Disturbing thoughts: Is translation a non-value activity?
Thread poster: Narasimhan Raghavan

Narasimhan Raghavan  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:27
English to Tamil
+ ...
Nov 22, 2003

At times I am asked to come to the client's premises to do the translations, whenever the work is of confidential nature and/or too cumbersome to handle at home. In the case I am going to cite here, there were bundles of French technical drawings in hard copy and I had a merry time doing the translation.
Enough of background. The contact officer and I were discussing the company's translation requirements. He told me that his bosses wanted him to make do without translation, as the work was at a preliminary stage and one was not sure of getting the order. Hence cost has to be cut. Here the offending word comes in. The bosses said to him that translation is a "non-valued service", as it does not bring in money directly. Though taken aback, I was delighted with the opportunity to talk and talk about translation.
My arguments in a nutshell:
Translation is vital as the client has to understand in the first place the principal's requirements expressed in another language. At this point of time, it is an investment and like in all investments, there can be no 100% guarantee of getting fat returns. After all the principal may not like the client's rates and not give the order. It is not the fault of translation. Without translation no meaningful offer can be given.
The above mindset of a typical client results in there being no budget provision for translations and in the translation activity not finding a place in the bar charts. Everybody assumes that translation involves just copying into another language and it is just common sense.
Poor fellow, the contact officer had a glazed look after nearly 30 minutes of my onslaught of words.
I request my colleagues to give more inputs on this question that touches us all.
Regards,
N.Raghavan


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Harry Bornemann  Identity Verified
Mexico
English to German
+ ...
Machine Translation Nov 22, 2003

If the client (thinks he) needs just a kind of quick copy into another language, offer him a machine translation or tell him where to get a free one.

The client who approached me in this way understood my point of view as soon as he saw the results.

When he found his German site in Google, he was mislead by the promise "see this site in English". The English looked OK for him, because his English is miserable and he was thinking in German. But he would never have accepted a machine translation into his mother tongue.

[Edited at 2003-11-22 10:37]


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Parrot  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 08:57
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Is he serious about getting the job? Nov 22, 2003

Or has he simply given up without a fight?

There a bids on which I am called by the government, because it is of interest to convey them to foreign suppliers, and bids in which the suppliers call me stressing that they want the specs right, even if the "other padding" in the text isn't exact. There are even bid documents I've seen twice, from two different candidates. Not to mention KudoZ askers asking the same questions on unrelated jobs. Is that non-value?


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Lucinda  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:57
Member (2002)
Dutch to English
+ ...
It really is their decision. Nov 22, 2003

Dear Naransimhan,

It really is their decision whether they wish to invest in the translation or not. However, it is also their responsibility if:

- the end user is unhappy because they cannot understand the horrible machine translation - I fully agree with the person who said, "tell them where they can get a machine translation" and then you will see that they often come back.

- or worse, someone gets hurt because some procedure for a piece of equipment was written so poorly in the target language that it could not be understood or just barely.

You did the right thing to explain to the person the value of your services. Then leave it up to the company to decide whether to get the translation or not. There is not much more that you could have done, IMHO than you already did.

Although perhaps a somewhat shorter lecture would have left the poor fellow less dazed.

Good luck in your future endeavours.
Lucinda


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Narasimhan Raghavan  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:27
English to Tamil
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Situation in India Nov 22, 2003

The companies in India have English as the working language and this language is known to many people in Europe, especially in the German and French speaking countries. The top people going to Europe for negotiations get by almost without interpreters and if at all any interpreter is required, the host looks after that. Foreign visitors to India do speak acceptable level of English and more often than not interpreters are not required. This situation is the main reason why our entrepreneurs are lulled into a sense of false security. Because they were able to pull along without interpreters, they think that their engineers and other officials in the next rung of management can do the same thing. Unfortunately this does not apply to translations and they are obliged to hire us. But this is bothering them and hence they give statements such as those indicating that translation is a non-value activity. They try to use this arguments to browbeat us translators into accepting low rates. This cuts no ice with me, as given half a chance, I start giving arguments in favour of my profession. And I stand firm and manage to get good rates.
The reason for this posting is to share my thoughts with my friends in a sympathetic atmosphere and get more points in favor of our case.
Regards,
N.Raghavan


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NancyLynn
Canada
Local time: 02:57
Member (2002)
French to English
+ ...

MODERATOR
30-minute lecture Nov 22, 2003

while it may have dazed your interlocutor this time, perhaps you have sown the seeds of practicality and common sense, so that next time they will budget for proper translation.
It's the cost of doing business on a global scale, un point c'est tout.
The idea of presenting them with a text which has been translated into their native language by a machine is an excellent one, one I've also used with good results.
My two loonies (or a toonie, if you prefer )
N.


