Stand By Your Translator (or When Mistakes Happen)
Thread poster: LegalTransform

LegalTransform  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 19:28
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Aug 21, 2015

By Steve Vitek: https://patenttranslator.wordpress.com/2015/08/19/stand-by-your-translator/

Excerpt: "...It’s an awful feeling when a customer is not happy with your translation. When it happens, it’s easy to feel like a total failure, almost as if everything that you’ve been trying to do until now was wrong but you were so dumb that you failed to realize it.

But even the best translator makes mistakes, and I use the plural here advisedly...."

Another good article: Enough is enough – or when it’s time to sack a client: https://clairecoxtranslations.wordpress.com/2015/07/30/enough-is-enough-or-when-its-time-to-sack-a-client/

[Edited at 2015-08-21 16:45 GMT]


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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 01:28
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
So very true... Aug 21, 2015

I remember, when I worked in-house, a colleague had a discussion on the phone with a client about a marketing text.

A different translator had used the word 'immaculate' about some piece of crystal glass tableware, and the client thought it practically amounted to blasphemy - only the Virgin Mary could be immaculate in his world.

As it was a marketing text, not technical instructions or anything like that, my colleague explained that to most English speakers, fine silver and beautiful glass, carefully laid on a white tablecloth could also be immaculate.

Then he suggested a few other possible adjectives - exquisite or sparkling, but the client rang off in a huff.

Next day a mail came in from the client: 'My apologies. Please keep immaculate. My British friends think it sounds fine!'

BTW that agency always stood by its translators, even when they did make mistakes, and smoothed things over if possible.

But when the translator was right, the agency found someone to explain and convince the client that we really knew what we were doing. In the long run, clients like to be reassured, and they come back if you do it diplomatically.


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 08:28
Chinese to English
It's OK for a business relationship not to work out Aug 21, 2015

The truth is, sometimes a client may also take an instant dislike to a very good translation for reasons that mostly have to do with the fact that the client does not understand how translation works.

And sometimes - at least on creative texts - a client may simply not like a translator's style. Rightly or wrongly, it doesn't really matter. And that... OK. I've had a number of clients where it was just too much hassle to keep trying to bend my style to what they wanted, and I had to persuade them that they should use someone else.

Perhaps I have a thicker skin than Vitek. I do feel bad when I've made errors, but the fact that a client doesn't like my translation doesn't really bother me at all. It just means that one of three things is going to happen: 1) They'll get over it; 2) I made errors and I'll have to correct them; 3) We end the business relationship. All three are going to consume my time, so it's always best to do what the client wants first time. But the fact that I didn't get it spot on on this occasion usually just means that I wasn't given enough information to start with.


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Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 05:58
Member (2006)
English to Hindi
+ ...
Except, of course, the native Aug 21, 2015

Jeff Whittaker wrote:

But even the best translator makes mistakes, and I use the plural here advisedly...."


There the author is gravely mistaken, as a certain B, or a certain Londoner will tell you. The beauty is, the native never errs.


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Angela Rimmer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:28
Member (2014)
German to English
+ ...
No crossover, please Aug 21, 2015

Balasubramaniam L. wrote:

Jeff Whittaker wrote:

But even the best translator makes mistakes, and I use the plural here advisedly...."


There the author is gravely mistaken, as a certain B, or a certain Londoner will tell you. The beauty is, the native never errs.


Ugh. I guess the bitter argument is continuing to rage on in the native/non-native thread, but please, keep the sarcasm and negativity in THAT thread. I really don't wish to find every conversation on this forum contaminated with negative vibes.


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Angela Rimmer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:28
Member (2014)
German to English
+ ...
On the topic at hand.. Aug 21, 2015

I, like Phil, must have a thicker skin than the author. Mistakes happen, and often the client identifies 'mistakes' that are in fact NOT mistakes. Of course the mark of a good agency is that they recognise that the customer is not always right, nor is the customer always justified in insisting on a complete revision of the translation with a fine-toothed comb. A good agency champions its translators -- which should make sense for them, anyway, since in standing by their translators they are also defending themselves (after all, they chose the translator).

I once had a client come back with the comment that a teenager could have translated the text better than I did. It turned out that they had a new junior staff member who wanted to flex his muscles a bit (and I assume claimed to speak English fluently) and revised my translation. The page was covered in red changes, and almost every single change, bar one, was straight-up grammatically incorrect (e.g. the president's 'resignation' had been corrected to the president's 'resign')


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Kevin Fulton  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 19:28
German to English
I own up to my errors, and ... Aug 21, 2015

I sometimes find them embarrassing. But ... sometimes the fault lies at the other end.
Phil Hand wrote:

But the fact that I didn't get it spot on on this occasion usually just means that I wasn't given enough information to start with.


A number of years ago I had an agency customer who regularly sent me work, and it was always considered acceptable. Then I received a project that was a procedures manual for file management at a transportation company. Normally a manual should use a single stylistic approach, but the style of this document was all over the place, so I regularized it. The document also used various terms for which there are a number of acceptable synonyms in English.

About 6 weeks after I submitted the document I received a message from the owner of the agency (who was a very hands-on type) saying that my translation was completely unacceptable (I had already been paid by that time). He indicated that the end customer was upset that I hadn't used their standard terminology (not supplied), and that they wanted a varied style in their manual (really?!). The owner further reproached me, saying that my egregious errors could cause serious accidents; lives were at risk (since I used "form letter" instead of "template"? Really?!). According to him, I was not a native speaker of English. I should mention that he was a native speaker of the source language; a glance at the document would have made it clear that no one was going to get killed due to my negligence.

It was the only time I was really rude to a customer. I returned the payment (a few hundred dollars) and told him what he could do with it.

A few months later both this agency and the end customer went out of business.

Pure Schadenfreude!
(malicious joy at the misfortune of others).


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Inga Petkelyte  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 00:28
Lithuanian to Portuguese
+ ...
Credibility of the business Aug 21, 2015

Once I twas translating a standard certification document and was wondering to myself that it didn't bear the person's birthdate as it was usual for such kind of document. Next morning, the agency emailed: all is impecable but what about the birthdate? So I opened the file again and the birthdate was right there, in front of my eyes, in the very middle of the page! I got so embarrased about myself, I still have self-blaming feeling "How could I?!" each time I remember it.
I have had an unhappy end client and his rage was because of one (!) not fully corect medical term for a joint. I don't do medical translations, all my clients know that and warn their end clients. In that case, there had happened a car accident, with a 10-year kid involved, and the agency begged me to do that translation as the family returned to their home country and needed to follow the treatment. So I did 5 pages of medical language translation. It happened the kid's father to be a doctor himself and he found, in those 5 pages, that I had used, say, the generic "joint" instead of the specific joint name, though it was clear from the involved body parts which joint exactly was referred to. It was unpleasant. Not enough that I sat during the night to deliver the translation by the morning (with 2 hours ahead of my time zone) but now this person comes and screems at the agency owner? I told the agency to let that man have the translation for free but I wouldn't do the next document that he had brought.
The agency owner was on my side. She told: Sometimes it's better to lose a client rather than do our best and receive such reward."
By the way, I received that same next document through another agency for translation. Refused it.
Indeed, where an agency merely accepts a "mistake" list and passes it to the translator, it gives a client an impression that the agency is not sure about their own translators and the quality of the delivered service. Credibility of the agency itself is put under question with such attitudes.


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