What makes you a bad translator?

by | Sep 13, 2014 | Translators' Column

Repeat clients are the best indicators that you’re not a bad translator

You’ll get an indication that clients perceive you as a bad translator, if a lot of your clients don’t call you more than once.

“Bad” translating is usually not just one thing, it tends to be a combination of factors, including the following:

  • Lack of quality of the translated document
  • Deadline misses and near-misses
  • Panicked phone calls about technology letting you down
  • Invoices that charge more than the quotation
  • Accepting jobs when you’re not familiar or confident with the terminology


No one is perfect. Even a good translator may place a comma in the wrong place or overlook a spelling mistake during the proof-reading process. These errors are human. You don’t even fail the Chartered Institute of Linguists’ Diploma in Translation with just one or two mistakes per page.

However, there are mistakes translators really shouldn’t make:

  • not transferring figures or measurements to that of the target language;
  • omitting information;
  • mistranslating phrases due to lack of comprehension;
  • lacking the guts to ring up the client and discuss your problem. Your argument should be: I am a professional linguist, I deal with lots of different documents every day, I am intelligent. So, if I can’t understand what the document is trying to say, other readers will have problems too.
  • using incorrect terminology for the context;
  • failing to research keywords when translating websites

All these are unforgivable mistakes/omissions. They will result in clients judging the quality of your work as below par.

Deadlines must always be adhered to

Should you run into trouble, contact the client in good time. You can then either renegotiate the deadline or the client can find someone else in time for meeting the deadline. Letting clients down is very bad for business.

Technology problems

If you have technology problems or any other emergencies, only bother your client with them if you have tried all other avenues. Make sure you have a support network in place so that you have access to the help you need when you need it.


Always clearly explain your charges to your client when you accept the translation job. Never charge more than agreed without first talking to your client. If you’ve given an estimate and – for whatever reason – you find that you’ll be well above your quote. Inform your client and make sure he understands.

Accept only documents you are comfortable with

Especially freelance translators new on the job sometimes lack the experience to know when a document is “wrong” for them. For example, a particular style or subject doesn’t suit them. Accepting jobs like these will inevitably result in disaster: either by delivering a bad translation or by handing it back to the client. Neither option is desirable.

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