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Company remains unmoved on need for professional translators
Thread poster: Jessica Klingberg

Jessica Klingberg  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 03:33
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
Jun 8, 2010

Hi everyone,

I'm not sure if I'm writing for suggestions or just to vent.

The company that my husband works for (which will remain unnamed) sells products primarily geared toward European markets, but now want to focus on selling to the American market. For this purpose, they intend to translate all of their marketing and product catalogues into English starting this year. These online catalogues are their primary form of presentation to their clients worldwide.

They know from my husband that I work as a translator, so they asked me to provide them with a sample translation and an "idea" of prices. I knew from my husband that this would be an enormous project (between 100,000 and 200,000 words) which I certainly would not be able to do alone, so I quoted them accordingly. They wrote me back telling me that they were very impressed with the quality of my work, but that the cost of translation would far exceed their budget. The project is of such a magnitude that they would be unable to even find a reasonable point at which to start negotiations.

Their reply did not bother me at all. In fact, I understood that the project would be quite costly, and I suggested the possibility of starting translation with the most critical material and moving slowly through the project. I even sent them a copy of the "Translation: Getting It Right" brochure from the ATA.

Today, my husband sent me an e-mail from work, using his private e-mail address. The head of the company (a German guy) has told four employees (all bilingual, including my husband) that they will be taking care of the entire translation between now and November. They will be working on this at work and at home (for which time they will be paid separately). Aside from the fact that these four people are not translation professionals, NONE of them are native English speakers. To make matters worse, they have been told to use Google Translator first and then to make "adjustments".

My husband is absolutely dismayed. We have been married for 12 years and he knows better than most what translation work entails. He has tried to carefully steer this issue in the right direction, but apparently the boss is very narcissistic and does not take suggestions well. The boss remains firm on his approach and cannot be moved.

On the one hand, I worry about the fact that this is the company that my husband works for, and I naturally have an interest in the company doing well. On the other hand, I comfort myself in the fact that this is not the company for which he will be working in the long term, as he is studying a different profession at present. What bothers me most is the absolute disregard with which these translations, which are going to provide an image of the company to the U.S. market, are being handled. I am very unhappy that my efforts (and those of my husband) to explain why professional translators are needed, and to offer alternatives, have not only fallen on deaf ears... but have been ignored to the extent that automatic translation has been chosen as the alternative.

I will appreciate any feedback or suggestions that you can offer me.

[Edited at 2010-06-08 19:55 GMT]


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Intertranslations LTD
Greece
Local time: 10:33
Member (2002)
English to Greek
+ ...
A possible solution Jun 8, 2010

My suggestion is to back translate from English into German what is already translated and show it to the boss...

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Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:33
Flemish to English
+ ...
Is there a problem? Jun 8, 2010

Jessica Klingberg wrote:
Aside from the fact that these four people are not translation professionals, NONE of them are native English speakers. To make matters worse, they have been told to use Google Translator first and then to make "adjustments".


[Edited at 2010-06-08 19:55 GMT]


Translators live in ivory towers. Get real : In the corporate world, translation is seen as a necessary "nuisance" and as a management assistant's job and paid accordingly. Moreover, companies are looking for ways to cut costs, such as crowd sourcing and rewriting texts churned out by Google Translator et.al. This is the future of the translation industry. Fed by humans Google Translator gets better all the time.

The native dogma: As if only native speakers are able to translate into English. Get real.
The second language of most Germans is English, isn't it? Given German "Gründlichkeit" und "Pünktlichkeit" some Germans have attained a high level of English suitable to translate from German into English. English is not the "property" of native speakers of English only.




[Edited at 2010-06-08 20:28 GMT]


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Stanislav Pokorny  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 09:33
English to Czech
+ ...
:) Jun 8, 2010

Michael Xynos wrote:

My suggestion is to back translate from English into German what is already translated and show it to the boss...


Not a bad idea, Michael; not bad at all.

Jessica, I believe a copy of the ATA document sent to your husband's employer wouldn't hurt. The management could get at least some idea about what translation is about and what it involves.

I don't know who the company is and what they sell, but if they are entering a new market, high-quality translation of their marketing materials should be a natural step. Perhaps your husband could ask the head the following questions: How much are you going to invest into your US expansion? What if all efforts and investments fail due to messy translation of marketing documents? Is THAT worth the risk? Or would it be reasonable to have the most critical documents translated by a professional and, if things are going well, proceed with the rest later on?

I'm afraid there's no universal advice and if the head doesn't change his attitude, I suspect you are in a no-win situation.

