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Poor translation feedback
Thread poster: Kelly Margelony

Kelly Margelony  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 01:45
German to English
May 13, 2014

Hi everyone,

I have been translating for less than a year. While I am still learning the ins and outs of the industry, I have always been confident in my work and spend a lot of time reviewing and researching, which comes standard for us new translators.

I received my first bad feedback today, in which I was given a discounted rate. I submitted the work and thought it was good. The agency came back saying their reviewer thought it was downright awful and had to retranslate the whole thing. She sent me the revised file, and while there were a few bad errors, most of it was stylistic. I agreed to the discount (had no choice really) based on the few real errors I made.

I guess my question is, have any of you submitted work you thought was good but was told later it wasn't? How do you handle these situation? Should I let it bother me as much as it is? I actually questioned myself as a translator for the first time today and was scared to do my next job! I spent 2 hours on 100 words, as I was checking every little thing over and over!

I really just need some advice and support right nowicon_smile.gif



Mariano Saab
Local time: 03:45
Member (2013)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Work harder on yourself than you do on your job May 13, 2014

That's a great Jim Rohn quote. Don't be disappointed, we all make mistakes when we start. If you really acknowledge that you made serious mistakes, then study the nature of those mistakes. Perhaps you need to be more proficient with your language pair, focus on style. Try to find where you went wrong and learn from it. To be a successful translator you need to master your languages, know the grammar, the style, the punctuation. You have to know it inside out. You have to be an avid reader, a great writer. There's so much more to being a translator than you may think. But whatever happens throughout your career, don't let it affect you so much.

So overall, work harder on getting better and learning something new every day. That'll make a difference.

Keep it up!


zaina_xu  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:45
English to Chinese
take it easy May 13, 2014

Hi Kelly,

Don't worry about it, everyone makes errors.

It's not important to be annoyed by making an error, but find the reason and make sure not to occur next time. If someone finds you error, she/he is helping you to improve yourself. So just continue your work and learn something from the thing.

I hope my suggestion is helpful to you!



Kelly Margelony  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 01:45
German to English
Thanks! May 13, 2014

Thank you for your words of encouragement! It means a lot to get help and support from fellow translators! What a great quote from the first poster! Very inspiring.

What bothered me the most, and perhaps this was the fault of the PM, was that I was forwarded the editors exact comments which were very harsh and unnecessarily angry. Why do some translators feel the need to rip down other translators using very harsh words, and not provide professional criticism. I know it wastes their time to have to fix these things and it makes them frustrated, but that comes with the territory if you agree to edit in this industry.

I work at a well-known translation company in the USA as a PM, and we actually get comments all the time from editors that are very rude and unprofessional about the translators they are editing. I wish I could tell them that it actually reflects very badly on them if they can't professionally review and critique the work, but we are not supposed to discuss translators personal matters, only their work (meaning, I can't tell them they have a bad attitude, only that they did their job well). We actually start using translators less, or even remove them from our list, if they constantly complain in a childish and unprofessional way. There's a way to point out another translator is bad and made errors without coming off as an arrogant know-it-all. It's amazing the things I've learned as a PM in the translation industry on how they talk about and view translators. Always be kind to the people paying you. As a translator, you are technically your own sales person and customer service department. You shouldn't talk to your customers in a way to make them not want to use your product.

Off the point of my original post! Thanks again for your replies. I definitely feel much better!


Terence Noonan (X)  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 01:45
German to English
+ ...
An unprofessional attitude is not just a personal matter May 13, 2014

If these proofreaders are poisoning working relationships by being just plain mean, I think you are justified in saying something. My two cents.

Everybody makes mistakes in their work. As translators we constantly work on projects which we are not as familiar with as the people who wrote/commissioned them. It is standard professional practice that every text be proofread before delivery. If we were perfect this wouldn't be necessary, would it?


Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:45
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Do not kill yourself over this May 13, 2014

However, the fact that there were actual mistakes and not just preferences on the part of the proofreader should make you try to grasp what went wrong and try to fix it for future work.

We have all had a couple of jobs at the beginning in which we were not quite up to standard, so statistically speaking it is a true possibility for newcomers. Try to interiorise what went wrong so that you can have your eyes wide open for any possibility of failing again.

Good luck!


Phil Hand  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:45
Chinese to English
Your professional attitude will bring good colleagues to you May 13, 2014

It sounds like you're handling this in exactly the right way, Kelly. Learn from the good comments, ignore the bad ones. Thank you, also, for the comments about your work as a PM. They're very useful. I sometimes have to comment on others' translations, and occasionally the red fog clouds over and I want to say some rather blunt things...! But you're right, the more we keep it professional, the more other professionals will want to work with us.

I do think that working on our own all the time sometimes allows us to forget that rules of courtesy and tact are there to help everyone get along. But there are some points of professional ethics that remain a puzzle to me. For example: when it's just us at home, and it's hot, is it professional to translate in your underwear?


