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Poll: What do you do when you receive a poor quality source text (e.g. grammar issues)?
Thread poster: ProZ.com Staff

ProZ.com Staff
Local time: 07:53
SITE STAFF
Mar 15, 2017

This forum topic is for the discussion of the poll question "What do you do when you receive a poor quality source text (e.g. grammar issues)?".

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Julian Holmes  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 23:53
Member (2011)
Japanese to English
Other Mar 15, 2017

This frequently happens with Japanese text owing to the ambiguity of the language and the fact that a lot of stuff I translate is written by engineers who haven't a clue how to write.

Since 99% of work I do is in Trados, I leave comments in the translation file when I deliver it to the customer. And, in almost all cases, the customer agrees with my comments and is glad that I have pointed out issues and stumbling blocks in the text.


 

Jennifer Forbes  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:53
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
Illegible files Mar 15, 2017

If I'm offered "poor quality" source files, it's usually legibility, not poor grammar, that is the problem - tiny, faint print, illegible handwritten notes, scruffy and smudged photocopies in PDF format, etc.
In such cases I ask for a legible copy and if no better copy can be supplied I politely decline the job.


 

Muriel Vasconcellos  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:53
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Other Mar 15, 2017

I plow forward and try to figure things out. If the original intent is not obvious, then I propose a solution and add a comment balloon asking if my interpretation is correct.

Translation users want a document they can use. That's what they pay us for. They just want answers, they don't want to go back to an editor or author to re-work the problematic passages. And they don't want to hear how bad the text was to begin with.

Many years ago I took an editing course once that included guidelines on how to work with authors. We were taught to propose solutions and politely ask the author if that's what he/she had in mind. Always stay friendly and supportive. Again, we are being paid to render a service, not to complicate the client's life any more than absolutely necessary.


 

Muriel Vasconcellos  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:53
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
P.S. Illegible files Mar 15, 2017

I just saw Jenny's answer. Illegible files would be different from a text with grammar issues and problematic passages that need clarification. I agree that I would turn job a job if I couldn't see the text well enough to read it.

 

Catherine De Crignis  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 16:53
Member (2012)
English to French
+ ...
Other Mar 15, 2017

Grammatical issues are pretty much the norm when it comes to English texts these days, as it seems. Well, at least they're not unusual.
Other = I get on with it.


 

Samantha Payn  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:53
Member (2008)
Russian to English
+ ...
Another "other" here. Mar 15, 2017

I am astonished that the response "Produce a good translation, figuring out the problematic parts and raising any issues politely with the client" was not listed as one of the answers.

 

Mary Worby  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:53
Member
German to English
+ ...
Other Mar 15, 2017

Like the others, I'd keep going and raise any issues with the client. I certainly wouldn't produce a poor quality translation. I did a translation of a couple of thousand words once which was entirely written in lower case letters. I couldn't bring myself to emulate this so used correct capitalisation throughout and told the client to remove the capitals if they felt it approproate (it takes a couple of keystrokes to remove them, an awful lot more to put them in properly in the first place!)

If it's a job of some size and I'm really being hampered by the source quality, I might flag it up with the customer, highlighting some examples, and point out that the quality of the original was making the translation difficult and there might be some guesswork involved in some places. When I've done this before, the usual response has been 'we know, just do what you can'!


 

Teresa Borges
Portugal
Local time: 15:53
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
It depends Mar 15, 2017

If the file comes from a new client, I turn down the job. As this situation seldom happens with my regulars I’ll try to figure out the problematic parts and/or ask for a clarification or if my interpretation is correct…

 

Nikki Scott-Despaigne  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:53
French to English
Other Mar 15, 2017

Being a translator is an eye-opener. In what follows, I am set aside the fact that translators are human, that we too have days when we cannot think straight and that we make mistakes too.

So what do I do when I receive a poorly written text? I certainly never lower my level of language to match a poor quality original. I do my best to respect the register, style and tone of the source text and do my best to render an English version that is clearly written and easily understood by the target reader. Achieving that sometimes involves improving the original.

If there are problems, then I consider that I am paid to sort them out. How can you translate a document you cannot understand? This is one of the reasons why I shy away from proof-reading. If the text is so poorly written that there are major need-to-call-the-client problems, then I prefer to decline the job.

Actors are only as good as their last film. Translators are only as good as their last translation. If your name is banded around attached to a bad piece, then you put your livelihood on the line. No thanks.

[Edited at 2017-03-15 23:07 GMT]


 

Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:53
Member (2000)
Russian to English
+ ...
Other Mar 15, 2017

Agree with Samantha & Nikki.

 

Nikki Scott-Despaigne  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:53
French to English
Yes! Mar 15, 2017

Samantha Payn wrote:

I am astonished that the response "Produce a good translation, figuring out the problematic parts and raising any issues politely with the client" was not listed as one of the answers.


Quite. This option was overlooked. It is actually a regular part of our job to sort out imperfections in the original. Tactfully. When you cannot, when it goes too far and prevents one from understanding what the text is about, then it can lead to having to turn the job down.


 

Elizabeth Tamblin  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:53
Member (2012)
French to English
Same Mar 15, 2017

Catherine De Crignis wrote:

Grammatical issues are pretty much the norm when it comes to English texts these days, as it seems. Well, at least they're not unusual.
Other = I get on with it.


I find the same applies to French texts. The standard of grammar and spelling is often very poor.


 

neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 16:53
Spanish to English
+ ...
Other Mar 15, 2017

I try to apply the EFL "gentle correction" approach. Sometimes I don't say anything, but on other occasions, for example if the material is instruction manuals or informative texts that will be used outside of the client's company, I may (as tactfully as possible) draw their attention to the fact that they haven't run a spell check or that the content could be improved in some way.
Even little details like dispensing with a full stop at the end of chapter headings can make a difference visually, something which I've noticed in texts that have been drafted in a Word-type format and are then reproduced in PDF or HTML without any tweaking.


 

xxxIlan Rubin  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 17:53
Russian to English
Agree with Samantha Mar 15, 2017

I haven't got time for toing and froing over a translation. Once I've received it I complete it and send it back.

I've never had a problem with a text as a whole, but occasionally with a sentence or two that is muddled, unfinished, etc. In that case I simply add comments, and alternative translations where possible, and send the work back when complete.

The funny thing is that clients nearly always resolve these issues without getting back to me, as they never seem to comment on them. I guess they think they can fix the odd sentence themselves.


 
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