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Being forced to write incorrect language
Thread poster: Spencer Allman

Spencer Allman
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:32
Finnish to English
Oct 14, 2010

I would be interested to hear what others have to say about this situation.

I am working on a project whose end client is an authority in a certain country. This authority has produced reference documents in the target language (English) which favour the wrong use of English grammatical structures.

The instructions are that I should adhere to the style of the reference documents, even if they are not perfect in terms of use of language . However, I find I cannot compel myself purposely to write badly in my own language.

(One example is that they advocate third-person 'shall' to predict outcomes (rather than express obligation - its conventional use, though only in rather pompous or legal texts, I would say))

This problem has emerged since I began the project and I cannot just turn it down at this late stage.

What would you do?

1. accept the terms and produce poorly worded language?

2. ignore the terms, write your own, correct version, and risk a complaint?

3. something else completely

Obviously I will explain the situation to the agent (not UK-based and not a native speaker of English) but I fear that they will not offer any advice

thanks for your contributions


Graeme Waller  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:32
Finnish to English
+ ...
Familiar Problem Oct 14, 2010


Thanks for bringing this up. The problem is painfully familiar.

Some clients seem to think they know the target language better than the native-speaking translator (me) they have hired (even when I have examples from reliable sources to back me up and sometimes include them as notes).

Often the reference material they want me to stick to is quite poor. I am many times left at a loss what to say or do. I will be watching this thread with interest.

P.S. I usually follow the second option. I have lost some clients this wayicon_frown.gif

[Edited at 2010-10-14 11:32 GMT]

[Edited at 2010-10-14 11:37 GMT]


Etienne Kouakou  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 17:32
English to French
+ ...
Speak to the agent Oct 14, 2010


You don't want to take the blame should anything go wrong. Bringing up that point with your agent, since you can't contact the end client directly, will constitute a waiver of responsibility as to any content area that is translated according to the client's recommendations.


Susanna Garcia  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:32
Italian to English
+ ...
Incorrect language Oct 14, 2010

When I was a teacher, part of my job was obviously to ensure correct work was produced, an attitude I brought with me when I became a free lancer. After banging my head against various brick walls explaining the finer points and nuances of grammar, I found the pain went away when I stopped. I soon realised I wasn't teaching any more - if the client thought he knew better and considered Aleesha Dixon a valid role model, then 'we was' was/were fine by me.
I know now who wants what and provide the's the client's decision in the end. I flag up my concerns but only the once, then move on.

Cliche' moment but life really is too short.



Local time: 23:32
Slovak to English
Unfortunate situation Oct 14, 2010

They should have selected a non-native speaker for the translation to begin withicon_smile.gif
I also find that (certain) non-native speakers will question my native English. It used to irritate me but if they have the need to be right at all costs, then so be it. I do however make the disclaimer that I am not responsible for the content that they change after I have translated a document. This is also the main reason I don't proofread text translated by non-native speakers. It is just too much for me to let things slip by when they are grammatically passable yet obviously awkwardly formulated - I get the shivers just thinking about it!

I agree with Graeme, do it the right way. Besides, as a native speaker I'm not even sure you can come up with convincing formulations that sound wrong in the right way (i.e., with the types of mistakes made by the speakers in the target country).icon_smile.gif


Kevin Fulton  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 17:32
German to English
Give them what they want ... Oct 14, 2010

... as long as you get paid and your name doesn't go on the document.

For a few years now I've been translating texts produced by a minor authority in his field (these jobs are through a publisher). He doesn't write particularly well in his native language, and each year he rewrites my translations to conform to an exact wording of his poorly-written original texts. His technical terminology is usually correct, but the "idioms" are gibberish. The editor at the publisher takes it in stride -- she argues with him about his original texts. Normally my name goes on my translations, but in this case the English is identified "Translation by the author" -- at my insistence.

The money is the same whether my name goes on it or not, and I cry all the way to the bank.  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:32
English to Arabic
+ ...
As for me Oct 14, 2010

I'll bring up this issue to client. If he/she insists on adhering to such style (which I consider whatever) then I'll finally act as he wishes after submitting any form of disclaimer even through an email.

Since my name shall not be printed on such deliverables, so why should I care as long as I already raised the issue to client.

If any legal issue pops up in the future, the client shall be in charge (considering that you have submitted him a disclaimer).



Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:32
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Go on in your style Oct 14, 2010

Fortunately I haven't had yet such clients, probably because German is less known. But I would not write something if I know it was wrong (there are enough mistakes I make without knowing).


Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:32
French to English
+ ...
Think about what "correct" means, and be pragmatic... Oct 14, 2010

I think you need to isolate "correct" as in:

(a) "not within the realm of what most educated native speakers would naturally say and/or naturally open to misinterpretation without thinking about any prescriptive 'grammar rules' etc", and "correct"
(b) "doesn't follow misceallaneous prescriptive X rule advocated by Fowler/micsellaneous grammarian/style guide Y".

Both of these notions of "correct" have different implications which may be relevant to the client. Presumably as you are writing you are natural, subconsciously thinking about the (a) notion of "correctness". If the clients' proposed style clashes with (a)-- i.e. naturally causes misunderstandings etc without thinking about any prescriptive rule or style guide-- I would point out the problem, but ultimately adhere to their style guide.

