Lately, we have had quite a few situations when our translation was checked or evaluated not just by the end customer, but also by a reviewer of an agency that we are servicing this customer with. Not that this is particularly unusual, we certainly did have such situations before, but to a lesser extent. However, now, in connection with a few long-term projects, this has become a point of attention, as the two of them were sometimes approaching translation from different points of view, i.e. one of them disliked things the other liked, and vice versa. Sometimes, this feels like being between a rock and a hard place as we have to specifically adjust our translations in a way that would suit both of them.
What and Why
In addition to a translator, a translation agency, and a customer, the above process also includes a translation agency reviewer who essentially screens the text for potential issues before or after it is sent to the customer. The problem described in this post results from the fact that the translator usually has (or, strictly speaking, is supposed to have) a better knowledge of the project than the reviewer. The translator is aware of any specific customer’s guidelines or preferences. Following them to ensure the customer’s satisfaction might sometimes result in a translation that is non-standard or simply doesn’t appeal to the agency reviewer due to personal preferences. Since the reviewer isn’t aware of the customer’s guidelines, they are likely to correct this translation in an attempt to improve it, but actually causing an opposite effect. The key reason behind this problem is a higher degree of translator’s involvement in the project as compared to the reviewer. This includes more project-specific experience, better understanding of the subject matter, or direct communication with the customer. Another frequent reason is miscommunication that results from not providing the reviewer with the guidelines erroneously, or the guidelines might be available to the translator only (e.g. previous translation corrections or individual customer requests).
- Agencies may occasionally arrange internal routine review to confirm that a vendor is still delivering on the expectations. For this purpose, a translation sample is often extracted out of the context of a single or multiple-job project that has specific guidelines, agreements, etc. The reviewer who works on such sample is usually external to this project. When stumbling upon a translation other than optimal (from the reviewer’s point of view), they are likely to make a judgment/correction right away, simply because it is easier and less time-consuming than trying to find out the reason why. For instance, while evaluating one of our recent translations, a reviewer corrected several 100% translation memory matches, resulting in a lower evaluation score. However, previously we were instructed by the agency to ignore the 100% matches and consequently neither checked nor changed them. The reviewer wasn’t aware of this agreement.
- In another long-term project, we initially translated a glossary, which required many changes afterwards: either we or the customer regularly made changes based on the new context that became available in the course of the project. Because the glossary itself was being updated rarely and somewhat inconsistently, the most actual terms eventually happened to be in the recently translated texts, but not in the glossary. Keeping this in mind, we referred to the recent translations for terminology, but not to the glossary. However, the agency reviewers were less knowledgeable about the project and this issue, especially because they kept changing all the time. This made it very difficult to maintain the most actual terminology in translations, since the reviewers simply reverted most terms back to the outdated glossary versions. In addition to not following the glossary, we regularly used a number of non-standard phrases and structures specifically requested by the customer. Since there were no separate guidelines documenting such items, we just followed our discussions with the customer and their previous translation corrections. For instance, the customer preferred to spell the Russian pronoun “вы” (you) in proper case (“Вы”), which, strictly speaking, was incorrect in the context of their documents. Naturally, most reviewers felt it was necessary to correct this and similar “issues.”
The above problem may lead to at least two general consequences: one for the customer and the other for the vendor. For the customer, any corrections made by the reviewer with less project-specific experience may result in lower quality (as in the above example about using the outdated glossary). The vendor may be disadvantaged by a lower evaluation score reported by the agency reviewer due to e.g. “poor style” or “not following the glossary.”
We haven’t worked out a generally viable approach to such situations yet and deal with them on a case-by-case basis. For instance, in a recent translation of the guidelines for using a website, we had to follow the existing website section name translations that had been done previously by someone else, with obvious errors. On the one hand, we couldn’t fix the incorrect names just in the guidelines, because they would be different from the website, leading to the end user confusion. On the other hand, we didn’t know what the agency reviewer would think about the incorrect names. You can’t be sure that the reviewer would be thorough enough to go to the website and confirm that your translation uses the actual existing names. Another recent example has been a user manual for a medical software with the GUI translated previously by someone else. While being correct in terms of meaning, the GUI included colloquial medical terms. The question is whether or not you should use those terms in the descriptions (not in the actual references to the GUI items, it is clear that those shouldn’t be changed at all). Do you keep the terminology consistent with the GUI, sacrificing the style, or do you use better terms, causing inconsistency?
A possible solution to this problem could be working with the reviewer to explain the reasons behind the non-standard translation solutions. However, the communication between the translator and the reviewer may be difficult or impossible to establish.
If you share our passion for translation quality, we might be a great match, so be sure to contact us for your Russian translation editing needs.