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A non-native client who thinks he knows my native language better than me!
Thread poster: Callum Walker

Callum Walker  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:56
Member (2010)
Russian to English
+ ...
Sep 7, 2010

I'm looking for some guidance with regard to a situation which has been on-going for many weeks now, and frankly, is beginning to irritate me immensely.

On the 10th August, I accepted a proofreading project through an agency based in Ukraine of a document originally written in Russian but translated into English (my native language). The original translation had clearly been done by a non-native speaker of English and was naturally very poorly done; this required a vast amount of editing and correction. As such, I charged slightly higher than my usual proofreading rate (since, in essence, what I was doing was actually nearer to translation than proofreading!). Anyway, I submitted the completed proofread document, which I believed was very well written, and was probably about a million times better than the original translation, only to receive an email back from the client asking me to "read it through again, checking the English translation with the Russian original". I did this, and made one or two very minor stylistic changes (nothing that would constitute an error), and then re-submitted the document.

Several days later, I received an email stating pretty much the same thing: "read it through again, making sure that the English translation closely matches the expressions in the RUssian original". So again, I did this for the client, going through the (very long) document, checking each sentence against the original corresponding sentence. No problems found once again. I made one or two (once again) stylistic changes, but again, nothing that was actually a mistake. I emailed the document back, explaining that the reason that the English did not closely match the Russian is because languages, by their very nature, are different. English expresses ideas and concepts in a different way to Russian. Just because something is said in one way in Russian, it does not mean that you can directly transfer that concept into English word-for-word. I did however say to them that if they had specific issues, please highlight them or comment on them to bring them to my attention, and that I can pay it special attention. I explained that I cannot devote the time to look through the entire 10,000 document every few days to search for some tiny inconsistency which they believed to have found.

And once again, I got an email back, this time with highlighted sections... but only on the first two pages of a 17 page document. The instruction was "to read through the rest of the document and make similar changes". Apparently they didn't have time to read through the rest of the document. So I made some changes (which didn't really need doing) on the first two pages and explained that I would do no further unless they gave me some constructive feedback.

And this has continued since then, to the extent that they have actually started to 'correct' my English (which I must re-iterate, is my native language). But these 'corrections' they are making are frankly wrong - they are poor from every possible angle: grammar, vocabulary, syntax etc. I have re-corrected their mistakes and I have asked them to respect my professional opinion as a native speaker.

The problem is that I can just see this continuing for ever - it has now been almost a month since I accepted the job, and it is really interfering with my other work. I have explained to them that I cannot keep doing this for them because I have other project commitments, but I fear that this will not matter to them.

Firstly, how do I address this attitude of theirs that "they know English better than me" (the client being a Russian or Ukrainian native speaker, and myself being an English native speaker)?

And secondly, should I charge extra for this continuous re-proofing?

My fear is that they have asked me to edit certain sections so many times that it is becoming 'over-edited' and is actually taking away from the simplicity and accuracy of the original work which I did. They are almost making me turn this document into one which is written in "Russ-glish" (yes, that is my attempt at combining Russian and English), and I'm worried because I'm almost tempted to just humour them so that I can be done with this document. But that of course goes against my translation ethics: that translations should be natural, accurate and correct in the target language.

Help please!


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 19:56
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Ask for opinion of another native speaker Sep 7, 2010

In my opinion, you've already gone further with this than was advisable. If you reckon what you did the first time was correct, why have you agreed to change it - not just once but several times - with the result that you now think the quality has suffered?

Surely, you must put your foot down and tell them that only errors will be corrected free; style issues will be addressed for a fee; mistakes will not be incorporated at any cost - they appear to be able to do that themselves.

If they don't like it, they should employ a second highly-experienced proofreader (a native speaker, of course) to examine at least a part of the text to give an opinion on the work done.


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Alexander Onishko  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:56
Member (2007)
Russian to English
+ ...
Very interesting story. Sep 7, 2010

Hi, Callum

A very interesting story, indeed.

And once again, I got an email back, this time with highlighted sections... but only on the first two pages of a 17 page document.


