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My first experiences with proofreading – bad quality translations
Thread poster: David Sch

David Sch
United Kingdom
Local time: 04:22
Dutch to German
Sep 1

Dear friends,

A customer (big player in the translation business) asked me if I could do proofreading jobs for him. I decided to try it. After having done jobs of about 50.000 words in total, I must state that the quality of the translations is awful in general. Not only are the translators mediocre, they obviously do not re-read their texts after finishing a translation. What I get, is a text with typos and heavy mistakes in 50% of all sentences. If I add the many not so heavy mistakes, I end up changing around 80% of all sentences.

Does anybody have more experience with proofreading jobs? Is this normal? How do you deal with this problem? Simply not take proofreading jobs? But who does that work then? It is quite scary to imagine it the other way around: that those translators are proofreading my translations.


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Riccardo Schiaffino  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 03:22
Member (2003)
English to Italian
+ ...
Just add this sentence to your e-mails Sep 1

David Sch wrote:

Dear friends,

A customer (big player in the translation business) asked me if I could do proofreading jobs for him. I decided to try it. After having done jobs of about 50.000 words in total, I must state that the quality of the translations is awful in general. Not only are the translators mediocre, they obviously do not re-read their texts after finishing a translation. What I get, is a text with typos and heavy mistakes in 50% of all sentences. If I add the many not so heavy mistakes, I end up changing around 80% of all sentences.

Does anybody have more experience with proofreading jobs? Is this normal? How do you deal with this problem? Simply not take proofreading jobs? But who does that work then? It is quite scary to imagine it the other way around: that those translators are proofreading my translations.


I often accept editing assignments. But I always stipulate in advance that I retain the right to refuse an editing assignment if the quality of the translation is, in my opinion, too poor.


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Teresa Borges
Portugal
Local time: 10:22
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Well... Sep 1

I never accept an editing job without seeing the translation first and poor quality causes me to reject most of the projects I’m offered, some are without doubt machine translation post-editing projects…

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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 11:22
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Not normal, but all too common Sep 1

Way back, proofreading was very largely just that - proofreading. A competent translator had done an excellent piece of work, and I used to check it through.

A proofreader can read the translation first without seeing the source, and check it as the target readers will. That is the one thing translators cannot do for themselves!

Next step is to check it against the source, to make sure it is also an accurate translation. That used to be fine as well, apart from an occasional missed sentence (before the days of CAT tools) or an odd piece where the source might be ambiguous.

You still see jobs like that, coming from agencies that believe in quality. But unfortunately there are a lot of amateurs trying to make a living from translation, who may not be able to write well in the target language, and who do not have a sufficient understanding of the source.

There is also a lot of machine translation about - which is not as bad as it used to be. It may be strictly correct in the target language language, but often it is clumsy and not idiomatic, and the source language clearly shows through. Nevertheless, it takes at least as long to correct it as to translate from scratch...

Riccardo Schiaffino wrote:

I often accept editing assignments. But I always stipulate in advance that I retain the right to refuse an editing assignment if the quality of the translation is, in my opinion, too poor.


That is excellent advice!


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Romina Navarro
Argentina
Local time: 06:22
English to Spanish
Not only bad translations but CHEAP translations Sep 1

Too many times, agencies (especially some 'big players') hire bilingual amateurs or translation/teaching students to whom they pay (let's say) $0.01 per word, and then they hire a good proofreader to improve it by half the rate of a good translation. It is still much cheaper than paying a GOOD translator in the first place. Brilliant, right?

I totally agree with Ricardo's advice. You need to read part of the translated text before accepting any project.
Editing a really poor translation (or even worse, a MT text) takes the same time and effort as translating it from scratch. So you can either reject the project or charge your translation rate instead of the proofreading one.


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Claudio Porcellana  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 11:22
Member (2004)
English to Italian
refuse an editing assignment if the quality of the translation is, in my opinion, too poor Sep 1

there is another option that I use and suggest


I invoice per hour AND I don't accept preagreed amounts

clearly, if the quality is very poor, I inform the customer quickly adding a brief error report and an estimate of the total amount of hours needed: if they say me to go on (and it happens) I revise and invoice the time I spend, even dozens of hours sometimes

my 2 cents

[Edited at 2017-09-01 23:30 GMT]


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TranslationPanacea TranslationPanacea
India
Local time: 14:52
Member (Jan 2017)
trying to cut corners Sep 2

Unfortunately, there are agencies who call `editing' work as 'proof reading'. Every translation has to undergo 3 QC steps. 1. by the translator herself, before submitting the translation, 2. by the editor, checking it with the original and checking for TL sentence construction and word selection and 3. proof reading which looks at only typos, punctuations, spelling, formatting.

Good professional translators always take pride in their work and check their work without fail, before submitting to the client. It is, however, the agency's responsibility to get the work edited AND proof read.
The proof reader cannot ignore the mistakes s/he comes across in the translation and then it becomes a job of editing rather than proof reading (though the payment is only form proof reading).

