Posted by: patenttranslator | August 18, 2013

The Perfidy of Backstabbing Proofreaders and Insufferable Clients

It probably has happened to you already, possibly more than once – and if not, it will at some point, trust me.

You have finished a translation with a sense of great satisfaction and you feel kind of happy and proud of yourself because you know that you did a really good job …. only to receive, days later, an e-mail from somebody who found your masterpiece unsatisfactory.

Most of the time, the person who did not like your translation is an anonymous proofreader working for a translation agency, often a freelancer. Sometime the e-mail includes an attachment showing the changes, which are often laughable and inappropriate, or simply a matter of personal preference.

The problem is, it is very easy to tear to pieces any translation, all you have to do is turn on the redlining feature in MS Word and start making changes. The proofreaders who are hired to check other people’s translation are either in-house project managers (who usually don’t understand the source language and who also happen to make very little money), or freelance translators who are often very happy to be able to proofread other people’s translation because they can’t find better paying work.

I proofread very carefully les chef-d’oeuvres of translators who work for me, but I have not proofread anything for a translation agency in more than 20 years. I prefer to translate, and the rates are too low anyway. The fact is that most of the time, the proofreader is either a newbie translator who does not understand what his job is about, a subprime translator (I explained this category in this post), or a zombie translator (see my explanation of the term here).

Sometime a proofreader will shamelessly backstab the translator because he wants to ingratiate himself to the translation agency in order to get the next gig for himself. Or the proofreader simply has no clue as to what the job of a proofreader is really about. Sometime you can see how clueless they are from the questions they ask, but usually they just go ahead and mutilate your translation.  In my opinion, the job of a proofreader is to look for typos, omissions and inconsistencies. That is all, and a good proofreader knows that. I know that because I am a good proofreader.

But many proofreaders do not realize that this is their job’s description as they seem to think that they can willfully keep editing away to their heart’s desire. What often happens in such cases is that the translation agency will demand a discount from the translator based on a redlined version of a good translation that ends up being disfigured by an ignorant, obnoxious, or malevolent proofer.

Sometime even a direct client can be translator’s worst enemy. Once I translated a handwritten college transcript from the seventies. It took me forever to design a complicated table corresponding to the format of the transcript, which was a booklet with two  pages that had to fit into one page of the translation. After I e-mailed the result of my labor to the client, he said that my translation was unacceptable because when I could not read the signatures of various lecturers, my translation said simply [illegible signature]. He insisted that those names were perfectly legible.

Which they were. Every single signature of every single lecturer and professor in my transcript are perfectly legible …. to me. I made the person prepay, of course, but instead of arguing with him, I simply returned his 250 dollars.

Once my translation of a French patent application was corrected by an in-house French engineer who kept correcting my translation ad nauseam. For example, when I translated “volé” as “stolen”, as in “a thief who steals data of people who use unsecured unsecured public networks”, he insisted that “volé” should obviously have been translated as “spirited away”.

OK, I admit, “spirited away” sounds très cool, but how the hell was I supposed to know that this was the “technical term” that they wanted me to use? So I gave the geniuses a discount and never worked for them again. Good riddance.

On occasions like these I try to simply cut my losses and get rid of the client ASAP because life is short and then you die. Sometime I have to give them a discount to get at least some money from them, and three times in 26 years I have not been paid at all.

For some reason, I remember each of these humiliating occasions with perfect clarity, although the first one happened 20 years ago, and the last one 7 years ago. I prefer not to fight with these people because I want to save my energy for fights that I consider more worthwhile, but I hate the people who did this to me with a burning hatred. Fortunately, I never met them in person and hopefully never will because I could easily cause them serious bodily harm.

I think that the key to happiness and longevity for translators is not to dwell on personal Waterloos of this kind and instead to concentrate on the good things in life, like good food, good wine, or the companionship of somebody who will be always straight with me and never betray and backstab me… by which I obviously mean my dog.

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Responses

  1. Great post Steve, I think we’re on the same page when I mention in my latest post, ” Apply The Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, applies here. It is not uncommon for one freelance translator to sandbag another because both are competing for work in the same language pair”.

    I’ve also had unmerited feedback from proofreaders/editors. This is why I stress following principles also adopted by LionBridge’s Translation Quality Index (TQI). Franco Zearo mentions also in his keynote on the TQI which he developed that evaluator ability is also critical, and he recommends training of the TQI method through ATA or like bodies. I have to agree with the same.

