What to do when the client is wrong?
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I have followed a discussion on the Yahoo group “ATA Business Practices” these last few days with interest. The discussion is about when a non-native client insists on inserting grammatical errors into the target text. There can be other similar situations, too, but it all boils down to a situation when a client wants you to change a translation that you know is correct, to something that is no longer correct. What is a translator to do?

The first instinct might be to refuse to do it, and to tell the client that he/she is plain wrong. After this, you might add an explanation of why he/she is wrong. This is a natural reaction, but it might easily lead to hard feelings and one of you will probably not want to work with the other anymore.

Another reaction might be to just accept the suggested errors and move on with your day. This is easier said than done for a translator, who is used to grammatical correctness, the beauty of a good text, and a quest for perfection in the right word. Accepting these errors might leave you with a gnawing feeling of dissatisfaction and a worry that someone might think it was you who inserted the errors in the translation.

So what are we to do instead? Chris Durban and Dee Shields offered some great suggestions in the Yahoo discussion. Chris works with direct clients and often gets credited as the translator in their documentation. Her suggestions are:

a)      Listen carefully and pleasantly, and then explain, preferably in writing, why the suggested solution is not correct.

b)      Allow the client to save face by suggesting a second or third option.

c)       Accept certain suggested errors, but ask them to remove your name from the credits

Dee Shields says that the option of being credited as the translator is rare for her, and probably for many of us, and she offers the following suggestion:

d)      Tackle each point in writing with an explanation of why you chose the term or wording over the one the client suggested and documenting it with links and/or references to style guides, dictionaries and such. The trick here is to leave emotions out of it and not overdo the “proof” in the documentation.

The important thing is to remember that the client usually does not fully understand what it is that we translators do and how we do it. Once you give them some insight into that, they usually realize that you are the one possessing the expertise and that you most likely know more about the intricacies of the target language than they do.

You have to weigh the value of this particular client against your honor and reputation as a translator and tread lightly on the clients feelings if you do not want to lose the client. It can also come down to how much time and effort it is worth to correct the client. Whatever the situation or choice, it is always wise to step back and not let your emotions or pride get too involved.

Swedish Translation Services is a company owned by Tess Whitty, a freelance translator (English-Swedish), proofreader, editor, copy writer, localizer and entrepreneur.


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  2. Sara says:

    Very interesting article! I’m fluent in 4 languages but I’m not a certified translator. Whenever I needed to have certificates or documents translated by a professional, I have always accepted their work. After all, they have more knowledge and translating is their work. Why would I question their work? Needing someone else’s translation, but then imposing my version would make no sense at all to me 😉