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Off topic: Why isn't the back translation exactly the same as the original? (I billed for explanation)
Thread poster: Anthony Baldwin

Anthony Baldwin  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 15:58
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Apr 26, 2012

I completed a back translation for a client last week.

This week they sent an e-mail with some 20+ questions about why the back translation wasn't identical to the original document, so I spent over an hour explaining to them why.

(Why does it have "very much" instead of "a lot"? muito...hello...tons of such questions).

Frankly, I find it completely unreasonable and, in fact, naive (if not outright stupid) to expect a back-translation to be identical to the original document.

The original, in this case, was English, the translation Portuguese-BR, and, thus, my back-translation English, from the PTBR.

The original document, which I have now seen, but hadn't prior to the back-translation, of course, was written in sloppy, colloquial, perhaps "conversational" English, surveys relevant to health care.

The PT translation was, indeed, quite good, but, of course, the PT translator had to use more formal terms in some cases, etc., so that when I received their translation, I had no way of knowing what kind of sloppy, colloquial English was used in the original. The back-translation was more formal.
I've made it very clear to the client, now, that the PT was quite good (with only a very few suggested alterations).
I felt like I had to defend the PT professional here, and myself, because the client seemed to think that, since the back translation wasn't precisely the same as the original, somebody, somewhere, must have done something wrong.

And what annoys me, I just spent over an hour clarifying this stuff, and after I had already completed the back-translation and delivered it at a very, very reasonable rate last week, while the client seems to think I should be clarifying such questions for them for free. And they want it NOW, URGENT, OH GOD PLEASE HELP US RIGHT AWAY!

So I sent a bill for my time with my explanations/clarifications.

I used to do all kinds of explanation, clarification, going above/beyond the call of duty, but, frankly, I'm getting a little tired of playing free consultant to these agencies that are already beating me up on rates, as it is. A week after I've delivered your project, I'm probably busy working on someone else's, but you expect me to take my time to sort out your confusion, and for free? I already did what I initially billed, the back translation. An hour+ of my time explaining to you why you're an idiot for expecting the back translation to be identical to the original (although, of course, in nicer terms), is an hour I could be completing other paid work. So, no, my time is not free.

Am I the only one getting annoyed with this phenomena?
Am I just getting old and grumpy?
Is it somehow my responsibility to straighten out monolingual clients who are very confused about the nature of translation (thinking of our work as some word-for-word exchange, thus expecting back translations to mirror original sources, to the letter?!)?

Or, have I been overly generous with this kind of free consultation service in the past, and everyone else is already billing for it?


 

Jenn Mercer  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 15:58
Member (2009)
French to English
Enough with back translation. Apr 26, 2012

I am annoyed enough with the potential for such problems that I do not do back translation at all. If you have the source text available, what you are doing is essentially reviewing. If you don't, you have to be a mind-reader. I think this is a quality control step that looks better on paper than it works in practice.

 

Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 13:58
English to Spanish
+ ...
Such Ignorance Apr 26, 2012

Charge them for it all. Moreover, such ignorance on the client's part is intolerable. In my own case I would not have accepted the job in the first place. Back translations, and also re-translations from other languages are a losing proposition from the start, because you cannot reliably penetrate the mentality that actually created the original. And for a translator, being able to understand and penetrate that mentality is a critical skill in producing a top-quality translation. Also, you have no idea of the prior translator's skill and way of rendering words and ideas, and whether their translation is more literal or more abstract and creative, or whether it is even accurate or complete.

 

LegalTransform  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 15:58
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
ATA article on the topic Apr 26, 2012

http://www.interel.net/translate/Downloads/Back%20Translation%20ATA%20Article.pdf

 

Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:58
Hebrew to English
Couldn't agree more. Apr 26, 2012

Jenn Mercer wrote:

I am annoyed enough with the potential for such problems that I do not do back translation at all. If you have the source text available, what you are doing is essentially reviewing. If you don't, you have to be a mind-reader. I think this is a quality control step that looks better on paper than it works in practice.


I avoid them like the plague.