Could you please provide a couple of examples of sentences where they think your translation does not correspond to the Russian original? (If you are bound by some non-disclosure agreement - you can send me private message )

I believe, there can be two reasons for this situation:

1) your translation is correct but just too "idiomatic" and they simply cannot understand it

2) you might have missed something in the Russian text - and in this case your translation - though in Perfect English - does not convey the exact meaning.



Firstly, how do I address this attitude of theirs that "they know English better than me" (the client being a Russian or Ukrainian native speaker, and myself being an English native speaker)?


This depends, your know... if you translate some legal act, for example, - it would be a mistake to a replace Russian legal term (however, clumsy it may sound) with a similar authentic UK legal terms... because their legal meaning may be somewhat different.


And secondly, should I charge extra for this continuous re-proofing?


This depends both on the above considerations and also on the fact if you have already received your fee for the job.


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InfoMarex
Ireland
Local time: 19:56
Member (2008)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Proofreader - not a stylist Sep 7, 2010

Dear Callum,

You have done your proofreading job. State clearly that the original text was a very poor translation, and that is not your job to correct style, but merely grammar and syntax. If the client is not happy with the translation either let them go back to the original translator or have it translated again – properly this time.

It may sound harsh but it is not your job as a proofreader to provide a first-class translation, and I have no time for non-native English-speaking clients who are under the mistaken impression that they have better English than one who has been born and bred with the language.

You simply have to put your foot down – politely.
Kind regards,


Michael J McCann
InfoMarex


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John Rawlins  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 20:56
Spanish to English
+ ...
This may reflect a lack of respect Sep 7, 2010

The cause of this problem may be that the client simply does not respect you as a professional, or has a naive belief in his own ability as a first-rate translator.

Is there something in your presentation that may have undermined his belief in you (low price, ready availability, a poor recommendation, a perceived lack of qualifications or experience)?

The relationship between you will remain unproductive unless you can immediately rebuild his faith in you, or break down his belief in his own ability.

Another possibility is that he intends, in bad faith, to establish grounds for not paying you all or part of what had been agreed.


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Natalie  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 20:56
Member (2002)
English to Russian
+ ...

MODERATOR
Was it a back-translation? Sep 7, 2010

Callum Walker wrote:
... I received an email stating pretty much the same thing: "read it through again, making sure that the English translation closely matches the expressions in the RUssian original".


Their requests would make sense then.

Natalia


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Callum Walker  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:56
Member (2010)
Russian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
response to various posts... Sep 7, 2010

@Sheila:
I do completely agree with you and I have tried to get this agency to put across my opinion that I should not have to carry out any further work on the document. The problem is, in my opinion, that the client is too pushy and the agency is too soft. Neither works well in my favour. As I'm sure you can imagine, all I want to do is to please my end client. I realise that one dissatisfied client would not destroy my livelihood, but as you may have noticed from my profile (if you have looked at it), I am relatively new to the profession - I have only been working for just over one year. But I do agree with your proposal of requesting a second proofreading if they really claim to be unhappy with it.

@Alexander:
Your idea of it being too idiomatic is perhaps the most relevant proposal. A few of the phrases which they did pick up on are idiomatic phrases in English. The problem is trying to convince them that this is how we express things in English is another matter. The problem is that they see words/phrases which don't seem to make sense, but in actual fact, that is exactly how we word things in English!
In relation to your other points, I have not already received payment for the job. And this document is not of a legal nature - it is in fact a company performance report for last year. The genre is very general in reality - no special vocabulary, only occasional specialist business/financial terminology, so in truth, it is not really a very complicated document - which is why I am struggling to see why it has dragged on for so long!

@InfoMarex:
I do agree with you in part. But I must state that I did accept the job in recognition of the fact that it was a poor original translation (hence why I charged above my standard proofreading rate). Nonetheless, I maintain that my finished product was as near to a 'first-class translation' as possible, and there should not be any major problems with my work. I did of course state that if they can find any genuine problems they should highlight them and I will either make the necessary changes or explain my choices - that is not a problem. But it is the fact that they have not once given any real constructive feedback, but have simply given sweeping statements like "look through it all again", rather than "can you re-phrase the sentence starting X on paragraph 2 page 3 - I'm not happy with the use of X word". This sort of feedback would be welcome, and I would not hesitate to either justify myself or make the necessary changes in light of such feedback.

