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How to tell a client their English isn't good enough for proofreading
Thread poster: Tiffany Hardy

Tiffany Hardy  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 10:17
Spanish to English
Feb 26, 2015

This is a live and learn week.

Early this week I accepted a monolingual proofreading job that was due today. I clearly did not look at the document long enough, I scanned if very quickly and thought the level of English was OK.

After accepting my price and depositing 1/2 the money into my account so I could initiate the work, the client said "Oh and here's the Spanish version so you can check the translation and improve it".

I quickly replied "Ok" without thinking...I know, I KNOW.

Fast forward to today and I quickly discover the document is a NIGHTMARE, a machine translation nightmare. I can't make heads or tails of it without looking at the Spanish and when I do, I realize I have to basically re-do the whole thing. I hestiate to say anything to the client because two days have gone by, she needs it by tonight and now won't have time to work with someone else if she's not happy with my translation rate.

So I finish the painful assignment.

But now I want to know how to gently tell this person that I will no longer be available for revision services for anything translated by her. Do I tell her now, so she doesn't have time to produce another document like that and expect that I'll proofread it? Do I not say anything and mention it if she ever asks me to do work again? This is a university professor who will likely want to attempt to have her work published in English again.

Any suggestions on how to communicate this so as not to offend?


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Paulo Eduardo - Pro Knowledge  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 06:17
Member (2008)
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Charge more for proofreading than for translation Feb 26, 2015

As simple as that.

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Andrea Halbritter  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 10:17
French to German
+ ...
Wait and when she comes back to you fix a new price Feb 26, 2015

Wait until she contacts you again. Have a look on what quality of language she proposes then and charge a hourly rate or a fee per word which pays well.

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Andrea Halbritter  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 10:17
French to German
+ ...
Or propose a retranslation next time Feb 26, 2015

If ever you think a retranslation would be better, tell her clearly. I do tell my clients and there normally is no problem. They pay the retranslation and I do not have to bother with correcting a machine translation what I do not like at all (and normally refuse).

[Modifié le 2015-02-26 18:41 GMT]


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Robin Levey
Chile
Local time: 05:17
Spanish to English
+ ...
In words ... Feb 26, 2015

Tiffany Hardy asks:
How to tell a client their English isn't good enough for proofreading?

... of one syllable!

On a more serious note: I wouldn't bother saying anything. But next time (if there is a 'next' time), just say "no".


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 09:17
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
I think it depends Feb 26, 2015

Tiffany Hardy wrote:
I want to know how to gently tell this person that I will no longer be available for revision services for anything translated by her. Do I tell her now, so she doesn't have time to produce another document like that and expect that I'll proofread it? Do I not say anything and mention it if she ever asks me to do work again? This is a university professor who will likely want to attempt to have her work published in English again.

What's more important: her pride, or your future relationship?

If it's her pride, then you'll want to put off telling her until/unless you have to. So, if you think she's unlikely to come back to you then you don't need to say anything.

But what if you say nothing and she spends hours/days/weeks "translating" the next text? Isn't it a bit late to say at that point that it's a dog's breakfast of a "translation" and that you either won't accept it as a proofreading job or that you'll proofread it but at a far higher price than last time? I imagine she'd be far from pleased, and that would be the end of the relationship.

I've had clients who have had to be told the truth - one only last week, in fact. Fortunately, I always charge per hour so she paid a high price for it; and it wasn't likely to be taken the wrong way as I don't speak her language so I'm essentially talking myself out of a (rather uninspiring) job. Also, being a monolingual revision of text written in English, I simply couldn't provide a "perfect" result - there were a lot of queries and comments that she'll still need to resolve. As I tell my clients, I'm a proof-reader, not a mind-reader.

I think it's time to put your diplomacy skills to the test, Tiffany.


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 09:17
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Just say no Feb 26, 2015

Tiffany Hardy wrote:

Any suggestions on how to communicate this so as not to offend?


Next time, just say politely "I no longer accept proofreading jobs." That doesn't call for a lot of diplomacy or skill.

[Edited at 2015-02-26 19:30 GMT]


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Suzan Hamer  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 10:17
English
+ ...
In a similar case, Feb 26, 2015

I just told the client the text wasn't ready for proofreading yet.

It needed to be edited first.

Of course too late to say that now, for the current assignment.
But possibly something you could say if/when she asks you to work on another text.


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DLyons  Identity Verified
Ireland
Local time: 09:17
Spanish to English
+ ...
Say nothing now Feb 26, 2015

She's an intelligent woman and will see just how much you have needed to change the text.

If she does come back with more work, you will know that you need to see both the ST and the TT (you can waffle a bit about copyediting vs proofreading). And then give her one quote for retranslation and another for massive copyediting.


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DJHartmann  Identity Verified
Australia
Member (2014)
Thai to English
+ ...

MODERATOR
Charge per hour, invoice on delivery Feb 26, 2015

This would not have been a problem if you were charging per hour rather than a flat rate. Deadlines can usually be extended for circumstances such as a poor translation like this, and it avoids clients dumping retranslation tasks on you and expecting them back in a couple of hours. Charge what the task is worth rather than what the client thinks is fair, is your mechanic ever apologetic when your car takes 3x longer than he said and there were more items needing to be fixed than originally thought?

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LegalTransform  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 04:17
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
As soon as I discovered it... Feb 26, 2015

... I would have asked her for more money or returned the money to her and stopped working on the project.

I can't tell you how many people ask me for a translation quote - seemed shocked at the price - and then return weeks later to have the (machine pseudo translated) document edited. They think they have unilaterally discovered some amazing money-saving trick. However, they are shocked again when I tell them that what they have is worthless and the price is still the same.

