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Dealing with excessive counter-productive "editor feedback."
Thread poster: Eric Stone

Eric Stone
Taiwan
Local time: 23:27
Chinese to English
Feb 9, 2017

Editors in my field are always native speakers of the source language, and, in my experience thus far, never have a particularly good understanding of the target language (English).

On a recent project, I received feedback, of which exactly 93.33% was "false corrections" (and 0.02 false corrections per word!); basically, the editor didn't understand the English phrases I used (took them too literally, didn't understand the subtext, etc.) and therefore assumed they were wrong when they were not.

Of course, when I'm working on a 100,000+ word project I can't be taking the time to explain these perfectly normal uses of the English language to a non-native speaker just because their reading-comprehensions skills in the language that they are supposed to be 'editing' are sub-par... That's 2000 explanations on a 100,000 word project that serve no purpose whatsoever other than to teach an editor basic English that he or she should, for the most part, already understand.

The thing is, this seems to be extremely common in my language pair, and I suspect it may be common in other language pairs as well. Is it? I don't suppose you've had your own experiences with this sort of issue?


 

Joana Polonia  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 15:27
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Yes, it is normal Feb 9, 2017

Hello Eric,

I must confess, I laughed a little while reading what you wrote here.

Yes, and I speak for myself, I think it is normal for editors to criticize your work, not because you are not good in what you do, but there will always be people who take perfectionism to the highest point, that one called "show some service".
I don't think you should take this personally, there are simply people who love to find faults in other people's work.
This happens to me too many times and please, notice that we don't have the same language pairs.

I'm sure more people will identify with your case.

Keep up the good work. Just be kind to that person and try to explain that you don't have time for that.
I'm sure they will understand. Otherwise, "kick him in the butt"icon_biggrin.gif hehe

Kind regards,
Joana

[Editado em 2017-02-09 05:27 GMT]


 

Eric Stone
Taiwan
Local time: 23:27
Chinese to English
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks Feb 9, 2017

Joana Polonia wrote:
Yes, and I speak for myself, I think it is normal for editors to criticize your work, not because you are not good in what you do, but there will always be people who take perfectionism to the highest point, that one called "show some service".
I don't think you should take this personally, there are simply people who love to find faults in other people's work.
[Editado em 2017-02-09 05:27 GMT]


Hi Joana,

Thank you for your kind words. I appreciate your response, but actually I'm not quite sure this is relevant to my situation.

It sounds to me like you've encountered qualified editors who are making inconsequential changes, such rewording an already correct sentence slightly so that it sounds better to his or her own ear. While I appreciate that this can be monotonous too, this isn't the issue I'm having.

The editors in my case aren't actually making any changes, but rather highlighting portions that they believe falsely convey the meaning of the original text.

Example: Editor writing a note that "[source text]" means "comes from" in a place where I wrote "hails from."

The main difference is that this editor isn't making a note saying "maybe it's better here to use 'come' instead of 'hail' (which it isn't in this case, given it was meant to be a biblical quote), but rather he or she simply didn't understand that the word "hail" meant.

The client seems to want to me explain why all of these common English phrases are correct (again, 1 phrase for every 50 words of source text), but it seems to be to be a huge waste of time when really I'll I'm doing is explaining basic English to someone who just doesn't understand English well enough.

For a 100,000+ word project, can I really be expected to provide 2800 explanations for why I'm using English that any native speaker with an elementary school education can easily comprehend?

Based on your response, it seems like you probably haven't actually encountered this type of situation?


 

Angela Rimmer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:27
Member (2014)
German to English
+ ...
Yes it happens Feb 9, 2017

This happens to me from time to time, especially when the source text was in German. A lot of Germans speak English really well, but then they don't realise that while their spoken English is really quite fluent, they still do not write at the level of a native speaker and then they get bogged down "correcting" your work by replacing perfectly acceptable word choices with mostly sub-par synonyms -- and the result is that the entire text is brought down to a much more basic level. It becomes less fluid, less eloquent, stylistically stilted, and sometimes just wrong.

I once got feedback that "a high school student could have translated this better" from an editor who was introducing blatant grammatical errors into the text (for example, they changed "the president's resignation" to "the president's resign").

Other times when this has happened it has been because the client either has in their head an idea of what they wanted the translation to look like (and we aren't mind readers!) or they need the text to be easily understandable to non-native speakers of English but didn't explain that need before the translation was complete, so then they take up arms against any and all idiomatic phrases they can find.

I've had clients who want to spend hours on the phone going through each and every change their editors have made, which of course takes a long time and is frustrating when you feel their written English is not at a sufficient level to have a productive conversation about the text.

