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My first proper translation job - I made a total mess of it!
Thread poster: smol_ss

Local time: 16:31
German to English
+ ...
Jul 7, 2003

I've just completed and delivered my first proper translation job as a freelancer, after years of study, hard work, free translations and working for nothing as a proofreader to gain experience.... and I made a total mess of it! I am so annoyed at myself, everything went wrong - my printer ink ran out, my fax machine broke, I was late (20 mins) , I sent it off only to realise I had forgotten to remove some comments I wrote in to remind myself of something, I forgot to translate the captions, etc etc. etc. - in short, everything I know a professional translator is not supposed to do. The agency got back to me and I eventually produced something average (but not the kind of standard I hoped for, even though it was a non-specialised text in my field) , but I feel quite ashamed.

Is this normal? Is my reputation ruined? Am I destined to be a non-professional translator forever??! (Please, be honest, I can take it) Has something like this happened to anyone else, and if so, what did you do to remedy it ?? (there's only so many times one can apologise before sounding grovelling and insincere...)



Csaba Ban  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:31
Member (2002)
English to Hungarian
+ ...
You are on the right track Jul 7, 2003

You are on the right track, no need to dispair! OK, you made several mistakes, but you have identified them and you have learnt the lesson.
Like in any other profession, you need practice to master the trade.
And your reputation? In the worst case scenario, you will not be contacted again by this particular agency, but there are so many others out there! I am sure next time you will not commit the same mistakes again. (Perhaps other mistakes, yes. That will be Lesson No. 2.)

This very approach of yours implies that you are on a steep learning curve and have all the makings of a professional translator.


Paul Lambert  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 08:31
French to English
+ ...
Don't panic!!!! Jul 7, 2003

Things are never all that bad! Yes, you might have made a few mistakes, but everybody does! And don't worry about your reputation - sure, you may never get work from that agency again, but think of the hundreds of agencies out there - they won't know how badly your first translation went!

Kind of reminds me of when I did my dissertation for my 4th year I&T degree - my French dissertation had been about the fire services strike, and just as I handed it over, (30 seconds before the deadline!), I realised that, in huge blak letters, I had spelt 'pompiers' as 'popmempiers' for all to see on the cover page - not good!

So - all in all - don't worry about mistakes when you're starting out - I've been doing this for 6 years now, and still make the occassional slip-up!

Good luck!


Henry Dotterer
Local time: 11:31
Maybe time was the main problem? Jul 7, 2003

Sounds like you may simply have made the mistake of not allowing yourself enough time. And the rest of the problems then followed?

If that was it, I suggest you be upfront with the client this time, and that you make doubly sure to allow yourself the requisite post-translation time next job.

Don't forget to add time for pre-translation work, too. You may need to read and research content before you begin certain jobs. Dealing with file formats before and after the actual translation can also take time.


Bob Kerns  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:31
Member (2002)
German to English
Make a checklist for next time Jul 7, 2003

Don't give up; just learn from your mistakes by making a checklist of what you need to remember next time and print it, assuming you remembered to buy some more printer inkicon_smile.gif

And update your checklist every time something else crops up which could be worth remembering.

Do a search on ProZ for the word "checklist" (the Search window is at the bottom left of the main window) and you'll find a lot of other tips for things which may seem simple but which can easily be overlooked, especially when you're under time pressure.

Hope your next job comes in soon and that you get paid for the first one!

Regards from sunny Germany,
Bob Kerns


PAS  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:31
English to Polish
+ ...
classic case of Murphy's Law Jul 7, 2003

anything that can, will... etc.

I think the most important thing is that you _realize_ what went wrong (I'm talking about the translation-related things - the captions etc.).
As to the tech - like Henry said - next time you'll plan better to allow for unexpected glitches.
I remember once, in the days of yore, when Windows 3.1 (this was something Bill Gates did when he was little) decided to crash on me, I ended up doing the whole translation in a dinky little DOS-based application - no WYSIWIG, no spell check, no nothin'. I did it though and delivered it on time (luckily it was just a letter and did not require extensive formatting).
For that matter - next time you run out of black ink (sorry - it _will_ happen), just change the font colour to dark blue and off you go. Hopefully the client won't mind. It's better to deliver a blue printout than to say "duh, sorry, I ran out of ink"

to quote Robert Fripp - the biggest mistake is the failure to learn from a mistake.

Good luck
Pawel Skalinski


Local time: 16:31
German to English
+ ...
Thank you! Jul 7, 2003

Thank you all for your reassuring words - they are helping me pull myself out of my puddle of self-pity!

You're right Henry - Time was definately a big problem with this one. I will always OVER-estimate how long translations will take me in the future.

Not only that, but the checklist I had neatly filed away in my folder has been pulled out, added to, (thanks to the previous postings on this topic as you suggested Bob) and stuck up at eye level on the wall in front of my computer.

A friend of mine who isn't in translation, but runs his own business has just told me to remember that nothing bad is ever as bad as I might think, and I think I'll try to apply that here...

Do you think in this instance it is reasonable to give the customer a discount? I feel embarrassed enough about billing them and to be honest, wouldn't blame them if they didn't pay me at all.... but maybe that would be making me look even more unprofessional?

