Proofreading: do translators like to be corrected by others?

25 Feb 2012 | Translation Industry

A few weeks ago we had quite an animated discussion about the topic of proofreading on one of our Linkedin groups. The point of argument was: “do translators like to be corrected by others?”

Many translation professionals contributed to the discussions both for and against the argument, however the general perception was that proofreading is an essential part of the translation process and as expressed by one of the participants, it should “rather to be considered as an improvement phase of the final target text, which should be our only aim. In this context, translation and reviewing merge into a kind of productive collaboration alchemy”. On the other hand changing a correct sentence is something translation professionals do not appreciate; corrections should be accepted only “where they make sense”.

But we should not forget that any service business relies on the client and their satisfaction is always the end goal. The participants of the discussion echoed similar sentiments, a group member mentioned “if a client feels that a certain term works better in the target text, we may advise the client, but ultimately we’ve created a product for them, […] and should be professional about it”. “If your client is – or you feel he can be – an authority in the topic, then it is very reasonable to listen to him. You usually learn a lot. If not, be diplomatic and patient” shared other participant.

When dealing with clients it is advisable to ask as much questions as you can about the kind of product he/she is expecting from you and what is the purpose of the translation. Sometimes it is not necessary for a client to have a fully polished text rather they are looking for ready to go results, ASAP. As an example one of the group member shared her experiences: “I always try to bear in mind a situation early in my career when a client got angry about proofreading delays. He didn’t want the document to be “hyper correct”. He needed it out in the market, selling! For example with a fixed trade fair date: better on time imperfect than perfect and late. Fit for purpose sometimes means not perfect. […] Sometimes a client says “yeah, agreed it could be better, but we can live without it and fix it next time….” Time v quality. Also there’s a cost factor if a delay printing cause overtime working, etc. I am not always sure if translators are aware, or made aware of, the pressures at the other end of the production chain, that mean that they do not always get the opportunity to correct amendments to their translations as they wish?”

But clients do not always explain well their expectations in the beginning and is rather expressed often once the translation is already finished! Which adds extra effort:  “We should not always assume that the client knows the correct technical terminology in another language. Only last week, I translated a text from French to English about roadworks in which the original text referred to the “berme centrale”, which I translated as “central reservation”. The client return the text with several ‘corrections’, one of which was that expression changed to “central verge”. In English, the verge is at the side of the road so you can’t have a “central verge”.  All of the other ‘corrections’ were incorrect so I had to spend a lot of time providing a written explanation but the client had also introduced several modifications to the original text. Consequently, I felt fully justified in charging for the supplementary work. I think this is quite a good example of a situation in which we don’t like to be corrected. […] to have a client modify my work when I know that I am correct is rather frustrating.” Said a qualified electro/mechanical translator.

Project managers have a very important role when dealing with translators and reviewers/proof-readers, sometimes he/she has to deal with conflicts between this two actors and must participate as a mediator in order to find the best solution quickly as the client is waiting for the translation, while translators and proof-readers are arguing on their side. “The best thing clever PM (project manager), who encounters a translator-proofer conflict, can do is to tell both sides to relax. Convince them, that the purpose of QA/proofing/revision is not to check up on translator’s qualification, […] but to improve quality of the product. […] Encourage a discussion…” pointed another participant.

Do not forget that even the best translators need to be corrected sometimes, embrace it as an opportunity to improve your skills. “I’m happy to be corrected if I’m wrong. Must be my Scandinavian upbringing, I guess…” said one translator from Norway. So let us all try to be Scandinavian about it ;). Finally we conclude with a comment from an experienced project manager who summed it up well: “Personally, I have lost track of the number of times that a translator has corrected the source text and saved the day!”