Just when we thought we have heard it all, unimaginable stories about translating and interpreting frauds keep popping up here and there. Below are some personal incidents I have experienced or heard from clients over the years:
1. Unqualified individuals or tour guides posing as professional translator & interpreter.
As mentioned in the post dated 9 June 2014 (Popular Misconceptions about Translators & Interpreters), being bilingual, polyglot or having spent time studying overseas does not necessarily qualify one as a translator & interpreter. Being a professional translator & interpreter requires much more than simply linguistic skills and proficiency. Those unqualified individuals and tour guides are, of course, willing to work for a much lower fee that is below the industry standard, because they have not invested the time, effort and money needed to hone their skills. Once engaged, the clients will discover they are absolutely incapable of handling the work, thus resulting in mistranslation and wasted time and money.
2. Be careful ‘who’ you ask for.
A savvy client once called me in distress from another city, saying he had engaged an interpreter over the phone, but the interpreter who showed up was an entirely different person – someone who was not qualified at all. All he could do was to accept and get on with it and ask me to accompany him to a neighbouring country for his subsequent business visit. Even if one calls or Skypes to interview the interpreter in advance, as my client had done, it is still very difficult to prevent misrepresentation. My suggestion would be: try to find a reputable interpreter through reference or call the interpreter’s mobile number or meet the interpreter before the assignment will be a good idea.
3. An interpreter for your interpreter?
I have once worked for a client who simultaneously engaged four interpreters, including me. I was the chief interpreter.At one point, the client was talking with one of the interpreters and called me over, because he could not understand her owing to her strong accent and poor grammar. It turned out she did not only have a strong non-native accent in the target language but also in her, supposedly, mother tongue! Making sure your interpreter has an intelligible accent in your own language beforehand is easier than in the target language, of course. A possible preventative measure would be to hire a reputable interpreter or through reference.
4. Translation and interpreting agencies always outsource.
The agencies may tell you they have in-house translators and interpreters, but the ones I have worked with over the years actually had none. They have employees who work as intermediaries, that is, they receive and outsource work from clients to freelance translators. The problem with this is that the clients could not directly and clearly communicate to the translators their needs and expectations, and any questions and ambiguities may not be clarified, which could lead to mistranslation and/ or substandard work. Furthermore, since the agencies take a huge cut of the fees and pay the translators peanuts, they can only afford translators who are willing to work for such abysmal pay, and these translators usually are inexperienced or unqualified. In the end, the clients are overpaying for translations whose quality cannot be guaranteed.