 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 20:58
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Sign of the times? Apr 26, 2012

Anthony Baldwin wrote:
Frankly, I find it completely unreasonable and, in fact, naive (if not outright stupid) to expect a back-translation to be identical to the original document.
...
The back-translation was more formal.


If that was the main difference, then it's practically identical, isn't it? Anyone who knows anything about the language could see that. Does no-one at the agency understand English? I would have thought that must be pretty unusual for a translation agency. Might be different for a direct client.

Am I the only one getting annoyed with this phenomena?
Am I just getting old and grumpy?
Is it somehow my responsibility to straighten out monolingual clients who are very confused about the nature of translation (thinking of our work as some word-for-word exchange, thus expecting back translations to mirror original sources, to the letter?!)?
Or, have I been overly generous with this kind of free consultation service in the past, and everyone else is already billing for it?


IMO, the first 3 can be answered: no / if so, join the club / absolutely not. It does seem to be a sign of the times, though, and we need to change to suit the market. The more "hand-holding" the clients demand, the less generous we can afford to be. It's a shame but we have a living to earn, too.

Sheila


 

Anthony Baldwin  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 15:58
Portuguese to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
yes/no Apr 26, 2012

Jenn Mercer wrote:

I am annoyed enough with the potential for such problems that I do not do back translation at all. If you have the source text available, what you are doing is essentially reviewing. If you don't, you have to be a mind-reader. I think this is a quality control step that looks better on paper than it works in practice.



Indeed, if I have the original, I would only call the work a review, and bill accordingly.
In this case, I only saw the original after having delivered the back-translation, so I call it a back-translation.
In fact, I do not "review" PTBR, since it is not my native language. I only "review" US English.

Now, 95% of these back translations I get are in reference to clinical protocols, health surveys, and other medical matters, and, in that context, I can see the value in back-translation. In accuracy could be fatal.
What I don't agree with is the expectation that a back-translation is going to reflect the original word-for-word, of course.
But, I've also spent similar stretches of time explaining translations that weren't back-translations to foreign clients who aren't native US English speakers and don't understand why the English isn't more like their French or Spanish or Portuguese, or, sometimes, even, why it isn't more like the European/UK English (or, even, Indian English, etc.) to which they are accustomed. Sometimes I just want to write back,"You hired me to write US English, because I am a native Professional with a degree in English from a US institution. Trust my English." and leave it at that, but, instead, of course, I spend an hour explaining differences in UK/US spellings and vocabulary, etc., etc.

On a similar note: One agency (and a very frequent topic of discussion said agency is) repeatedly asks me for review of EN_UK, or translation to EN_UK, and I used to explain to them just how disastrous that would be (especially for legal/court documents, since I have absolutely no experience or knowledge of the UK judicial system). I got so tired of explaining this to them, over and over, that I've finally just routed their mail to the spam box.

But, I don't know, and that's why I ask, if it is routine to have to defend one's work in this manner.
The vast majority of clients accept my work and thank me for it (and pay me for it) without another question, but, there are these occasions where I (in my opinion) waste time explaining stuff to clients, so, I just wonder if I'm being unreasonable, or if they are, expecting me to give them my time after delivery of the project, for free, in this fashion.
Are the clients that ask just the more cautious ones? Perhaps I should be glad they are so careful regarding the quality of the final product, and continue to hire me to provide it to them?

Indeed, there have been occasions where, with other clients, a "reviewer" has marked all over my work, and I was glad to have the opportunity to explain to the client why their reviewer was wrong and my work was correct. So, perhaps I should be glad that they've asked me for clarification on this back-translation, and all other such instances.
But sometimes it gets under my skin. I'm already offering very reasonable rates, and working long hours, and I feel like I've delivered what they're paying for, and then have to spend an hour, two hours, whatever, explaining the work I already delivered at such reasonable rates, and I feel a bit like they're taking advantage of my kindness. So this time I sent a bill.
Was I wrong to bill them? Would my colleagues do the same, or otherwise?


 

Anthony Baldwin  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 15:58
Portuguese to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
thanks! Apr 26, 2012



Thanks, Jeff.

