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Should I be consistent or correct?
Thread poster: Richard Bartholomew

Richard Bartholomew  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 03:03
Member (2007)
German to English
Jul 29, 2011

It's difficult to believe that this question hasn't been asked answered elsewhere, but I haven't been able to locate either in these forums. I always search the Internet for translations of material similar to what I'm being tasked to translate. Lots of times I find translations previously completed for the same company, but I don't like how they were done.

The question is: should I translate my source code the way I think it should be translated or should I conform to existing translations? The first alternative leads to a better translation of my source text, but the result clashes with the already existing translation. The second alternative degrades my translation, but the result dovetails well with the existing translation.


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Charlie Bavington  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:03
French to English
Depends Jul 29, 2011

And only the end-client can really give a definite answer, IMHO.

The fact you're finding this stuff for yourself rather than being given it as reference material would, IMHO, tend to indicate you have a free(r) hand to translate as you see fit. But to be sure, I would probably draw up a list along the lines of "Term A: I would usually use X for A but I see existing translations use Y, please advise".

There's no legislating for in-house use, either, even if it seems, to the outsider, 'wrong' (indeed I had this very discussion regarding a reviewing job and a certain company's use of the term "défaut" in an insolvency context just a couple of weeks ago).

So I would always tread carefully, no matter how expert I believe myself to be in the field. Previous translators may not necessarily be wrong, either absolutely or with specific reference to the organisation in question. (I have another client that uses "hand made" as a qualifier where, as it knows fine well, "manual" would be usual. But it has documents dating back over 10 years with hand-made (a mistake made by a non-native speaker designing a system in English) and so hand-made it shall remain for eternity.)

Unless of course my instructions were "the previous translations suck, please sprinkle your genius dust upon our humble outpourings, and make them good", in which case I'd do just that.

[Edited at 2011-07-29 09:12 GMT]


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Paula Hernández
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:03
English to Spanish
+ ...
It depends Jul 29, 2011

If you find your reference material on your own, you can either use it, modify it or make a new translation.
If the client gives it to you and asks you to be consistent, you could ask him about modifying some parts, but you have to (mostly) stick to what you are given.

It happened to me recently, this client gave me this excel file with over 2000 terms to be used in the translation, they said this was not to be modified, and then I find a completely weird translation for "dried ham" (seco jamón, when it should be "jamón seco", at least), it was as easy as to change the order, but I had to ask for permission.


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Kirsten Bodart  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:03
Dutch to English
+ ...
Interesting that you have raised that issue Jul 29, 2011

I had a problem the other day with something like that.

Grievous Dutch translation for a large American firm (I think) marketing some nice product in Belgium and the Netherlands amongst other countries in Europe. Its Terms and Conditions and the rest of its website were so badly translated that I raised this issue with my agency. The proofreader obviously agreed with me as he/she changed my translation entirely, though it did not conform to the client's website. The agency asked me what I thought of it.

I honestly said that it was better, that I would have preferred to have transalted it like that, but that it looked too unlike the client's website. As it was something to be integrated into formerly translated pieces of text, it was going to look ridiculous.

I think it is important for the client to be able to use your text. If you have a problem with certain cultural features or certain mistakes in previously translated pieces, you can raise that issue with your agency (or client if working directly), but I wouldn't make something entirely different as then your end-client is not able to use your translation or the latter will cause customers some confusion.

That entirely defeats the purpose of your job and duty.

Though your job and duty may also be to advise your client that his text is not at all how it should be. As in all likelihood he will not be able to read what the translation says, he will possibly be thankful to you for telling him. If he is not, he is an arrogant sod (sorry! I wa actually thinking of a ruder word here) and doesn't deserve any kindness.


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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 03:03
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Tricky question... Jul 29, 2011

I have a client who insists on referring to their product in the singular, although they are items that always occur in pairs, and are more or less useless in the singular.

The source language noun is the same in the singular and plural, and the other inflections are not too striking, so it works in Danish. But it often sounds stupid in English, especially as you then have to use the singular for other nouns that naturally would come in pairs with the product...

I have stopped discussing it with this client, and as far as possible formulate the sentence to refer to the design or model rather than directly to the product, since they insist that is their house style.