Rowsie  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:45
Member (2012)
French to English
Bad feedback May 13, 2014

First of all, ALWAYS re-read your work and be sure you have sent your very best effort. Second, if you find yourself with a 'bad hair day' proofreader who rips you apart because your literary style is different from theirs, then:
Take a deep breath.
Now, copy out a list of the proofreaders' comments and quietly and composedly explain why you feel that this is a question of personal style and NOTHING to do with any linguistic 'error'. Don't give in to the temptation to lash out - keep it polite and professional, but show that the proofreader is lacking in professionalism by using this 'bitchy' approach to their work. This does happen, we are an artistic body, which often infers the presence of inflated egos, to whom nobody will ever be as great as they are - don't let it get you down, but don't meekly accept unfair criticism either. Keep your head up and have a great future in translation!icon_smile.gif


Irina Bilalova
Russian Federation
Local time: 09:45
English to Russian
+ ...
Trust yourself May 13, 2014

I can imagine how it feels! I also got once a bad feedback and penalty 20%. When i got the revised file I was really shocked. It was 90% editing for the sake of editing (saying same things with other words). And other 9% was poor job of the editor to share glossary terms with all the translators on the project.
When you get reasonable comments that's great in fact. You can learn and improve your skills like that. So, Kelly, don't take all the fault on your shoulders. Trust yourself. Consider only reasonable things, don't let it damage your self-confidence. Good luck!


myrwad  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:45
English to Swedish
+ ...
I agree May 13, 2014

with Rowsie, it is a very good description of how to act in a situation like this. But also admit the mistakes you have done, just with "my mistake" or similar. I have been in this business since 1990, and it still happens that I get negative feedback. An example is feedback from an end customer in Finland last year, who stated my translation was "very poor". I asked the agency to send me a file with comments, otherwise I could not whether accept or renounce the "errors". I received the translated file with comments. I made an answer to each comment, some erratic, some about style, and returned it to the agency. The answer from the agency 3 days later: "I received a phone call from a manager of my customer's, who wanted to express their gratitude for your manner of handling this matter. The customer wants to send you regards and thank you for the good work." The end customer who had complained was not a direct customer to the agency. The agency's customer expressed it that the end customer had made some "errors in interpretation", they themselves found the translation being of high quality and they would engage the agency also in the future.

So don't accept the feedback as such! If there is something you don't agree about, write an answer. And learn from any errors you find justified.


Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:45
Member (2007)
+ ...
50/50 May 13, 2014

KellyMargelony wrote:
I received my first bad feedback today

while there were a few bad errors, most of it was stylistic.

Obviously those errors shouldn't have been there, as you know. But neither should you be penalised for a proofreader's vanity in wanting the work done exactly their way. Translators get free choice of sentence structure, synonyms etc., within the limits of the required register of course. Proofreaders don't have that choice - they have to use the translator's version unless it's downright wrong or unless they consider there is substantial improvement to the text by using different wording (e.g. in the case of a marketing text where a synonym may have a very different impact).

I was given a discounted rate.

Where was your right to correct your errors and improve your work? IMHO, they cannot force you to accept anything lower than 100%, and I believe a court would see it that way. Invoices are to be paid in full and the client does not have the right to decide what percentage they'll pay. Unless the work is totally unfit for use (which would mean many bad errors), they are obliged by law to pay in full; and you are obliged to "make good" the defects - it's just the same with a builder or a plumber. OTOH, as is also true of tradesmen, it is acceptable for the parties to agree that the client will accept a less-than-100%-perfect job (perhaps you've already repaired those leaks yourself rather than wait around in wellies for the plumber to arriveicon_smile.gif) - and in that case, the supplier would no doubt offer a discount.

To my mind, that's an important difference. You offer a discount; you learn from your errors; the agency learns they have an over-zealous proofreader; the agency is happy with their discount; you get more work. If you don't offer a discount then the agency will probably feel they didn't get a good deal on this job and will look elsewhere for the next; and you'll have learnt a bit about business relationsicon_smile.gif.


Frankie JB
English to French
+ ...
don't commit suicide Kelly! May 13, 2014

KellyMargelony wrote:

I guess my question is, have any of you submitted work you thought was good but was told later it wasn't? How do you handle these situation? Should I let it bother me as much as it is?

No, never received any real complaint regarding quality issues (only 3 years' experience though), but it happened that in hindsight (days or weeks later), what I considered good or very good translations at that time appeared now less good than I thought...

Now, if I were in your shoes... If indeed I had done "bad" (semantic) mistakes as you say, and it was justified for the agency/editor to retranslate it from scratch, I would question my abilities (just like you did, actually). I would firstly forgive myself to some extent, recalling that err is human and (very sporadic) misreadings can happen to anyone (this is why we have safety nets, i.e. reviewers), but I would also learn the lessons and make sure it doesn't happen again in the future.

