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Four Most Critical Errors Freelance Translators Make

This is a list of four things that I find most frustrating in relationships with freelancers. It is by no means exhaustive, but I think it captures some of the gravest errors a professional translator can make while working for a direct client or translation agency.

Don’t Look into a TM or Glossary

Whenever a freelance translator is provided with a translation memory, a client normally expects them to use it for looking up existing translations. Otherwise, why would a client send it at all? One reason to use a single TM in all jobs for a particular client is to maintain consistency across all translated materials. Failing to use a TM of course reduces consistency, especially with projects divided between several translators. If one or more team members ignore the translations made by others, the discrepancies pile up and the end result appears incoherent. Additionally, a translator who fails to use a TM misses the opportunity to save time since they often retranslate things from scratch rather than reuse, and benefit from, the work already done by others. It’s a waste of time that’s better spent on value-adding activities such as QA.

Feel the Urge to “Fix” a TM

Even when a translator consults with a TM as expected, that doesn’t mean they’ll actually follow it. They are often tempted to improve what they find there. But when it comes to editing a TM, it’s much easier to wreak havoc rather than contribute in a meaningful way. First, changes to the existing translations can cause inconsistency both within the current project and with the previously translated materials. Next, the existing translations may be already approved by the client who likes these translations and doesn’t want any changes. Finally, making changes to someone else’s work without their consent is always a risk because your change can be incorrect. If you feel a change is absolutely necessary, it’s best to discuss it with your client or original translator upfront.

It’s also a good idea is to distinguish between preferential and mandatory changes. When you change something just because you believe you can say it better, it’s best to fight the urge since you can’t be sure your translation is really better and you’ll have hard time justifying your change if asked for an explanation. But when you encounter an obvious mistranslation in the TM, a correction is mandatory because you don’t want to disappoint your client who will assume you missed, or didn’t care to report, the error.

Expect an Editor to Clean Up after Them

Quite a few translators believe subpar performance is okay once in a while when they know someone else will be revising their translation. Imagine a translator who isn’t completely sure what a phrase means and translates it literally. It doesn’t make sense in the target language, but the translator knows that an experienced editor will check the translation responsibly, notice the issue, and will have to fix it. This approach might be indeed okay at times if a translator cooperates, and has a great relationship with, a translation agency, which looks at a picture bigger than just one project and is prepared to forgive a certain percentage of blunders over time. But when it comes to direct clients, this attitude can backfire. While a translation agency has skills and experience to clean up a translation before it goes to an end client and causes problems, a direct client doesn’t have the same resources and is thus much more vulnerable in this respect.

Say They Can Do Something They Actually Can’t

It’s not uncommon for translators to say they’re comfortable with a particular subject matter while in fact they are not. Some exaggerate their translation experience by including years at college or years when they did a couple of translations once in a while. Another common thing people tend to be untrue about is proficiency with CAT tools. Although a translator may believe that the above behaviors will get them new business, they can actually have an opposite effect. It’s often much later in the selection process that a client finds out a translator doesn’t meet a major requirement and gets upset about the wasted time and efforts. And things get even worse when a translator actually succeeds in deceiving a client because their underperformance is likely to cause problems down the road.

I hope this list will help someone recognize their areas for development. Again, it isn’t meant to be exhaustive. Did I miss something important? Do you disagree with me on any of the four errors?

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About the Author

Roman Mironov
Roman Mironov
CEO & Founder

As the founder of Velior, Roman has had the privilege of being able to turn his passion for languages into a business. He has over 15 years of experience in the translation industry. Roman has helped dozens of clients increase sales by making their products appealing for speakers of other languages.