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Translation review: how to avoid miscommunication between translators and reviewers
Translation review: how to avoid miscommunication between translators and reviewers
June 13, 2019
Reading time is 7 minutes
Linguistic Lead
Kamil Mustafin
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How to avoid miscommunication between translators and reviewers
Translation review is a regular practice at Palex. Every I receive dozens of feedbacks from clients. This is normal and can be very useful. It helps us understand what our clients are looking for and customize translation workflows to fit those needs. We strive to have nothing that the client can complain about. Not even the smallest thing.

This seems to be a simple formula: the client doesn't like something — we fix it and learn from our mistakes — the client is happy and never corrects any of our work again. But sometimes the feedback handling can turn into a nightmare with translators and client's reviewers not being able to find the common ground, constantly doing the same work without getting anywhere. Formally, there's cooperation, but this cooperation doesn't bear fruit: the translation doesn't improve, the client doesn't get what they want, and both sides spend a lot of time and energy on pointless actions, as a result, being disappointed in one another. The worst-case scenario of this is losing a client.

I'm the linguistic lead in our company. I've analyzed hundreds of clients' complaints and spent hours explaining why we can't change the translation of one or another term. And after these hours, I still received requests to change it to what the client wanted. A normal reaction to this would be to give up and do what the client asks, but it's important to understand that it's not about an incompetent reviewer or freelancer, rather about the lack of communication between the freelancer and the client due to the endless number of intermediaries involved. It's easy to imagine the client's reviewer think: "How long could this last? I've been correcting the same thing over and over for a year! Isn't it time to understand how this should be translated?" Well, it's in your power to change this situation.
Understand that there is a lack of communication with the reviewer
Analyze the feedback. This is where everything should begin. When a PM receives the client's corrections, their first reaction is to apologize and ask the translator on the project to fix everything quickly. But if you don't stop and analyze such corrections, you will never know what the client is looking for. Additionally, the client may actually introduce errors into the translation, since reviewers aren't always native speakers of the language in question, neither are they usually linguists. If you blindly accept all the changes suggested by the client, you can actually make the translation worse. It's important to talk about incorrect suggestions and clarify anything that may be ambiguous.

Compare to what was done previously. A simple analysis and commenting on errors may not be enough. Make sure to record repeated corrections—if they are justified, then the fault is on you, because you didn't do anything to make sure the client-preferred terminology and wording are being used in future projects. On the other hand, if the corrections are wrong and you've explained your choice several times before, you should wonder if the reviewer is reading your comments at all. In this case, it's time to take measures and contact someone who can help clarify the issue on the client's side.
Prepare a breakdown of all the errors for the reviewer
Usually, I prepare a detailed table containing the corrections with which we don't agree. I try to make it easy for the reviewer and anyone else on the client's side to work with the information we provide. To make it as clear as possible, I classify the mistakes and break them down into columns: source text, our translation, the reviewer's option, our arguments on why the reviewer's option is incorrect, and a link to files or other sources that support our opinion. The explanations or questions must be concise and clear.
A clear breakdown of the reviewer's corrections is a compelling and comfortable format of cooperation that will surely be appreciated by the client. We pass such breakdowns to reviewers through PMs on the client's side.
Make sure that your comments get to the reviewer
There are at least two facilitators between the linguist and the reviewer—the PMs on the side of the LSP and the client. If at least one of them thinks that your comments are not important, all of your work on providing the arguments was in vain.

Start with the PM on your side, the one you work with on the project. I've seen it a hundred times when a PM chooses not to overload the client with my "unnecessary" comments and doesn't pass them to the client or summarizes them in their own words at most. Your PMs willingness to accommodate with the client's expectations in the most quick and unobtrusive manner is understandable. But your goal is to make sure that everyone understands how important it is for the reviewer to go through the linguist's comments.

Help your PM understand that if they don't send the detailed report to the client, this will not save them time. Actually, this will create even more work in the future possibly making the client even more upset. Work with your PM closely. If both of you act as one team this will ensure that all crucial information reaches the client's reviewer, making it possible to boost the quality of the projects involved.