So, my advice: take it as an awareness-raising experience and make sure you always work to the best of your abilities. As a budding translator, your challenge is quality, not quantity yet. You must be ready to spend as much time and effort as are necessary to deliver optimal quality.

To me, the fact that you spent 2 hours on 100 words for your next job is a good sign (a bit too much but still a sound reflex). If you want to become a reliable and successful translator, you have to overinvest time and effort at some point, and theoretically this must happen at the dawn of your career. While I'm about, 2 quick and practical tips (if I may?): make sure you are fully awake / not tired when working and always try to see the big picture of your work, as sometimes when you are young you tend to get lost in details and lose sight of the end result or helpful background information...

Regarding the reviewer: I don't know how much her bitterness is justified (how bad was your translation), but I think like everybody that editing comments should always be courteous, factual and constructive, even when quality is awful. It's the agency's job to take action in case of repeated reported quality issues. If they don't, for example if their policy is to peanut-pay low-cost translators and hope editors will make up for it, and quality is really too bad, then she should either stop accepting those editing jobs altogether if she's fed up or fix only critical issues instead of exceeding her duties... Anyway, in 3 years of experience I have seen bad translations with many misreadings and a dreadful style but never had I to "retranslate wholly" any of them, even where standards were pretty high, so I wonder if it was really fair or not...

Good luck... and good work! icon_smile.gif

PS: I wish to add that unlike a number of people here I don't see why a discount couldn't be applied in case of stylistic issues. Most of the time a poor style throughout the text will cost much more editing work/time than a couple of mistranslations here and there and could prove just as damaging, if not more, for the end client...

[Edited at 2014-05-13 17:53 GMT]


Mervyn Henderson  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:45
Spanish to English
+ ...
Don't take it personally ... May 13, 2014

... step back and size it up, is the best advice I can give.

It feels terrible to be told you were wrong-wrong-wrong, but this isn't an exact science and as you said, most of it concerned stylistic choices. The first bad feedback is terrible - I remember, and I had a hard job accepting it. But I also remember I accepted it unconditionally because I didn't know any better.

Today I had two minor communications questioning two different translations I thought I had done OK (and a third telling me everything was fine with another I also thought had been OK). Before any depression sets in, you ask for specifics.

One of them was to do with deviations from a translation memory, inevitably groped, groomed, mauled, preened, prettified, dumbed down and up and overhauled by a gaggle of translators both good and not so good over the years, with the inevitable results concerning terminology, style etc. Which nobody can do much about, and I said so.

The other claim was about some headings in an update of a quarterly financial report for insertion on a web page, and it all boiled down to a choice of two or three words. No big deal in the end, as they admitted (and I noted they'd posted my update word for word anyway, changing not one comma).

Please note that some dishonest clients will report "issues" simply because they are cunning barstids and are hoping for acquiescence and a discount.

I've made some terrible mistakes over the years, like everyone, and I've been the first to chop a slice off the invoice. But - no reasoning? Not even a sniff of a discount.

As for correctors ("proofreading" is another thing altogether), I imagine some have to justify their task and throw themselves into it wholeheartedly, so they pick up on every comma. It's a job I never ever do, because it's much harder than translating, harder to justify and too controversial. Plus I don't want translators I don't know and never will know to hate me for my work.

Others, the harsh ones you refer to, may simply be nonentities, nobodies outside their professional lives who like sticking the knife in where it hurts at work as a kind of escape before they have to trudge off home to face more than a fair share of the abject misery of their dreadful whining families whingeing around them in a thinly plastered brick box in one of the sleazier, smellier districts of a godforsaken godawful rotten borough. I don't come into contact with this problem often now, but it's rather comforting to conjure up that image, don't you think?



Andrea Diaz
Local time: 00:45
English to Spanish
+ ...
I know that feeling. May 13, 2014

Every newcomer in any profession will make mistakes at the beginning. Don't be discouraged, and learn from them just like everyone here said. I'm also a newbie to the profession, so I know what you are going through: I second-guess my work a lot and proofread like mad.

One year ago, when I received one of my first translation works, the translation agency wasn't too happy with the product. They said that the format wasn't right, and I was sure that I had done my best. It was a scanned document and I tried to copy the format of the original document. They paid in full but I never got more work from them.

This is why when I contact my clients I always tell them:

1.- If they send me a low-quality scanned pdf file, I will do my best to follow the original format. However, it will not be a carbon copy of the document.
2.- To please contact me if they have any questions or comments regarding my work. I strive to ensure my client's satisfaction.

It was worked so far. Cheer up!


Hannah Keet  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:45
German to English
+ ...
Don't take it to heart May 13, 2014

The thing with style is that it's subjective; every translator will adopt a different style, even if translating the same text. Perhaps consider (or ask the client) who the target audience for the translation is, and what effect this has on your choices in translation.

It's never nice receiving negative feedback, you're using it to learn and improve, so that's great!icon_smile.gif

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