Handling agencies that believe wholeheartedly in the sanctity of 参考資料
Thread poster: JoBee
JoBee  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 16:56
Japanese to English
Feb 12, 2014

Hey everyone,

I work with a handful of Japanese agencies, and a couple of them have policies that I'm not quite sure how to handle. I would be extremely appreciative to hear the perspective you guys have on this.

When starting out as a translator, I learned very quickly that, perhaps due to some misunderstanding regarding how the alphabet differs from kana, agencies and companies can be very particular about proper nouns. Not only do they always need to be spelled the same way, but they always require the same capitalization (i.e. MITSUBISHI MOTORS, regardless of the context). I feel this is a bit unnatural, but I have accepted that there is a standard in place.

However, the same attitude sometimes comes up even outside of proper nouns. In particular, if I am given 参考資料 (reference materials)--sometimes multiple pages of it--there is a decent chance that the agency (and by extension the end client?) want me to match things up, particularly when it comes to terminology. As I'm sure some of you know, these reference materials vary wildly in quality, with some of them prepared by less-than-able writers, and some of them being nearly incomprehensible.

I recently took on a job with precisely this problem, and while I matched up all of the proper nouns, I noted that the reference material had some nonstandard translations and unnatural English and that I had kept close to the original Japanese when possible, sometimes differing from the reference material. (I was not given particular instruction to match up the terminology 100% when the job was requested, but I offered this information to be safe.)

I was told that it was okay to diverge from the reference material, but that for each differing term, I should leave a comment specifying the reference translation, the reason it was unnatural, and the reason I chose my terminology. There were literally hundreds of terms this could apply to, as it was a pretty sizable job, and I'm reasonably sure that ensuring the accuracy of reference material doesn't fall within the realm of conventional translation (I'm paid by the length of the document to be translated, and this agency in particular pays 4-5 yen per character--it's enough to get by if I focus, but the amount of time I can invest is limited by this rate.)

Faced with this kind of request, how is one to respond? I truly enjoy my work, but I find myself being more and more careful when taking jobs, insisting on hammering out every detail so as to limit my liability and prevent long hours of doing this kind of matching with little financial incentive.

(I will note that more than half of my agencies are fantastic, with very able coordinators/checkers. For the other half, who primarily contact me when issues of 統一 come up, I definitely appreciate the business, but would be very interested in a way to work for them in a way that is both financially sustainable and allows me to craft translations I truly believe are good.)

I appreciate any input or ideas you guys might have.



[Edited at 2014-02-12 04:05 GMT]


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Orrin Cummins  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 16:56
Japanese to English
+ ...
Not worth your time Feb 12, 2014

Arguing, that is. As you quickly realized, educating whoever originally made these types of style decisions is not only an exercise in futility, but one for which you will not even be compensated. My experience with this type of thing has taught me to just follow the instructions or style guides you are given for a particular project/client and you can't go wrong. Even if your instructions force you to write in a way that you know is not natural English, that's honestly not your problem. Not for 5 yen/字.

I'm sure others will have different opinions about it. I know I did when I first started translating. But I think that with the way the industry is operating at present, translators should not waste their time trying to also wear the hat of "teacher." Of course, if the client explicitly asks you for advice (and is willing to pay for it), that's one thing. More often than not, though, they won't and don't.

Besides, in many areas something that is even more important than completely natural translations is consistency across documents. ALL CAPS looks stupid to me in most situations, but what I hate even more is when it changes to All Caps somewhere else in the document for no apparent reason.

tl;dr - Explicit instructions mean that you sometimes don't have to debate things like capitalization or term choice. This saves time and makes your client happy. Isn't that win-win?


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JoBee  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 16:56
Japanese to English
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks for your insight Feb 12, 2014

Orrin Cummins wrote:

Arguing, that is. As you quickly realized, educating whoever originally made these types of style decisions is not only an exercise in futility, but one for which you will not even be compensated. My experience with this type of thing has taught me to just follow the instructions or style guides you are given for a particular project/client and you can't go wrong. Even if your instructions force you to write in a way that you know is not natural English, that's honestly not your problem. Not for 5 yen/字.

