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What are the main problems of modern translation business/industry?
Thread poster: Semen Akhrameev

Semen Akhrameev  Identity Verified
Kyrgyzstan
Local time: 09:09
Member (2013)
English to Russian
+ ...
Jun 26

Modern translation industry is very complex and inhomogeneous, therefore there are a number of issues that all of us face in the course of our professional activities.
In your opinion, which issues are the most important?

In think that there are three major problems:
- extremely long supply chains (clients are located too far from translators that leads to communication problems)
- cheap amateurs that pretend to be translators//low-profile agencies who dump the prices offering low-quality translation
- marketing tricks and overstated claims about machine translation - many potential clients think that MT can substitute human translators and reply solely upon machines

Waiting for your comments!
I will be glad to add some good points (if any) to my new post: Sad Truth about the Translation Industry: https://russiantranslator.pro/sad-truth-about-translation-industry.html


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:09
Member (2008)
Italian to English
One of the main problems is..... Jun 26

...translators who advertise their services as including translating into English when they are incapable of writing correct English even on their own websites.

I'm not thinking of anyone in particular.


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Semen Akhrameev  Identity Verified
Kyrgyzstan
Local time: 09:09
Member (2013)
English to Russian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you! Jun 26

Tom in London wrote:

...translators who advertise their services as including translating into English when they are incapable of writing correct English even on their own websites.

I'm not thinking of anyone in particular.


Thanks, Tom. Yes, this is important too. It is an industry standard to translate into your native language. We shall keep that in mind and offer only translation in relevant language pairs.


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 22:09
Russian to English
+ ...
I think all of the problems you listed are valid Jun 26

--agents who have no clue about translation, or translation in all language pairs
--amateur translators who also lack knowledge essential to conduct the work properly
--overrated claims about Machine Translation--not even close to attaining the capacity to professionally translate
--too many misconceptions, resulting in low rates
Good luck.

As to English, it depends in what language pairs. I doubt there are too many English-speaking people (English being their dominant language) who know Kirgiz well enough, or even Russian to translate from those languages. It may be different with the main European languages, such as German, French, Italian or Spanish.

As to the mother tongues issue, it is not as simple. Many people who do not have extensive enough background in linguistics, do not realize that people do not posses the same language skills even in one language--the language people speak also has styles, registers and repertoires. People speak in idiolects.

[Edited at 2017-06-27 06:10 GMT]


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Freimanis  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:09
English to Latvian
+ ...
playing by the old rules Jun 26

There are many problems but hardly any is new.

For example, an ever growing number of translation agencies that drive down the price by employing cheap and inexperienced translators and then trying to fix the resultant problems by hiring experienced ones to proofread the pile of rubbish. Some people openly reject such fixing jobs, some play along and the overall quality suffers. I see and experience it every day as a proof-reader.

There is still a worse trend: the blind leading the blind. The agency hires a poor translator whose work is checked by an equally poor reviewer. The agency boasts of its ISO systems, quality, feed-back loop etc, forgetting that ISO systems per se do not ensure quality. They do ensure doing the same thing the same way time and again. This is not necessarily the main criterion of translation quality. But, if nobody questions it, everybody is happy, except the target reader. Or if the reader is not very demanding, the overall language culture goes down the drain. I see it every day as a shopper and consumer. The crap that you can read in equipment manuals, on product labels etc. is just unbelievable.

Another problem is the conflict between the ever increasing demand for productivity (read lower production price) and stagnant translation rates. I, for example, have not increased my rates for the last 5 years and, with the previously mentioned trends in operation, it does not look like a viable option. The role of machine assisted translation tools as a productivity solution is hugely overstated. They are supposed to boost your productivity, but that increase is minimal unless you are really doing only highly repetitive texts. And let us not forget, productivity has limits whatever the ads and marketing hype say.

Very often the time/effort saved does not compensate for the rate reductions, leave alone the hefty amounts charged by the licence sellers. The agencies on the other hand believe that the productivity increase (and the related discounts, which is another uneasy topic) should apply to all types and sorts of texts, forgetting that the translation tools primarily are quality improvement tools rather than discounting tools. The tools cost money and so does quality. It is absurd if the translator is asked to reduce his/her overall rate so that the agency can benefit from the use of translation tools. Not even mentioning the ridiculous cases when the agency demands that 100 odd words should be translated using a particular translation tool – it is just a money loosing job if you take it on.

So in general there is and always be a clash of ‘classes’ between the agency and the translator. The agencies can build their might and power (and they do) while the translator remains alone. If you let the agency play by its rules you would end up doing slave work.