Such motivation will drive your PM to convince the PM on the client's side that it's important to discuss all questionable corrections with the reviewer. If necessary, I help write an email that supports this argument, making it clear to the client's PM that we aren't arguing with the reviewer just because, but in order to avoid unnecessary iterations in future projects, saving everyone time.
Get to talk to the reviewer directly
Written communication with the reviewer via PMs isn't always as effective as you may wish: it takes time from everyone's schedule and the information might not get through as you intended. Sometimes, you may not get the reply in time to make the correct decision. For example, the PM of one of our clients is located in UK, while the reviewer is in Tokyo. Obviously, we've had situations when we sent questions for the reviewer to the PM and before he could get to them, the workday in Japan was over, so the reviewer didn't get them on the same day. So we had to wait for answers to simple questions for two days.

If you clearly see that communicating through intermediaries isn't doing you and the client any good, it's time to connect with the reviewer directly. Yes, not every client will share their reviewer's contact information, but don't be afraid to ask. It's possible that their PM will happily arrange your communication with the reviewer, ridding them of the hassle and waste of time that are involved in managing your collaboration.

We were successful many times in convincing the client's PM to connect us directly with the person that reviewed our work. As a result, we saved our and the client's time and gave the linguist a real opportunity to go through the nuances that caused the argument in the first place. After such discussions, we clearly understood how to translate the text the next time around, so the reviewer would be happy. They, on the other hand, were able to accept our arguments in some cases not to correct certain terms or sentence structures, introducing mistakes instead of making the text better.

Make sure to discuss with the reviewer how you will communicate in the future. Any means will do. We use messengers, emails or phone calls, for example. Sometimes, we organize a conference call, inviting all the linguists that work on the project for the specific client. This way, recommendations and instructions from the reviewer are sure to get to everyone, and everyone is sure to have a chance to ask direct questions. If there are many participants, or you're expecting a heated discussion, it's best to set a moderator—the project PM would do perfectly, for example.
Agree on how you cooperate on projects
When you get the chance to communicate directly with the reviewer, don't just discuss specific corrections on the project, but talk about an algorithm of working on their objections in general.

For example, one client gave us the go ahead to leave everything that concerns the style and grammar as we see fit, since the reviewer wasn't native and could easily introduce errors. On the other hand, any doubts about terminology needed to be discussed with the reviewer, who had the last word on what terms to use.
If you can agree on at least three main directions, you will save each other a lot of time in the future.
  • Determine when the reviewer trusts your judgment and allows you to decline their corrections without prior approval.
  • Figure out if there are things that are pointless to argue about and on which you should always accept the reviewer's suggestions.
  • Agree on the course of action when you don't accept the reviewer's corrections: should you write to them on each specific case, or create a list and have a call once a week, for example.
Follow through with the agreements and take correcting measures
Now that you've agreed on the course of action with the reviewer and heard all of their concerns, it's important to follow through on your agreement in the future projects. It would be strange if you spent a bunch of time discussing a term and then translated it in a way other than agreed upon. In our company, all of the issues resolved turn into updated glossaries, style guides and instructions, and all of the freelancers on the project always know what was agreed upon with the reviewer.
    What you need to remember to make your cooperation with the client's reviewer easy:
      1. Analyze the corrections and figure out what the reviewer doesn't like and how they want to change it.
      2. Prepare your comments: ask questions on what is unclear to you, give clear arguments on what you don't agree with. Make suggestions on how to solve the issue. Present information in such a way that it is clear to the reviewer what you want to achieve and why.
      3. Convince your and the client's PMs that your comments will help them and that they definitely need to be sent to the reviewer.
      4. Look for a way to contact the reviewer directly if communicating through PMs is doing no good.
      5. Agree on how to work with feedback. Should you talk to the reviewer on everything you don't agree with, or are there cases when you can decline changes straight away.
      6. Record what you agree upon and make sure to put it into practice: update instructions, create new glossaries and style guides, realign your workflows, set up conference calls to discuss new rules with the linguists.
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