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Dear anonymous translator…

Dear anonymous translator whose work I revised yesterday afternoon,

As you know, there was a little baby boy being carried onto a medicalised plane last night, still very poorly but well enough to return to the country of his birth after having spent ¾ of his time on Earth so far in a Spanish hospital. You know that he’s had two “holes in the heart” patched up, and suffered a variety of secondary problems, and you could see from the discharge report that the translation had to be completed and sent back to the hospital so that the doctors could fill in the final details before his discharge.

Now sometimes in this job we don’t know as much as we’d like, and we don’t always have the time to do the research that we’d like. Sometimes, like today, there are external factors outside our control, or even the control of our clients. That’s OK, nobody expects you to be Superman or Wonder Woman. But if you don’t know something, or you can’t do something, please don’t just let it pass. Tell your client, so that they can try to find a solution. Don’t, for example, leave abbreviations in Spanish just because you don’t know the equivalent; or worse, rearrange the letters at random as you did on one occasion. Use the pro forma translator’s note that your agency client provides, and which is passed to the reviser for checking.

I’m not blaming you for not knowing that we say “acute kidney failure” and not “acute renal insufficiency”, because that’s something I had to learn and something you might be able to learn as well. But I am blaming you for not knowing that “isthm” and “taponade” are not words in English, and for not finding “isthmus” and “tamponade” in their place. Because sometimes, just sometimes, your translation directly makes a difference to someone else’s life, and it absolutely has to be right, or at least as good as you can possibly get it.

But you were too greedy to turn down a text that was obviously outside your abilities, and too lazy to run a spellcheck.

I spent 3½ hours yesterday afternoon, with the clock ticking away towards 17:00 CEST, to correct and to check the 2000-odd words of shite that you delivered as a “translation”. For that little boy’s sake.

I don’t know who you are, I don’t know if you’ll read this; all I can do is try to turn your lack of professionalism into something positive, a warning to others about over-stretching themselves, but also a reminder that what we do is important, and it does make a difference.

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