[Upraveno: 2010-06-08 20:19 GMT]


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Steffen Walter  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 09:33
Member (2002)
English to German
+ ...
"I can English" Jun 8, 2010

Williamson wrote:
The native dogma: As if only native speakers are able to translate into English. Get real.
The second language of most Germans is English, isn't it? Given German "Gründlichkeit" und "Pünktlichkeit" some Germans will have attained a high level of English suitable to translate from German into English. English is not the "property" of native speakers of English only.


I'd suggest you "get real" yourself - the problem is that, at best, most of the Germans you are referring to belong to the "I can English" group, which disqualifies them automatically for any real translation work. The proverbial "Gründlichkeit" and "Pünktlichkeit" will not play to their advantage in this case.

Steffen


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 08:33
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
My sympathy for a difficult situation Jun 8, 2010

I sympathise fully with your point of view, Jessica.

It's so galling when you see this sort of arrogant ignorance - real ignorance one has to accept but this person seems to recognise quality when he sees it, just doesn't want to pay for it.

You don't sound as though you were much put out by his refusal of your quote so you should normally be able to just shrug it off with a "well, he's made his own bed so let him lie in it". I hope you can do that normally as this job gets very stressful if you can't let others make their own mistakes. But of course it isn't as simple as that here - having your husband lumbered with the job instead!

Look on the bright side: if these employees really are bilingual, rather than simply fluent in English, and the material is essentially factual rather than advertising copy, then maybe they won't do too bad a job of it. As Williamson says, English is not the "property" of native speakers of English only.

My experience as a language trainer in France, though, has been that people who speak quite fluently can produce really second-rate written texts - understandable but not at all pleasant to read. Here, the people doing much of the translation into English of tourist information are my very own students - often in my pre-intermediate or even elementary classes! When you've had an elementary-level student explaining (in French, of course) that she is responsible for writing contracts in English ... well you just don't know whether to laugh or cry!

So, I quite understand your anger and frustration. I just hope it doesn't cause any friction between you and your husband.


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Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 09:33
English to Croatian
+ ...
Don't worry.. Jun 8, 2010

They will come back to you for proofreading and polishing ( at an amazingly cheap rate) after these four "bilingual people" create plenty of oddities in the translation. We've seen this scenario many times.

[Edited at 2010-06-08 20:47 GMT]


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:33
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Feedback Jun 8, 2010

Jessica Klingberg wrote:
I will appreciate any feedback or suggestions that you can offer me.


This, alas, typifies the ingenuousness with which too many firms approach the project of expanding into new markets.

Correctly translating all of their documentation into the language of the new market area should be thought of a key strategic component of their business strategy; not a cheap add-on that doesn't matter and can be done "on the cheap".

Because high-quality translation plays a central role in any firm's strategy to expand into new markets, this translation work must be carried out to the highest standard by professional translators, who should be regarded as being on the same level as the most important specialist consultants of the company.

But here, alas, I see that this is not going to happen. The decision-makers in this particular company lack the basic business acumen to understand what the most successul international companies do understand: that you're not going to sell your products in a new country unless your documentation is absolutely word perfect.

It seems to me that whoever is making the decisions here has no experience of expanding into a new market and is making it up as they go along.

They will fail.

[Edited at 2010-06-08 22:21 GMT]


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Nicole Schnell  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 00:33
English to German
+ ...
Déjà vu Jun 8, 2010

An acquaintance of mine, a business owner here in my city, proudly told me that his wife who took French in high school will take care of the translation of all of their brochures and catalogues for their operations in France.

A few days later he contacted me: "Say, you are a translator, my wife was curious and wanted me to ask you if you are using Babel Fish as well, or if you know something better."

No further comment.



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xxxmediamatrix
Local time: 05:33
Spanish to English
+ ...
Key person in this situation is your husband Jun 9, 2010

Jessica Klingberg wrote:
...
My husband is absolutely dismayed. ...


It seems to me that your husband is in a far better position to do something about this than you are.

If I were him (and I'm not, so it's obviously easier for me to 'suggest' than it might be for him to 'do') I would start by telling the boss that I am not available for out-of-hours work for which I am not qualified.

MediaMatrix


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Jessica Klingberg  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 03:33
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you Jun 9, 2010

I appreciate the insight and opinions offered by everyone. It looks like the translation project is going to officially proceed as I described earlier. More than anything, it's simply an unsettling situation, like watching an adult mishandle his child at the supermarket and being tempted to give him an earful.

Michael Xynos wrote:
My suggestion is to back translate from English into German what is already translated and show it to the boss...


This is an excellent suggestion. I am tempted to back-translate my sample translation, which they so loved, and see if they still think it's that great.

Williamson wrote:
Translators live in ivory towers. Get real : In the corporate world, translation is seen as a necessary "nuisance" and as a management assistant's job and paid accordingly... This is the future of the translation industry. Fed by humans Google Translator gets better all the time.