[Similarly, if I ask an arquitect, "please design me a conservatory built from wooden panels", I wouldn't expect them to put glass ones in instead without consulting me, even though the arquitect might firmly believe that glass panels are more sutiable than wooden ones for building conservatories. However, I perhaps would expect them to point out their perceived problem to me so that I can make an informed decision.]

If you have case (b), e.g. the client says "always use 'shall' to mean 'will result in...'", but you know that some other prescriptive grammar/legal style guide says "only use 'shall' to mean 'will have a duty to'", or the client says "use 'they' as a neuter pronoun instead of he/she", but you've got another style guide saying "never use 'they' as a neuter pronoun isntead of he/she", then just remember that all of this is arbitrary. Keep in the back of your mind that neither Fowler nor Dr J Smithers that wrote your favourite style guide, nor Mr Blackwater your O-Level English teacher who was adamant that for some miscellaneous reason you "should" say "if it were" rather than "if it was" actually had a direct line with God. All of these are merely arbitrary views based on personal preference and arugment (the logical behind such argument also being arbitrary. I would try and weigh up objectively whether you think that NOT following your favourite convention in favour of the client's will ACTUALLY cause a problem. If it will actually cause a problem, then inform the client of the potential problem, but still stick to their convention, just as an arquitect

In the case of 'will' and 'shall', there really seems to be an exaggerated worry about which to use when, with people worrying that if they use the "wrong" one that some clause will be misinterpreted etc, but never actually pointing to a real-life case in which a judgement has hinged on the interpretation of these words. There's so much variation in actual usage, it's hard to see how one would.


Anne Koth  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:32
Member (2018)
German to English
The client is king, but cover your back. Oct 14, 2010

I am in a similar situation with one customer, who wants "President" to be capitalised always, even when it is not a title, wants "the" to be used with the name of the company, even though it doesn't fit with this name (it sounds like a person's name), and a few other oddities strange enough to make their articles sound mildly weird if you're not used to it.

I do what they want, but whenever they come up with a new odd translation wish I inform them in detail about why it sounds odd, in an e-mail. That way, if anyone comes along later and complains I mistranslated it, I can prove they were warned it was wrong. My name does not appear on the translation, but if it did I'd ask not to be mentioned.

In this case, what bothers me most is that when I forget one of these random rules and accidentally use normal English, the client acts all irritated, as if I am deliberately wasting her time. I now have it all written out in a list I can consult as I translate, but I don't think she realises that when it's your native language, it can take some effort not to write normally, and it's easy to slip into standard punctuation without noticing.

Fortunately I don't get that much work from this client, but I have considered suggesting they find another translator with more patience for this sort of thing. If it was more than just mildly weird, I'd probably drop them.


Tatty  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:32
Spanish to English
+ ...
Couldn't bring myself to do Oct 14, 2010

I don't reckon I could bring myself to do, personally. Shall doesn't have to be an obligation it can be a prediction it is just a weaker one than shall. I shall do it - I will do it but I don't know when. So I would comply with the client's wishes on that point.

I would do the translation properly and hand it in. If they came back to me on any point I would just point out that there suggestion was wrong. I would also call it a day with the client.

BTW, a case was brought before the ECJ by Italy which centered on the difference between shall the tense and shall the modal verb.

[Editado a las 2010-10-14 19:31 GMT]


Steve Booth  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:32
English to Arabic
+ ...
bad grammar or style Oct 14, 2010

I suppose to me it would depend on whether the reference material they wanted me to follow was just in a bad style or whether it was grammatically incorrect.

I couldn't produce grammatically incorrect work and to be honest I am not sure if I would want to produce work that was either poor style or non native speaker style either.

I would personally plump for do it properly and see what happens.

The only time something similar has happened to me i think the agency may have changed my translation after i refused. This was a simple no brainer. I was translating a certificate (from Arabic so it wouldn't have been obvious to the agency) and the agency said the client spells their name in English
Melanie Brown so can you please ensure you spell it like this on the translation.
Now had the original been Melany Braun i could have accepted it. However the original was more like Michael Jackson. Not only was it a completely different name it was also the wrong sex.


Tina Vonhof
Local time: 15:32
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Two documents Oct 14, 2010

I know it would take more time but if the documents are not too long, I would consider delivering two versions, the one they seem to want and a corrected version, and explain in an e-mail why you are doing this.


Spencer Allman
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:32
Finnish to English
Solution Oct 15, 2010

Thanks for all the contributions.

Regarding the 'shall' thing, please remember it was third person only.

The end-client and agency have agreed that I shoud provide the text with the grammatical solutions I favour, leaving their terminology and elements of style.

Seems fair enough.



Soonthon LUPKITARO(Ph.D.)  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:32
Member (2004)
English to Thai
+ ...
Agree Oct 15, 2010

Kevin Fulton wrote:

For a few years now I've been translating texts produced by a minor authority in his field (these jobs are through a publisher). He doesn't write particularly well in his native language, and each year he rewrites my translations to conform to an exact wording of his poorly-written original texts. His technical terminology is usually correct, but the "idioms" are gibberish. The editor at the publisher takes it in stride -- she argues with him about his original texts. Normally my name goes on my translations, but in this case the English is identified "Translation by the author" -- at my insistence.

Customers are always correct is still a good policy. I recently reviewed many bad translations of Thai natives living abroad. I tried desperately to correct wrong grammars but with no avail. Now, I am enlightened that the more Internet progress (with better access to language service providers), the more lower translation quality.

Soonthon Lupkitaro

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