Poor translation provided by colleague, refuses to pay for editing
Thread poster: DIANNE BEREST

DIANNE BEREST  Identity Verified
Montenegro
Local time: 10:23
Spanish to English
+ ...
Aug 10

Hello all. I would appreciate your views on this situation. Trying to be fair and objective and I need an outside opinion.

I am a Spanish to English translator, native English speaker. Occasionally, I accept English to Spanish translations and subcontract them out to one of a few good native Spanish translators that I know and trust. I always review the entire translation before sending it in to the customer, to catch any small errors that may have slipped through the cracks.

I recently subcontracted an English to Spanish translation to a colleague. The due date and payment calculation were very clearly established. The translator sent me half the translation one day after the due date indicating she had been sick and would send the rest the next day. I immediately saw there there were some problems with the translation, some obvious and unquestionable mistakes (title of the document "Grant Proposal", was translated as "Oferta de beca", names of organizations translated that should not have been translated, incorrect order of numerical dates, typos left uncorrected...) There were also several things that didn't sound quite right, but as a non-native Spanish speaker, I could not be sure (repeated use of "de": "los aportes de las ONG, de los investigadores, de los países y de los usuarios" and ¿les soliciten o le soliciten?: se espera que los Estados Miembros les soliciten asistencia a la comunidad global y, en especial, al sistema de la ONU and, finally, there were a few obvious grammar mistakes like article/noun agreement...)

Nothing arrived the next day. The following day and the day after that I wrote asking about the translation and received no response. (At this point the deadline with my customer had come and gone.) On the third day, I wrote and indicated that I assumed she would not be able to complete the task and was looking for someone else to finish it. (Unfortunately, none of my other trusted colleagues were available.) The following day she send me the full translation.

Again there were obvious problems with the rest of the translation: paragraphs that did not begin with a capital and seemed to start in the middle of a sentence, more typos underlined by Word and not corrected, random words left in English, spacing seemed to be off in some lines. Looked very much like a CAT that had not been finalized. It certainly could not be turned in to the customer in that condition.

The upshot: I went through the entire document comparing it against the original to ensure that the content was accurate (did make a significant number of corrections) and hired a native Spanish speaker to edit the document for grammar, usage, style... which I could not do as a non-native speaker.

My proposal for payment to my colleague is to pay her for the first half of the document, which although it had errors, did appear to be translated not only by CAT, not to pay for the second half at all which most certainly did appear to CAT translated with no correction, and to charge her for the cost of the editing (but not for my content review). She indicates that it is unfair not to pay her for the second half of the document but still charge her for the editing of that second half. That sounds reasonable, except that there was no other way I could have handled it. I could not do the editing myself, none of my other trusted native-Spanish speaking colleagues were available to simply redo the second half of the translation, and there was cause to doubt the accuracy of the grammar/usage/style.)

I don't know if anyone is going to read this long tretise. (Couldn't find a shorter way to explain it.) But thank you very much in advance for any responses.


 

Richard Purdom  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 09:23
Dutch to English
+ ...
Don't pay anything. Aug 10

Don't pay anything, and put it down to experience. I think it's fair to assume a best-efforts obligation in this case, which wasn't delivered. Ask for proof of sickness, that will probably put an end to it!

Yolanda Broad
Ricardo Suin
VN Studios
Thayenga
 

Edward Potter  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 10:23
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
You'll get through this Aug 10

Yuck.

Trying to be constructive, I'll opine on playing the ball where it lies.

If I had gotten myself into this situation, I would try to pay my way out of it somehow. Your translator should be amenable to a pay reduction. If not, pay her, then hit the delete key on her record. But hit it hard with an angry look on your face as you do it. You will probably hurt your hand.

You should use this situation as a learning experience. Maybe you should have had finger on the job a bit more. Did you check in at times? Ask for a partial delivery as the deadline neared? Take action after the deadline was missed? These are things to consider if you find yourself in this situation again.

For sure, how big was the job and how much time was given to complete it?



