Standing your ground

Standing your ground

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Don’t suffer in silence

A lot of translators don’t accept editing work, or revisions or corrections as they are sometimes known. Sometimes, I think I ought to join them. It can be a frustrating and unrewarding task, struggling to release the meaning from a badly written piece of work, although helping to polish a text that is already basically sound does bring its own satisfactions.

Those who do reject all editing jobs, though, are perhaps missing a trick, as I hope this story will illustrate. Last week I was contacted by a fellow translator who had a job for me, editing some tourism texts. She was going to do the Spanish and Catalan and she wanted me to do the English version. I was interested but a little surprised. The normal thing, in such cases, would be to be asked to translate the texts into English. “Who,” I asked, “is going to do the English translation?”, even joking “I hope they’re not going to use Google Translate.”


I had reason to remember my light-hearted comment when the English version arrived later in the week. It was, without a doubt, the worst pieces of writing I have ever had the misfortune to receive for editing. The only good news was that, as far as I could see from running the first paragraph of the original through Google Translate, that particular translation app was not the culprit. The bad news was that Google’s version was actually better – fewer mistakes, more natural sounding – than the one I’d been given to correct, which was clearly written by a non-native speaker whose command of English was limited, to say the least.

My initial reaction was to demand a much higher rate than I usually ask for editing, but, the more I looked, the more it became clear to me that I couldn’t accept the document as it was. Whole sections were virtually unintelligible and would require me to refer back to the original. Translating from scratch would actually be quicker. Fortunately, when I complained to my Catalan colleague who had sent me the job, she wholeheartedly agreed with me. We decided to send a message to the customer explaining the problem, providing a sample paragraph of text with a proper translation, showing how different this would be, and giving an estimate for a translation of the whole text. Then we’d wait and hope common sense would prevail.


Fortunately, it did. The customer very quickly decided to pay for a proper translation, and that’s exactly what I’m now doing, at a good rate. Who knows, if my work is good enough it might bring in more jobs from the same source. One more example of how standing your ground brings its rewards. Because early on in my career I might well have agreed to do the editing job, spending far more time than I should have done on it. I would have hated the work; the customer, for all my efforts, would still have ended up with a poor quality text, and I would never have known the opportunities I was missing for being too eager to please.

That’s not to say the approach will always work so well. The customer might easily not have been in a position to pay for a translation and simply cancelled. But even in that case I’d have avoided having to do an awful job that wouldn’t have repaid the time spent on it. So I would urge anyone who’s unhappy about any aspect of a job they’re given not to suffer in silence. Raise the problem: you might be surprised at how beneficially it can be solved.



  1. Lloyd Bingham

    Great story and lesson there, Simon. Prime example of client education prevailing and potentially turning into continued business. I wish more of our colleagues would follow your lead rather than moaning online and shutting doors.


      Thanks, Lloyd. The point is, I think, to try to find a way that everyone can benefit. If the client then turns that down, it’s really their problem. In this case I couldn’t lose because the editing job would have been so awful I really didn’t want to do it, so even if they’d rejected the translation proposal I’d still have been better off than if I’d meekly accepted it. I also can’t emphasise enough the great support I had from my terrific colleague Eugènia Torrella, who was the person who initially offered me the job and who was caught in the middle of all this. We worked out our strategy together and she takes all the credit for delivering the "client education" that made it all happen.

  2. Sarah

    Great post Simon! I must admit that I’ve been in this situation many times. Sometimes I’ve been sent a text for "proofreading" that looked suspiciously like Google Translate had been used. I had the source text so I put a few sentences in to Google, and what do you know, they came out exactly as the text that I had been given! I checked the rest and it was the same story. They only changed a few words here and there but otherwise it was straight Google Translate. I immediately told the client (an agency) that I would not be able to do this project, which I had agreed to before carefully looking at it, and explained the reason why I wouldn’t do it.

    Other times I’ve been sent texts for "proofreading" (what the client calls it) and simply had to refuse them based on their awful quality. In the future, I may try suggesting a re-translation, like you have done. Good for you for standing up for yourself and valuing your work!


      Thank you, Sarah! It seems that the poor quality of texts for editing is a common problem. The only way we can improve things is to do as you and I have done and stand up for ourselves.


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