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Agencies not knowing the target language.
Thread poster: Bas Oostdijk

Bas Oostdijk  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 22:13
Dutch to English
+ ...
Mar 28, 2014

Dear all,

Lately I've done a few projects for translation agencies who did not seem to have any staff proficient in the target language. The result was mostly that they would send random segments of the translation (taken out of context) to their client, who would then give comments. I'd then revise if needed etc. etc.

Now my question is: is this normal? It seems quite inefficient for all parties involved. If the role of the agency is only to be the 'middle man', what is their actual added value?

Looking forward to your opinions!

Bas


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 21:13
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Exactly! :) Mar 28, 2014

Bas Oostdijk wrote:
If the role of the agency is only to be the 'middle man', what is their actual added value?

Very little!

That type of "agency" has no right to use the word in the accepted sense of a "translation agency". They are "translation brokers". They buy a translation from us and they sell it on to their client. Their only benefit to us is in putting work our way. For that they do have a right to a payment, but not nearly as much as that due to a 'real' translation agency, which adds value both before and after the actual translation process.


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EvaVer  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:13
Member (2012)
Czech to English
+ ...
Er, they cannot have people in all languages Mar 28, 2014

If I translate into Czech for an American or French agency, I don't expect them to know the language. And if it were Swahili? But they should be better organized, OK.

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Texte Style
Local time: 22:13
French to English
what agencies do Mar 28, 2014

I used to work as a PM in an agency and I was basically responsible for anything into English. The other colleagues would deal with the languages they were proficient in, and there was one we called AOL for Any Other Languages. OK so she knew more languages than the rest of us together, but still she dealt with plenty she didn't know. At its apogee the agency had six employees, no way could we cover all European languages.

Proofreading was bundled in with project management. Over time I had noticed one thing which was that the best translators always performed a final spell check before delivery. So my AOL colleague simply chose to only work with translators who did that.

We also performed a vague visual check of the file and were we to notice problems with figures for example, would get back to the translator to ask whether they were sure that their translation was correct.

If the budget permitted, we would pay for an external review, however this often led to problems with translator and reviewer arguing endlessly over a comma or an apostrophe, and of course we had no way of deciding who was right.

We very rarely had any complaints whatsoever.

So why would a company choose to go through an agency if we were not capable of checking a translation correctly? It could be any of the following or even all:

- because they had to translate into about a dozen languages and didn't have the time to find a dozen translators and another dozen reviewers, plus backup should any prove to be on holiday or fully booked
- because they didn't have enough translation work in any particular language to be able to build up the kind of working relationship translators enjoy with direct clients
- because they didn't have CAT tools and their work was very repetitive
- because they didn't have a clue as to where to find a translator or how to assess their quality
- because they didn't want to have to deal with a guy living on the other side of the world, and the agency was just along the metro line
- because they needed to work with someone in the same time zone


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Fiona Grace Peterson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 22:13
Member
Italian to English
Are you kidding? Mar 28, 2014

EvaVer wrote:

If I translate into Czech for an American or French agency, I don't expect them to know the language.


A translation agency, in my very humble opinion, should not take on jobs if it does not have staff competent in that language. How can it deem the work done to be of an acceptable standard to send to the client if it doesn't know the target language?

I could offer to build the bridge between the mainland of Italy and Sicily. Doesn't make me an engineer.

And if it were Swahili?


It should not accept the job. Period.


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Fiona Grace Peterson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 22:13
Member
Italian to English
The agency's "cut" Mar 28, 2014

Bas Oostdijk wrote:

If the role of the agency is only to be the 'middle man', what is their actual added value?



The answer is simple... they take a cut of the fee paid by the client. As you have discovered, the more unscrupulous want this cut without actually doing anything to earn it.


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 22:13
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
They don't need to Mar 28, 2014

Fiona Peterson wrote:
A translation agency, in my very humble opinion, should not take on jobs if it does not have staff competent in that language. How can it deem the work done to be of an acceptable standard to send to the client if it doesn't know the target language?

I disagree with this assessment. Only one of the approximately 25+ medium-sized and small agencies I regularly work for has a Spanish speaker in house. None of my regular customers needs to know any Spanish. When a customer has a question about my work, I am happy to explain my translation decisions, and it all is good. I work with an in-house reviewer in my office who reviews all my work, so the customer does not need to worry about reviewing. This arrangement works for them since it is simple and efficient, and for me too since I get access to markets I cannot manage myself.

To me the distinction between "translation agency" and "translation broker" is rather futile. I do not see a need for my customers to speak my language. They hire a translator for a reason...


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 22:13
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
But they do provide a service! Mar 28, 2014

Fiona Peterson wrote:
Bas Oostdijk wrote:
If the role of the agency is only to be the 'middle man', what is their actual added value?

The answer is simple... they take a cut of the fee paid by the client. As you have discovered, the more unscrupulous want this cut without actually doing anything to earn it.

A serious agency does serve both the customer and the translator. As individual translators we would never be able to serve large customers who need a multilingual solution or high volumes, and agencies play a key role in this area, so agencies give us access to work we would never have access to as individuals.

Also, if the agency pays the rate you want, why should you care about how much they charge the end customer? This of course translates into this: do not work for agencies who can't pay your expected rate!