[Edited at 2018-08-10 17:38 GMT]


Dylan Jan Hartmann
Teresa Borges
Thayenga
Lucien Rousseau
 

Katalin Horváth McClure  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 04:23
Member (2002)
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Quality clauses in your agreement? Aug 10

It seems that you had written agreements about the deadline and the translation rate, but no specifics about late delivery or quality issues. That is a problem, because you don't have an established procedure to rely on. In this case, several approaches can be taken, but chances are, somebody will be upset.
Approach 1:
Since you did not switch to another translator when the deadline passed, and ended up using the translation she supplied (albeit late), you pay her for the entire translation MINUS the editing fees for the entire translation. I am assuming the editing did not cost as much as the original translation fee, so in this case she would still get some money, and you would not be in the red after this either.
She may object to this, but you could remind her that she failed to fulfill her contractual obligation by being late with the delivery, so you are actually being nice by willing to pay anything at all. If she objects to the use of an external editor, tell her that while it is often the case that the translation is reviewed and then sent back to the translator for corrections at no cost, in this case there was no time to do that, due to her late delivery.
Approach 2:
You pay her only for the first part which was delivered on time, minus the editing costs of that first part (you can allocate the editing cost proportionally by wordcount). The problem with this is the fact that you did use her entire translation, not just the first part.
Approach 3:
The third option is that you pay for the entire translation and eat the cost of the editing, and chalk this up to experience. The truth is, if you are not a native speaker of the target language and you are outsourcing work in that direction, you should use - as a matter of routine - a reviewer/editor for ALL jobs, and the cost of that should be built into the rate you are charging to the end client. Otherwise you are running the risk of situations like the one you are in now.

Katalin


Teresa Borges
enrfer
Jan Willem van Dormolen
Nikki Scott-Despaigne
ventnai
Kuochoe Nikoi
Lucien Rousseau
 

Robert Forstag  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 04:23
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Woeful mismanagement Aug 10

The first thing I wonder is what led you to trust this person with the translation. Clearly your trust was misplaced. Mistake no. 1.

Second, you ought to have made it clear to the subcontractor when the hard deadline was, and clearly indicated that her failure to meet that deadline would result in a reduction in payment, or in non-payment. Instead of doing that, you were exchanging emails with her after the deadline passed, asking politely when you could expect delivery. Mistake no. 2.

Third, you should have had a preconceived “Plan B” ready in the event that the hard deadline was not met (having of course set a hard deadline that would have allowed you time to implement that alternative plan, which simply could have been posting the project as a rush job on this site). Mistakes 3 and 4.

You really dug your own grave here. Recognizing this - and learning from it - will be a good deal more productive to you than taking refuge in victimhood.

As for payments, I would recommend partial payment to the subcontractor and not charging the end client at all.

Yes, it hurts, but this would seem the honorable course of action here.

[Edited at 2018-08-11 17:16 GMT]


Teresa Borges
Thayenga
Katalin Horváth McClure
Nikki Scott-Despaigne
Michele Fauble
texjax DDS PhD
Edward Potter
 

DIANNE BEREST  Identity Verified
Montenegro
Local time: 10:23
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks! Aug 11

Thanks everyone for taking the time to answer and for sharing your observations and suggestions.

 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 09:23
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
My personal take - rather late to the party, I'm afraid Aug 11

DIANNE BEREST wrote:
I recently subcontracted an English to Spanish translation to a colleague. The due date and payment calculation were very clearly established. The translator sent me half the translation one day after the due date indicating she had been sick and would send the rest the next day.

She really didn't tell you in advance of the deadline that she was sick? In that case, she failed to deliver anything by the deadline, and failed to notify you of any problem. I see any quality issues as being a secondary issue. No delivery and no renegotiation by the deadline = no payment. Unless you feel confident that she had something wrong with her that meant she really couldn't write a simple email by the deadline.

Nothing arrived the next day. The following day and the day after that I wrote asking about the translation and received no response. (At this point the deadline with my customer had come and gone.) On the third day, I wrote and indicated that I assumed she would not be able to complete the task and was looking for someone else to finish it. (Unfortunately, none of my other trusted colleagues were available.) The following day she send me the full translation.

