What was the most difficult translation project you ever took on?
Thread poster: Barbara Cochran, MFA

Barbara Cochran, MFA  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 09:44
Spanish to English
+ ...
May 30

Please share what kind of translation project it was, and why you think it was the most difficult one for you.

 

Jan Truper  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 15:44
English to German
+ ...
web mapping app May 30

Part of a web mapping app that had been created in Russian and translated into English.
My job was to then translate from English to German.

The English text contained poorly translated names of thousands of Russian cities, villages and "oblasts" (a kind of district). I constantly had to take the Russian original source text -- in Cyrillic script, which I am not familiar with! -- and figure out through excruciating research what might be the accepted German equivalent. Many of
... See more
Part of a web mapping app that had been created in Russian and translated into English.
My job was to then translate from English to German.

The English text contained poorly translated names of thousands of Russian cities, villages and "oblasts" (a kind of district). I constantly had to take the Russian original source text -- in Cyrillic script, which I am not familiar with! -- and figure out through excruciating research what might be the accepted German equivalent. Many of the villages were so tiny that there was no accepted German equivalent.

The idiotic thing was that I had taken a look at the text beforehand but thought "well, a list of places can't be so hard, surely this has been done before and I'll find the relevant information easily".

It took me four long days to get this part done, while I had only figured one regular day. I bit the bullet without ever telling my client about it, honoring my agreement...

[Edited at 2019-05-31 07:37 GMT]
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Teresa Borges
Portugal
Local time: 14:44
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Handbook of Obstetrics & Gynecology May 30

For me, it was in 2004 the translation from English to Portuguese in collaboration with a medical doctor for an American publisher of a title called “Benson & Pernoll’s Handbook of Obstetrics & Gynecology”. The problem was that the medical doctor in question was supposed to review the medical stuff, what she did, but at the same time she just couldn’t leave alone parts of the text that were grammatically and stylistically correct and kept on changing sentences over and over again. Lookin... See more
For me, it was in 2004 the translation from English to Portuguese in collaboration with a medical doctor for an American publisher of a title called “Benson & Pernoll’s Handbook of Obstetrics & Gynecology”. The problem was that the medical doctor in question was supposed to review the medical stuff, what she did, but at the same time she just couldn’t leave alone parts of the text that were grammatically and stylistically correct and kept on changing sentences over and over again. Looking back I don’t regret doing that job as I learned a lot but let’s say that it was quite challenging, discouraging, tiresome and occasionally unpleasant…Collapse


 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 15:44
Member (2018)
French to English
. May 31

Working at the agency, I was made to translate the interface of some accounting software, in the form of 200 pages of badly spelled sentences out of context. Some bright spark had had the brilliant idea of putting it all into an Excel file, in alphabetical order. I knew nothing of software and even less of accounting. The boss couldn't find a freelancer prepared to take it on (I wonder why). That was the first time I got a migraine. I also had to start wearing glasses after that project.

Emma Page
 

mroed
Local time: 15:44
Italian to German
+ ...
European Court of Justice May 31

Definitely my translations for the ECJ! Very demanding source documents (never ending sentences, very complicated topics, very specific wording) and obviously a very demanding customer.

 

Dave Bindon  Identity Verified
Greece
Local time: 16:44
Member (2010)
Greek to English
Definition of "difficult" May 31

I had a long series of translations which were "difficult" in the sense that I was frequently translating through tears. They were asylum seekers' appeal cases, and what I read and translated often left me sobbing with a mixture of sadness and rage.

In another sense of "difficult", I occasionally have to translate things like witness statements written in Greek by non-Greeks who don't have a good command of the Greek language. I've developed ways of dealing with that (which mainly
... See more
I had a long series of translations which were "difficult" in the sense that I was frequently translating through tears. They were asylum seekers' appeal cases, and what I read and translated often left me sobbing with a mixture of sadness and rage.

In another sense of "difficult", I occasionally have to translate things like witness statements written in Greek by non-Greeks who don't have a good command of the Greek language. I've developed ways of dealing with that (which mainly means I overload the client with alternative translations).

I also have difficulty with ecclesiastical Greek (it's like being asked to translate Shakespeare).

And, of course, almost anything very informal is difficult.
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neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 15:44
Spanish to English
+ ...
Two options Jun 1

Once upon a time, a colleague I used to collaborate with on translations accepted a similar job to one we had done before at a rate which turned out to be about half of what it should have been. It consisted mainly of verbatim interviews with farmers in Latin America, with some colloquialisms and tons of phrases which were initially impenetrable. One that sticks in mind is "uno se quema con la leche, ve a la vaca, y dispara" (literally, you burn yourself with the milk, see the cow and shoot it).... See more
Once upon a time, a colleague I used to collaborate with on translations accepted a similar job to one we had done before at a rate which turned out to be about half of what it should have been. It consisted mainly of verbatim interviews with farmers in Latin America, with some colloquialisms and tons of phrases which were initially impenetrable. One that sticks in mind is "uno se quema con la leche, ve a la vaca, y dispara" (literally, you burn yourself with the milk, see the cow and shoot it). We eventually worked out that he meant if you buy a product and it doesn't work, you will probably rule out buying any more from the same manufacturer. There are quite a few of these things and we wouldn't have minded if the rate had been correct. We grudgingly did the job as it was a regular client, but have been very careful ever since then to make sure we knew what we were in for when accepting jobs.

