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Agency not providing context
Thread poster: Elzbieta Wojcicka

Elzbieta Wojcicka
Local time: 11:43
Dutch to Polish
+ ...
Jun 29, 2007

One of my regular clients, an agency, would never ask for any information from the end client. I think they consider it unprofessional to reveal not to be all-knowing.

They often send me small fragments to translate and when I ask about the context, they usually answer: “We think this might be about product xxx” or send me a whole product catalogue they found on internet without telling which specific product that one sentence refers to. Or they send me translations into other languages they already received, as they would like to tell: ‘See, other translators could manage without that information, why cannot you do the same?’ Well, sorry, I cannot. In my target language (Polish) I need to bother about gender, grammatical case etc. Even for a simple sentence like “It can be stored in a box” I need to know what this ‘it’ refers to because in my language it may be a ‘he’ or ‘she’.

This situation is very frustrating because even when I do my very best, I can never tell for sure if the translation I deliver will be correct in a particular context.
They are nice and helpful in their own way (like searching the internet to find any information that might be related to their project) and the payment is always on time, so I would like to keep working for them but I’m getting tired of still having to guess instead of receiving the crucial information. Any advices?


Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 03:43
English to Spanish
+ ...
Unprofessional Jun 29, 2007

It is obvious that this agency is unprofessional, and if you cannot get them to change their ways, drop them.

You just cannot do work without CONTEXT.


Attila Piróth  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:43
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Translators and mushroom growing Jun 29, 2007

In the Budapest conference there was a very good lecture, held by the representative of a well-known and very translator-friendly Hungarian translation agency about organizing the optimum workflow. The lecturer cited a translator who said something along these lines:
Many agencies consider that translators should be treated the same way as mushrooms are grown: Keep them in the dark and feed them sh*t.


Undoer of Ba (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:43
English to German
picking up on the sh*t analogy Jun 29, 2007

Well, usually the sh*t comes directly from the clients. Many an original text is written hastily by someone who just doesn't know enough about the topic. I remember some odd pseudo-technical texts written by marketing people who seem to be thinking, let's take a couple of hip terms, spread them around randomly and fill the gaps with all but meaningless verbs. Or texts are written by engineers, who know what they are talking about, but have no talent for language whatsoever.
Not to mention those bloated American brainwash employee manuals and the like.

Maybe that agency had a bad experience once when asking for context. I know some companies are not at all interested in how translation works. They just submit their sh*t to an agency and don't want to hear from them again before the delivery of the perfect translation, done by miracle-workers and mind-readers. And if there is an inquiry, they often just ignore it or are incapable of answering or even understanding the question in the first place.

Usually, I try to find my references and context information on the Web. Often times the originals are already on the Internet, along with images and links.

Luckily, we translators are among the brightest people out thereicon_smile.gif

[Edited at 2007-06-29 13:48]


JaneTranslates  Identity Verified
Puerto Rico
Local time: 06:43
Member (2005)
Spanish to English
+ ...
You got that right, Undoer! Jun 29, 2007

Undoer of Babel wrote:

Luckily, we translators are among the brightest people out thereicon_smile.gif

[Edited at 2007-06-29 13:48]

Indeed we are.

BTW, I love your username!

I've been very lucky:

1) The owner of my favorite agency is a translator herself and a professor of translation; she fights our battles for us.

2) In Puerto Rico, almost any educated person knows enough English to understand a concrete example such as the "gender of 'it'" problem mentioned by Elzbieta.

So far, most of my clients have actually thanked me for showing enough interest to ask questions.

An agency that won't at least try to help you get answers doesn't deserve to have responsible professionals working for them.


Irene N
United States
Local time: 04:43
English to Russian
+ ...
I wonder how many languages can relate to this: Jun 29, 2007

From/to changes in a contract:

...After the words "... shall be ..." insert words...

With some very rare exceptions, in legal language "shall be" shall not be translated into Russian:-) and whenever people do that (unfortunately, a very common mistake today) they are wrong - the indefinite form in Russian does not carry a compulsory notion and in fact translates as "might be" when translated literally. The proper translation must be rendered with the affirmative modality of the following verb in present indefinite tense, which is achieved with a correct ending of that verb. I'd have nothing to put in the first quotation marks!!!!

Mr. John C. Smith - Chistopher or Charles? 2 different characters in Russian...

We are in the same boat when it comes to matching case, tense and gender.

[Edited at 2007-06-29 16:25]

[Edited at 2007-06-29 16:29]


leo van bragt  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:43
English to Dutch
+ ...
not all agencies are the same Jun 29, 2007

Whenever I translate manuals and the like, I have made a habit of passing on discrepancies which I encounter in the source text while translating.
Works fine every time I translate directly for the end-user; they always appreciate this.
It's another story with agencies, though. Most of them don't bother to contact the end-user at all. Those that do: they are the good agencies, who know what they're doing. And like somebody mentioned earlier: they are usually run by translators themselves.
Some time ago, I did a manual for an agency, who did pass on my remarks on a daily basis to the end-user (and yes, that agency was run by a translator...) At the end of the project, the end-user sent the agency a "thank you" email, adding this: "the translation [which was into Dutch] I am quite sure is pristine. The English version is vastly improved, thanks to the diligence of Leo! Thanks, Leo, you have made me re-think how we do business here."
End result: a happy end-user (because their source-text manual has improved), a happy agency (because their customer will definitely come back), and a happy translator (because the agency will certainly use me again). Isn't that the way we should do business? I just fail to see why not every single agency understands that...


biankonera  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:43
Italian to Latvian
+ ...
my experience Jun 29, 2007

I had a similar situation once - I needed to translate one very technical phrase of some equipment. There were several versions how I could translate it and when I asked for a context I was told to translate it as I wanted since they had no idea what the context was... Very strange that was I have to say.