    I hope I did not displease you with my perspectives. Please understand I deal exclusively with non-native English speakers in medical journal submissions, and my experiences may not be as generalizable.

    Please let me know if it is okay to link your blog post to my post on Proofreading. Thanks,

    Anthony

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  2. “Please let me know if it is okay to link your blog post to my post on Proofreading.”

    Absolutely, please link away.

    And can you put a link to your blog in your response? Your name does not link to it.

    I did not know that I was important enough that somebody would worry about displeasing me, but I think I like that.

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    • Thanks! I added your very candid post to my Further Reading list.

      All translators who have survived for years are important and have important things to say about the craft and occupation. I think new translators can benefit from our successes and failures.

      Thanks again,

      Best,
      Anthony

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  3. Hi Steve, I am dealing with one of these ‘lowlifes’ right now, unfortunately for me.
    I am currently trying to obtain payment for two lovely translations I did for the chemical industry. I thoroughly enjoyed doing the work, while patting myself on the back for getting the rate I wanted with what I believed to be a reputable agency.
    Alarm bells rang when I realised the payment terms were 60 days, but their online invoicing system was so spiffy-looking, I thought everything was above board. Day 70 after successful completion of these translations and I am fighting to get paid, getting passed from pillar to post.
    I am reluctant to get a lawyer or debt collection agency involved. This is not why I became a translator.
    I could be cynical and tell myself that one of the reasons they picked me for these translations was that they spotted that I was based in Panama and maybe assumed (correctly!) that I wouldn’t be in a great position to chase up non-forthcoming funds.
    You live and you learn, and I am learning that I am too trusting in this shark-filled unregulated world where agencies are free to just simply neglect to pay the people doing the real work.
    Thanks as ever for your refreshing insights.

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    • Thank you so much for your comment.

      But even if you are located in Panama, you can 1. blacklist them on non-payer sites and 2. write about your experience on your blog.

      You do have a blog, right?

      And while you can’t really sue them if you live in Panama, they can’t really sue you either because that is where you live.

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      • Well, I could do these things, but I don’t really want to go down the public shaming route. I will spend another few days trying to extract my well-earned payment before chalking it up to experience and moving on.

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  4. Your characterizations of proofreaders as “ignorant, obnoxious, or malevolent” are painful to read, scant evidence that you have chosen not to dwell on such personal “Waterloos” (a strange use of the term). You have definitely gone after them with a baseball bat, a whole host of incults, roviding little relief to you if you continue to recall a couple of incidents with such clarity and wish the individuals ins question bodily harm. Additionally, you misuse “backstab.” Wow! Take a deep breath or a vacation or both! Having mastered several languages, you have yet to learn to accept any criticism or correction. This very blog could stand some proofreading.

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  5. Oh oh! I meant “insults” rather than “incults” and “providing” rather than “roviding.” I could have used one of those ignorant, obnoxious, malevolent proofreaders!

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  6. Potrefená husa se vždycky ozve.

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  7. @jetranslate

    The trick is to gently threaten to do all of these things without ever actually having to go through with it.

    I have never done anything like that, but I did use this kind of gentle persuasion to good effect a few times.

    If you say that you are ready to do that unless they pay up, how do they know that you would not do it?

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    • I have issued a deadline for close of business Wednesday after which I will be reluctantly forced to take further action. But you know what I resent? Spending so much time thinking about this non-payment issue, worrying about, chasing up this agency. It is extremely frustrating as all the people – the project managers – etc – that I have worked with up til now have been super-professional, friendly and organized. It is just such a shame that it has all fallen down at the last hurdle. I genuinely believe that they (at least the accounts dept) are just hapless and disorganized, I don’t think this agency is vitriolic and full of contempt for translators/other human beings, like so many seem to be (including one on this comments page).

      All of which makes me even more depressed about the whole situation. What is the point of finding regular, interesting, well paid (in theory/on paper) technical translation work from a friendly, well-run (it appeared) agency when they don’t follow through and keep their end of the bargain?

      Best, Jane

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  8. “Sometime a proofreader will shamelessly backstab the translator because he wants to ingratiate himself to the translation agency in order to get the next gig for himself.”

    Sometimes — more often than you might wish to admit — a proofreader will notice that the sentence should have begun with the word “sometimes.”

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  9. “I have to say, I have on a few occasion received translation that I though were less then satisfactory, or even pretty bad.”