@John:
I would certainly hope that my client respects me as a translator. Whilst I am new to the profession (with only just over a year of experience), I do have reputable qualifications and have already acquired a wealth of experience. At the end of the day, if the client was not happy with my experience or years working as a translator, then they should not have enlisted me for the job. It is clearly stated on my profile how many years I have been practicing - so it is not as if it is an unstated fact. I think (and hope) that your idea of their unfounded self-belief is more likely. And this is something which I am trying to work on so that they will respect my professional opinion (both as a professional and as a native speaker), and that hopefully they will then accept my opinions. The only downside is that this is all done via the intermediary of an agency, which considerably slows down our discussions.

@Natalie:
I very much doubt that it is a back-translation. It is an original document issued by a Ukrainian company containing their company performance report for 2009. So I cannot see any reason why this would have originally been written in English rather than Russian or Ukrainian.


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Marina Aleyeva  Identity Verified
Ukraine
Local time: 21:56
English to Russian
+ ...
Make them be specific Sep 7, 2010

Callum Walker wrote:
Firstly, how do I address this attitude of theirs that "they know English better than me" (the client being a Russian or Ukrainian native speaker, and myself being an English native speaker)?

Insist that they explain exactly in what way your translation is wrong. Make them go case by case and demand clear explanations for each particular case. Don't let them drag you into a pointless "I know better - No, you don't" discussion. Make them be specific. Tell them that no claims are accepted unless they are appropriately justified.


And secondly, should I charge extra for this continuous re-proofing?

Yes, tell them that since they failed to prove that your translation is wrong, you will charge extra for all the time spent on reviewing what you believe is a correct translation.


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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 20:56
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Get used to quoting chapter and verse Sep 7, 2010

You are right to insist on specific sentences, not just vague instructions to ´read it over again´.

The answer to that is firmly: ´I read all my work carefully, every time, before anything is sent to a client.´ Otherwise you need a second opinion, as others have suggested.

It may be too late with this particular client, but these are my tactics:

When the specific questions come, find a suitable textbook you can quote. I use Michael Swan's Practical English Usage --
ISBN 0 19 431198 x (paperback) or 0 19 431198 8 --
or the Longman Guide to English Usage (Greenbaum & Whitcut), or I quote Sir Ernest Gowers' Plain Words. The new Penguin edition is well updated, but I still have Bruce Fraser's edition, and simply do not mention it is from the 1970s. Used selectively, it is still worth quoting!

Michael Swan is known to many Danes who have seriously studied English, and the references signal that I have too. You can make them sound impressive - but make sure you are RIGHT! You may need to choose another book for your particular clients, but find and get familiar with something suitably authoritative.

The object of the exercise is to reassure the client that you do actually know your own language, and diplomatically give them a learning experience.
Then they come back with more work for this brilliant translator instead of hassling with it themselves. And they accept your idioms once they are used to them...

Examples of text from other sources sometimes help, especially if you are trying to differentiate between two shades of meaning.

It only works, however, with questions about specific terms in the text.

Best of luck!


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John Rawlins  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 20:56
Spanish to English
+ ...
Lost faith in the agency? Sep 7, 2010

Callum Walker wrote:

@John:
I would certainly hope that my client respects me as a translator. Whilst I am new to the profession (with only just over a year of experience), I do have reputable qualifications and have already acquired a wealth of experience. At the end of the day, if the client was not happy with my experience or years working as a translator, then they should not have enlisted me for the job. It is clearly stated on my profile how many years I have been practicing - so it is not as if it is an unstated fact. I think (and hope) that your idea of their unfounded self-belief is more likely. And this is something which I am trying to work on so that they will respect my professional opinion (both as a professional and as a native speaker), and that hopefully they will then accept my opinions. The only downside is that this is all done via the intermediary of an agency, which considerably slows down our discussions.



