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It is unbelievable, the way certain agencies behave
Thread poster: Narasimhan Raghavan

Narasimhan Raghavan  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:25
English to Tamil
+ ...
Oct 15, 2006

There is this agency having offices in Europe and in the USA (of course). Whenever I get the feelers they send to translators on their list, it is amazing that they can survive as a viable business at all. Mercifully I put an end to all that by taking myself off their list.

One example for their casual approach is given below. The mail came on May 18th, Thursday and the deadline was the same Thursday 12 Noon EST, which is some 10 hours behind Indian Standard Time; in other words a lead time of less than 24 hours! Here you are:
"Excuse me for the mass email, and I am sorry if you already have been contacted for this job.
I have a large job, a total of 20000 words, from German into English, due on Thursday at 12 noon PM EST, 5/18, in New York time, and I am wondering if you are available for take a portion of this job. Attached is one of the source files for your review. Please format as close to the original as possible. Please reply to all to let us know if you can take portion of this job and, if so, how much you can handle for the deadline".

Just imagine! 20,000 words to be done within a day. Presumably, at least 20 translators are required and the mind boggles at the tension to be faced by their PM in coordinating all that. Perhaps 40 translators?

My response:
"The way you people go about in a haphazard manner for recruiting translators for your projects is really amazing. Please tell me honestly, whether you really expect serious professionals to respond to your casual emails like this? Especially the sentences,

"Excuse me for the mass email, and I am sorry if you already have been contacted for this job", "Please reply to all to let us know if you can take portion of this job and, if so, how much you can handle for the deadline" seem to be part of a template letter. How is that you are always in a hurry?

Do you think the deadline you are setting, namely Thursday at 12 noon PM EST, 5/18, in New York time, is conducive to accommodating the checks you ask us to carry out namely,

"** Please do not begin work on a project without a purchase order
** Please take a look at the PO when you receive it and make sure all the terms are correct."
That is why I never respond to your letters. Your cannot-care-less attitude is breathtaking and your ratings in the xxx translator portal for your New York as well as London offices are nothing to write home about."

They had only this reply to give:
"Dear Narasimhan,

Nice to hear from you. I believe you and I had a similar correspondence some time ago during which I explained how we, on the nightshift team, tend to strategize placing the rush jobs that inundate our inboxes on an hourly basis. Systems inevitably have flaws; but having been developed over years of experience and through constructive criticism from all those involved, ours is one which, more often than not, meets the demands of a very unique, time-sensitive, and high-pressure circumstance. In fact, it gives us the opportunity to work with many professional linguists, who, perhaps out of greater familiarity with our system, do not oppose our methods, or, are bound by their professionalism to simply accept or decline offers as they are. We appreciate your feedback and apologize for not presenting job offers in the manner which you prefer. We will be glad to take you off our email list.

Kind Regards,"

Regards,
N.Raghavan




[Edited at 2006-10-15 16:13]


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Astrid Elke Witte  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 00:55
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
It is the method of a very large agency Oct 15, 2006

Hi Raghavan,

I fully agree with everything you say. However, it is the method of a very large agency, whose sole business is to process massive jobs within impossible deadlines. In this respect, it is quite different from the average agency, which processes normal-size jobs within reasonable deadlines and implements quality standards, for customers concerned about quality.

I would assume that such large-scale agencies are unsuitable for many translators, especially those concerned about professional standards and quality, which many of us are. By taking on a job once for a large-scale agency, we get onto their mailing list, and, as with any huge organisation that sends out mass e-mails, it is difficult to arrange to be removed from their list again. However, removal from their list, as you say, is the best option.

I am sure there must be plenty of work about, without working for large-scale agencies. They exist, and they are part of the economy, fulfilling a certain function (a different one from that of the average agency), but they do not need to be part of your world or mine.

Astrid

[Edited at 2006-10-15 08:03]


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Narasimhan Raghavan  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:25
English to Tamil
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
I think it is like this Astrid Oct 15, 2006

Let me give a personal example. I once worked for a Government of India undertaking. In India, Hindi is the official language and English is the de-facto official language, because of historical reasons.

It is a statutory requirement to have all the government papers in both the languages. In practice, the document gets generated in English and then translated into Hindi. So each government department or undertaking has got a Hindi department, whose job is to translate every document into Hindi. But there is a catch. Almost nobody reads those translations. Every one reads the English originals only. But then the translations cannot be avoided. And the pages to be translated are enormous. So the result is, no one reads these thousands of pages.

Now I think you get the picture. No one would bother about the quality. Under similar circumstances one would accept even Alta Vista products. It is all depressing.