However, I discuss this sort of thing with most of my clients and work out a solution every time. Sometimes I learn some new terminology and usage, and sometimes the client is happy to change to the correct or natural form. I have even been paid to go through a TM and correct it on a couple of occasions.


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Richard Bartholomew  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 03:03
Member (2007)
German to English
TOPIC STARTER
A handy excuse Jul 29, 2011

Charlie Bavington wrote:

So I would always tread carefully, no matter how expert I believe myself to be in the field. Previous translators may not necessarily be wrong, either absolutely or with specific reference to the organisation in question.


That point's well taken. Also, if you just continue doing what someone else has already done, you can (meekly) point out to the customer that he or she has already published similar work if the customer informs you that he or she doesn't like your translation. If it was alright for the previous translator, why isn't alright for you? However, I'd rather not have to roll around in that gutter.

(I have another client that uses "hand made" as a qualifier where, as it knows fine well, "manual" would be usual. But it has documents dating back over 10 years with hand-made (a mistake made by a non-native speaker designing a system in English) and so hand-made it shall remain for eternity.)


My issues are at a similarly low level of intensity: for instance, homepage vs. home page. Merriam-Webster's 11th Collegiate Dictionary defines 'home page' but not 'homepage'. It's not fatal, but it is annoying.

Unless of course my instructions were "the previous translations suck, please sprinkle your genius dust upon our humble outpourings, and make them good", in which case I'd do just that.


In that case, I'd probably want to get paid for editing as well as translating, but at least the ambiguity would be resolved.


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Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 03:03
English to Croatian
+ ...
Be correct, of course. Jul 29, 2011

Briefly put, be correct, provided you are highly confident about what you are doing. The fact they had published a poor translation has nothing to do with you.

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Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 04:03
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Do you mean terminology? Jul 29, 2011

I always try to keep close to the previous terminology when updating or amending a text. Otherwise one would have to update the whole thing, which is mostly not possible, or the customer is not prepared to pay for it.

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Berna Bleeker
Local time: 03:03
Member (2011)
English to Dutch
+ ...
Correct, but... Jul 29, 2011

Lingua 5B wrote:

Briefly put, be correct, provided you are highly confident about what you are doing. The fact they had published a poor translation has nothing to do with you.


I agree, if you have found the reference material yourself, like you say you have. If the old texts are given as reference material by the customer, then you do have to explain to them what's wrong with the old translation and ask if it's OK to correct it.

I'd also use the previous translation (and suggest an improvement) if it is used in an interface element that's still on the customer's web site. If you're translating instructions that tell the user to "choose X from the Y menu", use the legacy translation for X and Y, so the user knows what to click.


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Richard Bartholomew  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 03:03
Member (2007)
German to English
TOPIC STARTER
Yes, terminology in this case Jul 29, 2011

Heinrich Pesch wrote:

I always try to keep close to the previous terminology when updating or amending a text. Otherwise one would have to update the whole thing, which is mostly not possible, or the customer is not prepared to pay for it.


Yes, only terminology is involved in the case at issue. However, in other cases I've found text online, containing flagrant non-terminological errors, that's almost certainly a translation of the same source text I've been tasked to translate. Often, it's not just one sentence but whole paragraphs, many of which are interspersed with reasonably good translations.

The temptation is just to copy and paste everything, good, bad, or ugly: it's quick and easy, but I don't do it. In those cases, I usually edit the previous translator's translation (making sure that its meaning really does correspond to the source text's; often there are slight differences.) I've actually found entire documents that almost certainly originated from the same source text I'd been tasked to translate.


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Richard Bartholomew  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 03:03
Member (2007)
German to English
TOPIC STARTER
Tell me to be bad. Jul 29, 2011

Paula Hernández wrote:

If the client gives it to you and asks you to be consistent, you could ask him about modifying some parts, but you have to (mostly) stick to what you are given.


I define quality as 'whatever the customer wants'. If the customer explicitly tells me to translate black as white, then that's what the customer gets. Here's the algorithm:

Step 1: The customer is always right.
Step 2: If the customer is wrong, go to step 1.

I almost prefer being told to do the wrong thing than having to decide what exactly the wrong thing is.