I will now send a copy of this article to confused clients.

icon_smile.gif


 

Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 21:58
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
There are still professionals around Apr 26, 2012

-- thank goodness, and I only do back translations for them. In fact one of my best clients only ever sends me back translations.

As to whether you are getting old and grumpy - well, I am too, and life is still too short to suffer fools gladly AND for free!

I can be quite patient if I get paid a decent rate for my time.icon_biggrin.gif

May the good clients find you and the others drop out of the marketicon_wink.gif


 

Robert Forstag  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 15:58
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Agree with Jenn and Ty Apr 26, 2012

I do back translations (some of this work pays quite well, and is not at all difficult), but I honestly find them to be a waste of money (i.e., from the point of view of the clients who pay for them and who would do better just to have an original translation by a skilled translator reviewed/commented on/corrected by another skilled translator, with reference to the source text).

My own approach to back translation is the same as to any other translation: to attempt to render the source (i.e., translated) text into an English that sounds thoroughly natural without sacrificing accuracy.

I am grateful that I've never been subject to the kind of ridiculous interrogation that Anthony has endured. I really don't think I'd have the patience for it.

[Edited at 2012-04-26 21:42 GMT]


 

Trudy Peters  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 15:58
German to English
+ ...
Anthony Apr 26, 2012

Please let us know if you get paid for the explanationsicon_smile.gif

 

Kaiya J. Diannen  Identity Verified
Australia
Member (2008)
German to English
DGMS Apr 27, 2012

Anthony Baldwin wrote:
... sometimes, even, why it isn't more like the European/UK English (or, even, Indian English, etc.) to which they are accustomed. Sometimes I just want to write back,"You hired me to write US English


Don't Get Me Started

On a similar note: One agency (and a very frequent topic of discussion said agency is) repeatedly asks me for review of EN_UK, or translation to EN_UK, and I used to explain to them just how disastrous that would be (especially for legal/court documents, since I have absolutely no experience or knowledge of the UK judicial system). I got so tired of explaining this to them, over and over, that I've finally just routed their mail to the spam box.


I may know who this is. In any event - smart move! I've also gotten to the point where I usually just don't respond, but the few responses I send now have been getting more and more succinct as I progressively lose my patience (and my mind) ... I think my last one stated: "No UK EN".

Ugh, so frustrating!!!


 

Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 03:58
Chinese to English
This is what agencies are for Apr 27, 2012

To be fair to translation buyers, the utility and nature of back translation is a complex issue. We spent quite a lot of time talking about the issue when I did my interpreter training. I wouldn't necessarily expect any but the most experienced buyer to fully understand, and with a direct client, I would be quite willing to do this client education.

But when there is an agency intermediary, this is ridiculous. It's the agency's job to explain to their client exactly what the product they're buying is and what it is not.


 

Anthony Baldwin  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 15:58
Portuguese to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
indeed Apr 27, 2012

Phil Hand wrote:

To be fair to translation buyers, the utility and nature of back translation is a complex issue. We spent quite a lot of time talking about the issue when I did my interpreter training. I wouldn't necessarily expect any but the most experienced buyer to fully understand, and with a direct client, I would be quite willing to do this client education.

But when there is an agency intermediary, this is ridiculous. It's the agency's job to explain to their client exactly what the product they're buying is and what it is not.


1) But a translation agency should be an experienced buyer. (I know, that word "should"...)

2) To hold on to a direct client for whom I expect/hope for more work, I will do more, indeed, but I also can charge them more.
Ideally, can charge them less than an agency will, but more than an agency would pay me, of course, which is the advantage in hiring us directly, instead of through an agency (unless you really need everything an agency can provide that a single freelancer can not, of course. Great article on when you should hire an agency, and when a freelancer is a better deal, by José Henrique Lamensdorf, here: http://www.lamensdorf.com.br/trxag.html ).


 

Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 03:58
Chinese to English
Agree 100% Apr 27, 2012

Sorry, I wasn't clear enough with my terminology. When I said "translation buyer", I meant the end user, not agencies.

An agency *must* know a considerable amount about the nature of translation (including back-translation) because this is the product it sells. And when we work through agencies, they take half the revenue because, among other things, they will be responsible for explaining the nature of the product to the buyer.


 
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