24 January 2008

Lost in translation

An editor's lot is not always a happy one.

One of my foreign clients sent me a file yesterday for editing and asked me to return it by Friday noon. I opened it this morning, noted it was 19 pages and figured it would take 2-3 hours to clean it up. Actually, once I'd seen that the last 6 pages consisted mainly of tables, a contacts page and a disclaimer page, it was more like just over 12 pages.

If I'm editing non-native English (NNE), I usually reckon on doing about 5 pages an hour. If the English is very good, I'll probably manage 6, or maybe even 7 pages an hour. Compare that to work produced here by fellow Brits, where I can usually expect to do 10 pages an hour (I've even been known to manage 12, but that assumes a very high standard of English, with no need for more than a quick proofread).

This client sends me texts that were written in their country's native language then translated into English, by someone who speaks English as a second language (or possibly a third. What do I know?). I'm well used to this. S0 5-6 pages an hour is about average for this client.

About a paragraph in, it became clear that this was going to be a major headache. This file was quite possibly the worst translation the client had ever sent me. I ended up rewriting almost the entire document, as well as firing queries across the ether using Skype chat when things became completely impenetrable. It took me 4 hours, or roughly 3 pages an hour. Hideously slow and enormously frustrating. I was so pissed off, I let rip at the head translator at the other end when I returned the file and made it very clear that the quality of the translation was unacceptably poor. The response was that I'd been told I had till Friday to do the edit. I riposted that it wouldn't have made any difference, it would still have taken 4 hours instead of 2.

I'm still battling a lung infection and by rights should have been in bed resting instead of struggling with some crappy translation. And I had other work I wanted to crack on with, so this had an impact on the rest of my day and meant I had no time to make calls, chase pitches or do anything else constructive. The only consolation is I get an hourly rate, so I'll be well reimbursed for my efforts.

A semi-official complaint will be winging its way to my company contact tomorrow - standards need to rise, and fast.

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