(I must be recovering already if I'm thinking about billing them!)

I'm off to buy a bulk pack of print cartridges now.

Thank you again!


Paul Lambert  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 08:31
French to English
+ ...
Bill them!!! Jul 7, 2003

For all you know, your mistakes may not have been all that bad, and they may be happy with your work! If i was in your situation, I would bill them as per the agreed amount, then wait and see if they came back to you asking for a discount. If they do, then go ahead and take off what you see fit, but I would wait until they mentioned it.

Hope it helps!



Becky Spangle
Spanish to English
+ ...
Charge them of course, but offer a discount Jul 7, 2003

A good businessperson is not perfect, but does compensate when services offered have been deficient. Of course they should pay you, without a doubt (They did receive service), don't sell yourself short, and don't grovel!

However, if you offer a discount, you will feel like you have done what you could to remedy the situation in a professional way, and thus will feel better; and you will be perceived as fair in the way you conduct business (in which case, although improbable, they might even give you another opportunity). Explain to them how you would avoid such problems in the future (and offer another small discount for the next project, in the event they might be willing to try you out again).

At any rate, you will retain your pride this way. Something similar has happened to me (and was a valuable lesson for me, too), and this is exactly how I handled it. Without a doubt, time management was the real issue here, and is something that every translator has to learn.

And, there are many other jobs and clients out there.



Narasimhan Raghavan  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:01
English to Tamil
+ ...
Why do you require printer ink and fax? Jul 7, 2003

Did your client ask for a print out? How boring! Let me confess. I don't even own a printer. I deliver the soft copies as email attachments. The jobs I receive again in soft copies as email attachment. I have not taken a single page print out. Even during the translation proper, no hard copy is taken. A saved as copy is taken, the original and the saved as copy are tiled horizontally one above the other. The translation is overwritten on the source text in the saved as copy at the top with the bottom half being used for reading before translating. In this method you do not need worry about formatting either. The same procedure is applicable for proofreading too. If the original file is doc-A, the saved as copy is Doc-A-translated.
Fax, what for? No fax or printer, no need to worry about their consumables and spare parts.


Local time: 16:31
German to English
+ ...
In my dreams! Jul 7, 2003

Narasimhan Raghavan wrote:

Fax, what for? No fax or printer, no need to worry about their consumables and spare parts.

Yes, it would be great, but they faxed me the work initially and as I'm still getting established, I like to print my work out to proofread it (the old fashioned way?!) But I'm working towards being able to do it just as efficiently on screen.

It certainly isn't an excuse for messing a job up, just another thing that added to the list of things that made me - I must admit - panic!

Thanks for the advice on billing, too - I'll think about it all some more over a pint tonight.

Best wishes and many thanks,



Becky Spangle
Spanish to English
+ ...
In response to Narasimhan Raghavan’s question: “Why printer ink...?” Jul 7, 2003

It’s probably because I didn’t grow up using a PC like kids today do,
but I find I always have to do a final reading in hard copy before
turning in a project. No matter how many times I check and re-read
on the screen, when I think it is perfect, then print it out, I always
find a number of errors in mechanics or grammar.

Why is that???!!!!!!!!!!! Does anybody else find this to be the case?
I know a number of people who do all their work on PC; and am hoping
with time that I can, also. It would save time, printer ink, paper, etc.


Kim Metzger  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:31
German to English
First translation Jul 7, 2003

Dear Sarah,
I admire and respect you. As others have already said, you've got the right stuff to become a great translator. If someone has the courage to publish this online, she is already committed to excellence. Just curious. You said "after years of study." Years of studying what?
Best wishes, Kim


Susana Galilea  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:31
English to Spanish
+ ...
Your reputation is being made as we speak Jul 7, 2003

smol_ss wrote:
Is this normal? Is my reputation ruined?

I strongly believe the personality factor is an essential ingredient in any professional situation. Making a mistake is one thing, but more important for your future as a translator is how you reacted to it, i.e. being aware of the quality standard, taking responsibility for not having met it, and seeking to minimize the damage.

An upfront character goes very far in this trade, and you seem to have that in spadesicon_smile.gif

My colleagues have provided some excellent advice. Best of luck to you going forward.



invguy  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:31
English to Bulgarian
Be patient - things take time. Jul 7, 2003

Being a freelancer - not only in translation, but in any field - requires more than just professional knowledge and experience. You are not only a pro, you are a business entity: that is, you need the appropriate organization, financial, communication skills etc.

With time, you'll develop a scheme of work that fits best to your abilities, habits, and preferences, while being efficient enough to guarantee your output, as well as flexible enough to compensate for various glitches (because these *always* happen, and you'll never be insured against them).

Have in mind, you may have worked flawlessly for years on end, earning a brilliant reputation; and still, on some beautiful sunny day, you could make the most stupid mistake you ever imagined. This is normal. We're all humans, after all... and thank Lord for that...icon_smile.gif

Else, I second what the others said.

Best of luck, Sarah!

P.S. Don't buy too many ink cartridges - just make sure you always have a spare oneicon_wink.gif

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