I'm sure others will have different opinions about it. I know I did when I first started translating. But I think that with the way the industry is operating at present, translators should not waste their time trying to also wear the hat of "teacher." Of course, if the client explicitly asks you for advice (and is willing to pay for it), that's one thing. More often than not, though, they won't and don't.

Besides, in many areas something that is even more important than completely natural translations is consistency across documents. ALL CAPS looks stupid to me in most situations, but what I hate even more is when it changes to All Caps somewhere else in the document for no apparent reason.

tl;dr - Explicit instructions mean that you sometimes don't have to debate things like capitalization or term choice. This saves time and makes your client happy. Isn't that win-win?


Hey Orrin, thanks so much for your insight.

I do agree with you for the most part, and I have swallowed my pride quite a few times in order to make things easier, both on myself and the agencies. I agree that if there is a list of set vocabulary and I am told to use it, it's generally the most practical way to get a decent wage. (Working in-house and seeing how things are decided really hammered that one home!)

In this particular instance, I had no particular instruction to match up common nouns, which was probably the biggest factor in my decision. I don't generally match up words like "building/facility," "ship/vessel," and the like unless there is a clear request. A large number of the terms had also been translated incorrectly--it was all-in-all a shoddy translation that hadn't been checked for accuracy.

I personally have a hard time accepting that I should be checking the reference material for accuracy and appending reasons that I didn't follow it when the company never gave explicit instructions in the first place--my question was more about how to communicate this to an agency, after the fact. (Sorry if that didn't come through so clearly.)

As I said before, though, for a list of terms, some of which may be awkward, I generally don't make so much as a peep.

In terms of consistency with capitalization, that's a more complex subject. There are fairly clear-cut rules in English (the specifics may differ by style guide, etc.) about how to capitalize proper nouns, and writing a company name in all capitals on a sign or a headline generally (in most of the English-speaking world) doesn't indicate "official spelling"--that is where it's an issue not of consistency, but in the perception of what capital letters actually indicate.

That said, it's something I definitely take case by case. It's definitely a battle that can't always be won, but when companies express that they want natural English/punctuation, I'm happy to take a few moments to explain my perspective.


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conejo  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 02:56
Member (2003)
Japanese to English
+ ...
What they are asking is unreasonable Feb 12, 2014

Yes, when we receive reference material, we should follow it to the best of our ability. However, if there are many terms that are clearly unnatural in English, or things they are telling you to do that will cause the quality of the translation to be bad because of what they are asking, I would really think twice about doing that. I don't think I could work for a client that insisted I use terms that clearly sound unnatural, especially if there are many such terms.

Also, when there are many unnatural terms they are requesting that you use, and if you have to put a comment and explanation for each one when you don't use the unnatural translation, and there are hundreds of these, Orrin is right that it is so not worth it to do this, because all it is doing is causing you to have to spend hours longer doing your work because the reference material is of low quality, none of which is your fault. If the rate is 4-5 yen per character, this type of detailed commenting on why the reference material is wrong is well beyond the scope of translation, which is what you are supposed to be doing. I have been working as a freelancer for 11 years and have never encountered a situation like what you are describing, and if I did encounter it, I would never work for that client again.

If you're not getting paid enough money to offset the extra time you're spending (and annoyance that you're having to endure), it's time to find a new client. Really. Think about how much you make per hour when you do translation under normal conditions, and how much you're making when you have to do everything they're asking. And think about whether you want to work for that kind of a low rate, and whether it is worth that to you or not.

Good luck.


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Yuski
Local time: 16:56
Japanese to English
There's a limit to how much you can do for free. Feb 24, 2014

Hi, JoBee.

I realize I'm probably a little late in noticing this thread and writing you a response, but I'll do so anyway, if only for the benefit of other readers or perhaps for your future reference.

