Open Thread: Mistakes Were Made

Once in a while, it's entertaining to think back on our mistakes and figure out what we learned from them (we usually learn a thing or two). We'd also love to hear your most embarrassing or simply favorite mistake in the translation or interpreting world. We are more thinking about business mistakes rather than linguistic mistakes, but all are welcome. Here is ours.

Almost ten years ago, we sent an invoice to a fantastic client (still a client, actually). It was for a small project and we sent the invoice via e-mail. A day or so later, the client got back to us and very sweetly pointed out that:

  1. The invoice contained another company's contact information
  2. The invoice referenced the wrong project
  3. The invoice thus had the incorrect amount due on it
Ouch. As you might imagine, we were working, in the early days, without an accounting invoicing system and had used a previous invoice (we had simply Word templates back in) and had thought we had substituted the information. Obviously, we had not done so correctly. That was the last time we issued an invoice without a database that keeps track of quotes, invoices and project information. We thoroughly researched many options and ended up purchasing TranslationOffice 3000, which we love (a review will be forthcoming). Our client was not mad at all, but we were beyond mortified. We apologized quickly and sent the correct invoice. We never did make the same mistake again.

Would you be willing to share your favorite mistake with us and our readers? 


Kevin Lossner on May 29, 2012 at 3:30 AM said...

I'll never forget my first days using a CAT tool a dozen years ago, though it might be a mercy were that to be possible. At the time I had a day job in Germany, which was necessary to get a visa, and I was in the process of investigating translation environment tools for possible use internally, because the company's translation department was hopelessly inefficient with its copying and pasting between MS Word, Quark Xpress, PageMaker, FrameMaker, various HTML editors and God-knows what else. A "fuzzy match" was a completely unknown concept to everyone.

My first actual use of a CAT tool was a small job using Trados Workbench with Microsoft Word, and when fuzzy matches popped up, I thought "very good" and carried on without much inspection, because I had been told not to change what had been translated before. Those little numbers like "84" and "75" between the source and target text bits didn't mean anything to me. It was all a big rush, and I was utterly green in the world of commercial translation services, so I was proud of myself for delivering this disaster before the deadline. Imagine my horror when I discovered what I had done. With an "ordinary" translation (at that time this would have been overwriting the text in some editor) I would have proofread carefully and noticed any discrepancies, but I was rather too occupied with the new technology and didn't realize that the use of CAT particularly requires BAT (brain-assisted translation) in ways previously unfamiliar.

I've never forgotten that, and when I think of the risks facing translators who are new to CAT tools or who deal with various MT travesties, I do worry that such fundamental errors or "trusting the machine" will recur with serious consequences. Even with proper training, it takes time for consideration of these risks to become automatic.

Cassy on May 30, 2012 at 5:25 AM said...

Actually, I can relate to your experience. There was one time that I erroneously sent an invoice. The subject of the email and the file name of the invoice was for the same client. However, the invoice itself was incorrect. The name was incorrect but other details were fine. Thank God, the client understand and I resent the correct invoice.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on May 30, 2012 at 7:47 AM said...

@Kevin: thanks so much for the comment, great stuff. And ouch, what a cautionary tale in terms of technology that is. Thanks for sharing! We completely agree: entirely trusting the machine is a bad thing. Humans aren't obsolete (yet).

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on May 30, 2012 at 7:51 AM said...

@Cassy: thanks for sharing, and it sure looks very similar to our big faux pas! Glad to hear that the client wasn't mad. :)

EP on May 31, 2012 at 10:45 AM said...

Well, it's not exactly a German translation error, but when bragging about having been brought up bilingually, don't tell people that you were aufgebracht with two languages. Aufgebracht doesn't mean brought up, it means being furious. I was sort of furious when I realized I had actually said that once.

EP on May 31, 2012 at 10:47 AM said...

Well, this wasn't exactly a translation error, but when bragging about having been brought up bilingually, don't tell people that you were aufgebracht with two languages. Aufgebracht doesn't mean brought up, it means being furious. I was sort of furious for a bit when I realized I had actually said that once.

Ron @ Affinity Translation on June 2, 2012 at 6:50 AM said...

Thanks for sharing. So the invoice you sent:

1) contained another company's contact information
2) referenced the wrong project
3) and had the incorrect amount due on it

But other than that the invoice was OK right? Good story!

GFernandez on June 3, 2012 at 7:22 AM said...

@Kevin: hilarious story, I bet it certainly teach you a thing or two about CAT tools. My contribution: I remember the time I worked in one in-house project with other colleagues, sharing the office space. After a few hours of translating and exchanging queries in a very relaxed atmosphere, one of us asks a question, that seemed rather unusual for the rest, and seemed impossible to answer. When we went to her desktop to take a look at the text, we discovered that she has been translating the Style Guide which was part of the reference material.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on June 6, 2012 at 10:03 AM said...

@EP: thanks for sharing, that's a classic!

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on June 6, 2012 at 10:04 AM said...

@Ron: yes, there was nothing correct with that invoice, for sure. Quite mortifying.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on June 6, 2012 at 10:05 AM said...

@GFernandez: this might have been one of the most hilarious stories we've ever heard. Quite annoying for the poor translator, though! Thanks for sharing your story.

Sarai Pahla on June 10, 2012 at 11:56 PM said...

I am so glad your client responded sweetly! Had to share this post on G+... it just got me giggling.
I have only worked for agencies - I'm still quite junior and only just into my second year of full time translation. The only stories I have are about my dealings with editors, but those aren't as entertaining. I'm sure I'll rake up more stories with more experience in the field!!

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on June 12, 2012 at 10:16 AM said...

@Sarai: agreed, we were so happy when the client wasn't angry (we probably would have been angry if we'd been the client). Thanks for commenting, and good luck with your career!

Join the conversation! Commenting is a great way to become part of the translation and interpretation community. Your comments don’t have to be overly academic to get published. We usually publish all comments that aren't spam, self-promotional or offensive to others. Agreeing or not agreeing with the issue at hand and stating why is a good way to start. Social media is all about interaction, so don’t limit yourself to reading and start commenting! We very much look forward to your comments and insight. Let's learn from each other and continue these important conversations.

Subscribe by email:


Twitter update

Site Info

The entrepreneurial linguists and translating twins blog about the business of translation from Las Vegas and Vienna.

Translation Times