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Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 03:03
English to Croatian
+ ...
Responsibility Jul 29, 2011

Richard Bartholomew wrote:
I almost prefer being told to do the wrong thing than having to decide what exactly the wrong thing is.


In your opinion, who will take the responsibility when a translation error emerged from following steps 1. and 2. jeopardizes client's business and reputation, or creates a financial loss to them?

Perhaps you are right, maybe that's what it takes for them to understand they are not really competent.


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Catherine Brix
Local time: 03:03
Swedish to English
+ ...
I'm with Lingua Jul 29, 2011

In my opinion, it is our job is to perform to the very best of our ability. The excuse "everyone else did it" is no excuse. We're not in the business of producing documents; we're supposed to create translations that are correct from every perspective. Clients need to know if/when they have been fooled into buying poor translations in the past. Our job is not to perpetuate mistakes and hide behind lame excuses. By raising the bar we can educate clients, make them aware of how they are perceived when they get it right as opposed to when they don't (making them laughing stocks). If we don't take pride in what we do, how can we expect our clients to value what we do?

Surely you saw the BBC article about the cost of spelling mistakes?


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Richard Bartholomew  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 03:03
Member (2007)
German to English
TOPIC STARTER
Freelance scapegoat Jul 29, 2011

Lingua 5B wrote:

In your opinion, who will take the responsibility when a translation error emerged from following steps 1. and 2. jeopardizes client's business and reputation, or creates a financial loss to them?


There's always a possibility that the translator will be called upon to render scapegoat services. Although this is rare, it's happened enough over the years in non-translation contexts, that I've developed a gut feel for when I'm being set up to act as a one. Whenever I get that feeling, I politely decline any future work from that customer (and the current assignment if I haven't already committed to it).

I've sometimes wondered why no one has started a company named Scapegoats-Я-Us, Inc. or the like and made a killing. After all, there seems to be a potential customer base, whose members are itching to blame someone else for their problems. Presumably they'd pay good money to hire a professional scapegoat instead of savaging their own company's employees, who are already busy trying to do their jobs.


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Katalin Horváth McClure  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 21:03
Member (2002)
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Discuss it with the client Jul 29, 2011

I suggest you discuss this issue with the client. The response may be different if your client is an agency vs. a direct client. Point out a few examples of differences, and ask whether they have any objection to using your proposed terminology. In any case, as you work on the translation, you could make a list of those terms that you translated differently than the old materials. Depending on the client's response, you could offer submitting this full list to them, and they can use it to update their old stuff. (Or you can offer to edit their old stuff, if it seems they would be receptive to such offer.)

I am currently working on a job where I found errors in previously translated materials that are currently available on the company's website. They are similar to the stuff I am working on, that's why I looked at them. They were not given to me as references. When I mentioned the problems to the PM, he said not to worry about those particular PDFs, as they will not be used anymore (after I finish my work). In other words, I can use my own judgement. HOWEVER, for terminology used in their software UI, I was asked to stick to what is already there (even if there were better translations), as it will stay as is.
This client is a direct client.

I have had very annoying experiences in the past where my client was an agency, not the direct end user. The terminology list I was given as a MUST USE, was full of errors. When I pointed it out, and offered to correct it, I was told in very strong terms to stick with it anyway. I asked them to please discuss this with the client, as we are talking about completely wrong terms. They refused. Guess what, several months later the agency came back saying that the end client was unhappy about the terminology, and marked up the errors in the translation. Of course, they crossed out those terms I pointed out as erroneous at the very beginning. The agency wanted to blame me, and demanded explanation of every single error, why I made them and what I will do in the future to prevent such issues. When I forwarded them all the emails that I exchanged with the PM about this, where she specifically instructed me NOT to use the correct terms but stick with the reference list, all they could tell me was that the PM is no longer working there. This was my worst experience with an agency, ever. As to what I do to prevent such issues in the future - well, I do not work for them anymore, in fact I do not work for any agency in that country anymore.

On the other hand, there are wonderful agency clients, who are responsive and liaison well with the client, ask questions and get clarifications, when I need them.

So it really depends on whom you are dealing with.
Katalin

[Edited at 2011-07-29 13:50 GMT]


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