Posted by: patenttranslator | March 10, 2012

I Hate Rush Translation Jobs

Man invented language to satisfy his deep need to complain.

Lily Tomlin

I often have to do them, of course, like most people, but I still hate them, possibly more than most people.

Yesterday was one of those days when I had to finish a long translation because I have been keeping another customer waiting a little too long and I needed to start working on that project too. I got up at 4:30 AM and I was finished at 5 MP. I did take quite a few breaks, but I probably worked at least 10 hours, translating the last 2,500 words for the first 5 or 6 hours and proofreading 21 thousand words the rest of the day.

I firmly believe that every translation should be proofread the next day after a good night’s sleep, but I can’t always practice what I preach. Our brains work even when we sleep, and often find for us solutions to problems that we could not find while we were awake during the night when we sleep.

The French say “la nuit porte conseil” (night will bring advice), a Czech proverb says “ráno je moudřejší večera” (morning is smarter than the evening), and in English people say “let’s sleep on it”, which sounds like a mattress commercial. Many languages have the same or similar proverb or idiom because people noticed hundreds of years ago that we can’t force ourselves to perform flawlessly for extended periods of time.

But try to explain it to a customer. Rush work is sometime unavoidable, but it should not be the norm.

I have been working for many years for a mini-agency, it is just one guy who is also a translator, who has nothing but rush jobs, often extreme rush. I put up with him for all those years because he mails a check right away when he receives a translation. He is the only one I know who can do this, even if the invoice is for thousands of dollars.

But this year I have been mostly ignoring his e-mails. Unless he calls me in person, I am now assuming that somebody else will do the job faster and maybe cheaper too, as he started sending the same patents to several translators so that whoever quoted the shortest turnaround time would get the job.

He must be under incredible pressure from lawyers who give him projects with impossible deadlines as the great patent litigation machine is churning out more and more work with shorter and shorter deadlines. But I’m getting too old for such brutal deadlines. Life is short and then you die.

So my solution to this dilemma is a 40% surcharge for rush work, while my definition of rush depends on how long the document is, of course. Fortunately for me, deadlines for patent translations are often quite long, often two or three weeks for a few thousand words, which makes it possible for me to fit in a number of projects into my schedule. But of course, you can do that with patent law firms, but usually not with translation agencies.

Yesterday I received an e-mail from a translation agency that was “looking for a Japanese translator for an urgent translation”. The e-mail had a sample of the job attached to it, namely confidential minutes from a meeting of a Japanese company’s sales team.

I am sure the law firm that sent the translation to the agency made the agency sign a confidentiality agreement, which must be signed by the translators as well, because law firms always do that with ongoing litigation. But somebody at the agency simply sent a highly confidential document to a bunch of unknown translators at random, probably somebody who does not read Japanese and has no idea what was in that document.

I was so tired yesterday that I barely glanced at the Japanese text and ignored the e-mail.

I think that one problem with rush translations is that when you work in a hurry, you may create false connections in your brain between words or characters in a foreign language and their translation into English which most experienced translators would usually catch, but not when they are dead tired.

That is why “the night brings advice” and you will be “smarter in the morning”, but only if you can give yourself the time “to sleep on it”.

It is very important to give your brain the chance to create the right connections between words and concepts that you are translating when it is performing well because you are rested, in particular because you had plenty of sleep last night.

But that’s not something our customers want to hear from us when they ask us how long it would take to translate a long document.


  1. The French say “la nuit porte conseil” (night will bring advice), a Czech proverb says “ráno je moudřejší večera” (morning is smarter than the evening), and in English people say “let’s sleep on it”, –

    And the Russian Ivan the Fool says “utro vechera mudreneye” (the morning is wiser than the evening).


    • And a Spanish proverb says “Tomorrow is often the busiest day of the week”.


  2. Ha, I know that one. I’ve got an office job as a translator for medical reports, often complex and rare cases, which need the appropriate amount of research, and I can never be sure when I will hit a wall. “How long will it take? Can you do it in twenty minutes?” Everybody at our office seems to be scared of the boss, but I usually tell him if something he asks is impossible, and he appears to understand. (On the upside, if I say something is done in a certain amount of time, I deliver, and I hope he appreciates this.)


  3. Ha, I saw on your blog that you are a Pagan and a Witch, and you can’t translate a few pages in 20 minutes?

    I thought witches did things like that for practice before turning people into stone and stuff.


  4. In Spanish, the saying is “consultar con la almohada” (consult with the pillow, which has nothing to do with bed talk, haha).

    Also did a rush job this weekend, and I am getting too old to be pulling all-nighters. Especially when 3K words suddently turned into 4K words (it was the answer to a complaint and the lawyers reviewed it in midstream). Takes me a whole day to recover, one feels like a zombie the day after…. There are no more normal deadlines out there, it seems. Also the reverse happens: clients call saying that they need an urgent certified translation (which must be done in hard copy, locally, with duty stamps, signatures and stuff), you drop everything to do it, and then they take a whole week to come pick it up. I feel that the saying “patience is a virtue” must have been coined by a translator, 🙂

    You have a nice, de-stressed (neologism?) week!


  5. Thank you, and a stress-free week to you too.


  6. The worst part of rush translations is that what was translated in haste will be reviewed in leisure – with little to no allowance for the circumstances under which it was translated. I have learned the hard way that it is important to only agree to “rush” translations when I can give them some measure of my standard review.

    Also, when I can’t leave a night between the translation and the proofreading, I try to substitute other activities that will let my subconscious mind work such as walking, playing a game, etc. It is funny, because while I know this time “away” is important, it looks and feels like procrastination.


  7. “Also, when I can’t leave a night between the translation and the proofreading, I try to substitute other activities that will let my subconscious mind work such as walking, playing a game, etc.”

    Me too. I try to walk our dog or go to the gym.

    I think that some sort of physical activity is probably helpful in these circumstances, although it is not nearly as helpful as “consulting with the pillow” as they say in Spanish.


  8. You are so right!


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