When facing a translation project, a translator is not only concerned that the meaning of a sentence in a language is correctly transferred into another language, based on his knowledge and field of experience. Above all, in each project a translator makes decisions on what might be called the aesthetic and contextual order.
As we all know, there are several ways to translate the same text. The number of options is lower in technical or legal matters, but it greatly increases for “softer” topics, for example, general subject or marketing documents.
A translator does not make these decisions in a completely arbitrary way: he does it based on instructions from the client who requested the work, the characteristics of the target audience (location, age, socioeconomic status, educational level, etc.), on the text itself and on his own general experience with that kind of material, which may be as a translator or as a consumer.
That is, there are several translations for a given text and the translator chooses (has to choose) ONE. That decision is an important because it will determine the kind of tone a website, a brochure, a report or a letter will have.
Some clients usually give the translated material to “someone who speaks the target language” (I use quotation marks to indicate that that someone may be an expert on the subject or another agency, but most often it is a person who took a language course, or who spoke the language as a child but hasn’t practiced it for years, or whose parents are native speakers but he/she cannot conjugate a verb correctly). In either case, some customers tend to go back to the translator and request changes that we call “preferences,” such as “I prefer to call the hotel gardens “parks” or “let’s use ”bailar” instead of “danzar”. There are those who say “I think it will be better if we use the future and not the present tense.”
Could the translation have been different? Sure, that’s always the case, but remember that the translator had to make only ONE decision about style, and stick to it throughout the entire text.
Can those changes be made? Of course they can, as long as they are correct.
The point is that some customers think this step is part of the work that they have already paid, when in reality these are not translation errors but preferences, and the translator will have to invest time in something that wasn’t wrong.
In this case, it is one thing to have to search and replace one word, and another is to have to change a verb tense, which will require changing the whole text.
Is it OK for the client to requests these types of changes to the translator? Yes, and it’s even logical, since he is the one who is most familiar with his own text. But, the client must also know that this will take hours of work, and he must pay for those hours.
Some customers, who have gone through this process or who have experience in hiring translation services, express their preferences (if any) in advance, before the translation process begins. These may come in an e-mail, or in the form of a comprehensive glossary, which sums up the “every time you see the word X, I want you to say Y”.
In these cases, the translator has the client’s preferences at hand when making a decision about style, and of course, the client should not pay if the translator does not follow it word by word and has to re-check the work.
For this reason, it is advisable to always go back to an agency with which you have had successful communication. It’s like going to a restaurant that you always go to, and when you enter, the waiter says “What will you have, the usual?”