Tag Archives: revision

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What to Do When You Get a Bad Translation…

…And How to Make Sure It Never Happens Again

What on earth were they thinking? When you sent your German brochure* off to be translated by a professional, you expected professional work – but what you got was amateurish English. Maybe even glaring mistakes. It’s a bad translation, and you don’t need to be a native speaker to see that.

Grab a coffee and let’s get this sorted. I’m going to show you how to salvage your translation, explain what to do next, and how to stop it happening again.

After more than a decade working as a professional translator and editor, I’ve seen some real translation disasters and saved many a dodgy text before it went to print.

You’re in safe hands.

What’s the damage?

Take a look at the translation and see if you can pinpoint the problem(s).

  • Are there blatant errors, typos, spelling mistakes? Hopefully not!
  • Perhaps it’s more specific – the terminology is incorrect for your company or industry.
  • Style, tone: the resulting text is a dull, literal translation of the German, which isn’t what you wanted. For a brochure to market your company and impress prospective clients, you needed more flair. You wanted accuracy but also style and a creative tone, an entirely different approach to a legal document or technical data sheet.
  • The document isn’t ready for print. There are formatting issues where the text doesn’t fit in the same space, the headlines are too long/too short. You wanted a finished product given how much you are paying but what you’ve got is nowhere near the final version.

Here’s what to do next:

Pick out a few examples of these mistakes and briefly explain why you’re not happy. You’re going to send this back to your translator. The more detailed your explanation the better, but if you’re short on time just comment on a couple of instances and use the highlighter function to show a few more.

How much time do you have to fix the damage? Do you have to go to print tomorrow or could you allow a few more days?

The more time you can allow for revision, the better. It’s easier and cheaper to go back to your original translator or agency, who should make the time to resolve these issues asap and for free. If they don’t, strike them off your Christmas card list and never contact them again.

Explain how the end result impacts you – what’s at stake. If your business partners are invested in the outcome then they’ll want to make sure you’re successful. After all, more sales for you usually means more work for them.

A day or so later, you should have a workable solution. Ultimately, if you’re still not happy, it could be worth hiring someone else to polish your brochure to perfection.

Yes, I’m afraid that’s going to cost. But the cost of fixing it will be a fraction of the value of the international sales your polished brochure may bring. And the confidence of knowing you’ve got a brochure that impresses not depresses your potential clients will far outweigh the dent in your budget right now.

When you have the finished and beautifully translated brochure ready to go, you can be sure your customers will be impressed. Your boss will too. They chose the right person for the job when they found you. But cripes, how are you going to stop this happening again?

How to avoid disappointment and get perfect translations every time

Set expectations at the start

Many failed translations are the result of a misunderstanding. Ever seen those signs that display a person’s automated out of office message sent in response to a “please translate this sentence” request? We’re not talking that level of misunderstanding but let’s make sure everyone knows what they’re working towards.

Download and complete my Translation Brief. It guides you through exactly what your translator needs and more. Answer the questions and it’ll help you refine your brief – you might find you actually need a condensed version of your brochure rather than the entire document. Once completed, the brief also gives both parties something to help evaluate the finished product.

Choose wisely

Use a translator specialised in your industry because a legal translator and a literary translator are entirely different species. Not all translators are created equal nor is everyone advertising themselves as a translator suitably qualified.

Make sure your current translation partner is comfortable with your industry and desired style or ask for a recommendation. I might be an excellent fit if you work in the chemical industry but offer me a financial services translation and I’ll run fast in the opposite direction, throwing a referral to a trusted colleague over my shoulder.

Search a translation association’s directory according to the field you need (try www.iti.org.uk for qualified, native English translators).


It’s taken you a fair while to create your brochure so allow as much time as possible for the translation. Ideally you’d allow time for questions back and forth and a final revision. The benefit of allocating a generous deadline means you avoid rush fees and get the best person for the job. The best people are usually busy and not available at short notice unless you’re one of their favourite clients (favouritism, huh?).

Oh, and there’s a third person in this relationship – a proof-reader. Which means even if your brochure can be translated within a few days, you need another day or so for quality assurance and control.

From damage limitation to smooth success

So, no more project delays, unnecessary stress or wasted time and money. Salvage that poor translation by clarifying the precise issues. Go back to your translation partner with examples of the problem, ask for a free revision, and explain what this translation needs to do.

Next time you need a translation, make sure you get results that impress. Download my Translation Brief now and fill it in before you commission the next project. No hair pulling or stress balls required. And if you’re ready to translate your next piece of work and you’re looking for a specialist in the chemical industry, contact me, the Chemical Translator, today.

*I’ve used the example of brochure throughout but this could easily apply to any type of text.