Another one that I personally found too difficult to do while also juggling my usual workload was from a client for whom I had already translated a book about animal welfare. This time it was a personal project of his own, translating things he had written in his student days and thereafter. He used a very literary register and antiquated-seeming style and I knew I just couldn't dedicate enough focus or time to do it justice, even though there was no specific deadline. In that case, I passed it on to a colleague I thought would be more suitable, who did a very good job. I then proofread and edited her work before delivering the final version.
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Teresa Borges
Portugal
Local time: 14:44
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Another one... Jun 1

I’ve just remembered another job that I found too difficult to do: it was a conference keynote speech. Parts of the text weren’t difficult at all to translate but the transcription was so bad that I just could not understand it. This was a job to be done over the weekend and I had no way of contacting my client. If only I was more experienced then I wouldn’t have taken it on…

 

DZiW
Ukraine
English to Russian
+ ...
in all senses Jun 1

As for translating, some 15+ yrs ago I got an interesting offer to translate a plain DOC on quite generous terms. I was too young and ambitious to get the specifics and think the deal over.
  By the Sod's law, it appeared a poorly scanned handwritten monograph embedded into MS Word document. As far as I couldn't even read some words (let alone comprehend and translate the sentence/text), I had an intense research in the field with much guesswork among the possible variants, spending lit
... See more
As for translating, some 15+ yrs ago I got an interesting offer to translate a plain DOC on quite generous terms. I was too young and ambitious to get the specifics and think the deal over.
  By the Sod's law, it appeared a poorly scanned handwritten monograph embedded into MS Word document. As far as I couldn't even read some words (let alone comprehend and translate the sentence/text), I had an intense research in the field with much guesswork among the possible variants, spending literally days on it.
  Finally, I got my "lump" of money and felt puzzled when the client gave a praise for my work and asked why I hadn't phoned or consulted with their specialist--as agreed... Exp!

As for interpreting, just imagine a quite bit drunk important businessperson from India, living 10+ yrs in France and doing biz in Hong Kong, trying to speak English quickly through the nose as L5 while smoking and drinking coffee.
  Such a catchy image, I must admit)
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Daryo
United Kingdom
Local time: 14:44
Serbian to English
+ ...
As Dave Bindon said Jun 1

it depends on what kind of "difficult" you have in mind.

Being repeatedly warned not to stay there or there (as in: keep out of the "sniper alley") is a bit distracting when you try to focus on what each side is trying to say during a fact finding mission, not that what they had to say was exactly some kind of nice and pleasant small talk.

As for difficult translations, can't really remember. As I prefer "difficult" texts, I would more likely remember such text as "one
... See more
it depends on what kind of "difficult" you have in mind.

Being repeatedly warned not to stay there or there (as in: keep out of the "sniper alley") is a bit distracting when you try to focus on what each side is trying to say during a fact finding mission, not that what they had to say was exactly some kind of nice and pleasant small talk.

As for difficult translations, can't really remember. As I prefer "difficult" texts, I would more likely remember such text as "one of the most interesting".

regarding this:
Kay Denney
Working at the agency, I was made to translate the interface of some accounting software, in the form of 200 pages of badly spelled sentences out of context. Some bright spark had had the brilliant idea of putting it all into an Excel file, in alphabetical order. I knew nothing of software and even less of accounting. The boss couldn't find a freelancer prepared to take it on (I wonder why). That was the first time I got a migraine. I also had to start wearing glasses after that project.

you don't need better explanation why I have no compunction to turn unpleasant as much as I see it fit when someone insists on asking for my tariffs while refusing to show the text, even after I tried to explain the point of knowing what you are supposed to translate.
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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 21:44
Chinese to English
A book with a lot of classical quotes Jun 2

Self-promotion... http://www.cntimesbooks.com/shop/the-chinese-literary-canon

This book was a pleasure, but it involved getting to grips with and then trying to reproduce the style of a lot of obscure classical quotes. It was never really promoted, and I don't think anyone authoritative ever reviewed it, so I don't really know how well I did in the end. But I certa
... See more
Self-promotion... http://www.cntimesbooks.com/shop/the-chinese-literary-canon

This book was a pleasure, but it involved getting to grips with and then trying to reproduce the style of a lot of obscure classical quotes. It was never really promoted, and I don't think anyone authoritative ever reviewed it, so I don't really know how well I did in the end. But I certainly gave it my best shot!
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IanDhu  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 15:44
Member (2005)
French to English


Posted via
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A matter of method Jun 2

mroed wrote:

Definitely my translations for the ECJ! Very demanding source documents (never ending sentences, very complicated topics, very specific wording) and obviously a very demanding customer.


I was once asked by a legally-qualified colleague to review her translation of a French judgement. I provided her, in substance, with the advice below.

There are two aspects to tackling this type of work: one involves making sense of the labyrinthine sentence structure of the source, and the other, rendering it in intelligible English.

