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Argh! You translated A and they published B!

Argh! You translated A and they published B!Save the Semicolon ran a good little piece recently on the unique frustrations associated with having somebody "improve" on your written work after you.

"One of the most frustrating moments in a tech writer's life can come after the job is long over. Weeks later, you get your hands on the finished product, which looks great, but suddenly you see something that makes you crazy.

The sentence (or label, or punctuation mark) that you polished till it gleamed has been mangled. You wrote it one way, but they published something different."
Substitute "translator" for "tech writer" and you have a situation that every translation professional has experienced.

Many editors feel compelled to make changes to a translator's text. Some in-country reviewers love to demonstrate their own value by making preferential (or even incorrect) "improvements". And even the occasional project manager will feel compelled to improve the text - "hmmm, that doesn't look right; let me change that before I ship the final document to the client".

How do you deal with these frustrations?

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  1. Rose Newell said...
    [Note: I think you meant to say "every translator", not "ever translator" :)]
    Yes, I have had the same situation. Once, I was even asked by an agency to explain the errors in a translation that had been found by a client. I was returned the translation, and needless to say, found something quite different to what I had originally sent them! I told the agency to send the client my original translation and see what they said. They were content.

    I recently published an article entitled "The Ethics of Proofreading", on my own blog (The Translator's Teacup), inspired by the very similar issue of the over-zealous proofreader.

    It is a general issue with proofreaders and reviewers. Really, the last person to look at a text should be the most qualified, but it frequently isn't. Sadly some agencies seem to cut corners on the proofreading - I guess this has little impact on a translation if they leave a good translation alone - but a pretty fatal impact if they mess it all up!

    I think it is a good idea, where the problem has not been noticed by an end client, to inform them. Aside from anything else, it may appear that this error was yours! I would emphasise the importance of using a native speaking translator, and that any alterations made should be reviewed again prior to publication.

    In instances such as mine, where it is an agency that has complained, it is vital to highlight the differences between your work and the proofreaders' alterations.
    Krys Williams said...
    I do not even bother to follow up. As long as I know I did a good job and I have been paid, I really could not care less what happens to the translation if my name is not associated with it.

    [Via LinkedIn]
    Mirella Nalder said...
    My major concern is that changes to our translations are made without discussing them with us and the outcome is often disastrous to the point that we do not publicise any longer the websites we have translated and we do not want our name associated with some work that has been published. It's quite sad.

    [Via LinkedIn]
    Cedric Sagne said...
    They paid you, right? You retain no moral right on your output once delivered, and certainly not the right to prevent your client to change it even if it is for the worse.

    Only certified translators have such a right because the documents they deliver are legally binding and delivered in stamped hard copy only.

    You also have a clause in your contract stating you cannot be sued for damages - even on your own copy... take it easy, he who pays calls the tune.

    [Via LinkedIn]
    Adam Wooten said...
    Good post, Andres. Your team is consistently doing a great job with your blog.

    I recently saw something similar happen with a magazine article I wrote about internationalization. At the last minute, the chief editor added a tagline to the top of the page specifically about localization. I saw the change after the magazine was printed.

    The tagline looked so irrelevant to the focus of the article that anyone who knew anything about the industry would look at my name and want to say, "that guy doesn't know what he's talking about." Fortunately, the magazine targeted readers outside the industry who largely won't know the difference between localization and internationalization.

    I'm glad the editors of my weekly column don't make such drastic changes without first consulting me.

    Yes, we see it happen with translation too. If we can change it, great! If it has already been printed in hard copy, well then we can only try to prevent it from happening again.

    [Via LinkedIn]
    Diane Masterson said...
    I can answer this, don't get crazy. If you can, have modified text highlighted in a pdf when changes occur so you are aware before publishing stage. If you have a good printer, commericial printers normally do a set up and give you a print. It could be recognized there before multiple copies are made. Do the pre-press final check. If it's the printer's fault, get them to do a free reprint. If it was your fault, try next time to put some space between you and the article (maybe two weeks) so you can look it over more objectively. Or hire an outside proofreader.

    [Via LinkedIn]
    Roman Mironov said...
    It is completely fine with me when an end client chooses to make changes to my translation. Even when such changes are incorrect, well, it's their right as a customer. I will of course try to inform them about the errors though.

    When the changes are made by an agency's proofreader, it's a little bit different. A proofreader might introduce an error, which can be later spotted by an end client. This will result in unnecessary frustration to all parties, including myself, despite the fact that I am not the one to blame.

    As mentioned in other comments, this can and should be avoided by letting the original translator check the changes. This is very important with the changes made by an end client, and doubly so with the changes made by an agency's proofreader.
    Franco Zearo said...
    Three suggestions:
    1. If the customer introduced a change that is so wrong that it seriously compromises the intelligibility of the text, then inform them: It's good customer service. Besides, it may damage your reputation (I'll bet you that no one will remember who made that change, but they will all blame the translator), so try to pre-empt a possible complaint.
    2. Keep good records of what you received and what you delivered, in case the customer comes back to you with a complaint. You need to demonstrate that the change wasn't made by you.
    3. Consider introducing a clause in your contract that invalidates your warranty and post-service support. In other words, your post-service support is limited to what you have actually delivered. If the customer decides to "tamper" with your translation, then they do so at their own risk. (Similar to those manufacturers' clauses that void the warranty when you open a device.)

    [Via LinkedIn]
    Merry Foxworth said...
    It is true that many translation agencies' proofreaders are not knowledgeable in the subject matter in which you are an expert and therefore think that some of your choices are wrong. And they don't want to hear it. Sometimes it is hard to get the feedback from the agency on what they found to correct.

    This is a frustrating situation. The only answer seems to be to find only agencies at your level of competence to work for, which is not so easy in practice without going through a lot of aggravation.
    Frank Wang said...
    Interesting post. I see two issues here.

    First, many agencies are very serious about qualifying the translator, but less careful in picking the editor. The result is that sometimes the translator is more competent than the editor. This creates a strange situation where the less competent has more say on the final translation than the more competent. When there is time, the edit changes are sometimes sent back to the translator for "approval", which can be irritating to the original translator when the editor misses the point for a particular translation, such as client glossary/style guide requirements, need for consistency, or simply when the editor errs due to linguistic and/or technical incompetence. This imbalance of competence, experience and/or project knowledge is one of the reasons why some are calling for the replacement of the TEP process. Before an alternative is found, the solution to this problem can be matching the translator with an equally competent (or more competent) editor/reviewer. (But some good linguists do not want to take on editing. That is another story.)

    The picture is further complicated by client reviewers, who are most likely non-linguists. Except for product and technical knowledge, they are usually less competent linguistically and are unaware of the general requirements/conventions of technical translation. There is no good solution to this problem. But if the client reviewer makes a change, the responsibility lies with that person, and the translators and agencies are completely off the hook.

    Second, in this freelancing model, there is no systematic training of editors/reviewers. Editors are often given the work without instructions or guidelines on what to do in editing or review. Translation tests for translators are common, but are editors tested for editing before they start the job? The assumption is that a translator can automatically be an editor. But it is not true. The translator is engaged in re-creation, while the editor focuses on bug finding and fixing. These are different mindsets. Also, it is a basic requirement for an editor to put away his or her own personal preferences and styles, to avoid over-editing, because the more editing is done, the more likely that editing errors are introduced into the translation. Not every translator can do that. Some just cannot live with translations from other people. With an in-house team it would be easy to pick and train editors. In this freelancing model, picking and training editors is a much bigger challenge. But it has to be done, to guarantee the quality of the delivered product.

    [Via LinkedIn]

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