    Hey, you’re the expert. Find the two mistakes yourself.

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    • Correction: three.

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      • Vitriol level – between high and typical (for a frustrated proofer).

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  10. You repeated yourself in this post. Have you ever thought of using a copyeditor on this page? You need one.

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    • Are you offering to do it for free?

      If so, you’re hired.

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      • You could call it an internship. 😀

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  11. […] It probably has happened to you already, possibly more than once – and if not, it will at some point, trust me. You have finished a translation with a sense of great satisfaction and you feel kind …  […]

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  12. I don’t usually comment, but…. an end-user had to formally ask the translation agency to stop using a proofreader or whatever they called the person for my translations, as that or those persons (with no knowledge of the specific industry) were butchering my translations and delivering a whole load of crap on my behalf… I only heard about it by chance, but I had already noted that the person next in line was sending me absurd queries about things I had never written.

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    • You comment rarely, Nadine, but when you say something, it is usually important.

      Yes, an inexperienced proofreader of patent translations can do enormous harm to what was originally a very good translation.

      And they may mean well: for example they may try to fix a really long and ugly sentence in claim 1 to make sound “smooth” in English.

      And they create a beautiful English sentence which is much more pleasing to the eyes and ears ….. but since they don’t know anything about patents, the beautiful sentence also happens to be a mistranslation of claim 1.

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      • The situation was that I had worked for the end-client for many years before they decided to switch to a translation agency as a one-stop shop for all their languages and asked the agency to use their original translators, at our rates, which is probably unheard of. If translation agencies prefer to cut costs and use cheap translators, that’s their problem. So yes, my translations were butchered.

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  13. In over seven years of freelancing, I have only ever really had this kind of experience once. It was a couple of years ago when I did a job for an agency that I’d worked for quite a bit. They had had a complex financial job done by another translator, and when the end client was not happy with the quality, they asked me to correct it. I looked through it and told them that, in my professional opinion, the previous translation was a dog’s breakfast (I don’t think they were my exact words at the time) and that what they needed was not a correction but a re-translation. They agreed, and we settled on a fee and a deadline.

    Lo and behold, shortly after I delivered the job, they began to make unhappy noises. (They has never once expressed any kind of dissatisfaction with any of my previous work.) After some e-mail correspondence, it turned out that they had sent my translation to the guy who had done the first translation (which had been flatly rejected by the end client) and asked for his comments! He had come up with a variety of entirely spurious criticisms, including the allegation that, because some of my translation was very close to some of us, I must have re-used his translation. It is still beyond me why any agency would go back and ask for comments and input from a translator whose work has already been rejected, and has thus cost the agency more money. (Unless of course they had a long history with this translator, didn’t believe the end client’s claims about the quality of his work, only asked me to redo the job under pressure from the end client, and ultimately wanted to find a way to reduce their losses. This is the only halfway feasible explanation I can come up with.)

    Anyway, they informed me (without any discussion) that they were reducing my fee by around 30%. I considered threatening them with legal action, dragging their name through the mud on the internet, etc… but in the end decided it wasn’t worth the effort. I just told them kindly never to darken my virtual door again. Strangely, they seemed quite surprised that I should react in this way.

    Moral of this story: people do strange, unexpected and unreasonable things. And because of companies are mostly made up people, they do strange, unexpected and unreasonable things too.

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    • Telling them right from the start that the text required re-translation rather than proofreading was the correct approach. The fact that they asked the initial translator to proofread your work was definitely unprofessional. Why would one do that? It’s like turning the two of you against each other: he said your translation was bad and he said yours was worse; now fight! Why? The decision not to work with them again was more than justified.

      And yes, people do strange things.

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  14. By the way, it’s interesting that this post has generated such vitriol. I wonder if it’s mostly from poorly paid proofreaders?

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    • “By the way, it’s interesting that this post has generated such vitriol. I wonder if it’s mostly from poorly paid proofreaders?”

      Some people can write and translate, and some people are full of vitriol because all they can do is proofread and they can’t make any money.

