To Do or Not to Do



PHOTO CREDIT: Justin Luebke with Unsplash. Taken in Rowena Crest Viewpoint, Mosier, USA

PHOTO CREDIT: Justin Luebke with Unsplash. Taken in Rowena Crest Viewpoint, Mosier, USA

This & That ― Vignettes of a Professional Journey
a column by Ines Bojlesen

Have you noticed how revered philosophers seldom give us solutions? They raise questions, they sow seeds of curiosity and trigger the desire to probe further, but give no concrete answers.

This is my intent in writing today: to mention some of the dilemmas we face in our daily work and let you ponder what you would do. A good idea would be to first brush up on one of the codes of ethics for translators and interpreters (ATA, NAJIT, FIT, ATPIESP, SINTRA or your local translators/interpreters chapter) and then consider the scenarios below. Imagine a Jiminy Cricket on your shoulder serving as your official conscience.

  1. You are asked to edit the work of a colleague with whom you have worked several times. The agency tells you the end client was unhappy with your colleague’s work and saw the need to make many changes. The agency wants a second opinion.
  • Would you agree to do it, or would you recuse yourself claiming your opinion would be biased because of your work relationship with the translator in question?
  • If you took the job and indeed found many typographic, grammar and even translation errors:
    • Would you return the text with your opinion without contacting or warning your colleague?
    • Or would you agree with the corrections but warn your colleague before providing your opinion to your client?
  1. You translate a large project with partial deliveries being a requirement. Near the end of the job, you realize you misunderstood a word—or found a better translation—so the parts already delivered should be changed accordingly.
  • Would you explain the issue to your client and the need to change what you have delivered?
  • Would you say nothing to the client and continue to use the same translation for that word?
  • Or would you correct your files, say nothing to the client, but write a note to self not to ever take a partial delivery project?
  1. You are a telephone interpreter and start answering calls from people looking for romantic adventures abroad. You spend over 30 minutes interpreting between a man and a woman. He tells her she is the love of his life, promises love ever after and even implies marrying her. The call ends with an exchange of smooches (no interpreting needed for those, relief!). A couple of minutes later, you have that same caller on the line but with a different woman. It sounds like he had his script taped, and was simply playing it to another gullible or maybe naïve woman. Unfortunately, this client likes the way you interpret and asks for you next time he contacts the agency. The calls become a daily agony; you feel you are an accessory in this deception game.
  • Would you just relax, maybe clip your nails, knit or do something while interpreting, to make those calls bearable?
  • Would you speak with the agency manager to share your concern these luring schemes could have grave consequences?
  • Or would you tell the agency you no longer want to accept these kinds of calls?
  1. You receive a large project from an agency accompanied by a Translation Memory (a .tmx file) for that client. The PO shows only 20% of 100% matches/repetitions. You assemble the project and include your own TM. The resulting analysis shows a different reality: 80% of the text had already been fully translated (by you).
  • Your contract with that agency does not mandate you delete or destroy the memories you create. Using your saved TM is not a violation of your agreement with the agency.
  • Would you alert the agency of the fact and suggest the PO be revised accordingly (adieu to $$$)?
  • Or would you say nothing, since it is not your fault the client does not store their TMs properly?
  1. I will bring up one last of many thought-provoking scenarios we may face. Three different agencies request a quote for the same end client. Because you have worked for these agencies for a different number of years, the rates they pay you are not the same.
  • Would you quote your regular rates to each agency and wait for the result?
  • Or would you only provide a quote to the agency that pays you higher rates, warn them that two of their competitors are also asking for your quote and let them figure out where else to cut costs?
  • Or yet, would you quote the same higher rates to all three agencies, taking the opportunity to inform the other two your rates have been updated?

Codes of Ethics do not cover everything and can be subject to varying interpretations. They aim to inspire and encourage ethical behaviors. My conscience and experience have taught me that there are no easy answers. It is a daily endeavor to preserve my ethical posture with the resolve to know when to do something and when not to.


  1. Great food for thought, Ines! Thanks for challenging us.

  2. Thank you Diane. I am sure you’ve had lots of similar dilemmas.

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