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Robert Forstag  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 22:09
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Different groups of translators have different interests Jun 26

While there clearly are "general problems" with "the translation industry," I think it more useful to think in terms of the problems and challenges faced by different groups of freelance translators. Thus, for example, translators working both into and out of Spanish and living in Peru or Ecuador face one set of challenges. Translators living in the US, Canada, or EU and translating from one of the more common languages into English face another set of challenges. A bi-directional translator working in a less common combination faces still another set of challenges. And the list goes on and on.

The interests and the problems of these different groups overlap, but are not identical. This is at least one reason why conversations like this never get very far.

I think that one "interest group" among translators comprises those working *into English* who are truly native in the language. As has been endlessly pointed out in these forums, and as Tom pointedly suggests, qualified translators who are truly native in English would do well to distinguish themselves from their peers offering "into English" services who (whatever their intelligence, skills, and accomplishments) are not by any reasonable definition "native in English."

In this regard, an organization that awarded certificates to qualified and verifiably native "into English" translators would seem to be a useful idea. Displaying such a credential would help distinguish truly native English-speaking freelancers (who also have some kind of formal translation credential) from their peers offering into-English services who are not native speakers. Such an organization could also establish criteria for granting certificates of approval to agencies who pay rates considered within an acceptable range for qualified native "into English" translators. This would give agencies who are not entirely in thrall to a sweatshop model the opportunity to differentiate themselves from their predatory counterparts.

Those translators who work into English and who are truly native in the language constitute just one interest group among many others. Each translator has to determine where his or her own interests lie, and identify peers who share those fundamental interests.

The notion of separate groups of translators with interests that might diverge in important ways might seem off-putting to some. But I think it offers a possible way forward to raising the profile of the profession and effectively confronting the pervasive rot with which it is infected.


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Anton Konashenok  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 04:09
English to Russian
+ ...
It isn't new by any measure Jun 26

It would be wrong to think these problems have only appeared with the development of Internet. It's like the lamentations about the moral decline of today's society in comparison with the past: these words of disappointment being spoken today were already spoken a century ago, two centuries ago, in the Middle Ages, in the ancient Rome and so on.

The translation industry has been living this way for quite a while. There have been true professionals and bottom feeders. There has been a cut-throat competition between translators and translation agencies at the cheap'n'dirty level, and very little competition at the top quality level. There are clients at each end of the scale - and in the middle, too. Both translators and their clients are free to choose their favourite level.


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Preston Decker  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 22:09
Member (2013)
Chinese to English
RE Jun 26

Freimanis wrote:



There is still a worse trend: the blind leading the blind. The agency hires a poor translator whose work is checked by an equally poor reviewer. The agency boasts of its ISO systems, quality, feed-back loop etc, forgetting that ISO systems per se do not ensure quality. They do ensure doing the same thing the same way time and again. This is not necessarily the main criterion of translation quality. But, if nobody questions it, everybody is happy, except the target reader. Or if the reader is not very demanding, the overall language culture goes down the drain. I see it every day as a shopper and consumer. The crap that you can read in equipment manuals, on product labels etc. is just unbelievable.

Another problem is the conflict between the ever increasing demand for productivity (read lower production price) and stagnant translation rates. I, for example, have not increased my rates for the last 5 years and, with the previously mentioned trends in operation, it does not look like a viable option. The role of machine assisted translation tools as a productivity solution is hugely overstated. They are supposed to boost your productivity, but that increase is minimal unless you are really doing only highly repetitive texts. And let us not forget, productivity has limits whatever the ads and marketing hype say.




All true, and I would not be surprised if someone starts a service in the next five years that provides a "solution" to both of these problems (quality and productivity). I imagine such service would start by changing the word translation itself to "trans-insert-your-modified-term-here". I'm sure they would also market the service as providing 98% of the quality of translation at 50% of the cost, thus solving the quality issue (can't be blamed for poor quality if you don't offer it from the start). Of course, there are already services like this, but I think the true innovation would be that said entity would offer freelance "linguists" unlimited liability protection and incorporate a rigid training program to wipe out their desire to provide good quality. I know that I for one could offer three times as much goobly-glop at 50% of the price if I could be brainwashed into believing that speed, not quality, was the object. Support that mindset with the worry-free oblivion of having no liability for mistakes and you really have a 21st century business idea on your hands (i.e. producing something that means nothing for a lot of money). Everyone involved wins--the entity reaps heaps and heaps of money and the linguist improves their hourly earnings. And, by the time 2030 rolls around and the average consumer's expectation for quality in anything has been erased, even the consumer wins--they get goobly glop trans-insert-your-variant-here at a 10% mark-off from the goobly glop translation they've already come to expect.

Not painting a very bright picture, but in response to the OP's question, the biggest problem translators and translation face is that no one reading this post would be particularly surprised if someone really does make lots and lots of money by doing just what I wrote above.