Regards,
N.Raghavan

[Edited at 2006-10-15 09:01]


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Astrid Elke Witte  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 00:55
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
Yes, it is depressing, I agree Oct 15, 2006

Hi Raghavan,

Yes, I get your point about these unread translations. It is just something official that has to be done. It forms part of the economy and generates an income for somebody.

I live in such a different world. I work mostly for lawyers, and they often read my translations very carefully. Some of their Court cases are won or lost on whether the translation is good or not. I know that, because, quite frequently, they send me their briefs to translate, which, as part of the argument, state that the other party's translation was wrong and therefore the other party's lawyer argued wrongly, so.... . I tremble when I have to translate this kind of stuff, because I know that I cannot get a letter out of place when I am translating such a brief. If I do, and the other party gets the chance to write back to them and say that my translation is wrong, I could lose a major source of my annual income. Perhaps, being involved in this, I should also take out some kind of professional indemnity insurance.

Nevertheless, as you say, there are situations in which translations are not read and basically nobody cares whether they are right or wrong.

I wish you and your business every success - without getting involved with agencies that operate like that.

Astrid


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Narasimhan Raghavan  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:25
English to Tamil
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
My situation is exactly like yours Astrid Oct 15, 2006

I am an engineer turned translator/interpreter. I deal with predominantly technical documents such as patents, which are also legal texts to boot, what with their claims trying to cover all eventualities.

Yet, do I long for the unread translations? Not in a million life. It is just like giving a concert to an empty house, where the only audience you get is most likely the electrician waiting for you to finish so that he can switch off the lights and go home!

Regards,
N.Raghavan


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Giovanni Guarnieri MITI, MIL  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 23:55
Member (2004)
English to Italian
false impression Oct 15, 2006

that's what these big superhuman agencies give to their clients. Everything is possible. They just should say: no, it's impossible, you won't get get a satisfactory translation like this. And I'm not talking about high quality, I'm talking about decent quality. This way, deadlines will get shorter and shorter, turning translators into machines. This is a trend that should be stopped at all costs. And I'm afraid the agencies are the main culprit for allowing this sad state of affairs to be perpetuated. 40,000 words by lunchtime? Sure. Just don't it read it, though, because it won't make sense.


Giovanni


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Narasimhan Raghavan  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:25
English to Tamil
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
I was expected to do half a project in 3 weeks' time - word count 70,500 words! Oct 15, 2006

Another prospective client (a Tamil Nadu government Authority) told me that a total of 500 pages were required to be translated from English into Tamil in 3 weeks' time! I told them immediately that such a thing is out of question and I wanted the number of words to be intimated as it was not otherwise possible to give an estimate.

All the files were screened one by one and the word count taken for each. The total was a whopping 141,000 words. I was told to do half of it and the remaining half to be done by another translator.

I just laughed at the proposition and offered to do the half project in 70 days, at 1000 words per day. My average output is 2000 words but I agreed to commit only half the daily output to this project. After all, I had other clients as well. But they wanted it in 21 days. So nothing came out of it.

At least here the client can be faulted for just being ignorant of translation realities. But major translation agencies? God save us from them.

Regards,
N.Raghavan


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Refugio
Local time: 15:55
Spanish to English
+ ...
I admire your integrity Oct 15, 2006

I think if more translators would put their foot down and tell the truth to such agencies, rather than just accepting or declining, we might hope to change matters for the better. They simultaneously exploit their translators and hoodwink their clients into thinking they can get a translation that is even worth doing at all, and indeed I do agree that it encourages clients to think they can postpone their deadlines till the last minute. It enables feigned compliance and plausible deniability, and will continue to reduce still further the current level of integrity in business and government.

The other point is that the agency accuses you of unprofessionalism. This concept is paralleled in the teaching profession (among others) in the United States. If you ever try to reevaluate how things are done and why, you are considered unprofessional. A "professional" teacher meekly does whatever is asked without ever questioning its efficiency or value, or thinking of the benefit to the end client (the student). Although this is probably a world-wide trend, it won't ever get better unless principled people like you (and, in all modesty, me) stand up and "tell it like it is."


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xxxNMR
France
Local time: 00:55
French to Dutch
+ ...
Another example Oct 15, 2006

An agency (not a translation agency but one specialized in communication) asked me some time ago if I could translate the minutes of a shareholder's meeting of a big (very big) company. The meeting would be on Thursday, and I would receive the tapes (later on, the audio files) at about 6 p.m. They wanted the translation back on Friday morning at 11.30 a.m., in order to make the press releases about noon. The volume was estimated (in my opinion) correctly, by the client himself, at about 21,000 words financial translation, which should be translated overnight by one person, me. I refused because for this volume I need three weeks. The client didn't understand. "Why not? Interpreters are doing this very well". It seems, indeed, that some interpreters, after a day in the booth, type their translations, and that this is a part of their job.