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      • Hi all, I just can’t keep quiet anymore guys. Unfortunately, at least 90% of so-called ‘translators’ have no clue whatsoever and grab any translation they are offered, regardless of whether they know the subject matter. I am a translator myself – for 20 years now, my language pair is German to English. I can’t count the number of times I have been sent stuff to ‘fix quickly, PLEASE’, because the translation was utter C.R.A.P. I maintain that it simply isn’t enough to have a diploma in translation and possibly ‘years of experience’ (with one-time-only clients, who wouldn’t dream of coming back for more shite translations). A translator must have flair for writing! That is why so many proofreaders are sitting at their PCs and tearing their hair out in clumps. The translation may be FACTUALLY correct, but it just FEELS wrong. The wording is somehow off. It doesn’t flow. It sounds stilted, boring, and as if the translator had no idea what he/she was translating (that is a fact in many cases). And when everything is red-lined, the translator bleats: “That is personal taste, bla-bla.”
        I have learned to refuse to edit other people’s work, as I always end up basically retranslating it. I don’t think proofreaders are those, who ‘can’t get better paid work’. In many cases, these are people, who have the trust of an agency/client.
        As I am now running my own translation agency, I have come across MANY translators, who feel they are God’s gift to the translation industry, but are terrible translators in reality. And if they are told these facts they react with disbelief, aggression, and vitriol.
        Unfortunately our profession is as yet unregulated and anyone can call him/herself ‘translator’ – THAT is the problem, not proofreaders.

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  15. Final comment: for some reason the entire post seems to appear twice. Might want to edit that.

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  16. It’s easy to be so dismissive about ‘newbie’ translators who will do anything to get work, but come on, even you must have been starting out once? I know there are other ways of doing it, but your claim (in your piece on sub-prime translators) that only serious, experienced translators have rent to pay is seriously problematic.

    Don’t get me wrong; I’m not defending malicious editing of any kind.
    I’m a good writer and a good translator – yes, even though I have only been in the industry for a couple of years! I respect other people’s translations when proofreading (and more often than not include praise in my feedback).
    But I’d say that for every translator who feels their work has been butchered by a proofer (it’s happened to me too, and it hurts!), there’s a reviewer who has been shocked by a low-quality translation.

    *Shrug* I dunno, I think dismissing people’s responses as vitriol when they’re feeling justifiably insulted by your piece. And I think it’s only fair to point out the mistakes in your writing since you’re so certain you don’t need review.

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  17. “And I think it’s only fair to point out the mistakes in your writing since you’re so certain you don’t need review.”

    “…..but your claim (in your piece on sub-prime translators) that only serious, experienced translators have rent to pay is seriously problematic.”

    Where and when did I say that?

    Me thinks you are twisting what I said quite a bit, Rachel.

    Step back, take a deep breath, and enjoy the comments (the ones with the buckets vitriol are particularly interesting).

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  18. Points well made, Steve, as always! By the way, some trolls think that simple typos are actual errors… Just like with Gremlins, don’t feed them. I found two errors in rickylacina’s comment (in addition to the ones s/he called out) without even trying.

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  19. @KB

    Thanks for your comment, KB.

    So did you figure out what the Czech sentence “potrefená husa se vždycky ozve” means? I have a feeling that the same idiom may exist also in German.

    (The Fabulous Three, formerly The Fabulous Four, miss you).

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  20. “All of which makes me even more depressed about the whole situation. What is the point of finding regular, interesting, well paid (in theory/on paper) technical translation work from a friendly, well-run (it appeared) agency when they don’t follow through and keep their end of the bargain?”

    But think of the alternative, as in being an employee.

    Could you do that? I could not. I am much too independent and outspoken at this point, which would get me fired very soon.

    So it still makes much more sense to me to work as a freelancer because at least that way I can gradually replace the clients that I don’t like with better ones.

    And some of my clients are really good to me, they pay good rates, on time, they try not to put too much pressure on me with crazy deadlines, etc.

    You just need to develop repeat clients like that and get rid of the bad ones.

    It takes a while, but it can be done.

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  21. “The situation was that I had worked for the end-client for many years before they decided to switch to a translation agency as a one-stop shop for all their languages and asked the agency to use their original translators, at our rates, which is probably unheard of. If translation agencies prefer to cut costs and use cheap translators, that’s their problem. So yes, my translations were butchered.”

    If I understand your comment correctly, you were not charging the end client agency rates.

    I mostly charge agency rates or slight below typical agency rates, since I often work as an agency myself

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  22. Very interesting topic, Steve.

    Backstabbing happens pretty often in this walk of living. However, there are different approaches to cope with such situations. I like your way of keeping your happiness and longevity of a translator while I appreciate Anthony’s sober analysis of the role of “a bilingual editor in the translation life-cycle” very much.