**It's also telling that I had originally come up with my own original take for the name of this new kind of translation, and only changed it to the open-ended "trans-insert-your modified-term-here" after the worrying (and probably wise) thought occurred to me that someone has likely already trademarked every variant of the word "translation", in preparation for just such a service.


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 04:09
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
An inherently complex market Jun 26

To me the main problem is the fact that we can hardly standardise our services, or even create multinational associations. Even the widely accepted standards that affect us are not really global.

There are very many different end clients with very varied needs and expectations, and we ourselves are a rather heterogeneous bunch, with different backgrounds, different levels of training in translation, many different cultures, and different challenges depending on our specialties.

The main difficulty is really our inherently complex market. It might sound like surrender, but I like it this way, notwithstanding my respect for the efforts towards standardisation and globalisation of practices and tools.


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Semen Akhrameev  Identity Verified
Kyrgyzstan
Local time: 09:09
Member (2013)
English to Russian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you all for the informative and valuable comments Jun 27

Thanks for sharing your opinion, I think now I have more information to process and probably there will be one more post dedicated to industry problems.

To my best knowledge ISO standards applied by agencies mainly relate to the quality of project management, not the quality of translation itself, but who cares? A client sees "We are ISO certified" and, in many cases, this is enough to make a decision.

Anton, I know that these problems exist for a long time, but if we remain silent they won't resolve on their own, right? So we, as a community of professionals, shall speak about this problems and spread information about them via various channels (forums, blogs, social media) to communicate this message to our clients, explaining how things work in the industry and how to avoid most common mistakes. Thus we make our contribution to resolve these problems on different levels.


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 22:09
Russian to English
+ ...
The problems the transltion industry faces may be old Jun 27

--in the sense that they have been typical of the translation industry from the beginning,. They were less evident or even non-existent, when there were just translators, and no translation "industry," as a business, but rather just the profession. Usually university professors with exceptional language skills engaged in it, part time. It was never a source of big money, unless you published a book that made millions. It is a tedious type of work, requiring very complex skills, including thorough knowledge of at least two languages, and very good writing skills in the target.

As to this "native thing" or obsession rather--it is not as simple as presented, what I stated before. Many times, in fact but I was accused of some ulterior motives in the past. The majority of monolingual people, even exclusively monolingual, do not have the skills to write correctly (to the publishable standards) in the language they use in ordinary life, so no--there is much more to the success than that. Also, many "really native"--whatever that means, may not know the source language well enough. Some do obviously, but these are people to be counted on the fingers of just one hand, in languages other than the four main European languages. What does "really native" even mean? Like really pregnant, sort of? I don't think this adjective has gradation.

[Edited at 2017-06-27 06:41 GMT]


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Georgie Scott  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 04:09
Member (2009)
French to English
+ ...
Niggles and root problems Jun 27

I think a lot of the things mentioned are really just niggles that bother us as translators (niggles that can nonetheless cause a lot of stress).

As Tomas said, it's a very complex market. Long supply chains are definitely a problem, as is the general lack of understanding of the translation process and clients' inherent inability to assess the quality of the service they receive. This leads to clients seeking savings in the short term that lead to increased costs in the long term. Once they understand that putting pressure on translators to reduce rates can only lead to a decrease in quality, things should change (I've spoken to a lot of French companies that have already understood this).

I actually think the abundance of poor-quality, cheap translation will be what leads to the market improving in the long term. As more people gain access to some form of translation, higher-profile clients will be forced to invest in seeking out and understanding the process behind high-quality translation in order to stand out from the crowd. Hence the increase in in-house translation project management positions within international groups.

That said, I feel like I might be the only person in the industry who sees things this way. Everyone else seems to see an apocalypse looming.


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Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:09
Member (2014)
Japanese to English
Apocalypse postponed Jun 27

Georgie Scott wrote:
That said, I feel like I might be the only person in the industry who sees things this way. Everyone else seems to see an apocalypse looming.

I agree with Tomas and Georgie. I don't think the market is in as parlous a state as some forum members seem to believe.

Dan


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Chris S  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Swedish to English
+ ...
Apocalypse under way Jun 27

Georgie Scott wrote:
That said, I feel like I might be the only person in the industry who sees things this way. Everyone else seems to see an apocalypse looming.


I like your attitude.

Dan Lucas wrote:
I agree with Tomas and Georgie. I don't think the market is in as parlous a state as some forum members seem to believe.


Me too. But I imagine it depends on which end of the market you're at.

Things may be rosy at the high end, but it's pretty clear from this site that the zombie apocalypse has already begun elsewhere...


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DZiW
Ukraine
English to Russian
+ ...
lopsided language problem Jun 27

If only people could understand each other without languages, there would had been no problems of modern translation business/industry.

As for biz,
The main cause for violence is that some people want to take food from others


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