It is always good to have the scope clearly defined before taking up the assignment. Also, it is good to see at least a small part of work (with original) before accepting editing and/or proof reading assignment.

Agencies, under the pressure of rate competition, tend to accept low payment jobs and then try to skip the editing step.


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 11:22
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
This is why Sep 2

David Sch wrote:
A customer (big player in the translation business) asked me if I could do proofreading jobs for him. I decided to try it. After having done jobs of about 50.000 words in total, I must state that the quality of the translations is awful in general. Not only are the translators mediocre, they obviously do not re-read their texts after finishing a translation. What I get, is a text with typos and heavy mistakes in 50% of all sentences. If I add the many not so heavy mistakes, I end up changing around 80% of all sentences.

What you describe is exactly why I never (or only in extreme cases) accept revision/proofreading assignments.

Many agencies choose their translators poorly, mostly based upon rate, and the result is appalling. Sometimes they know that and try to hide it from you until you have accepted the proofreading job, and in other cases they have no idea of what they are getting for their money.

[Edited at 2017-09-02 06:37 GMT]


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Thayenga  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 11:22
Member (2009)
English to German
+ ...
Quality is key Sep 2

Before I accept proofreading jobs, let alone quote on them, I always want to see the text first in order to get an idea of the translation's quality. Only after I've flipped through a few pages (if it's a long text) and looked at the end/the last page of the text, do I decide whether to take or leave it, and what to charge.

It did happen a few times that I was asked to "proofread" a file which then turned out to be MT. So I assume that agencies try to save as many pennies as they can, hoping that the proofreader won't notice. An agency that takes pride in its work and respects its vendors will be honest with you, if they know that a translation is less than mediocre.

Getting paid by the hours, that is, the actual time required to do the job, is the way to go. If you get paid a per word rate, you might spend several hours on a document without getting paid for the extra time required to fix up a mess.


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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 11:22
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Quoting by the hour Sep 2

Many clients dislike agreeing to pay by the hour, because they do not know how much it will end up costing them. It is the only fair way to charge, however. A good translation takes a fraction of the time it will take to work through and edit a poor translation.

Like others, I check the quality of the text to see whether I will accept it at all, and allow at least an hour per thousand words of source text. (In my languages that means 1200 target words!)

I then add 10-30% for longer texts, (the longer the text, the greater percent) and quote a maximum price for the job. I also tell the client that I will invoice them for less if I take less time.

If the client does not run away screaming that my rate is outrageous, we have a deal, and I almost always make at least a token reduction, except on very small jobs. If the translation is good and takes a lot less time to review, then everyone is happy!

If I still end up working all night over it, well, just too bad, but it doesn't happen often! Of course, I also tell the client if there are unforeseen problems, take it from there.
_____________________________________

Before you start, you have to agree on what the client expects - is the terminology reliable, or are you supposed to check that too?
I have on several occasions checked texts without understanding all the terminology in detail - and learnt a lot from them along the way - on the understanding that I should only look at the language, punctuation etc. and not worry about the terminology - the translator knew all about that.

On other occasions I have been asked to check terminology as well, and here you really can get into trouble. Each error can take five, ten, fifteen minutes to check and correct, while no errors take no time at all. So if there are a lot of terms to check, you have to allow a lot of time.

Of course, I turn down jobs like that if they are outside my own subject fields!!


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Mair A-W (PhD)
Germany
Local time: 11:22
Member (2016)
French to English
+ ...
raise your price Sep 2

David Sch wrote:

Dear friends,

A customer (big player in the translation business) asked me if I could do proofreading jobs for him. I decided to try it. After having done jobs of about 50.000 words in total, I must state that the quality of the translations is awful in general. Not only are the translators mediocre, they obviously do not re-read their texts after finishing a translation. What I get, is a text with typos and heavy mistakes in 50% of all sentences. If I add the many not so heavy mistakes, I end up changing around 80% of all sentences.

Does anybody have more experience with proofreading jobs? Is this normal? How do you deal with this problem? Simply not take proofreading jobs? But who does that work then? It is quite scary to imagine it the other way around: that those translators are proofreading my translations.


Although ideally I would, as everyone else said, only take proofreading jobs where either you know the translator and have some idea of the quality of their work, or you have seen the job before quoting, in practice I have at times been asked to give a proofreading word price to an agency, who will then send me jobs with a fixed $X to accept or reject. After some experimentation, I considered not offering proofreading as a service at all, but then I decided to try something else: I raised my proofreading price (until it was close to my translation rate).

To be honest, I thought that would be it, agencies would no longer send me proofreading jobs. In fact, they still do. Furthermore, I guess because I'm no longer getting assigned jobs with cheapskate end-clients, the translations I've sent have, in fact, mostly been carried out by competent translators. If I do have to spend more time on them, though, I don't mind it.

So I guess my answer to "How do you deal with this problem?" is, if you can't see the job before deciding, quote based on a worst-case scenario.