First, I'd just like to point out that 4 to 5 yen per character is a rock-bottom rate for a native speaker of the target language. I would not accept any kind of job at this rate. I must admit I have accepted jobs at similar rates in the past (just a couple of times), but that was when I had just started out as a freelancer and was desperate for work, which may be the case with you since you have only been translating for two years. My advice to you is to work on gaining more experience, honing your Japanese skills and building a solid client base. If you have what it takes to be a good translator, you'll build up a solid clientele and you'll have more freedom to choose your work. I think that's the bottom line, and at the end of the day you'll find that good translators generally end up working for good agencies. And conversely, bad translators continue working for bad agencies. It's like a form of Darwinian natural selection.
「安かろう悪かろう」は万国共通のビジネスの鉄則です。

Second, languages are not like machines. You cannot take words or sentences from different documents and simply put them together, like building a machine out of parts, with no regard whatsoever for context, the balance of words, and the overall smoothness of the translation. I once had a client who tried to mix and match sentences taken from a website, pamphlets and a video narration script, and the resulting translation was bizarre; it fluctuated between sounding like a corporate video, poetry and a kids' fairy tale. That's an extreme example, but it gets my point across.

As for the standardization (統一) of words, the only words that should be standardized are proper nouns and technical terms. Standardization of common nouns, adjectives, etc., is completely pointless in English as it is in Japanese. Any attempt to do so will only result in a monotonous (単調) translation that lacks any form of expressiveness (表現の豊かさが完全に失われてしまう). This is something I point out to clients or agencies if they ask me to do so. This is particularly true when the reference material is obviously a bad translation (something else I will point out to clients or agencies in this kind of situation). As Orrin and conejo have already mentioned, there is no point in arguing the finer details, so I think a general explanation along these lines should suffice. You are not a teacher or an expert who is paid to write academic papers on English grammar.


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JoBee  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 16:56
Japanese to English
TOPIC STARTER
This has given me plenty of food for thought Feb 25, 2014

Conejo and Yuski,

Thanks to both of you for your replies, and to Conejo especially, I sincerely apologize for my late reply. I've been frantically busy for some time now--having somewhat low rates certainly can up the urgency of jobs. (Working on fixing that one, though!)

In particular, the aspect that I'm not the client's/agency's English teacher really hit home. Some agencies really do put on the pressure for an immediate answer regarding whether I can take a job (at which point I will have agreed to whatever stipulations they've made), but making sure to go through the reference material beforehand and hammer that out is definitely a must. Baby steps, I guess. Now I know for the future.

All of you have given me some perspective, which I'm extremely thankful for. While I can't just separate from my less-than-ideal clients just now, it does help to have a goal in mind. Knowing that not all agencies operate the same way is a big boost in that department.

If I may, could I ask you guys for some general pointers in terms of finding new agencies? Up until now, and with moderate success, I've sent out emails to agencies who advertise that they're looking for freelancers, and then taken their tests.


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Yuski
Local time: 16:56
Japanese to English
RE: Applying and taking tests Feb 25, 2014

That's standard practice. I did that too, for at least three or four years. Unfortunately, I think good agencies are becoming increasingly difficult to find these days with the constant downward pressure on prices. But as I said before,

「安かろう悪かろう」は万国共通のビジネスの鉄則です。
Clients/Agencies get what they pay for. This is a fundamental law of business that is applicable throughout the world.

Other people may have different advice but in my opinion, how much you earn is more the result of your capabilities. So look for "better agencies" by all means if you have the time, but you need to focus more on honing your language skills, or your communication skills or whatever. And if or when you are good, you will find a way. it's the same as in any job,
Good luck.


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Nadja Balogh  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 09:56
Member (2007)
Japanese to German
+ ...
Keep hanging in there, it's just a matter of time Feb 27, 2014

Hi JoBee,

I really feel for you and I know exactly what situation you're in because I've been there myself.