My goodness, you were patient! She had ample opportunity to keep you informed, and that's the very least she should have done. In the end, that email of yours - assuming it was clear - was final. It cancelled the rest of the job as it was simply too late.

My proposal for payment to my colleague is to pay her for the first half of the document, which although it had errors, did appear to be translated not only by CAT, not to pay for the second half at all which most certainly did appear to CAT translated with no correction, and to charge her for the cost of the editing (but not for my content review). She indicates that it is unfair not to pay her for the second half of the document but still charge her for the editing of that second half.

I presume you mean MT rather than a CAT tool here. I think she doesn't know when she's well off! It does sound odd to charge for editing a text that you aren't paying for. But in my book she doesn't deserve to see a cent from you! Being ill certainly is a situation where you expect other parties to show a bit of flexibility. But you have to communicate with them, otherwise you're simply not upholding your side of the contract at all.


Josephine Cassar
Niina Lahokoski
Ester Vidal
Lucien Rousseau
 

Robert Forstag  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 04:23
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Why clear communication matters Aug 11

Sheila Wilson wrote:

But in my book she doesn't deserve to see a cent from you!


This is not a defensible position here. Because, by not having made matters crystal clear from the beginning, and (especially!) by politely asking when delivery might be expected after the deadline had already passed, Dianne clearly implied to her subcontactor that late delivery would in some way be acceptable.


Tina Vonhof
Edward Potter
 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 09:23
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Yes, point accepted Aug 11

Robert Forstag wrote:

Sheila Wilson wrote:
But in my book she doesn't deserve to see a cent from you!

This is not a defensible position here. Because, by not having made matters crystal clear from the beginning, and (especially!) by politely asking when delivery might be expected after the deadline had already passed, Dianne clearly implied to her subcontactor that late delivery would in some way be acceptable.

Yes, that's true. That could be implied for the first delivery, in this particular scenario. Things should certainly have been made clearer rather than just letting them drag on. That more or less guaranteed a lose-lose situation icon_frown.gif .


Robert Forstag
Tina Vonhof
Niina Lahokoski
Lucien Rousseau
 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 10:23
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
My opinion Aug 11

Dianne, just a few random comments, and IANAL.

In many countries (e.g. the EU), by law...
(a) If you don't specify beforehand that the deadline is a critical aspect of the job (even if the deadline was "clearly established"), then you can't refuse to pay for the translation purely because the translator missed the deadline.
(b) You (being a non-consumer) can't refuse to pay for the translation if it is was delivered within a "reasonable" amount of time, unless the translation was wholly unsatisfactory *and* the translator refused to or was unable to fix the problems with it.

Now... you did not ask the translator to fix her own translation (but: who would??). And... the translation was "good enough" for you to use it with some editing. And it was "only" 4 days late.

Therefore, even though this translator behaved despicably as far as we translators are concerned, you might not have the right (in a legal/ethical sense) to refuse to pay her for the full translation or the right to deduct money for additional editing that she did not authorise.

However, translators have very little power to combat exploitation, and if you believe that it is morally acceptable for you to use her translation (in its edited form) while not paying all or any money for it, then you must do what your conscience dictates, and take the risk that she might not be powerless to do anything about it.

If you want to use her translation (in its original form or in an edited form), you have to pay her for it. You can try to negotiate a lower fee due to the circumstances, and she might accept it, but if she does not accept the re-negotiation, then the original agreement stands.

So I guess what's important is how you spin it ("it" being the re-negotiation).

I can understand the translator's point that it seems unfair that you would want to use half of her translation for free and also make her pay for editing fees that she did not agree to. In retrospect, you should not have made the re-negotiation so complicated. You should have decided on how much you want to pay her, and made the offer, stating that the deduction is for the cost of editing and missing the deadline. With any luck, she might have accepted that.