    Once upon a time, I asked a young Chinese translator, who was eager to find any job at ProZ.com, to contact an agency client of mine in Singapore for a proofreading job that I did not have the time to take care of. The young translator turned to me in a few hours and asked me what the PM meant with “do not make unnecessary changes.” She argued if she could not rephrase as many sentences as possible, i.e., if she did not retranslate the whole text, she would feel undutiful. I told her that it was exactly what the PM meant – DON’T RETRANSLATE!

    What for to rephrase every sentence in other words? My first editing job of a patent translation from German into Chinese was about 5000 words. There was only a repetitive sentence deleted and a sentence reorganised without deleting a word used by the unknown translator, because I didn’t see any reason why I should ruin a good translation.

    A recent case that happened to me was in last month when an internal reviewer turned to the translation department with a statement like “the translation is worse than Google Translate.” The chief at the department asked me to comment on the changes the reviewer made. There were not many, 7 in total, and 5 of them were rephrasings of the “in-other-words” type while there were 2 misuse of Chinese language: one Chinese character in a headline was changed to a bizzar expression (獨衷 was changed to 獨享) and “my wife (我的老婆)” was changed to “my madam (我的夫人).”

    There are many ways to say “my wife” in Chinese – for instance, 內人or 拙荊 as alternatives – but never would a well-educated Chinese call his own wife “madam (夫人).” As to the bizzar change in the headline, 獨衷 can be written as 獨鍾 to indicate the preference, but 獨享 (“exclusively enjoy” or “enjoy alone”) differs from the original meaning of “preferring” drastically to make the headline a nonsense. The internal reviewer seems not knowing what she was doing and she dares to maintain that my translation was worse than Google Translate!

    I followed the indication of the department chief and commented on the changes made by the internal reviewer. My way of put up with it was exactly as you do – shrug and walk away. I don’t have to work for the client for any price. If they wish, they shall try with other translators. There are a lot of good things in life than getting infuriated with backstabbing proofreaders. Though I don’t have a dog, I enjoy reading blog posts of good writers such as this one, despite some differences of opinion that occur from time to time.

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  23. 1.

    “She argued if she could not rephrase as many sentences as possible, i.e., if she did not retranslate the whole text, she would feel undutiful.

    1.

    Indeed. How would a proofreader dare to submit an invoice for three hours of work if the same proofreader did not change anything or only a few words?

    One reason why so many “proofreaders” seemingly willfully mutilate a perfectly good translation is quite simple …. they want to get paid. The whole system that is based on the venerated “four eyes principle” is really silly. Once you match the right translator with the right job, all the proofreader has to do is look for typos and omissions. And if it is a really good translator (better than me), there will be none.

    2.

    “There are many ways to say “my wife” in Chinese” … as there are in Japanese, as I am sure you know.

    In fact, the genius of a language like Chinese or Japanese can be measured among other things in the many alternative ways available to speakers of these language for saying something like “my wife”, for which there are typically very few alternatives in Western languages.

    The genius of the Japanese language is that one of the popular alternatives for “my wife” is “愚妻” which means “my stupid wife”, or “my silly wife”.

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    • Well, Steve, I guess the best way to name one’s own wife would be “my better half” which is actually expressed implicitly by “內人” in Chinese which means explicitly “the one who takes good care of the internal affairs in the family.”

      This expression, “my better half,” is universally acceptable, because it is politically and factually correct.

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  24. “內人” in Chinese which means explicitly “the one who takes good care of the internal affairs in the family.”

    Come on, Wenjer, pour qui tu me prends?

    It does not mean that. It simple means “the inside person”.

    It’s just two bleeping characters.

    Is your wife getting regular reports from your neighbors who inform on you every time when you call her “愚妻” instead of “my better half”?

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    • Steve, I confirm that in Chinese speaking regions, “內人” is the preferred term when used to describe one’s own spouse. In Japanese, the term varies with context, but I use 女房 or 嫁さん often. I haven’t heard “愚妻” used in a conversation in awhile.
      See http://flat.kahoku.co.jp/u/aihara/o2JVGgU43EmFnK1CBZAl/
      http://detail.chiebukuro.yahoo.co.jp/qa/question_detail/q1213206477
      http://blogs.yahoo.co.jp/mainichiyoshiokun/40646691.html

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    • Steve, the opposite of 內人 is 外子. You read two Chinese characters for “my husband (my better half)” and imagine that they must be “the outside kid” as you read “my wife (my better half)” for “the inside person.”