I do remain astonished, though, to receive translations that apparently haven't even been run through a spellchecker. Surely that's standard for everyone working on a computer?

The other thing you can, perhaps should?, do is send the agency feedback separate to the proofread document, so they can adjust how the translator is ranked in their books.


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 10:22
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
I quote a rate per hour plus a maximum spend Sep 2

The work involved in the monolingual English editing I do goes more quickly than bilingual reviews, though even then it can sometimes take an hour to do 750 words of non-native English. But if it's been written/translated by a native English speaker with good writing skills and really only needs proofreading then I can check 3,000 words in an hour. It would be crazy to quote a rate per word without knowing the quality of the writing (all the way through, not just on page one, which is often the best!) and the client's requirements (just make it grammatically correct and error-free, or include style improvements, or even "make it sell our product/service"). If you're doing bilingual revision, you have the quality of the translation (its accuracy, completeness, etc) to worry about too, so it would be doubly daft to give a quote per unseen word.

Christine Andersen wrote:
quote a maximum price for the job. I also tell the client that I will invoice them for less if I take less time.

That's my way too. I check the text pretty thoroughly it it comes from a new source, and that can mean for each author or translator from an agency client. Then I tell them how much I charge per hour and give them an absolute maximum period - usually about a third higher than I think is the likely time spend if all goes swimmingly well. Like Christine, I only charge them for the actual time taken (rounded up) up to the maximum. If I've quoted too low, I take the hit and learn from it. Once a client and I have established a good working relationship they generally stop asking for quotes and just ask me to do the work. The great thing is that if you work regularly with the same author/translator - especially a non-native one - they tend to learn from your changes and comments and so the work becomes more enjoyable for the editor and less expensive for the client. Win-win with no effort!

It's important to know when to say no. There's no point in quoting at all if you're going to find the entire job totally unsatisfactory, and/or you're afraid it will end up paying very little per hour. You'll be better off spending those hours looking for better jobs.


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:22
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Stop now Sep 2

David Sch wrote:

Dear friends,

A customer (big player in the translation business) asked me if I could do proofreading jobs for him. I decided to try it. After having done jobs of about 50.000 words in total, I must state that the quality of the translations is awful in general. Not only are the translators mediocre, they obviously do not re-read their texts after finishing a translation. What I get, is a text with typos and heavy mistakes in 50% of all sentences. If I add the many not so heavy mistakes, I end up changing around 80% of all sentences.

Does anybody have more experience with proofreading jobs? Is this normal? How do you deal with this problem? Simply not take proofreading jobs? But who does that work then? It is quite scary to imagine it the other way around: that those translators are proofreading my translations.


I suggest you make that your LAST experience in proofreading. Proofreading is time-consuming, unrewarding, badly paid work.


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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 11:22
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Someone has to do it... Sep 3

Tom in London wrote:

...

I suggest you make that your LAST experience in proofreading. Proofreading is time-consuming, unrewarding, badly paid work.


If you don't like proofreading/editing, or can't find clients who will pay, then that is the obvious answer.

I have to admit that I am very picky these days. However, someone has to do some proofreading/editing, and at the start of my career - when I was lucky enough to work in-house - I was regularly asked to proofread excellent translations into English by Danish subject experts. They had the terminology or the legalese phrasing etc. at their fingertips, so I did not have to worry about that. (And legalese can be almost a foreign language to some natives!). I then had to call the translators and discuss any changes I proposed! This was an enormous help to me, and I learnt a lot from generous colleagues who took time to help me.

I have also benefited from proofreaders who have given feedback on my work. At the top end of the business, proofreading may not be your favourite job - even constructive criticism is not exactly enjoyable all the time! But there is the satisfaction of a job well done. Good colleagues will thank you, and the best agencies will actually pay too.

Ask for a realistic rate that covers the time you spend, and that will sort clients straight away! Drop the ones who pinch and scrape immediately - it is a waste of time trying to persuade them to change. But you can work happily with those who have the right approach.


[Edited at 2017-09-03 15:00 GMT]


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Nikki Scott-Despaigne  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:22
French to English
Perfect summary Sep 3

David Sch wrote:

Dear friends,

A customer (big player in the translation business) asked me if I could do proofreading jobs for him. I decided to try it. After having done jobs of about 50.000 words in total, I must state that the quality of the translations is awful in general. Not only are the translators mediocre, they obviously do not re-read their texts after finishing a translation. What I get, is a text with typos and heavy mistakes in 50% of all sentences. If I add the many not so heavy mistakes, I end up changing around 80% of all sentences.

Does anybody have more experience with proofreading jobs? Is this normal? How do you deal with this problem? Simply not take proofreading jobs? But who does that work then? It is quite scary to imagine it the other way around: that those translators are proofreading my translations.


David, you have provided a very succint summary of why I (almost) never do proofreading. The one exception I make is for colleagues whose work I am familiar with and for whom I know proofreading will be just that.


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My first experiences with proofreading – bad quality translations

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