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Roomy Naqvy  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 12:27
English to Hindi
+ ...
A specialised activity Nov 22, 2003

Narasimhan Raghavan wrote:

The companies in India have English as the working language and this language is known to many people in Europe, especially in the German and French speaking countries. The top people going to Europe for negotiations get by almost without interpreters and if at all any interpreter is required, the host looks after that. Foreign visitors to India do speak acceptable level of English and more often than not interpreters are not required. This situation is the main reason why our entrepreneurs are lulled into a sense of false security. Because they were able to pull along without interpreters, they think that their engineers and other officials in the next rung of management can do the same thing. Unfortunately this does not apply to translations and they are obliged to hire us. But this is bothering them and hence they give statements such as those indicating that translation is a non-value activity. They try to use this arguments to browbeat us translators into accepting low rates. This cuts no ice with me, as given half a chance, I start giving arguments in favour of my profession. And I stand firm and manage to get good rates.
The reason for this posting is to share my thoughts with my friends in a sympathetic atmosphere and get more points in favor of our case.
Regards,
N.Raghavan


Actually, to put it bluntly, one should tell the client (s) concerned that there is the translator/interpreter who specialises in 'handling' languages and that it is the translator's job to interpret. Certainly, the company's employees may be aware of English or other languages but that does not mean that they specialise in it. Even if there's a translator with less experience, he is probably better than the company employee because the translator has much more expertise than the employee. Now, suppose, if a company wanted a database to be programmed in Oracle, would it hire a computer network engineer just because the computer network engineer knows 'how to open a computer' or knows how to 'open a file using Oracle'. Or would an advertising agency hire/ask its computer programmer to help design its brochure on the computer using Photoshop because the programmer 'knows how to operate the computer'?

This kind of a blunt logic, put in polite terms could help.

Roomy


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Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:57
Flemish to English
+ ...
Translation is not highly regarded. Nov 22, 2003

Translators on translator websites like these may praise themselves into heaven, but in reality the profession is not that well-considered in the "normal" career-minded business world. Translation is considered a necessity, which if need be can be done by a secretary.

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Narasimhan Raghavan  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:27
English to Tamil
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
There is a lot of truth in what Williamson says Nov 23, 2003

Let's call a spade a spade. Translation is regarded by the general run of businessmen as described by Williamson.
It is all the more reason, why we translators and interpreters should be vigilant. Since in my area I have a good practice, I always negotiate from a position of strength. I am aware of all the tricks adopted by the potential clients for beating down the rate.
One argument is: "If I can get the job done at a lower rate, why should I pay you your higher rate?". Here no half-hearted reply will do. My prompt reply is: "As I am getting my socalled higher rates from others, there is no need to come down to the lower rate of yours." Quite a tough reply, but I am happy to report that it is quite effective. I do get the job in the majority of such cases. Even if I do not get it, I go with my pride and dignity intact. Here too some of the clients have reverted to me after a bout of disastrous translations from the less costly translators.
Another argument is: "We have got thousands of pages. Do quote keeping this in mind". I immediately offer him a service contract. I tell him: "I will come to your place thrice a week for 8 hours a day at an hourly rate of Rs. XX. Let's enter into a service contract for 1 year, which translates into 156 days per year." The client beats a hasty retreat and says that he has not that much work. I then offer two days a week, one day a week upto even one day a month. In the end the client has to give in and give me the work at my rate. This acid test never fails.
We have to be really on our toes, when it is a question of interpreting. If it is within my city, I demand car lift and car drop, a good hourly rate with 2 hours minimum billing, refreshments and food as applicable at the appropriate time along with the foreign visitor. If it is outstation work, I demand to be lodged in the same star hotel as the guest, preferably in the next room. In that way I ensure that I am treated in the same way as the guest and at the same scale of hospitality. However, I give here a value added service, in that I help the guest in his interactions with the hotel people. The client can relax on this point. Believe me, this arrangement is mutually beneficial. One more thing. For oustation work, I charge for 10 hours a day or the actual hours of work, whichever is more. All these negotiating stances of mine go a long way in enhancing my standing as a no-nonsene professional, who knows his job.
The world always respects a person, who knows what he wants and does not hesitate to make it known to the interlocutor and demand it of him.
More inputs please. After all, our profession is at stake.
Regards,
N.Raghavan

Williamson wrote:

Translators on translator websites like these may praise themselves into heaven, but in reality the profession is not that well-considered in the "normal" career-minded business world. Translation is considered a necessity, which if need be can be done by a secretary.


[Edited at 2003-11-23 02:03]

[Edited at 2003-11-23 06:08]


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Ralf Lemster  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 08:57
English to German
+ ...
Stick to your guns Nov 23, 2003

Hi Narasimhan,
One argument is: "If I can get the job done at a lower rate, why should I pay you your higher rate?". Here no half-hearted reply will do. My prompt reply is: "As I am getting my socalled higher rates from others, there is no need to come down to the lower rate of yours." Quite a tough reply, but I am happy to report that it is quite effective.

Confirmed.