First, the French source, from the words "La Cour" onwards, is constructed as one long sentence, with a first series of sub-clauses comprising the grounds for the ruling: the "considérants". These in English should be prefaced by the single heading, "Whereas:". This word should not be repeated thereafter. Each "considérant" should mark the beginning of a new sentence. Whenever an "et que" occurs, either leave out the "que" and use a conjunction, or begin a new sentence. The aim is to provide crisp, clear sentences that read easily and flowingly.

The "grounds" section ends when you reach "Par ces motifs", which wording prefaces the operative part of the judgement, the "dispositif". That heading is translated as "Held therefore:". Bear in mind that, in a civil action, "Condamne" is rendered "Orders [the relevant party] to [pay...]. The English term "sentence" applies for a judgement in a criminal action.

A good primer for the style and phraseology is the Times law reports.


 

Robert Rietvelt  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:44
Member (2006)
Spanish to Dutch
+ ...
A legal text.... Jun 2

.... written in German from Mars. Only 300 words, but it took me almost 4 hours to decipher the thing. I told the agency when the client would come back to please not call me.

Emma Page
 

Emma Page
United Kingdom
Local time: 14:44
Member (2017)
French to English
+ ...
an "MT" assignment (feeding an MT engine) Jun 3

thousands of short segments, apparently gathered through voice recognition. zero context (sometimes not even a complete sentence), all completely unrelated, often colloquial or vulgar, from Spanish speakers of unidentified origin. Some segments were heavily colloquial, but from different Latin American countries so the colloquialisms varied widely. Some were obviously non-native speakers reading a phrase in Spanish. Some were native Spanish speakers speaking English, which the voice recognition ... See more
thousands of short segments, apparently gathered through voice recognition. zero context (sometimes not even a complete sentence), all completely unrelated, often colloquial or vulgar, from Spanish speakers of unidentified origin. Some segments were heavily colloquial, but from different Latin American countries so the colloquialisms varied widely. Some were obviously non-native speakers reading a phrase in Spanish. Some were native Spanish speakers speaking English, which the voice recognition then rendered as a nonsense string of Spanish homophones.

Despite the fact that the content was "easy" (mostly general-use phrases, vulgarities, tourist or pop-culture), the amount of research involved in deciphering what each segment was intended to convey was overwhelming. Add to that the issue that without context, it was often impossible to tell whether the phrase was in the formal second-person or the third person, and sometimes whether or not it was a question.

Never again!

In general, I would say the most difficult assignments for me are the ones where there is a lack of context and/or frequent use of obscure/industry-specific acronyms.
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IanDhu
Colleen Roach, PhD
 

IrinaN
United States
Local time: 08:44
English to Russian
+ ...
A few, but one stands out till today Jun 5

About 26 years ago, having ~ 3 years of crash course turned extensive experience in legal field in the US, mostly around oil & gas contracts and PSAs, topped with some initial understanding of technical areas dealing with drilling and o&g field development, I accepted a rush job from the PM who, apparently, made the same mistake as I have – didn’t look twice or, maybe, even once. It was Friday night and after sending me the job the PM disappeared, leaving me the instructions on where to send... See more
About 26 years ago, having ~ 3 years of crash course turned extensive experience in legal field in the US, mostly around oil & gas contracts and PSAs, topped with some initial understanding of technical areas dealing with drilling and o&g field development, I accepted a rush job from the PM who, apparently, made the same mistake as I have – didn’t look twice or, maybe, even once. It was Friday night and after sending me the job the PM disappeared, leaving me the instructions on where to send the file. Mine was supposed to be the first and the last pair of eyes before delivery to the end client. Everything sounded so simple and straightforward… I was told that this is an additional page and a half of a contract; known project, nothing extraordinary. The turnaround time was measured in hours, quite reasonable if you know what you are doing. The pay was .18/word for the full computer word count in target language, including existing numbers etc. – oh, those blessed good old times, when there was no need to negotiate, it was offered automatically.

I opened the file ~20 min after it was sent. There was one very short paragraph, which you could call legal or, at least, contractual, and… densely populated 1.5 pages on geophysics and seismology, of which at the time I knew for sure only that those two words do, in fact, exist, and are a part of the global scientific and technical vocabulary.

Picture it – Friday night, PM disappeared, the clock is ticking, and I am on the verge of hysteria. I still considered myself a rookie and was afraid to decline and blame the PM. Especially on Friday night. In desperation, after digging all the terms I could find, without any idea how to put some of it in a sentence, I called a colleague who was a drilling engineer by education and experience, and one of the most intelligent and nicest people I’ve met, but even he could not guarantee a 100% correctness! But! He happened to have a son in Colorado, who happened to be a geophysicist. They both agreed to help me out and essentially did 80% of work for me. Over the phone. We’ve grown to be good friends with the father over the previous couple of years. I was of some help to him before, when he had hit a legalize or two, which paralyzed his brilliant technical mind the same way I was paralyzed by geophysics, so they flatly refused to accept any pay - I was begging to accept the full amount for the job. At least, the father and his lovely wife could not forfeit the dinner I cooked for them later.

Lesson learned!
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