Williamson, my reality is very different from yours. I am very fortunate to continue working in a world where I get a decent volume of work, I have clients who value high quality and are willing to pay for it. Whatever the future may hold, the present reality is that Google Translator is still not good enough. You seem to imply, however, that we should all resign ourselves to its mere existence and lower our standards. Am I correct in assuming that you subscribe to your own advice? I am not impressed.

Sheila Wilson wrote:
Look on the bright side: if these employees really are bilingual, rather than simply fluent in English, and the material is essentially factual rather than advertising copy, then maybe they won't do too bad a job of it.


Hi Sheila, to be more specific, we are talking about the travel and tourism industry. The material to be translated sells vacation packages, destinations, attractions, amenities, hotels... the language is very much marketing-oriented. At this point, I am indeed taking the attitude that the boss "has made his own bed, let him lie in it"

Lingua 5B wrote:
They will come back to you for proofreading and polishing (at an amazingly cheap rate)


As described by my husband, the plan is for the 4 non-native translators to proof each other's work when it is done.

Thank you also to Stanislav, Steffen, Tom and Nicole for your input. I agree with much of what you said and appreciate having colleagues who understand this frustrating situation.


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Jessica Klingberg  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 03:33
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Yes Jun 9, 2010

mediamatrix wrote:
It seems to me that your husband is in a far better position to do something about this than you are.

If I were him (and I'm not, so it's obviously easier for me to 'suggest' than it might be for him to 'do') I would start by telling the boss that I am not available for out-of-hours work for which I am not qualified.


Hi mediamatrix,
My husband's dismay stems from the fact that he is married to a translator and thus understands (1) how critical it would be for the company to use professionals, and (2) how many hours it will take him to get through all of these translations.
Although I do not want to go into detail, he needs to proceed very cautiously, not least because of the fact that the boss is very sensitive about any criticism coming his way.
The out-of-hours work aspect is certainly an issue and will be brought up. Unfortunately, it does not look like this (or anything) will change the decision of how the translations will be handled.

[Edited at 2010-06-09 03:34 GMT]


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Ronald van der Linden  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 02:33
German to Dutch
+ ...
calculations Jun 9, 2010

I couldn't resist... the accountant in me just wanted to come out and play.

100,000-200,000 words, equals roughly between 3 to 4/5 months work for one translator.
Let's imagine a rate of USD 0.15 per source word for this project, equals USD 15,000 - 30,000 plus tax, if applicable.

Instead of hiring a professional translator/team of translators, the company is apparently willing to pay 4 employees (who are not professional translators (my guess)) each the equivalent of 0.75 to 1.25 x months salary for this translation, plus overtime. Which will most likely prove to be more expensive than going for the professional translator option. Then there is also the invisible cost of these 4 employees not doing what they should be doing for the duration of this project...

Conclusion: apart from translation quality, let's imagine this project has a high priority level, then unknown events that arise during this project will play an important role on the final price tag on this project. (Imagine a new client knocks on this company's door during the project and won't receive the required attention. Result: no new client; impact could be a loss of USD thousands? or even millions?)

I'm probably exaggerating...

Thanks for having me come out and play




[Edited at 2010-06-09 04:17 GMT]


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Eleftherios Kritikakis  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 02:33
Member (2003)
Greek to English
+ ...
Into Engrish? Jun 9, 2010

www.engrish.com

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Laurent KRAULAND  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 09:33
French to German
+ ...
"Ick been a gut specker of Englisch" Jun 9, 2010

Steffen Walter wrote:

Williamson wrote:
The native dogma: As if only native speakers are able to translate into English. Get real.
The second language of most Germans is English, isn't it? Given German "Gründlichkeit" und "Pünktlichkeit" some Germans will have attained a high level of English suitable to translate from German into English. English is not the "property" of native speakers of English only.


I'd suggest you "get real" yourself - the problem is that, at best, most of the Germans you are referring to belong to the "I can English" group, which disqualifies them automatically for any real translation work. The proverbial "Gründlichkeit" and "Pünktlichkeit" will not play to their advantage in this case.

Steffen


Indeed, get real.
I have seen way too much PowerPoint presentations and other documents which had been "translated" in-house by so-called bilinguals with an alleged good mastery of English: poor vocabulary, nonsensical sentences, awkward construction, one-to-one translations...

The worst part of it is that these translations were not necessary, as the TL of my assignment was French :/ - so the SL of these presentations/documents could have been German as well.

I refuse to think about the quantity of meaningful information that was lost due to these useless DE>EN translations.

Comments?



[Edited at 2010-06-09 05:10 GMT]


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