It might interest you to know that one agency which is now one of my favourite clients used to be a lot like the agency you describe - providing useless reference material which they expected me to follow slavishly, and if I didn't, I had to provide lengthy explanations as to why not.
As I was just starting out as a freelance translator at that time, I still had more time on my hands (and maybe more patience generally speaking, who knows), so I started pointing out all the flaws of their precious reference materials (they came from several different end clients).
At first they naturally weren't very pleased about this, but in the end it seems that some of what I said got through to them (or to somebody on the end client's side, who knows), because I could notice that they started to trust my judgment more and more. Today, our relationship is very relaxed and they are sending me lots of work - usually not of the type where the end client is of the reference-worshipping type.
So what I'm trying to say is, depending on the agency it may be worth going through this process.
That said, there are others which I was glad to say goodbye to as soon as I could afford to do so.

So, good luck to you, I'm sure it's going to work out just fine!


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JoBee  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 16:56
Japanese to English
TOPIC STARTER
It really does depend on the agency, huh? Feb 28, 2014

Yuski wrote:

That's standard practice. I did that too, for at least three or four years. Unfortunately, I think good agencies are becoming increasingly difficult to find these days with the constant downward pressure on prices. But as I said before,

「安かろう悪かろう」は万国共通のビジネスの鉄則です。
Clients/Agencies get what they pay for. This is a fundamental law of business that is applicable throughout the world.

Other people may have different advice but in my opinion, how much you earn is more the result of your capabilities. So look for "better agencies" by all means if you have the time, but you need to focus more on honing your language skills, or your communication skills or whatever. And if or when you are good, you will find a way. it's the same as in any job,
Good luck.


Thanks for the advice! Fortunately for me and other beginning translators, the agencies that pay little (and get little, in the way of using beginners) still offer work that provides very real experience.

And while the very lowest agencies (in my experience) haven't offered much in the way of checking/feedback, I certainly learn what the end client thought when the text comes back from that end client and I'm asked to amend the text/address the client's questions.

More from a business perspective, I think it would do me and any other translator well to separate from agencies whose coordinators expect translators to do the translating/proofreading/DTP/revising/explaining, all for a low-ish translation rate.

Slowly getting there!

Nadja Balogh

Hi JoBee,

I really feel for you and I know exactly what situation you're in because I've been there myself.

It might interest you to know that one agency which is now one of my favourite clients used to be a lot like the agency you describe - providing useless reference material which they expected me to follow slavishly, and if I didn't, I had to provide lengthy explanations as to why not.
As I was just starting out as a freelance translator at that time, I still had more time on my hands (and maybe more patience generally speaking, who knows), so I started pointing out all the flaws of their precious reference materials (they came from several different end clients).
At first they naturally weren't very pleased about this, but in the end it seems that some of what I said got through to them (or to somebody on the end client's side, who knows), because I could notice that they started to trust my judgment more and more. Today, our relationship is very relaxed and they are sending me lots of work - usually not of the type where the end client is of the reference-worshipping type.
So what I'm trying to say is, depending on the agency it may be worth going through this process.
That said, there are others which I was glad to say goodbye to as soon as I could afford to do so.

So, good luck to you, I'm sure it's going to work out just fine!


Thanks for the comment, Nadja! It's very, very encouraging to hear these words from someone who's been in my position.

For this client in particular, I'd provided very informative comments on several occasions in this past (all politely, of course)--it was when they demanded I provide them as part of my job that I took exception.

I didn't explain this in my original post, but at that point I called up the agency and explained that if no one had gone through the reference material to verify its accuracy--and hadn't given explicit instruction beforehand--I wouldn't be able to provide that as a free service in addition to translation. Especially not at their rate of 4 yen per character.

The agency ultimately admitted that it wasn't right to make such a demand, but they're rather adamant about their rate, with the people who contact me for jobs not having the authority to adjust the "set" rate. That makes it difficult to justify taking on involved jobs from them, but I still accept work once in a while.

I suppose the biggest lesson I've learned from this is that it's absolutely essential to verify, before taking a job, what expectations the client and agency have. Of course we translators aren't writing for ourselves, but I really believe we should be able to do honest work that we feel is good.

Thanks again for your advice.


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