Posted by: patenttranslator | March 5, 2010

Ignorant Proofreaders

I translated a divorce decree from Czech into English for a translation agency the other day. I must have translated hundreds of divorce decrees from German, Czech, Slovak and other languages over the years, so I would like to think that I know what I am doing when I translate such a document.

However, next day, I was assaulted by numerous questions in a heavily redlined edited version of my translation sent to me by somebody from the agency. Her name was Regina. Regina, the queen of proofreaders. Most of her questions were about one thing: “why is the spelling of that and that name different in the Czech document from the spelling in your English translation?”

Well, Regina, how come you don’t know anything about languages you are supposed to proofread? The endings of nouns and names in many Indo-European languages change depending on the declension to which the name belongs. German, for instance, has five cases and there are several different endings for the nouns depending on the case of the noun. This is a major stumbling block for foreign speakers of German. The endings of names, however, do not change.

In other languages it is even more complicated. Because Czech has seven cases for names and nouns, Obama’s name would be spelled as “Obama” only in the nominative case, genitive would be “Obamy”, dative would be “Obamovi”, accusative would be “Obamu”, etc. That is why the spelling of names in my English translations is different from the spelling in the original document: the spelling of English names does not change at all, except for the apostrophe (‘s) in genitive case.

Here is a Czech version of the song My Boy Lollipop by Millie Small. The author of the Czech lyrics had to use only the first case – nominative – for the name Bob. Otherwise it would be Boba, Bobovi, Bobem …. etc.

Hey, Regina, if you don’t know such a basic fact about foreign languages, you should either go back to school or get a different job. Right now you are qualified to work …. maybe as a parking lot attendant. As a proofreader, you are likely to do more harm than good.

And here is the original sung by Jamaica’s teenage treasure, Millie Small in 1964. (Contrary to persistent rumor, the harmonica solo is NOT by Rod Stewart). The song was recorded by many singers with lyrics in German, Swedish, Czech and Serbian among other languages.

Here is another song by the same Czech singer, Yvonne Prenosilova, some 35 years after the song’s premiere. I had a crush on her when I was, let’s see …. 14. She emigrated to England in 1968 after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, but she returned to Prague after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Velvet Revolution in Prague in 1989. You can tell that the audience did not forget her all those years.

and here is the original sung by the inimitable Brenda Lee.



  1. love it!! it’s like when they proof with google translate and after they tell you why do you choose this word and not this one? 90% of the time it’s the one suggested by the machine.. so why do the hire us? maybe Regina proof Italian too, with that name can be!!
    ciao!! Miriam


  2. Thank you for your comment.

    Regina thinks that she is qualified to proofread translations from any language into English because she is a native speaker of English.

    I think that based on her qualifications, she may be qualified as a parking lot attendant or a dog catcher, but she is not qualified as a proofreader of translations from foreign languages that she does not understand into English.

    That is what I think and why I wrote this post.


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