Elzbieta Wojcicka
Local time: 11:43
Dutch to Polish
+ ...
Don't want to drop them Jun 29, 2007

As I said, they are nice and pay on time, so rather than dropping them I would prefer to make them understand that a good translation, which should be in their interest as much as it is in mine, requires providing some basic information. Since I cannot contact the end client myself, I need their help. But how do I tell my client in a polite way that I find their approach highly unprofessional???

With complete documents, the cooperation is perfect because I can see what the text is about and find everything I need without asking them. The problems start when they send me some short fragments or even single words - without revealing any context.

A typical example: recently they sent me two short sentences to translate, easy stuff from a product description, could be done I a couple of minutes. The only thing I needed to know was the product name because I had to choose the correct grammatical form (he/she/it). When I asked them, first they sent me the link to manufacturers website (just the main page, not any specific page for this particular product), then a catalogue with all products of this manufacturer, then translations into other languages, and finally, when I was insisting, they informed me they think that ‘this might be a chair’. OK, I matched the translation with the word ‘chair’ and delivered it, feeling badly because there was still 66% chance that my translation was not correct. The next day they sent a small addition: one more word the end client forgot. This turned out to be -yes, indeed- the product name. A bed, not a chair, but fortunately, the grammatical gender of those both words is the same in Polish, so my translation was fine. I really cannot imagine that the end client would not tell this when asked. Also, collecting all that useless information they sent me must have cost them much more time then a simple phone call to the end client would. So it’s not laziness either...


Evija Rimšāne  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:43
English to Latvian
... Jun 29, 2007

I'm afraid there is only one solution: just keep working and praying your translation is correcticon_smile.gif Nothing more you can do, unfortunately. Because you cannot change them (or their perceptions and attitude) if they DO NOT want it themselves.
Yes, that's the truth..

However, one day their client might discover errors in your translation, and we all know it would be due to lack of context, but still -- the end client would blame you and only you, unfortunately.....

Yes, it's really unprofessional attitude by the agency, so don't be afraid to tell them what you think because, after all, you have nothing to lose except of your good reputation (of course, because of agency, but no one would care about it, since they don't care now...).
MAYBE the agency will listen to you. If not -- I think they do not deserve you, Elzbieta.
Though, it's just an opinion, and everything is solely up to you!

P.S. In the "chair-bed" case I would be totally wrong because both of the words are of different genders in Latvian.

Good luck!:)


Hilde Granlund  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:43
English to Norwegian
+ ...
another suggestion Jun 29, 2007

Send them the translation for all the different cases.
Along with an explanation that the correct translation might be A, B or C, depending on the context.
Then, the agency will have to pass them all on to their client - or give you the information you need.


Vito Smolej
Local time: 11:43
Member (2004)
English to Slovenian
+ ...
Clueless in Munich Jun 29, 2007

Send them the translation for all the different cases.

I have been doing it. I am, however, sure that in a lot of cases it has been swept under the table. Plus, you eventually get tired of playing the vocabulary to the go-betweens who just hate anybody whos rocking the boat:

A: "Listen, B, Vito has been hyperventilating again...".
B: "Darn ... I hope you don't have too much to filter out..."
A: "Oh well, you know him. Again some paranoia about dozens of details he has fished out of the text. I have no clue what he's talking about."
B:" Neither has the client, right?"
A:" I guess... but you can be darn sure I will not be the one to check..."


JaneTranslates  Identity Verified
Puerto Rico
Local time: 06:43
Member (2005)
Spanish to English
+ ...
I hyperventilate too, I guess. Jun 30, 2007

Vito Smolej wrote:

A: "Listen, B, Vito has been hyperventilating again...".

I did everything I could--including asking a KudoZ question--to figure out an unknown term. I finally asked the project manager to ask the client, and he said, "Just make up something that makes sense, they'll never know the difference."

My jaw hung open for a week.

[Edited at 2007-06-30 02:01]


Nesrin  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:43
English to Arabic
+ ...
Share your concerns with them Jun 30, 2007

Hi Elzbieta,
I understand your frustration, and I've often been in that situation, because the Arabic language too often demands more context than is needed in other languages. Fortunately, the agencies I've dealt with have been more cooperative.

I suggest you write them a long email (like the posting you posted here) expressing your frustration in detail, giving examples of how the lack of context can lead to incorrect translations into your language, and explaining why in your opinion the end client should be grateful for the queries received.

I think you may have just been asking for more context without bringing your point across. If they're really nice as you say, they should change their attitude. Otherwise, they're just too unprofessional to work with.


Local time: 05:43
Member (2002)
French to English
+ ...

Communication Jun 30, 2007

Elzbieta Wójcicka wrote:

In my target language (Polish) I need to bother about gender, grammatical case etc. Even for a simple sentence like “It can be stored in a box” I need to know what this ‘it’ refers to because in my language it may be a ‘he’ or ‘she’.

I often do IVRS prompts for a regular client, and (to save money, I think) they are sometimes snipped to ribbons. One day I had to contact the PM to tell him that the way a particular prompt was cut up, in English, would produce gibberish in French because the qualifier would be in the wrong place. He wrote back to thank me, saying that this issue probably affected all the Romance languages this document was being translated into. I noticed after that that the prompts were less mangledicon_wink.gif

Communication is key - is that not the business we're in?


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