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Off topic: Why is there such a huge worldwide effort to slash translation costs?
Thread poster: José Henrique Lamensdorf

José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 13:27
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Jul 11, 2012

Today an idea struck me...

Everyone sees an immense worldwide effort to eliminate translation costs, either by developing further machine translation, or in initiatives like Duolingo.

Is translation really so expensive? In other words, do translators really make/cost so much money to justify such investments in replacing them with cost-free alternative solutions?

Let's compare a translator with a TV newscast anchorman or anchorwoman. All they do is to read aloud the news on the teleprompter, and all we see is a talking head doing it.

The technology is there... It's just a matter of putting the text used in the teleprompter (OCR it, if needed) through some text-to-speech software, and the network will be able to save on the hefty newscaster's salary. Furthermore, as their face won't be needed, the TV screen will be left available for visual commercial messages from sponsors, increasing the network income.

Why hasn't anybody considered this quite efficient opportunity, while there are so many people focused on replacing translators with something free?

[Edited at 2012-07-11 12:37 GMT]


 

564354352 (X)  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 16:27
Danish to English
+ ...
Because translators are too humble Jul 11, 2012

I think we can blame 'the world at large' for a lot of the trouble, but what it boils down to is that we as a professional community are not very good at promoting ourselves.

If the rest of the world considers translation as mere secretarial work (no disrespect intended here) and we allow the world to remain in this belief, then we can only blame ourselves.

I worked several years as a full-time technical translator for an engineering/production company preparing highly technical documentation for complicated machinery. One of my colleagues there, an engineer, had the audacity to call me a 'sprogdims' (Danish invention of his own, meaning something like 'language thingy'). His view was that HE wrote the technical documentation, so HE had the brains, and all I had to do was do my little bit of translating it for him. Just a tiny detail compared to his immense work. Well, I put him straight and explained that without MY work, the end client would be clueless as to what was said in the documentation. Even so, the attitude in that company was that language was just a necessary detail with no particular status, and although there was a large group of language experts in the company, we never succeeded in raising our profile. Many of us had studied for MA degrees as compared to the engineers who had only studied to BA level or lower (not that this is a qualification in itself, but it just goes to show how bad we were at promoting ourselves).

By the way, when I was made redundant from that company at a time of severe cut-backs, another translator and I went out and bought an electronic gadget that claimed to be able to translate into 20 different languages, which we gave to our colleagues in the documentation department saying, "there you are, you will do just fine with this when we are gone".

The issue that has been discussed at length here at ProZ.com is of course the fact that inexperienced or desperate translators, professional or not, are willing to accept work at very low rates. As long as translation buyers can find people who will work at ridiculous rates, the problem will persist.


 

BethanHasnip  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:27
German to English
it's hard to understand other professions Jul 11, 2012

I think your post highlights one of the main issues when you say "TV newscast anchorman or anchorwoman. All they do is to read aloud the news on the teleprompter,"
I imagine the role of news anchorman is actually quite a difficult one with a specific set of skills, unfortunately most people have never tried it and think it looks exactly like something they do every day, talking, so it must be easy.
Likewise, most people have no experience of translating but they know that lots of people are bilingual and they know that reading/writing is generally easy, therefore translating must be easy.
Fortunately/unfortunately, machine translation is just as good as machine produced 'speaking', not bad in an emergency or for something rough but definitely not the real thing.
A lot of people just don't understand translation and most of the time have no need to, when they become clients wanting translations I guess part of our role is to explain how things work.


 

neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 16:27
Spanish to English
+ ...
Ignorance is bliss Jul 11, 2012

BethanHasnip wrote:

A lot of people just don't understand translation and most of the time have no need to, when they become clients wanting translations I guess part of our role is to explain how things work.


I think you've hit on the crux of the matter here; people nowadays see the availability of "free automatic translation" or "Google translate" and think "here's a way to cut down overheads"... then you have all the smooth operators who see the chance to sneak into the middle and make some money by recruiting the proverbial infinite number of low-paid "gizzajob" translation monkeys...

Ho hum.