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Steffen Walter  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 00:55
Member (2002)
English to German
+ ...
NOBODY able to translate 21,000 words overnight Oct 16, 2006

NMR wrote:
... The volume was estimated (in my opinion) correctly, by the client himself, at about 21,000 words financial translation, which should be translated overnight by one person, me. I refused because for this volume I need three weeks. The client didn't understand. "Why not? Interpreters are doing this very well". It seems, indeed, that some interpreters, after a day in the booth, type their translations, and that this is a part of their job.


The "interpreter translating after a full day in the booth" is obviously a(n invented?) myth. Seems that this communications agency had no clue whatsoever with regard to the difference between interpreting and translation, and thus jumped to conclusions as to the feasibility of this job. NOBODY would be able to translate 21,000 words overnight (except in the unlikely case that there are 90% or more repetitions recognised by a TM software). Trust me, after a full conference day in a booth NO interpreter would be able to go on translating all through the night.

Steffen


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Narasimhan Raghavan  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:25
English to Tamil
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Such interpreters (if they really exist) do not deserve better Oct 16, 2006

They are real fools. But I don't believe it in the first place. If at all the translator is to type after the interpreting is over, he should be paid overtime rate at double the normal time rate. Presumably the client did not pay for the extra work, still more unbelievable that an interpreter accepted such demeaning working conditions.

I am reminded of a client who suggested that I should not charge for interpreting done through wining and dining the visitor, as he provides me with 5 Star hotel fare. I give below a potion of what I wrote in this connection in my blog.

"There was this client, who expected me not to charge for interpreting while accompanying him and the visitor to a five-star hotel for wining and dining. He was of the opinion that I should be content with five-star food. I told him politely that I am not enamoured of five star food, in fact was just fed up with them! (pun intended!). Either he pays me for my time or I do not go. He said that he would manage the hotel visit himself and asked me to come for technical interpreting the next day.

But things took a differeent turn the next day. The visitor had eaten something, which was not suitable for his stomach. He was an European and there are many spicy Indian foods about which I always caution the visitor. Well, in this case I was not there. The visitor had bouts of vomiting and loose motion throughout the next day. He had to be taken to a doctor, who put him on drips.

Naturally I sat by his side and interpreted between him and the doctor, as well as the pretty nurse, whom the expert found to be nice. However the client was not amused, as the expert's daily rate was way higher than my interpreting fees for the three hours spent at the five-star hotel. The client became very thoughtful afterwards.

See: http://raghtransint.blogspot.com/2005/12/penny-wise-pound-foolish.html

Regards,
N.Raghavan


NMR wrote:

The client didn't understand. "Why not? Interpreters are doing this very well". It seems, indeed, that some interpreters, after a day in the booth, type their translations, and that this is a part of their job.


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Harry Bornemann  Identity Verified
Mexico
English to German
+ ...
Sometimes, friendliness does not work Oct 16, 2006



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Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 01:55
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Why not use voice recognition software? Oct 16, 2006

Of course its ridiculous, but if the agency pays for it and nobody reads the stuff, you could feed the audio files into voice recogniction and bill for 21000 words (how did they get the word count by the way?).
Regards
Heinrich


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xxxNMR
France
Local time: 00:55
French to Dutch
+ ...
Of course Oct 16, 2006

Heinrich Pesch wrote:

Of course its ridiculous, but if the agency pays for it and nobody reads the stuff, you could feed the audio files into voice recogniction and bill for 21000 words (how did they get the word count by the way?).
Regards
Heinrich

If you know how long the meeting will be, you have an idea about the quantity of pages (and words) you will have. It was not the first time the client did these meetings, and it was not the first time that I would have tapes. Of course, if the meeting should have been shorter (or longer), there would be less (or more) words. But Heinrich, you know that French>Duch is an "exotic" language pair, and the client had a problem for finding victims. In the other language pairs (such as French>English) he had the work divided in smaller parts.

[Edited at 2006-10-16 07:43]


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Nesrin  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 23:55
English to Arabic
+ ...
Here's another mindboggling job... Oct 16, 2006

...posted on Proz last Friday.

A large agency (the same one you were talking about? Quite possibly!) wants 400,000 words translated from 16 - 19 October (4 days)!
If the average translator can do 6,000 - 8,000 words in 4 days, you would need at the very least 50 (FIFTY!!) different translators to do the job, leaving no time for proofreading or checking consistency of terminology.


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