In your case, maybe to satisfy the client you can say that you have looked at the changes, most are stylistic changes, in your opinion the changes bring down the tone of the text (raise any changes that are actually just incorrect here too). Explain that due to time constraints you cannot address every single change, but if the client would like a more detailed explanation for word choices, you would be willing to address their top 20 concerns. Then at least the client does not feel ignored and you can still protect your time from being completely wasted.


 

Eric Stone
Taiwan
Local time: 23:27
Chinese to English
TOPIC STARTER
This Feb 9, 2017

Angela Rimmer wrote:

In your case, maybe to satisfy the client you can say that you have looked at the changes, most are stylistic changes, in your opinion the changes bring down the tone of the text (raise any changes that are actually just incorrect here too). Explain that due to time constraints you cannot address every single change, but if the client would like a more detailed explanation for word choices, you would be willing to address their top 20 concerns. Then at least the client does not feel ignored and you can still protect your time from being completely wasted.


This is pretty much exactly the type of thing I'm talking about. I suppose maybe Germans have the extra confidence of our languages being vaguely similar - I don't think I'd ever run into a Chinese client who would think to insult my English abilities knowing full well that I'm an American (well, maybe someone from Singapore or Malaysia would). Still, it's just frustrating when its such a time waster.

I've been trying to explain to them before I sign a contract that I simply can't explain all of those things one by one. They have been perfectly polite so far, and I can only hope that they will be able to trust me that I'm not trying to pull the wool over their eyes and simply am focusing on addressing the issues that, well, are actually issues.

I'm sure we'd all love it if we could just work with people who we knew were as competent as we believe ourselves to be, but maybe that's just too difficult to ask for this day in age for a translator?


 

Michael Wetzel  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 16:27
German to English
Charge for explanations. Feb 9, 2017

The vast majority of the people I work with are very competent, so it can happen. (I don't know how to insert emoticons, but you can imagine one here.)

I have one client, in particular, who does want to talk on the phone for hours, but her passive understanding of English is excellent and, as the author of her texts, she knows exactly what she wants to write (or, in some cases, would have liked to write). My rates cover this kind of thing and, because most people don't make use of this opportunity, I figure she can use up some of the time I saved with them. As you said, though, this is not the problem you are dealing with.

If they made 100+ valid corrections, then it is important that the editing process remain in place.

But what if you agree beforehand to a specific hourly rate for commenting on editors' queries and offer an estimate of one or five or ten or however many minutes per comment, depending on how extensive a response they want from you? That would drive home the point and very directly motivate them to not engage in this kind of behavior.
You could offer them the alternative of your looking at all queries and making changes where appropriate, but not commenting on anything. This might involve a need to raise your present rate or it might not.
You could also try to find a few English-native editors that you enjoy working with and try to involve them in the process (with you subcontracting to them and delivering your final translations together with a corrected version documenting their work or with them working directly for the agencies).
I assume that they would choose the second or third compromise and everyone would be more or less happy.

The main thing is to not only discuss this issue ahead of time, but to explicitly create a system that motivates them to behave the way you need them to (either pay you more or allow you to work efficiently).

I've never had to do anything like this, because rates for German are much more (upwardly) flexible and the issue you are describing is a rare anomaly there and not the rule. I do what you are describing "for free" (= the time is covered by my standard rate), but that obviously wouldn't work for the situation you are describing.


 

Eric Stone
Taiwan
Local time: 23:27
Chinese to English
TOPIC STARTER
Excellent Feb 9, 2017

Michael Wetzel wrote:
create a system that motivates them to behave the way you need them to (either pay you more or allow you to work efficiently).


Excellent advice!


 

Lianne van de Ven  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:27
Member (2008)
English to Dutch
+ ...
They should be native in target language Feb 9, 2017

Eric S. wrote:

Editors in my field are always native speakers of the source language, and, in my experience thus far, never have a particularly good understanding of the target language (English).


Possibly your "editors" are the end clients but a real editor should never be in the source language. That's really all I can say about it, and I would probably be polite to the (end) client but not accept or take those comments very seriously nor spend time on correcting or commenting on them. Simply point out that editing is a target language job and that language advice to non-natives is not part of your assignment.

On another note: I am getting more and more (machine) QA reports to process as part of quality control on "my translation" projects. These requests invariably ask why my target does or doesn't copy the source when it comes to abbreviations, brackets, terminology, highlights etc. Almost always these QA flags are the result of different language properties. The only remedy, eventually, would be to charge for this, against the current assumption that this QA should be included in your services (without you ever having raised your fee for it).


