What to do when a client makes a translation worse by 'fixing' it

February 20, 2019
What to do when a client makes a translation worse by 'fixing' it

If you’ve been working as a professional translator for a while, you’ve no doubt come across clients who take your translation and decide to ‘fix’ it, saying that the quality of the translation is not good enough. Sadly, such situations often see the client making the translation worse and veering away from the source document. If you have a client who wants to ‘fix’ one of your translations, read on! 

Why do clients modify translations? 

When a company operates in more than one country, it’s not uncommon for one team to write the copy that needs to be translated and another to review it. This can lead to something of a mismatch in terms of expectations. Thus, when the translator delivers the beautifully translated text, the client receiving it attempts to rework it in order to bring it more in line with other materials created by that part of the company. 

This is, of course, entirely the client’s prerogative. However, the client’s work on the translated copy often takes place with absolutely no reference to the source document. As such, the document becomes less a translation and more an adapted version of the original – which may not be what the client who assigned the work was looking for. (Of course, there are always those cases where the source document was poorly written too, thus impacting negatively on the perceived quality of the translation.)

Then there’s the fact that the individual ‘fixing’ the translation may not have perfect grammar. Often such revisions see a slew of typos and poorly worded sentences slotted in, along with copy that doesn’t fit with the style of the language used in the rest of the document. In short, the situation is far from ideal! 

What to do when a client makes a translation worse

Such situations can be a minefield of company politics. One issue is that the client is more likely to trust someone within their own company than a translation professional that they’ve not worked with before. Thus, if the staff member reviewing the translation derides it as ‘bad’ and in need of work, the client is likely to believe them. 

This can be immensely frustrating when you’ve delivered a flawless translation that actually corresponds perfectly with the source document, particularly if you’ve provided a specialist service, such as pharmaceutical translation or patent translation. However, it’s important to remain calm and work with the client productively to look over the changes they are introducing. Clear and transparent communication is key here, as is keeping everything ultra-professional. The client is well within their rights to modify a translated document, should they choose to do so. The translator can still help to guide the language that is introduced and remind the client that the document is now becoming an adaptation of the original rather than a translation. Taking a partnership approach like this, where the client is receptive to joint working, can end up producing a document that, while not a direct translation, is still high quality. 

In situations where the client simply undertakes the ‘fixes’ themselves and makes the document worse while doing so, the translator may need to gently explain that they cannot offer any kind of guarantee for the translation, should any issue arise in the future. A clear, detailed explanation in writing as to why this is will keep things professional, while also ensuring that the client understands the reasoning behind the decision. 

Future planning

It’s always a good idea to request a copy of the final version of the document from the client, for your records. That way, if you work with the client again, you will have a clearer understanding of their preferences in terms of style and language – even if this isn’t the most ideal way to glean such information. Armed with such knowledge, you will be in a stronger position to meet the client’s expectations next time around. 

Final thoughts

Have you experienced clients ‘fixing’ your translations and actually making them worse? How did you handle the situation? And did you go on to work productively with the client in future?