Perfectionist or Pernickety? Client Relations

22 Mar

As experts of vocabulary, punctuation and phraseology, translators often have to make judgements on whether to point out mistakes. In a translation workshop (part of my MA), we discussed post-editing and particularly the time needed to adjust a translation done by a machine translation (MT) programme according to different working situations. For example, one colleague suggested that ‘only the most serious errors’ should be corrected if the translation was to be used for information only, or internal ‘gist’ purposes. I understand that different clients have different requirements, but is it ever really acceptable to hand over a translation (MT or not) with linguistic errors?

As a self-confessed perfectionist and language geek, as I’m sure many, many of my fellow translators are, I have an almost ever-present urge to correct even the smallest errors in the speech or writing of my friends, family and even books and newspapers. Reading the travel section of the newspaper at the weekend is one of my favourite activities, but if I find a misplaced comma or another grammatical slip-up, out comes my metaphorical red pen!

This linguist’s instinct is common to people who work with language, but are there situations where holding back is the best option? In recent weeks, I have come across a number of spelling mistakes in documents or correspondence from clients. The famous ‘free trial offer’, as advocated by the inspirational Chris Durban (, suggests that something like this should be highlighted in order to demonstrate my credentials as a dedicated and meticulous language expert but, although some of these comments were met with positive reactions, it is fair to say that not all of the authors were so receptive to my input.

What do my translator and linguist colleagues think about this? Is honesty always the best policy?


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