[Edited at 2012-07-11 14:22 GMT]


 

Wolfgang Vogt  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 16:27
English to German
+ ...
business is business Jul 11, 2012

Let's face it, business is for profit and translations represent an expense. So for any good businessman/woman it is perfectly reasonable to cut down the costs for tanslations.
It is something completely different, however, if such a business cuts down costs and sacfrifices quality... This is definitely the case with Duolingo and the like projects.
I like the often used translator/plumber comparison. Would you ask your neighbour, who has been to a construction site once, to connect your gas stove?
And, after all, it is us, the professionals (no matter if it's a translator, architect, plumber etc.), who set the price (within the limits of the market, of course).


 

Agnes Lenkey  Identity Verified
German to Spanish
+ ...
Explain and go further - make them understand Jul 11, 2012

I totally agree with all of you and mostly with BethanHasnip and neilmac. Like Wolfgang says, for a company business is business, and it is completely reasonable and understandable that they want to cut down the costs. Apart from being us who determine (within the limits of the market) our rates, I think that the quid of the question is to educate clients. Yes, one gets tired, one looses a lot of time. But what can we do? It is the only way that they will understand that it is worth to spend their precious money on a trivial thing that might get solved with GoogleTranslate. If it is a serious company and it is worth the effort (for both of us, for them and for me) I show them “the inner side” of my work by making only two or three but very significant questions (detailed and long but interesting) about some difficult concepts I encountered in their translation. I don’t bother them, but for example try to improve their original text with crucial suggestions they are thankful for, or send them something interesting I found related to seemingly untranslatable, innovative technical words. In fact, the other day one of my clients asked me to revise a shorter text he himself admittedly translated with the help of GoogleTranslate. He was in some way begging my pardon for taking away part of my work and giving me only the harder part. But I was not offended at all, I made the proofreading, sent him the explanation of his BIG mistakes and added this to his invoice. He completely understood why I had to charge him, and there was really no problem. Yes, I lost time with all these explanations per e-mail but FOR THE FUTURE he knows what this process is all about and why it is worth for him to spend his precious money on such a matter.
As a general rule I try to make them understand and see what this work is all about, because I think it is worth doing so and they usually appreciate the extra time I loose with this. And I think after they have seen it once, the second time they will UNDERSTAND…and hopefully appreciate our work as well.


 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 15:27
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Those faces, and the personalities behind them, sell Jul 11, 2012

I can't always understand why particular people are chosen for the job [harking back to the TV anchor(wo)man mentioned in the first post], but I'm sure they have some kind of mass appeal. People identify with them on some level. You may think the anchorman's an intellectual, so you hang on every word (even though they aren't HIS words); you may like the anchorwoman's eyes so you don't like to miss the show; in these days of equality it may be the other way aroundicon_smile.gif; but relatively few people will find them simply boring. They also have an extremely high profile - you'll likely come across them opening something or other so they become for you a "real" contact with the TV. They don't so much DO - they ARE. I know a Dutch breakfast TV presenter and although I've never seen her work and I suspect she's a little more than an anchorwoman, she has that certain something that makes heads turn, even if they don't recognise her.

I don't think the TV news directors will ever get rid of these figureheads. That would be suicide.

On the other hand, I get the feeling from listening to/watching the news that there doesn't seem to be much depth of detail to it nowadays. I bet you they don't employ so many researchers and reporters nowadays. I bet they offer piecework pay as and when needed and those contractors (freelancers?) are probably seeing their standard of living degrade year on year. Let's face it, we're the backroom boys and girls, unseen and unacclaimed. Every day, more and more "translators", without any training or aptitude, arrive on the market, and I expect there are many new "researchers" and "reporters" who think the job consists of doing a few Google searches. The only way for us to rise to the top of the pack is by proving our worth.

Sheila

[Edited at 2012-07-11 15:11 GMT]


 

Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 23:27
Chinese to English
There is a real contradiction in what we do Jul 11, 2012

I think that you're missing a real conceptual problem. A lot of translators believe that their role is to be invisible; that they only convert.

You get statements like "translators do not change the text". No, of course we don't. Apart from every word in it. You praise for translation that is "fluent" or "unobtrusive".

These ideas all revolve around the idea of a translator being a perfectly transparent medium through which the genius of the source author or source text passes unaffected. And we've made that idea - insane as it is - our USP.

"Come," we say, "we'll turn your English marketing text into Spanish. Only that. We will not make it any better or any worse. Only Spanish."

