Gentle readers. There are some translators who do not like proofreading other people’s work at all and refuse to offer the service. I, on the other hand, quite like the exercise of titivating a text – a little addition here, a tweak there; it’s all quite satisfying as one is not actually having to do the brain-breaking work of untangling the foreign into the mother tongue. The worst has already been done and proofreading is really a bit of window dressing. Usually….

….Unless one’s client (an agency in this case that should know better) has used a non-native speaker to do the translation. This afternoon, I was asked to proofread an urgent text. It would arrive within two hours, (they attached the German original) and my task would be to tweak it. What the client omitted to say until it was too late for me to do anything about it was that the translator was a native German “very well-qualified technical translator” and so it *should* be a high standard.

It wasn’t. It wasn’t a case of it being utter rubbish – I could understand the target text – but it certainly wasn’t written in idiomatic English. I had an allotted 40 minutes to turn this gubbins into English like wot it should be spoke. Rather than tweaking, I was obliged to re-translate whole sentences. I was glad that I had insisted on my preferred fee rather than the risible amount originally offered.

What ARE these people thinking… not only was it a rather low standard but it was also a rush job – if 40 minutes isn’t considered a rush job, I don’t know what is. Gah! I turned it round in an hour and 15 minutes – so effectively worked at a loss in spite of the fee I had fought for. Harumph.

I shall have to add a new condition to my terms and conditions: do not offer me proofreading jobs translated by non-native speakers. I am happy to proofread – but I am not here to more or less teach other would-be professionals how to write accurately. And certainly not at such a low price.

So, dear clients, please stick to the professional code of ethics and use native speakers of the appropriate language to translate documents into the target language. No matter how well qualified they/you think they are. I shan’t mention it again. Nicely.


PS. Talking of mentioning things nicely: an agency for whom I have never actually done any work, but which occasionally contacts me, sent one of their traditional chaotic emails this morning.

“Hello, dear colleague,
we have a 11 page text to translate by tomorrow.  do you you have time for translation today?  if yes, we will send you the text.”
I am sick to the back teeth of politely telling this outfit that I need more information if they want a serious reply. Gritting the aforesaid dentals, I wrote a slightly less than courteous reply (I don’t really care if they never contact me as I’m not sure I really want to be associated with them, they are so unprofessional and do not instil confidence):

“Dear Agency

Unfortunately on this occasion I do not have any spare capacity.
I should be grateful if in the future you would specify the number of
words, the precise deadline and the subject area of the text. This
will save precious minutes in the process of accepting urgent jobs for all

This is not the first time that I have suggested you do this and I
should be grateful if you would bear these small but important details
in mind for the future.”

I was slightly more than surprised to receive the following breathless response only seconds later:

“O thank you very much, we will!”

I am doubtful… but shall report back if they change their spots…

One thought on “Proofreading

  1. Sympathies. I know exactly what you mean about the proofreading job that turns out to involve rather more work ….

    And while I can sympathize with, say, a German speaker not being able to tell whether a translation (into English) is good or not, I would prefer that they acknowledge their limitations, rather than confidently proclaiming that it is a competent translation. Having said that, I wonder if the request for “proofreading” arises precisely because they have noticed that it really isn’t very good. In which case they ought to realize that if *they* can tell that it’s not very good, then it is probably truly awful.
    Ok, rant over.

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