Edward Potter
 

DIANNE BEREST  Identity Verified
Montenegro
Local time: 10:23
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
What post-deadeline agreements do you make? Aug 12

Hello again, I would be interested in knowing what types of agreements/penalties you establish for work turned in late. (Since I'm here anyway, I'll just mention that the deadline was absolutely clear, even with two explicit statements indicating that the deadline was unchangeable due to customer requirements and that if there were any concerns or comments about the deadline the translator should indicate them immediately. No need to go into this aspect again, I just wanted to mention that, despite other mistakes on my part, the deadline issue was unequivocally clear.) Thanks again.

 

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 09:23
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Shouldn't... Aug 12

DIANNE BEREST wrote:

...Occasionally, I accept English to Spanish translations and subcontract them out



...and that's where the trouble started. You should either do your own translations or not accept the job.


Josephine Cassar
Robert Forstag
Kay-Viktor Stegemann
123Translations
 

IrinaN
United States
Local time: 03:23
English to Russian
+ ...
What payment? Aug 12

The "colleague" deserves 0, period.

You've learned about her sickness 1 day AFTER the deadline and the sickness claim? Did the colleague wake up with a huge hangover and realized that she'd just lost an entire day of her life?

Nothing can be worse than missing a deadline. Keeping silent and submitting the job whenever post deadline is an insult. What words did you find for your client? Is he still your client? Would you pay for a sore throat medicine after beheading? Mistakes can be corrected, things happen and advance warnings can still be saved but getting lost for 24 hours or so after the deadline equals 0.


 

Nikki Scott-Despaigne  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:23
French to English
General comments Aug 12

I like the three options described by Katalin. Robert has set out the tougher business home truths and Tom has probably given the key problem from the word go. Dianne, I like the honesty of your post and your practical approach. Not everyone has sufficient humility to stand up and say, this went AWOL, helpful suggestions appreciated!icon_wink.gif

One helpful way to look at this might be to consider this a mirror situation of the type of situation we see posted here from time to time. We have all seen threads from colleagues who are having problems getting paid and the outsourcer is alleging poor quality. In those posts, we cannot know to what extent the quality problem is genuine. In your example, there do seem to have been major quality issues. He who asserts must prove and you no doubt could.

Deadlines.
The deadline was contractual. Your translator failed to meet that deadline and thus was in breach of a fundamental term. From that point onwards, you probably had two options: one call it a day, pay what had been supplied pro rata and scuttle around quickly to find someone who could finish it off quickly. With the quality issues that had become clear, in hindsight, that was probably the way to go. Once you continued with the same translator, the problem was likely to get worse and it did. Like I said; hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Payment, quality, and part-performance.
You accepted the part of the text received on time. That much should be paid for, at least. I would not expect the translator to pay for proofreading. That is one of the risks you take on as an intermediary. You are responsible for providing your client with the job they ordered and that should mean checking for quality, which is what you did. That's where you make your X%. Sometimes it'll be a doddle, sometimes it'll mean tearing your hair out, but it is part of the outsourcer's job. Sometimes, proofreading means adding an omitted full stop, sometimes it means having to rehash the whole caboodle. Privity of contract: the end-client is your client, not the translator's client. The translator delivered on time, but the job was incomplete. That's part performance. Consider adding a provision for part-performance in future agreements, if only that the matter will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis (for example payment pro rata the volume received, the either continue with an X% penalty for late delivery of the remaining amount or reserve the right not to pursue with further).
Perhaps in the future, you could include a provision whereby any quality problems will be referred back to the translator who should be given sufficient time to review and correct. That's where your timing allowances are important. It means the translator is the one correcting her own work and you are not wasting your time on it, much less paying someone else to take care of it. The loss is hers, not yours. However, makes sure you reserve the right also to call it a day there. If the quality is terrible, the last thing you might want her to do it to touch the text again!

Timing and responsibilities.
You need to allow sufficient time for the job to be proofread and still be supplied on time to the end-client. Easier said than done, and I can imagine only too well how as an outsourcer, one basically supposes the translator is going to supply a decent piece of work on time. The fact is, that if they don't, and/or if there are major quality issues you are up s*** creek without a paddle. So put a life-jacket on at the start and take a pessimistic view of the time you need to run sufficient quality checks.