"Come, I can turn this Chinese contract into English. Never mind that the legal traditions are completely different; never mind that the courts read contracts in a way that bears no resemblance to your system; I can turn it into English without the slightest change."

These are bizarre lies. You can't turn a Chinese contract into English - not without knowing a surprising amount of the law. But that's not the service I offer, is it? No, I'm not a legal consultant. I just flip the language. And that, surely, is a process that can be mechanised?

Excuse the rant. It's just that the more I do this job, the more it seems like an amazingly weird thing to do. Companies will hire an army of consultants to help them coordinate their communication through print, visual and web media. To coordinate their coordination through the prism of Russian culture - its language? A couple of translators.

It's not that we don't market ourselves. It's that we market ourselves as doing an insane and unreal job. And then we bitch when no-one understands us. Huh.


 

LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:27
Russian to English
+ ...
Translation is expensive but so is legal advice and medical treatments Jul 11, 2012

Yes, real translation is expensive, and it will stay this way, because it requires very complex skills, years of education and experience. It is probably even easier to become a lawyer than a good translator. Any attempts to create cheap translation are doomed form the start. There is no way any serious texts will ever be accurately translated by machines. MT could be just a good new form of entertainment.

[Edited at 2012-07-11 20:10 GMT]


 

Theo Bernards (X)  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 16:27
English to Dutch
+ ...
Well, we opened the door ourselves a bit Jul 11, 2012

when we as professionals didn't outright reject the idea of discounts for repetitions when some developer conceived the idea of such discounts. After all, it seems unlikely that this was put into the market untested, so it stands to reason that translators were asked at some point during the development of the first CAT-tool(s) how they felt about such a time saver. I guess it didn't dawn on the profession that such time savings might have financial implications.

This put CAT-tool producers firmly into the supply chain, and they managed to get a commanding position in the translation supply chain by dangling the carrot of discounts in front of translation agencies and large multinationals.

Also, translations has always been seen as a cost center instead of a profit center. With the ongoing globalisation and the influx of neo-professionals (I try to remain friendly here, there are other words one could choose for people who think MT plus a rudimentary knowledge of either source or target language is a workable basis for calling yourself a translator) who seem to relish working for an apple and an egg, it seems only natural that many decision makers think about translation if and when they are forced to cut costs: they read all about translations cheaper then everywhere else and not every decision maker is smart enough to know that buying cheap is often too expensive. And as long as these neo-professionals are willing to churn out massive quantities of post-edited MT for next to nothing prices, the "huge worldwide effort to slash translation costs" will continue, I fear...


 

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 16:27
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Because... Jul 11, 2012

There is a drive towards cheaper translation simply because translation is one more component of bigger business/technical/scientific processes. Every new VP in a company will spend weeks trying to find something to cut and become useful in the eye of the Board... Translation cannot escape this effort, the same as any other suppliers.

The only solution is to keep promoting and explaining our profession and explaining its importance... while at the same each of us does his/her best to improve, get more certifications, and offer a reliable, agile, useful service no serious company can live without.


 

Riccardo Schiaffino  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 08:27
Member (2003)
English to Italian
+ ...
I challenge your premise Jul 11, 2012

José Henrique Lamensdorf wrote:

Everyone sees an immense worldwide effort to eliminate translation costs, either by developing further machine translation, or in initiatives like Duolingo.

Is translation really so expensive? In other words, do translators really make/cost so much money to justify such investments in replacing them with cost-free alternative solutions?

[Edited at 2012-07-11 12:37 GMT]


I believe that such efforts are mainly due not so much to the desire to slash costs, but to the fact that the demand for translation far outstrips (reliable) supply.


 

George Hopkins
Local time: 16:27
Swedish to English
Because... Jul 11, 2012

...similar worldwide efforts are made in every field.
The only thing to do is to find direct clients, or possibly find work in a different area.


 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 15:27
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
One for the wall! Jul 11, 2012

Phil Hand wrote:
the more I do this job, the more it seems like an amazingly weird thing to do.


Thanks, Phil.icon_smile.gificon_smile.gificon_smile.gif


 

LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:27
Russian to English
+ ...
There is one solution to make translation cheaper Jul 11, 2012

Write less needless stuff, and make texts more meaningful and concise -- then you will save money, energy and everyone's aggravation.







[Edited at 2012-07-11 20:12 GMT]


 
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