 

Merab Dekano  Identity Verified
Spain
Member (2014)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Seconded Feb 9, 2017

Lianne van de Ven wrote:

Eric S. wrote:

Editors in my field are always native speakers of the source language, and, in my experience thus far, never have a particularly good understanding of the target language (English).


Possibly your "editors" are the end clients but a real editor should never be in the source language. That's really all I can say about it, and I would probably be polite to the (end) client but not accept or take those comments very seriously nor spend time on correcting or commenting on them. Simply point out that editing is a target language job and that language advice to non-natives is not part of your assignment.

On another note: I am getting more and more (machine) QA reports to process as part of quality control on "my translation" projects. These requests invariably ask why my target does or doesn't copy the source when it comes to abbreviations, brackets, terminology, highlights etc. Almost always these QA flags are the result of different language properties. The only remedy, eventually, would be to charge for this, against the current assumption that this QA should be included in your services (without you ever having raised your fee for it).


I have always considered translation as a very challenging task. However, correcting someone else’s work is far more challenging. Why on earth a non-native speaker should be entitled to correct a text that is produced by a translator who is a native speaker of the target language and presumably subject matter expert? It’s just wrong.

To teach how to sing, you have to sing well yourself in the first place. To correct someone else’s work, you have to be able to produce that work in the first place.

And not correcting a perfectly fit text takes courage, but it’s ok. Editors aren’t supposed to re-translate what’s already translated.


[Edited at 2017-02-09 15:46 GMT]


 

Lianne van de Ven  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:27
Member (2008)
English to Dutch
+ ...
Thank you. Feb 9, 2017

Merab Dekano wrote:

It’s juts wrong.



It's just wrong.


 

jyuan_us  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:27
Member (2005)
English to Chinese
+ ...
Agree and disagree Feb 9, 2017

Merab Dekano wrote:

To teach how to sing, you have to sing well yourself in the first place. To correct someone else’s work, you have to be able to produce that work in the first place.



[Edited at 2017-02-09 15:46 GMT]


I agree with your statement "To correct someone else’s work, you have to be able to produce that work in the first place". However, it is not necessarily true "to teach how to sing, you have to sing well yourself in the first place".


 

Merab Dekano  Identity Verified
Spain
Member (2014)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Moreover Feb 9, 2017

jyuan_us wrote:

Merab Dekano wrote:

To teach how to sing, you have to sing well yourself in the first place. To correct someone else’s work, you have to be able to produce that work in the first place.



[Edited at 2017-02-09 15:46 GMT]


I agree with your statement "To correct someone else’s work, you have to be able to produce that work in the first place". However, it is not necessarily true "to teach how to sing, you have to sing well yourself in the first place".


Moreover; even if you sing well, it doesn’t guarantee you will be a good singing teacher. Now, if you cannot sing, you certainly cannot (shouldn’t?) teach.

I am talking about classical singing, not just “hey youuuu…”.


 

philgoddard
United States
Member (2009)
German to English
+ ...
I blame the internet. Feb 9, 2017

This problem has got worse in recent years. I used to work almost exclusively for customers in my own country who were English native speakers, but about once a year someone who was not would send back a translation covered in digital red ink.

Now, with customers all over the world, it's a depressingly regular occurrence. Most of them are not native speakers, and a (fortunately) small minority think their knowledge of English is better than mine. It's the price we pay for globalisation.


 

Michele Fauble  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 08:27
Member (2006)
Norwegian to English
+ ...
Enough said Feb 9, 2017

Merab Dekano wrote:

I have always considered translation as a very challenging task. However, correcting someone else’s work is far more challenging. Why on earth a non-native speaker should be entitled to correct a text that is produced by a translator who is a native speaker of the target language and presumably subject matter expert? It’s just wrong.


 

Merab Dekano  Identity Verified
Spain
Member (2014)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Internet Feb 9, 2017

philgoddard wrote:

This problem has got worse in recent years. I used to work almost exclusively for customers in my own country who were English native speakers, but about once a year someone who was not would send back a translation covered in digital red ink.

Now, with customers all over the world, it's a depressingly regular occurrence. Most of them are not native speakers, and a (fortunately) small minority think their knowledge of English is better than mine. It's the price we pay for globalisation.


It doesn’t have to be that way, does it? Internet doesn’t make me speak, say, Vietnamese, nor does it entitle me to edit texts in English, which is my source language.

Internet has allowed us to grow our customer base, diversify it and work from our home offices, without having to physically travel to our customers' premises. God bless internet.


 
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