Additional clauses to consider in your agreement, however informally, they should be there.
The translator knew she was having a problem to meet the deadline. It doesn't matter if it's because she's sick, or if her computer has exploded or if the childminder has let her down. It's her problem, not yours. What is her problem, is to inform you immediately she has a problem. Not only were there quality issues, but the incomplete late delivery meant you were presented with a fait accompli. That is not on. So, include some provision for informing you ASAP if it looks as though finishing on time is going to be a problem. The translator may have genuinely thought, albeit erroneously, that she was going to make it in on time. The quality thing probably comes from here being in a mad rush to finish. An obligation to inform in the event of late delivery looking likely means that you can contact your client and be in a position to ask for an extension, find someone else, or simply make sure you can line up someone to take over in the event of the s*** hitting the proverbial fan. (Hmm, that's a bad word twice. Sorry).

This post is not too long. Its aim is to give pointers to how you might see this coming earlier and provide for what might be done to avoid it, or to limit the damage. Also, from this experience, you may have second thoughts in the future about outsourcing work into Spanish, unless you have a native speaker standing in the wings ready to do the proofreading.


[Edited at 2018-08-12 16:43 GMT]


 

Robert Forstag  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 04:23
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
A further attempt at clarification Aug 12

DIANNE BEREST wrote:

Hello again, I would be interested in knowing what types of agreements/penalties you establish for work turned in late. (Since I'm here anyway, I'll just mention that the deadline was absolutely clear, even with two explicit statements indicating that the deadline was unchangeable due to customer requirements and that if there were any concerns or comments about the deadline the translator should indicate them immediately. No need to go into this aspect again, I just wanted to mention that, despite other mistakes on my part, the deadline issue was unequivocally clear.) Thanks again.


Did you make it clear that the translator would not be paid (or receive reduced payment) if she did not meet the deadline? But even assuming that you did this (and it does not look like you did), the problem is that:
1.
You did not have a "Plan B" in place in the event that the subcontractor missed the deadline (see my original post above).
2.
Your communication with the subcontractor after she missed the deadline, in which you asked when you could expect delivery, implied that you would accept late delivery (i.e., that you would in turn deliver the tardy translation to the end client - see my response to Sheila above).

So, if you had had a "Plan B" in effect, you could have written an email along the following lines to the subcontractor:

Dear X,

The deadline of [date/time] has now passed without you delivering the remainder of the translation. I have also received no communication from you of any kind indicating that circumstances have arisen that have prevented you from delivering the material on time.

As per our previous agreement, I will not be accepting delivery of any additional material from you, and I will pay you a discounted fee for the portion of the translation you previously delivered, to be determined at my discretion.

If you take any action regarding this matter (including entering any negative rating of me on the proz.com Blue Board or other directory) I will refer to the terms of our agreement that you have violated, and to the serious inconvenience you have caused me.

Sincerely,
X

***
You could then have posted the remainder of the job as a rush job on proz.com and selected a qualified person to finish it. (And you could have used some of the money that you did not pay the original subcontractor to cover the fee for the "Plan B" translator.)

I hope that it is by now clear where you erred here.

I also have to agree with Tom that your original mistake was accepting the job in the first place - given that, by your own admission, you are not qualified to independently evaluate the quality of the into-Spanish translations that you received. This puts you in a completely helpless position if any problems arise (i.e., having to get reviewers to review the translation - but what if the reviewers themselves are not good?). And since no one works for free, it cannot possibly leave much profit for you at the end of it all - certainly not enough to compensate all of the effort and stress involved.

It is possible that such subcontracting arrangements could work, but only if the trust that the translator will produce a highly satisfactory translation is well nigh absolute. Such trust clearly was not warranted here, and finding people deserving of such trust is not exactly easy.

Finally, I would say that the tenor of my own responses to your post would have been different if you had only 15 months of experience rather than 15 years. It seems fair to ask why did not know better than to get yourself into such a predicament.

Clients quite rightly expect better from veteran translators, and you ought to expect better from yourself.


[Edited at 2018-08-13 04:02 GMT]


Michele Fauble
 


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