Your problem may be that the client has lost faith in the agency. If so, then it will be difficult for you to resolve.


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Susan Welsh  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:56
Member (2008)
Russian to English
+ ...
You are not alone... Sep 7, 2010

See Michelle Berdy's famous column from Moscow Times on what it takes to drive translators to leave the profession and become goat farmers.
This is a reprint in SlavFile, the newsletter of the ATA Slavic Languages Division, see p. 5:
http://www.americantranslators.org/divisions/SLD/slavfile/winter-2009.pdf

(Won't solve your problem, but will make you laugh.)


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Cedomir Pusica  Identity Verified
Serbia
Local time: 20:56
Member (2009)
English to Serbian
+ ...
Same here Sep 7, 2010

I had a similar issue one time: once I accepted to go through a very very long and technical document (translated by me) because the client had some questions as to the specific phrases and expressions I used.

No problem, I thought. I called her and she started pointing out the problematic translations (she spoke the target language poorly and was unaware of the fact that, yes, the same word is not always translated by the same equivalent in different contexts...) and I was patient one day, another, and another until I was completely fed up and on the fourth day when she called to complain I turned nasty in defense of my profession and asked her to stop bothering me any more by trying to have free lessons over the phone.

Your Ukrainian pals need to be educated - that is your mission as translator. Many people speak English nowadays, not perfectly of course. Make a point.

Good luck.


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Paula Borges  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 16:56
Member (2010)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
This has been happening to me Sep 7, 2010

I ended up having to post a question on Kudoz and sending a link to the client to prove that I was right, along with many dictionary references. I had two clients who do not speak Portuguese repeatedly send me e-mails asking me: "are you sure this is it, I used MT and didn't get that result", it was very disrespectful since they don't know Portuguese at all and I stopped working for them.

Other clients insist on getting European proofreaders to work on texts destined to the Brazilian market, as they believe their language would be more "polished". The result is that the text is barely comprehensible to Brazilians. I warned them about it, but they insisted on doing it, despite end-clients having trouble and complaining.

Not to mention stubborn PMs who have a holier-than-thou attitude and end up adding a lot of errors to the final text.

I think you can take your time to explain it once. You don't wanna carry on working for someone who's gonna force you to waste your time on a regular basis.

[Edited at 2010-09-07 22:21 GMT]


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RichardDeegan
Local time: 13:56
Spanish to English
...so I made some changes that really didn't need doing Sep 7, 2010

"And once again, I got an email back, this time with highlighted sections... but only on the first two pages of a 17 page document. The instruction was "to read through the rest of the document and make similar changes". Apparently they didn't have time to read through the rest of the document. So I made some changes (which didn't really need doing) on the first two pages and explained that I would do no further unless they gave me some constructive feedback."

I feel that your best move at this point, prior to making ANY changes, would have been to annotate references/ comments on these first two pages, which can be simply done in a table.
For unnecessary changes, "BBB (their change or comment) can be used, although AAA (your translation) is generally preferred" (add a cite if readily available).
For other of their comments, briefly justify your translation choice. "CCC does not exist in the plural in English." "The preposition 'for' requires the gerund form in English" "The word DDD in English refers to an EEE; the word GGG is used for the FFF you suggested.

I have had to do this twice, and only twice, and got paid in full on both occasions without further ado. One instance was on NGO funding and the other an accounting report. The latter was the easiest- few explanations, mostly cites like "IFRS 8".


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Soonthon LUPKITARO(Ph.D.)  Identity Verified
Thailand
Local time: 01:56
Member (2004)
English to Thai
+ ...
Native and Non-native translators Sep 8, 2010

Sometimes I translated into non-native languages to reflect actual wordings e.g. for back-translation. The native speaker writing styles can be idiomatic and critical senses of the document are partially ignored. This happens to legal and medical texts where I want to reflect meanings very honestly but native speakers often look beyond them.

Soonthon Lupkitaro


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