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Fiona Grace Peterson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 22:13
Member
Italian to English
I don't understand your point, Tomas Mar 28, 2014

I do not mean an agency should necessarily have someone in-house, however they should have someone able to review the work submitted to them.

You say "I work with an in-house reviewer in my office who reviews all my work, so the customer does not need to worry about reviewing." This makes no sense for the average freelancer working for an agency: surely the point of the agency taking a cut of my fee (compared to that I could command from a direct client) is that they review my work before sending it off? If I have to pay a reviewer on top of the lower fee the agency pays, then it isn't worth my while financially working for them.


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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 22:13
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Many of my clients can't read the source language Mar 28, 2014

... and although they can all read English, they can't all read the kind of English I may write in specialist texts and check it against the source.

I do try to work with Scandinavian agencies (they pay best) or at least Scandinavian specialists, but I can't assume the others are able to do an internal check on my work. What they do is the coordinating and DTP work, and all the other jobs Texte Style has listed.

They sometimes relay my translations to other translators who can't read Scandinavian languages...

I simply don't have time for that kind of thing - I am busy translating!
Of course, they do have proofreaders, and I read colleagues' work occasionally. Many PMs discover who to trust if two translators disagree - or I have once or twice been asked to give a third opinion. I hate that, but the one who can give the best explanation wins !

As long as they don't use Google Translate as their reference, it is probably something you have to live with if you work with the 'smaller' languages.


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 22:13
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
My point makes sense Mar 28, 2014

Fiona Peterson wrote:
You say "I work with an in-house reviewer in my office who reviews all my work, so the customer does not need to worry about reviewing." This makes no sense for the average freelancer working for an agency: surely the point of the agency taking a cut of my fee (compared to that I could command from a direct client) is that they review my work before sending it off? If I have to pay a reviewer on top of the lower fee the agency pays, then it isn't worth my while financially working for them.

Actually my approach makes perfect sense and it has for almost 20 years: by delivering a fully finished text to my customers, I am in a better position to negotiate reasonable rates. My rate covers my work and the cost of the reviewer, of course, and my agency customers know what they are paying.


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Texte Style
Local time: 22:13
French to English
I think you're underestimating the work of an agency. Mar 28, 2014

Fiona Peterson wrote:

EvaVer wrote:

And if it were Swahili?


It should not accept the job. Period.


Which means that a customer needing to translate something into 20-odd languages may end up using a dozen agencies in three separate continents, which is barely any better than simply working with 20-odd translators and certainly far more complicated than having an agency dealing with it all.

Don't forget too that the agency knows much more about hiring translators than clients do. I mentioned the spell-check as being a good guideline, but of course before even getting to that stage with a translator I would have contacted several translating into Swahili, I would have pored through their website CV or whatever to check whether they had had suitable training and experience, I would have discussed rates and availability, and made a note of any linguistic errors in whatever language we were using to discuss these. If the text to be translated is about software, or machinery, it's quite possible that the person seeking to place the translation is more interested in software or machinery and won't notice spelling mistakes.

In the agency I worked at as PM, we looked after translators: we were pleasant and helpful, we paid a decent rate, we made sure to answer all their questions in a timely manner, we never bullied, we never offered unreasonable deadlines, we remembered the names of their children. So we only had a few translators on our books but they were always willing to go the extra mile for us. I can't count the number of times they said "OK, but it's only because it's you". Now I no longer work there, a significant number of them have hooked up with me on FB or LinkedIn. So I think we did a good job even without speaking Swahili.


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 21:13
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
I share this opinion Mar 28, 2014

Fiona Peterson wrote:
I do not mean an agency should necessarily have someone in-house, however they should have someone able to review the work submitted to them.

Of course they can't have someone in every language working in-house, but they should have good partners (i.e. existing contacts with reliable freelancers) able to cast an eye over output, especially that produced by translators who are new to the agency, in every language they accept as source or target from their clients, even if they aren't going to check every word of every translation done by someone they've grown to trust.


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M. Anna Kańduła  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 21:13
English to Polish
Disagree Mar 28, 2014

Fiona Peterson wrote:

A translation agency, in my very humble opinion, should not take on jobs if it does not have staff competent in that language. How can it deem the work done to be of an acceptable standard to send to the client if it doesn't know the target language?

I disagree. A translation agency can be small (fewer than 5) but it can deal with 20 European languages. Does it mean they cannot deal with more than 5, IF they're lucky and each of their PMs speaks a different language? That's unreasonable.

They can easily check the standard by sending a translation for revision to another translator in their database (and they should, after all this should be one of the added values). They don't have to have an employee - a PM - who speaks the target language.


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B. D. Laux  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:13
Member (2009)
German to Norwegian
+ ...
A common situation for small languages Mar 28, 2014

I have worked for a lot of agencies where nobody understands Norwegian, and there are big differences in the way they work. The best agencies do a very good job with the projects, even if the PMs do not understand all the languages. I have often been impressed by their work when I get further inquiries. Others again really just forward the translations to the end customer. I've read the German expression "Umtüter" for this, and I think that's really a good expression...

[Edited at 2014-03-28 20:37 GMT]


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Agencies not knowing the target language.

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