Email Exchange with Client on “Too Literal” Translation

An email from one of our translation clients is below, along with my response. I thought the exchange might be of value for presenting here for the benefit of other translation clients and translators.

Did I make the right response? It’s the one that seemed correct to me based on experience to date.


Email from Client

Hi Ron:

I wanted to provide some feedback we have received from our partner architecture firm in Russia about the recent translation you did for us.  We are told that the interpretation is “too literal” and that it doesn’t reflect the way that Russian people speak in today’s world.  We see the same thing when we use our translating software…you get the point of what’s being said, but it doesn’t provide exactly what the sender is trying to convey.

Any ideas on how we can resolve this moving forward?  It’s critical for us to look like we speak their language and understand it when we are producing the marketing materials that I have your group translate.


(client name)


My Response

Hi (client name),

Thanks for your message and the feedback. A few things come to mind:

One, our translations are performed by people (not software), native speaking in the target language, in your project’s case Russian. The first translator’s work is reviewed by a second native speaking translator. The two translators involved in a project are people who “speak that language in today’s world” (literally).

That said it is fair to say that there is subjectivity in the translation process. If we assigned a project to 10 different translators, the result may be 10 somewhat different translations, all of high quality and without error, just using different approaches. For those of us who speak mainly English, we understand this principle is true within our own primary language. There are multiple ways to say essentially the same thing.

While we cannot say in this particular case, when there are questions concerning the style of a translation, they often come as a result of a given reviewer’s subjective preferences (e.g., word choices, manners of expression, etc.). To match a given reviewers subjective preferences is generally not a reasonable standard to achieve, in fact it is probably an impossible standard. If the standard for quality of a translation is to match a given person’s subjective preferences, then the best way to achieve that would be to have that person do the translation. In that case we can guarantee the translation will be perfect in every respect (by the standards of that person at least). It will not be a translation made by a professional linguist, a skilled professional who works with language on a daily basis, and it may not have the benefit of a second translator’s review, to not only detect potential errors, but to smooth out any personal biases that may have been introduced by the first translator.

So in the future we can provide direction to translators concerning the style of translation (e.g., avoid literal translations and use conversational, everyday language). Additionally if there are certain keywords or phrases that you’d like translators to observe in their work then a bi-lingual glossary can be created and provided to the translators as a reference guide with the instruction to apply these specific translations in the translation process. Otherwise translators will use their judgment, which is usually a safe approach, but if it’s important to always use pre-determined, preferred translations then a glossary of terms would be the thing to supply.

So in our experience the lowest risk, highest quality approach to language translation over the long term is to use the process we follow. And if there are special instructions such as those mentioned above, we can provide them to the translators at project start.

Hopefully these comments are helpful. Thanks again.

Best regards,