Translation and Language Industry Observations

As professionals in the translation industry, whether you are a translator, a PM, a designer, a sales manager or a translation company owner, we all live with the clock. Anyone who has worked in this business knows that deadlines are a part of our life and are sacred. If you promised your client to deliver by COB London time, it better be delivered on time!

However … deadlines are always being missed for one reason or another. In my opinion, there is no excuse for being late. I once heard a saying that goes like this: the best lie is the truth. If you are late with a delivery, better to come clean and tell your customer the truth. And offer a discount if you deem it necessary to keep your relationship intact. Making excuses, in my opinion, makes a person seem incompetent at best, if not outright dishonest. At GTS, if one of our translators makes an excuse for being late, we tend to write off that person as being unreliable and dishonest.

Having said this, we get LOTS of excuses and I thought I would share some of these with you.

1. Death or illness in the family. This is part of life and unfortunately these things happen. But I tend to be suspicious when someone tells me that her mother-in-law is in the hospital. Illness in itself is a valid excuse: we had a brilliant German to English translator (named Ruth Laskowski may she RIP) who tragically died of cancer. But she never used this as an excuse and always delivered her work on time. Ruth’s husband eventually informed her colleagues of her illness so they could transition accordingly.

2. The work is on my home PC and I am away. A total BS excuse in my opinion. Especially today when everything is in the cloud and smartphones are like a PC in your pocket.

3. My PC was stolen. My house was robbed. I actually just got this one today (and it in fact gave me the inspiration for this post). It does not sound like a believable excuse. I guard my PCs more carefully than I do my wife (well, maybe not but you get the picture). In over 30 years of owning laptop PCs, I never had one stolen. Also, laptops have become so cheap that the market for a stolen notebook PC can’t be much and why would thieves steal them?

4. The work is done but we need extra time for review. This is actually the most clever excuse in that it (a) assuages the client that the delivery is imminent; and (b) shows the client that quality is your top concern. But still, it is an excuse for being late and when you commit to a deadline, it should include all the time you need to deliver a good job.

5. Time zone confusion. This in another one we tend to get. “I thought we were supposed to deliver it COB West Coast time.” If you are the person or company that ordered the translation work, be very specific about the deadline (e.g., we need it by 9 AM EST on October 23).

6. I thought you assigned to work to another translator. This is usually an honest mistake. If you are the PM, make sure that everyone knows their assignments so you don’t have to be the one making the excuses yourself.

7. Sending the original files back.  Sometimes people send you back the original back instead of the translation. Is it done by mistake or is it a ploy to gain some extra time? Who knows?

8. No, please use this version instead. Sometimes the translators will send you a file and then send an email an hour later saying “no please use this version instead, I found a mistake.” This wreaks havoc on PMs who are faced with a deadline themselves. What do you do once you delivered the first version? Send the second one? Ignore it? The good translators don’t pull this kind of stuff.

9. You mean I need to translate the graphics too? Another variation on this excuse: you send an Excel file with multiple tabs for translation and it comes back with only one translated tab. As a PM, be very specific about what you need to translate so as to avoid such excuses.

10. Wow, I forgot. This excuse is one of the worst ones as it shows an absolute disregard for the client. Still it happens even to the best and most reliable people. If you use this excuse with a steady client who knows and trusts you-then OK. If you do this with a new client, don’t count on getting more orders from them.

In summary, making excuses for missed deadlines is not recommended. If you are starting out as a translation provider or are working for a new client, don’t ever miss the deadline. If you do need more time, the truth works better. Better to be honest than make up BS excuses that are transparent in their duplicity.

(thought of a few more)

10a. No Internet connection. We get translators that explain late delivery by saying that they had no Internet connection. This is one of the weakest excuses and is usually untrue. Unless we are talking a major disaster like the 9/11 attack or a hurricane, Internet connection is typically stable in all parts of the modern world. And with cellphone companies providing a reliable backbone, most people have two levels of redundancy at their fingertips.

10b. Partial delivery. This is one of the most annoying excuses. The deadline for delivery of 5 files is looming near. Your translator delivers two or three files while assuring you that the rest are coming soon. This is bad for the PM as it makes her/him deal with multiple emails and juggle multiple files.

10c. I have some computer issues and I don’t think i will be able to finish the translation on time.  A freelance translator with computer issues is like a fire engine with no water. Yet many translators feel that this is a valid excuse. In reality, it is a crappy excuse which also makes the translator look incompetent. Computers today are pretty cheap and a good professional will have a backup in place for this eventuality.

10d. This one is from November 2023. We had a very large project to translate video subtitles in multiple languages. One of our Japanese translators sent back a file from a completely different project. When the mistake became apparent and we pointed it out to the translator, this was her response.

I am suffering from herpes infection’s sharp pains. I have been told by the doctor that I could be hospitalized if the condition persists and I needed to take a bed rest. As for the file, you are right I sent the wrong file. I am very sorry and I don’t know how that somehow happened. Because both works were in the same string of emails. Since I am taking a rest, I cannot deliver it in a timely manner. Please allocate work to somebody else immediately.

This translator is a total liar and was fired from our team immediately.

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  1. I understand all of that, but I want to know when you have a number of disabling conditions physical and mental, and are overwhelmed, how do you fix the backlog of work, like a sleep disorder, fibromyalgia and PTSD.

    1. Hi Christine, thanks for your comment. A person with such disorders should consult professional medical experts. And people with such disorders should not be working if their medical condition impairs their abilities to a point where they are rendered incompetent.

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