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Revising translations – your thoughts?

Some (many, actually) call it proofreading, others call it (cross-)checking or reviewing, and larger agencies these days seem to prefer to call it QA… yes, I’m talking about revising someone else’s translation.

Confusing? EN 15038, the European Quality Standard for Translation Service Providers introduced in 2006, contains a clear set of definitions:

  • Checking is what the translator does/should do after completing the initial translation.
  • Revision is carried out by a separate reviser, who compares the source and target texts and ensure the translation is suitable for the agreed purpose.
  • Review is a monolingual process of assessing the translation’s suitability for the agreed purpose.
  • Proofreading is, well, proofreading — checking the proof before publishing.

With the terminology sorted, my question to fellow translators: do you accept revision work?

I’m asking this because I get asked by agencies to do this fairly regularly, and some of them even seem to send me nothing but revision jobs even though I’m registered with them as a translator, not a QA specialist.

I know that there are translators who refuse to take on revision work as a matter of principle. It’s all about saving money, they say. Cost-driven agencies give translation jobs to inexperienced translators and amateurs who accept peanuts, and then hire skilled translators on the cheap to clean up the mess — the whole thing is a scam and translators complicit in this dirty trick are only aiding their own demise (not to mention their colleagues’), they say. And I can certainly see their point when you look at some of the “job offers” I receive.

Nonetheless, I do take on revision assignments — even though I suspect that those agencies that only use me as a reviser indeed do so because they feel I’m too expensive as a translator. My rationale is twofold: first, there are times when I could do with the money I’m offered and getting a revision job is preferable to getting nothing at all as long as the terms are right; and second, well, it’s a good thing in principle to have a second pair of eyes going over any translation, and this second pair should belong to a good, professional translator if the process is to make any sense.

EN 15038-certified translation service providers are required to have all translations revised, and the standard says in essence that the reviser must have the same competence as the translator. In other words, two competent translators must be assigned to each job, one doing the translation and the other revising the translation. I’m inclined to think that this is a good approach (providing the terms are fair) and, although it may not always pan out the way the standard seems to envisage, a good translator fixing a poor translation (and paid fairly for it) is certainly preferable to the opposite scenario of having a clueless reviser butcher the work of a skilled translator.

So it all comes down to the terms. How do we make sure that we, the professional translators, don’t lose out when we take on the role of the reviser? My answer is to insist on an hourly rate based on the actual number of hours (in 15-minute increments) I spend on the job, and my hourly rate for revision is my standard per-word translation rate converted into an hourly rate. It means that 8 hours spent revising someone else’s translation earns me the same amount of money I would earn by spending 8 hours translating a text from scratch. It also means that a good initial translation would cost the agency less on revision, whereas cleaning up a bad translation would earn me a decent amount of money to compensate for the headache from too much hair-pulling and head-banging against the wall this sort of job inevitably drives me to do.

I don’t accept a revision job based on a per-word rate, which is, in my opinion, potentially exploitative since your per-hour earning would be inversely proportional to the quality of the initial translation, giving the agency little incentive to use a good translator in the first place. I also say no to revision jobs paid by the hour but with a cap on the hours you are allowed to spend.

It appears that I’m not the only translator interested in this subject. While I was writing a draft of this post, Rose Newell brought up the same question in The League of Extraordinary Translators, a Facebook group of professional translators, with a quick poll. It was interesting to learn that, while my method proved to be the most common approach, many translators preferred to charge by the word (or character/line/page depending on the language) for various reasons.

Poll from the League of Extraordinary Translators
Poll from the League of Extraordinary Translators

So, over to you — do you accept revision work? If you do, how do you charge for it and why?

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