The Importance Of Being Earnest

The truth is rarely pure and never simple.
The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wild
Algernon, Act 1.

There are periods in the life of every freelancer that projects are not landing on the inbox as frequently compared with other periods. It seems to be the norm. This week, I am experiencing a mini project drought. Among other emails I received, three were of specific interest. All of these emails were sent by translation agencies I have not collaborated before in the past: the first was for an English-Swedish proofreading project, the second for an English-German translation and the third for an English-German proofreading project.

My language combinations include all the above mentioned languages but I only translate texts from these three languages into my native one (Greek). I explained to my clients the reasons why I had to refuse all three. Although my knowledge of the three source languages is of degree standard, it is a long way to the top if you want to be compared to a native speaker. The fact that this week has been slow does not mean that I need to ignore my principles and work ethics, jeopardize and sacrifice my on-the-making reputation on the alter of income. It could have worked just fine if the target text did not contain serious errors and no one would have known, but still, I might not have shown the fairness and justice all translations deserve.

I guess, there are different paths I could have followed apart from rejecting these projects. Maybe I should have accepted them and then have them outsourced. Would I have then become a temporary translation agent? This is not what I am. Should have I accepted them, diplomatically silencing the fact that I am not a native speaker in any of these languages? It is not in my nature to make profit from lying. I would rather pay for my honesty than make a few pennies by hiding the truth. I am a firm believer of honesty is the best policy. If, after reviewing a project, I realize my skills and terminology do not match the ones required by the source language text, I politely decline the project.

Then, the never ending question popped yet again in my mind: Would these clients contact me again in the future when a Greek project comes in their way? Would they direct it to my inbox?  If I judge from myself, I reckon some people, even during this global financial crisis frenzy, do value honesty. These clients may not contact me not because I refused to work on a non-native language text, but because Greek is not a popular language. I do believe in the good side of people, respect will be shown when respect is already showed.

To translators: What would you have done in my shoes? Accepted, outsourced or declined the project?

To translation agencies: Would you prefer to have a project declined by a translator on these grounds or simply have the job done?

This Post Has 18 Comments
  1. You definitely did the right thing Konstantina! I’m sure your clients will appreciate it and contact you when they have the right material. Honesty always pays off. Same principle applies to the fields we specialize and have experience on. It’s better for both parties not to accept a project you will have trouble translating. Most PMs also appreciate when you recommend another translator (that you know well) more suitable for the job, it makes their lives easier. Thanks for discussing this important issue!

    1. Catherine,

      I understand that PMs want to have the job done, but isn’t it better to have a good job done? And yes, I should have thought of directing them to other translators of these language combinations.. The thing is, though, I would not know who to recommend.. I have met lots of our colleagues (in the natural world as well as the cyber one), and I do have some favorites, but I had never had the chance to see their work. Thank you for your comment and I hope you enjoyed the post!

  2. I would have done exactly the same! In fact I did that too this week. I got a proofreading from French (which I don’t speak) into Italian and I just refused it. The client even said just to make sure the Italian was correct, but how can I be sure it is 100% correct (i.e. not just grammatically) if I don’t undersand the source?
    I am sure your clients appreciated your honesty, although I still don’t understand why they sent you the projects in the first place (but that’s a different story).

    1. Livia,
      I agree with what you did. How can you check if you do not understand the source.. I guess, you could check its flow but not its quality. Still, I would have also declined it. Like some people that find it difficult to say “No”, I find difficult lying or even hiding the truth.. two aspects of my character that cost me money! I warmly thank you for your comment!

  3. Hi Konstantina,

    Like you, I too prefer to turn down a job rather than jeopardize my reputation by doing a lousy translation. There are certain texts I prefer not to touch and I have strictly stated to my clients that I am a native Greek speaker, always translating into Greek, with very few exceptions.

    But, like Livia, I also wonder why you got these offers in the first place. Assuming, you have stated clearly who you are and what you do, isn’t it a kind of mismanagement on the part of agencies to send you a job that doesn’t match your language combinations? I have to admit I have never received such offers, apart from a crazy two sentence job once from German or English to Italian. Lol! I really had to laugh with this one.

    1. Hi Natali!

      Thank you for your comment!

      It is a mystery why I was offered these projects. Maybe there was a wrong entry in their database, maybe the PMs being in a hurry to find someone did not read the entries correctly. I cannot be sure of the reason. The fact is that the whole process was time-consuming for both parties. All three agencies are very well known and I would hate not to help them out with Greek projects in the future. Fingers crossed, they will ask for my services soon!

    1. Dear Lisa,

      Thank you for reading my article and thank you for your kind words! Not a bad idea, indeed! I will see what I can do!

      Have a great weekend!

    1. Marina,

      Thank you very much! I will try to post as many as I can and hope you find them of interest!

Comments are closed.