[Edited at 2015-02-26 20:59 GMT]


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Robert Forstag  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 04:17
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Bad faith Feb 26, 2015

As you well say Tiffany, "live and learn."

I agree with Jeff that you should have stopped work and refunded the down payment as soon as you realized that you were dealing with a nightmare. You could have simply apologized for your earlier inattention without a great deal of weeping and gnashing of teeth.

You need not have punished yourself by sticking to an agreement that (listen closely now!) fundamentally involved bad faith on the part of your client.

Your client surely knew that what she produced was dreck, and was looking for a cheap fix (I am assuming here that you earned no more than 10 euros or so an hour for the work you did; if you earned at least 50, then maybe your labor was worth it.)

Anyway, your story reminds me of a far more protracted nightmare of my own. Some seven years ago, I accepted the "proofreading" of a dissertation (written in English by a non-native speaker) of some 150,000 words on the basis of having skimmed just a few pages. I was paid upfront (what seemed to me a princely sum of $4500). In the end, I surely spent more than 250 hours on what was essentially a rewriting project, so that "princely sum" translated into the pauper's pittance of something like $16/hour.

That was an important "live and learn" experience for me....

[Edited at 2015-02-26 22:43 GMT]


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 16:17
Chinese to English
Person or machine? Feb 27, 2015

Tiffany Hardy wrote:

...I quickly discover the document is a NIGHTMARE, a machine translation nightmare.
...revision services for anything translated by her.

Not sure exactly what you got here. Was the document translated by her, or was it machine translated? It's not unknown for academics to get their grad students to translate their papers for them (at least where I live!), so she may have no idea about the quality.

As Sheila suggests, it really depends on the relationship. If you're never going to get work from her again, then you could (a) not bother, or (b) let her know that MT doesn't work the way she thinks it works, just as a service to language and the translation community. If you think this could be a long-term relationship, then you could follow up in a way that emphasises that fact. I'm thinking of something along the lines of:

Dear X, It was a pleasure to work on your text. I just wanted to let you know that in the end I spent more time revising it that I might have translating it in the first place, though of course I'm only charging the amount I originally quoted. Some parts of the text looked to me as though you might have used some MT translation suggestions - it might interest you to know that MT doesn't really save the translator any time. In fact, it can actually make our work slower! I was happy to put the extra time in on this occasion, because I like this subject, but I won't be able to do that on a regular basis. I'd really like to work with you more in future, so I thought I'd suggest that the next time you're publishing in a prestigious English-language journal, I take on the translation rather than editing. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at how precisely and smoothly I can render your concepts in clean, academic English (and a reasonable price). Etc., etc.


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Tiffany Hardy  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 10:17
Spanish to English
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks for your comments Feb 27, 2015

Thank you everyone for your comments.

In the end I have decided to tell her now, rather than wait for the next time she comes to me. I suspect machine translation, but it could have just been a very poor job done by someone who really tried, or as Phil suggested, maybe it was passed on to a grad student, or perhaps she even paid to have someone do it (gasp!). So I'm telling her now as a courtesy to prevent her or anyone else from wasting time or money in the future.

My main problem in this case was the time between when I quoted and when I actually realized the problem, something that won't happen to me again! Everyone else's suggestions to refuse the work would have been possible if I had dedicated a bit more time to determining the quality of the original text.
Robert Forstag wrote:
Your client surely knew that what she produced was dreck, and was looking for a cheap fix (I am assuming here that you earned no more than 10 euros or so an hour for the work you did; if you earned at least 50, then maybe your labor was worth it.)


It wasn't quite that bad. But I basically ended up with my lowest agency rates, rather than direct client rates. It was still worth my time. Just not something I want to repeat. And not just because of the money. My brain hurt by the time I was done with it and I wasn't able to reach my daily goal for another ongoing project which means I'll be playing catch-up over the weekend instead of hanging out with my kids.
Phil Hand wrote:

Dear X, It was a pleasure to work on your text. I just wanted to let you know that in the end I spent more time revising it that I might have translating it in the first place, though of course I'm only charging the amount I originally quoted. Some parts of the text looked to me as though you might have used some MT translation suggestions - it might interest you to know that MT doesn't really save the translator any time. In fact, it can actually make our work slower! I was happy to put the extra time in on this occasion, because I like this subject, but I won't be able to do that on a regular basis. I'd really like to work with you more in future, so I thought I'd suggest that the next time you're publishing in a prestigious English-language journal, I take on the translation rather than editing. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at how precisely and smoothly I can render your concepts in clean, academic English (and a reasonable price). Etc., etc.

Phil I found this particularly helpful in drafting my message to her, so thanks. Very diplomatic.

Thanks again everyone.


[Edited at 2015-02-27 07:56 GMT]

[Edited at 2015-02-27 07:57 GMT]

[Edited at 2015-02-27 07:57 GMT]


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Dr. Mara Huber  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 10:17
Member (2010)
English to German
+ ...
Another case Feb 27, 2015

- "In a similar case,I just told the client the text wasn't ready for proofreading yet."
- "Charge by the hour."

These two advices are very sound.

My case: a German who insisted on writing her PhD thesis in "English". I ended up turning the job down after I had explained to her that it took more time to guess whatever she had meant in German and then to translate that into correct English, than to translate from a German text. I also felt that my share of the work would have been more than academically permissible. So I told her that she needed to put some more work into the text herself, preferably in German first.

I´m sure, though, she found someone to do it, though not really well . . . but I don´t touch that kind of stuff; it´s a question of what I want to be as a "brand", too.


Oops, I was too slow with this

[Bearbeitet am 2015-02-27 08:14 GMT]


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