni Guarnieri MITI, MIL  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:14
Member (2004)
English to Italian
I don't understand... Sep 13, 2014

You said this:
Mark Sanderson wrote:

The client made some good suggestions on how to improve the translation and I implemented them, along with a note apologising for being too literal in my translation.


and then...

Mark Sanderson wrote:

After checking the final version that the client received against the translation that I submitted, it seems like the file has gone through an editing process. I must agree that in some places the editor has made some excellent changes to the text and made my translation read much better.


So, you do have examples of what the client wants... or was the editor the agency's editor?

Anyway, you should indeed wait for more guidelines on the type of style they are requesting.

If the client didn't like the style, they have the right to ask you to fix it, for free. You can always say that you didn't receive any guidelines in the first place, but the client is expecting a professional job, a translation which reads well and with the appropriate tone/style. Asking you to fix it in the first place is correct. The translator should be given the chance to fix "mistakes" or complaints. This is a standard procedure. Of course, style is a minefield... you can only try and fix it once - after receiving precise guidelines - and then expect to be paid. Unless the style is still not appropriate for the scope. Having said that, if the client use your original - although edited - version, you should expect payment in full.


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Matthias Brombach  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 07:14
Member (2007)
English to German
+ ...
Overambitious reviewer / proof reader Sep 13, 2014

Perhaps your text went through the fingers of an overambitious reviewer who wants to set his/her footprints into the agency on your expenses to get more jobs by them or to become their favorite translator. One of the key words then can be that all the suggestions / changes are of preferential nature.

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Mark Sanderson  Identity Verified
Taiwan
Local time: 14:14
Chinese to English
TOPIC STARTER
Update Sep 14, 2014

So, you do have examples of what the client wants... or was the editor the agency's editor?


I spoke with the agency again on Saturday morning and they told me that no further feedback was available from the client. When I asked the PM why they could not go back to the client and ask for further clarification on how and why they are unhappy, they told me that the client was "unavailable". It seems to me that the agency have promised the client that they will get a full re-translation of their document, and don't want to go back to the client with questions about the first translation as this may lead them to believe that they are not actually getting a complete re-translation of their document.

However, the agency is now saying that I don't need to do a full re-translation of the document!?!. The PM requested that I take the version of my translation that has been through an agency appointed proofreading and editing team, and make some further changes to make it more "readable". Whilst I understand that this is my translation and I have a responsibility to correct any problems within the translated text, should I be expected to perform editing duties after it has been through other people's hands? Surely this would be considered editing (re-editing) and should be charged for appropriately? But then again, this is my translation that I am editing - albeit a changed version.

This agency pays really low rates and also tries numerous little tricks to squeeze every last cent out of its translators (I previously posted about how they remove all punctuation marks, numbers and English letters from their Chinese source text word count calculations), so I really can't guess what little tricks they are trying to play here. I don't want to get suckered into all of this, however, they do send me work quite regularly.

Conundrums galore.

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