      男主外、女主內 (Males takes care of the external affairs while females the internal affairs) has been the common belief in Chinese culture. This is why “the male better half” is named “外子” while “the female better half” named “內人.”

      I am not kidding at all.

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    • BTW, you got to believe me, every well-educated male would name his wife 內人 and every well-educated female would name her husband 外子. Usually, we just say 我的老婆 or 我的老公 respectively male or female as the speaker.

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  25. […] Steve Vivek’s controversial The Perfidy of Backstabbing Proofreaders and Insufferable Clients,  […]

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  26. @Anthony

    I know that political correctness is slowly killing the Japanese language and the fact that the excellent term 愚妻 fell into disuse is sad evidence of that.

    Incidentally, I added your blog to my list of blogs.

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  27. @Wenjer

    Ok, I believe you, you’re the expert on Chinese, I can only read some characters.

    So I guess Taiwan is now as politically correct as the US, and men only dare to refer to their wives as “my better half” even there.

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    • But the divorce rate is just as high as in the USA. :o)

      If my better half dares to mutilate my translations, I’d divorce her immediately, although she speaks German and Spanish as a native.

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  28. “If my better half dares to mutilate my translations, I’d divorce her immediately, although she speaks German and Spanish as a native.”

    Here we say “It’s cheaper to keep ‘er.”

    Just don’t ask her to proofread your translations and you guys (which in English includes also females) should be OK.

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    • Well, what you said reminds me of Tony Roder’s “Observations from a Rear-View Mirror ” in which he wrote:

      “The last and brightest highlight of my translation career, however, has been my partnership with Sylvie: the private one as my own true love, and the professional one as a solid collaboration of complementary capabilities. I will not delve on details of stormy Babelic disagreements except to say that we look back on each of them as fond memories. No public lesson here: discretion compels me to let silence veil that which we have learned together.”

      http://translationjournal.net/journal/29prof.htm

      Nice to have a partner who is native of the source language, right? And such a partner usually don’t mulilate your translations. The “stormy Babelic disagreements” stay always at home, even when “the Babel Tower falls on the poet.”

      http://puertavaiven.blogspot.tw/2009/07/bbbbbbbb.html

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  29. Great post Steve. It makes me feel better to read some of the comments because I thought “malicious pseudo-editing” is a peculiarity typical for the English-Czech language pair. (There was even an agency here in the US that posted, on their website, a warning about so-called in country reviewers in the Czech Republic who deliberately try to demolish any translation they can get their hands on, and win a job for themselves.)
    Of course we all came across translations so horrible and full of errors they had to be practically re-written – but this is not what Steve’s post is about.
    By the way, my better half is often my editor, and sometimes a vicious one. At least we can fight it out between ourselves without explaining to a client the intricacies of synonyms and punctuation in our language.
    And Steve, congratulation on acquiring your own trolls – you ARE on your way to the stardom in blogosphere 🙂

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  30. “And Steve, congratulation on acquiring your own trolls – you ARE on your way to the stardom in blogosphere :)”

    I hope you are right about my impending stardom in blogosphere, and I would like to be at least as big a star as Lady Gaga, but I’ve had trolls on this modest translator’s blog for well over two years now and the blog is barely three years old.

    But trolls can be fun too provided that you don’t take them too seriously because then they lose their evil troll powers.

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  31. Wow! Quite a few angry people here, without any reasons I would say. I am sure Steve did not refer to ALL proofreaders in his text, so I can’t understand why some commentators are so touchy and react as if they had been the target.

    A proofreader’s job is to check the text for typos, omissions, punctuation and make suggestions where the translation could be improved on. Since two people would not translate the same text identically, it is not the proofreader’s job to completely re-do the translation. If the original translation is really bad and it requires “butchering”, it is better to inform the client and agree to re-translate the text rather than make lots of changes.

    Where the proofreader has come up with alternative suggestions or has made corrections, the document should be sent back to the translator who can agree or not on the changes made. It should be more like a collaboration.

    I recently proofread a translation into Romanian and I was disappointed by the number of grammar mistakes I found. While the translation was not bad in terms of flow and fluency, the translator had serious lack of grammar knowledge, having used incorrect word forms and mistranslating a couple of terms. I corrected those and that was it. I made a few suggestions as well, but made it very clear that those are alternatives and not necessarily better than the original. What was important was to correct the bad grammar.