Best, Ralf


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Alexander Chisholm  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:57
Italian to English
+ ...
Standard business practice. Nov 23, 2003

I worked as a consultant for a large multinational pharma company. This issue, regarding the allocation of resources to a new prject/product/service/whatever applies to all sectors of their business model from research -> development -> licensing -> marketing. At every step, strict procedures relating to the potential future marketability and success (hence revenue) are carried out, and if at any one of those, it appears that the future revenue will not justify the project, the project is terminated, regardless of how much research money (that was where I was involved) had already been spent and how far forward the project had advanced.
There may obviously be cases where the client is bringing to market a product which is no better than the competitiion, or even perhaps slightly better but at higher cost, and a number of years behind the competition, that the value of the project drops drastically to below the critical worth.
Fact of life.
Accept it.


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Narasimhan Raghavan  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:27
English to Tamil
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
That is why the thought is disturbing Nov 23, 2003

Is it also your experience, whereby in the projects you worked on and involving two sides speaking different languages, say German and French, no budget was provided for the translation of documents? If that were strictly so, the engineer in me is just amazed.
Surely at any point of time in the project, the reviewing includes also the consideration of what has been spent, how much more remains to be done and what will be the actual cost of abandoning a project half way through. Not only one loses the money spent but also the time expended. These points too are duly weighed and if they are not done, then they should be. In fact a system of marks is adopted where the various considerations are alloted marks and the final decision to discontinue or continue is based on the final marks.
Coming to our instant case, given the low priority given by decision makers to the translation question, it is the duty of all the translators to try to highlight the positive aspects of our case, whenever an opportunity presents itself. No matter how many people become dazed.
This cannot be done in a single day, I agree. Rome was not built in one day.
Regards,
N.Raghavan

Alexander Chisholm wrote:

I worked as a consultant for a large multinational pharma company. This issue, regarding the allocation of resources to a new prject/product/service/whatever applies to all sectors of their business model from research -> development -> licensing -> marketing. At every step, strict procedures relating to the potential future marketability and success (hence revenue) are carried out, and if at any one of those, it appears that the future revenue will not justify the project, the project is terminated, regardless of how much research money (that was where I was involved) had already been spent and how far forward the project had advanced.
There may obviously be cases where the client is bringing to market a product which is no better than the competitiion, or even perhaps slightly better but at higher cost, and a number of years behind the competition, that the value of the project drops drastically to below the critical worth.
Fact of life.
Accept it.


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Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:57
Flemish to English
+ ...
The added value of interpreting and translation Nov 23, 2003

[quote]Narasimhan Raghavan wrote:
Actually, to put it bluntly, one should tell the client (s) concerned that there is the translator/interpreter who specialises in \'handling\' languages and that it is the translator\'s job to interpret.
quote]

It is the interpreter\'s job to interpret, interpreting is not the translator\'s job. He or she has not been trained for that. Both activities are different and messed up far too often. I do not know why but interpreting is more highly esteemed and better paid than translation. (if you take into account time spent on the job versus renumeration).
The added value of translation is the value added to the marketeability of the customer\'s product. But the esteem for the profession of the person(s)making this marketeability possible is different languages is not that high. People do not understand translation. In the US this is more valid than in the EU with its 20 different official languages (as from the 1st of May 2004).


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Narasimhan Raghavan  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:27
English to Tamil
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Williamson, I did not say what is attributed to me Nov 23, 2003

It was actually said by Roomy Naqvi. Obviously some wrong cutting of the quote box is the reason for this confusion.
Even Naqvi did not seem to have said that interpreting is the translator's job. All he said was that translators/interpreters are handling the languages, which is true enough.
Basically, I am a translator as well as an interpreter. In my city of Chennai interpreters are paid less, because they are mostly students out for some pocket money and are satisfied with lower fees. But such interpreters are helpless in case of ineterpreting for technical experts and here people like me come into picture with our high fees.
I will give one more instance, where the false sense of economy landed the client in trouble. At the end of the day, the French visitor was taken to a 5-star hotel for wining and dining. I was asked to come along. I said yes but made it clear that I would be charging this too by the hour. The client said that I should do it free of cost as I am dining in a 5-star hotel. I politely declined saying that I would rather go home and do the translation awaiting me there. The client said that he would manage without me and in the bargain save money on my food expenses. I wished him well and went home by taxi.
The next day the poor Frenchman came but he could not do any work. In my absence there was no one to warn him about food that might not agree with him and had eaten such food. Throughout the next day he was spending more time in the toilet and finally he had to be taken to a local nursing home. Of course I accompanied him and had to interpret between him and the doctor, and this too had to be paid by the client.

Regards,
N.Raghavan

[quote]Williamson wrote:

Narasimhan Raghavan wrote:
Actually, to put it bluntly, one should tell the client (s) concerned that there is the translator/interpreter who specialises in 'handling' languages and that it is the translator's job to interpret.
quote]

It is the interpreter's job to interpret, interpreting is not the translator's job. He or she has not been trained for that. Both activities are different and messed up far too often. I do not know why but interpreting is more highly esteemed and better paid than translation. (if you take into account time spent on the job versus renumeration).
The added value of translation is the value added to the marketeability of the customer's product. But the esteem for the profession of the person(s)making this marketeability possible is different languages is not that high. People do not understand translation. In the US this is more valid than in the EU with its 20 different official languages (as from the 1st of May 2004).


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