Having turned in thousands of translation jobs, we are experienced with all kinds of source texts. Sometimes the text is clearly understood and simple to translate. Sometimes we get text-from-hell which is riddled with mistakes and/or ambiguities. How should these occurrences be handled? It should be mentioned that as an online translation company, it is challenging to deal with queries while meeting the delivery schedule. So what to do? When is a query a must-do item? Here is some information that may help you decide.
1. Target Languages
In most cases the target languages are clear and it is the customer’s responsibility to get it right. If the customer needs German but orders Spanish instead, it is their problem and not ours. But sometimes, it is pretty obvious that the customer may have ordered a language in error. For example: we often get orders to translate files with word Canada in the file name into European French. Or the request comes from clients based in Canada and it is clear that the text is intended for Canadian audiences. This is almost certainly a mistake. In these cases we query the client and ask if they perhaps meant to order French Canadian translation services instead. Another example: if a customer orders translation of an EU patent into Brazilian Portuguese, this is also certainly an error and the language should be European Portuguese. In these cases, the client is grateful that the mistake was caught on time. So this kind of query is a must-do.
2. Typos in the Source Text
This happens pretty often. And it allows translators and/or project managers (PM) to show off their keen eye for detail. In most cases, the mistakes are obvious and it serves little purpose to send in a query. The best way to handle these is to deliver the translation with a short report of the typos. Customers will appreciate learning about this, especially if the text is distributed in the source language.
3. Ambiguities in the Source Text
This one is a bit trickier. Ambiguous text can be interpreted in several ways. So the translation can be done differently depending on which meaning is assumed. PMs often get these queries from translators who are honestly stuck. An experienced PM will be able to answer these queries on her/his own, based on her/his knowledge in the source language, subject-matter knowledge or just common sense. If you are managing a multi-language project, communicate the solution of the ambiguity to all of the translators so that the project you are delivering is consistent in all languages. In these cases, it is better to avoid going to the client and solving the issue in-house. If it is a medical or technical project, using the Internet can be a good way to solve ambiguities as to the definition of terms or abbreviations.
4. Non-editable texts
Some files contain embedded texts (like drawings) which are non-editable. The easy solution is to ignore these texts and leave them as-is. Another solution, which is not as easy, is to recreate these texts without asking. Sometimes however, it may be simpler to query the client and ask if they can supply an editable version of the text which can be easily translated.
5. Given Names
If you are translating a contract or a certificate (like a college diploma), better to get the spelling of the given names in advance. In these cases, you can query the client or deliver the translation. If there is a mistake in translation of the given names, the customer will ask for a revision so no harm done.
6. Avoid being a pest and showing off
What we find in some cases, is that there are translators who tend to bug their PMs with lots of queries. Or worse, some translators want to show how smart they are by sending you their analysis of the source text. As a PM, these translators are a pain-in-the-neck. So better to avoid working with pesky translators. Remember, the job of a translation company is to translate text quickly and efficiently. Unless the client has specifically ordered transcreation services, it is better to leave your thoughts about the source text to yourself and just do your job as well as you can.