    What is very clear from Steve’s post and some of the comments is that sometimes some proofreaders feel they need to change a lot in order to justify their pay – definitely the wrong attitude. Not to mention that they probably end up working more this way and the effort/pay ratio will not be favourable.

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  32. “What is very clear from Steve’s post and some of the comments is that sometimes some proofreaders feel they need to change a lot in order to justify their pay – definitely the wrong attitude.”

    Thank you for your comment.

    The problem is that the way the so called “four-eyes control” is implemented by many translation agencies in fact sets up inexperienced proofreaders, and most of them are inexperienced people as they don’t mind working for very low rates, to mutilate a good translation.

    It is a big problem, and nobody seems to be talking about it.

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    • “The problem is that the way the so called “four-eyes control” is implemented by many translation agencies in fact sets up inexperienced proofreaders, and most of them are inexperienced people as they don’t mind working for very low rates, to mutilate a good translation.”

      There is nothing wrong with four-eyes control, as long as it doesn’t somehow turn into a fight for supremacy. Those who mutilate a translation (be it purposefully or because of lack of skills and experience) should not be working as proofreaders.

      It is an agency’s duty to make sure that the proofreader understands his or her role. If the translation comes back “mutilated” and there is no way the agency can assess whether the initial translation was good and became a “victim” of an over-zealous proofreader or it was bad to begin with and the proofreader tried to fix it (although I explained in my previous comment what the approach should be), a third party can be asked to assess. If it turns out the proofreader was just trying “to ingratiate himself to the translation agency in order to get the next gig for himself”, that denotes lack of professionalism and, as an agency, we would not contact that person again. If it turns out the translation was really low-quality (although we carefully vet our translators and, like you said, once you have picked the right translators there should be no issues), we would not work with them again.

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  33. i saw all patent translation points, that all very nice and useful for me. as well as very practical speech. like a speech every one like me. i noted many points form beginning line to end of the line. but some words i could not understand. when i started to read something then some relevant of topic words i could not get understand, that problem is technical word, that time i will search the google and get the some language translation sites. now i got solution from this site language translation this is one is a language translation site. “inappropriate” this word of meaning explanation from that site.

    thank you so much for your all posts.

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  34. About 8 years ago, when the WIPO first started farming out big batches of patent abstracts (in completely unrelated fields) to translation agencies, I made the mistake of accepting a few batches from an agency whose domain I have since had my Internet provider block so they can no longer send me inquiries in the middle of the night from their Honolulu “office” (usually some hapless project manager’s apartment).

    I frequently spent more time responding (at the agency’s insistence) to the objections of supercilious proofreaders at the WIPO office in Geneva than I’d spent on the original translations. Among their objections: the fact that I translated the French word “trajectoire” as “trajectory” in the abstract for an automotive patent. The feedback from this representative of the “client” was as follows:

    ”Trajectoire’ should not be rendered as’“trajectory’ except in the field of missiles of various kinds that fly through the air or through space. According to one dictionary definition, a ‘trajectory’ is ‘the path described by an object moving in air or space under the influences of such forces as thrust, wind resistance and gravity, esp. the curved path of a projectile’. Since one invention in this batch (cf. FR 05/50235) was about cars travelling in lanes on a motorway, ‘trajectoire’ should have been rendered as ‘path’ (or perhaps ‘course’), but definitely not as ‘trajectory’.

    Uh huh.

    I responded (more respectfully than I would today) as follows:

    “I have made a note of the client’s preference for ‘path’ or ‘course’ over ‘trajectory’ when referring to non-airborne vehicles, and will adhere to this preference in all future translations. [Okay, so I lied.] However, I chose to use the literal translation of ‘trajectoire’ based on its use in existing English-language patents in the field. See for example Jaguar’s US patent 6745110 (Title: Motor vehicle trajectory measurement) and US patent 6853902 (Claim 1: ‘…system for predicting the trajectory of the motor vehicle with respect to the roadway’).”

    Whatever.

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  35. […] industry—which do you choose? Smartling and Translation Technology on Public Radio International! The Perfidy of Backstabbing Proofreaders and Insufferable Clients 5 questions to ask yourself before becoming a freelance translator It’s in its right place: […]

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