The Joker in Disguise

Last month, this mass email landed in my inbox from a translation agency that regularly sends assignment offers that I rarely accept due to their unrealistic deadlines. This one was beyond unrealistic, however; it was surreal. It was sent on a Monday evening, just after 6pm:

“Would you be available to translate the attached file?
“Word count: total 10,000 (I have allocated 5K words already)
“Delivery: Wednesday 9 am UK time
“Instructions: Could you please let me know how many word you can translate by this time? we will split the document between several linguists.
“The client will make some amendments on Wednesday on the file and we will have to update the translation. We don’t know yet how many changes he will do but we will check on that day how long it will take.
“I will come back to you tomorrow am UK with a confirmation. Please do not go ahead until then.”

1. On average, it takes a day to translate 2K words so 10K words take about a week. Splitting documents is common practice amongst agencies, which is acceptable for large projects that would otherwise take months, but this is never an ideal scenario because translation is not an exact science. Ask 20 translators to work on the same text and you will have 20 different versions: same story, different choices of words. Involving too many cooks in the project requires a very focused proofreader to check all the various parts for accuracy as well as for consistency of vocabulary, style, quality, etc. Going back and forth between texts is neither quick nor efficient and 10K words translated by several people could easily take two days to proofread. Simply put, 10K words in 24 hours is a joke.

2. Would anyone in their right mind hire a team of builders and ask them to start building a house, knowing that the architect is redesigning the plan, as if it were only a matter or rearranging a few bricks later? Asking a team of translators to work on the wrong text is just as pointless. A text works as one coherent unit, not as a string of words. Re-working the translation is twice the work, which means twice the bill for the client.

3. I have never heard of a direct client asking for laughable deadlines – or if they ask, it is as a question, not as a requirement, and they are prepared to accept a more manageable timescale. Even the most disorganised clients with unrealistic expectations will realise that a large document will take a few days to translate. Conversely, some agencies (and it is always the same ones) have nothing but extremely tight deadlines. I suppose, the sooner the work is delivered, the sooner the invoice can be sent out…

Of course, the first two points may not be immediately obvious to a client who doesn’t know where to start with a translation project, but it is part of a translation professional (freelancer or agency)’s job to educate clients. Trying to be a superhero and replying “Yes, we can” to just about any request will be detrimental to the quality of the work and to the agency’s relationship with the most conscientious translators. And indeed, I know of other colleagues who have given up on the above agency.

Fiction may sound nice, but reality is safer for your business.

Batman & the Joker

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