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Translation isn't getting cheaper
Thread poster: LegalTransform

LegalTransform  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 21:49
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Aug 19, 2013

From Rose Newell's blog: http://lingocode.com/translation-isnt-getting-cheaper/

Excerpt: "It seems just about every bulk translation agency is claiming to have found a great new way to make translation cheaper, be it through the exploitation of the under-qualified and the under-skilled or through some new-fangled technological monstrosity the latest Zuckerberg-wannabe would like to inflict on the minions...

...We’re not really able to untrain our minds to just go with the first thing that hits us and skimp on research, just like you can’t untrain an expensive, high-quality mechanic from carrying out a careful repair. We can’t suddenly make ourselves less skilled and therefore cheaper and faster...

...Every time you submit to low rates you are lining the pockets of those who seek only to undermine your very profession and provide false confirmation that yes, quality does come cheap..."


[Edited at 2013-08-19 19:57 GMT]


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 21:49
Russian to English
+ ...
Yes, I absolutely agree with you. Aug 19, 2013

A high-skilled, educated translator who loves language cannot suddenly start doing the things you described in your post -- it would simply feel physically painful.

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Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 03:49
English to Polish
+ ...
... Aug 19, 2013

Kudos to Rose.

And:

So this agency expected me to tick a box to skirt them of their responsibility in ensuring translations were appropriately checked in line with their desired EN 15308 certification. Further, they expected me to find someone who is at least bilingual in German and English, native in English, who has time to spare to read my translations for free. Just how many out-of-work, bilingual, German-speaking English native speakers with time on their hands do you know? An absolute farce and a true damnation of the supposed value of the EN 15308 certification standard, should this agency obtain it. I pity any genuine boutique agency that put real effort into implementing the principles behind this standard.


Professional, my foot. But there's a different problem with the standards relating to translation. They impose a process with a huge role of client acceptance, just like in the construction industry, which is the primary addressee of EN's, ISO's and their ilk. In translation, it doesn't and can't work like that. If clients were qualified to evaluate and amend translations, they wouldn't need translators to do them. The standards may well be detrimental to the quality of translation because of this.

But:

I do believe that there is some sense in translation quality levels. While one can't untrain oneself, here's a couple of things that can be done:

– approximate decisions without the type of research that take days or weeks or require expert consultation; it shouldn't be on the translator to arrange for all that and get it all done personally, anyway;
– deep proofreading and editing of one's own work is a time-consuming process (the revisions can take even half the whole time one spends translating); savings can be made there when the translation isn't meant to be published or in some cases even if it is ('publication ready' does not mean altogether flawless);
– assigning translators with experience or competence levels corresponding to pay levels is a sensible idea, and I'm pretty sure things work like that in a couple of professions and business areas.

Pay for rookies, get rookies. Want to do the proofing in-house? Fine. Don't need award-winning prose and don't want to pay for the amount of time it takes to get there? Understandable. Just don't come back with a QA report that picks up every last shadow of a possibility of error, don't ask for any preferential changes, don't complain about the typos if you took over the responsibility for proofreading.

I can't make my writing worse, but I can definitely revise less. I can also skip research and just highlight terms that need to be explained. But, I need the client or agency to warrant that they really are taking over the responsibility, and that there won't be any claims or complaints incompatible with that takeover.


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Orrin Cummins  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 10:49
Japanese to English
+ ...
Yes, Łukasz is right Aug 19, 2013

As a translation agency (or even an end client), you can't have your cake and eat it too. You can either pay for quality and expect to get it, or you can pay insultingly low rates and expect to get the quality associated with that end of the spectrum. It really is true that you get what you pay for.

Many people complain about low rates, but I think they do so only because they are imagining doing their normal, professional-quality work at that rate. In that scenario, the rates are obviously too low. It is hard for some professionals to fathom doing a quick, rough and dirty job, but as Łukasz mentioned you can revise less, not spend much time researching terms or other necessary information, ignore problems with formatting, etc. There are ways to cut a lot of time off a professional-quality translation; of course it may then no longer be high-quality anymore, but what can a person really expect to receive for ≤0.04 USD per word?


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 22:49
English to Portuguese
+ ...
I'll tell you... Aug 20, 2013

Orrin Cummins wrote:

... but what can a person really expect to receive for ≤0.04 USD per word?


Unless the target is the national language of a low cost of living country, from what I've seen, translation at ≤0.05 USD is most often worse than free online machine translation.

While machine translation is pretty bad, it is thoroughly consistent. No software will update its parsing database while a translation is under way.

Meanwhile a cheap translator will guess some translation at first. Then they'll find that expression again down the road, and realize their earlier choice was wrong; if used there, it will render a phrase meaningless. So they research a bit, and find another possibility, hopefully the correct one. If the text is long, maybe they'll forget it and revert to their earlier choice, or yet invent another. Of course, they are not making enough money for a da capo al fine quick review when they are through.

As they are supposedly not among the most skilled/experienced translators, the aforedescribed occurrence will be multiplied by some sizeable figure. The result will be some kind of patchwork that search & replace won't be of much - if any - help to fix.

I recently saw a job offer on Proz, from an unknown translator (visibly not an outsourcer), in my very language pair and country, offering such low rates for a job on a short deadline. I wrote him about this. After that deadline, he sent me an e-mail: You were right about that. I'm having to redo it entirely.

Forewarned is forearmed.


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 21:49
Russian to English
+ ...
Why would a highly professional translator, with love for languages, especially Aug 20, 2013

want to "untrain" himself or herself from what they do to perfection, and what they love doing? It would be be like starting to wear dippers. Would anyone in sound mind want to do that?





[Edited at 2013-08-20 12:16 GMT]


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Orrin Cummins  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 10:49
Japanese to English
+ ...
... Aug 20, 2013

LilianBNekipelo wrote:

want to "untrain" himself or herself from what they do to perfection, and what they love doing? It would be be like starting to wear dippers. Would anyone in sound mind want to do that?





[Edited at 2013-08-20 12:16 GMT]


Because the minute that we start believing that we live in a world where things are always either black or white is the moment that we realize that we now only have two colors to choose from.


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George Hopkins
Local time: 03:49
Swedish to English
Cake and pudding... Aug 20, 2013

As Orrin says, you can't have your cake and eat it. And perhaps more important, "The proof of the pudding is in the eating". (Am I repeating myself?).

How many agencies taste each new pudding before delivery to the end client?
Does the client really know what he's getting?
There's the rub.

Who cares?

[Edited at 2013-08-20 12:48 GMT]


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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 03:49
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Fast, good or cheap - you can never get more than two of those Aug 20, 2013

... and you may only get one of them.

A lot of QA proceedures seem to be nit-picking that actually detract from quality.

It is tempting, when the client keeps asking why the same word is translated in different ways in different contexts, to compromise. If they don't know the difference between a spade and a shovel, who cares?

Or the translator rushes to finish the first draft so that three others can hack it to pieces! Instead of taking the time to do the research, translate the text, sleep on it and proofread it again with fresh eyes. Then one quick skim by a second proofreader would be plenty. It is sometimes an advantage to read the translation first and then the source, and of course the original translator can't do that.

I know from my own work that the result, a year or so later, looks far better than the jobs that are torn out of my hands after the first spell check, but if the client is really in a hurry, I can give them a basic idea of what the text is about. It's fast, but not particularly good.

I did one of those last night, and delivered it - the client apologised that they wanted it literally last Friday, but paid extra!
Next week it will be mulched anyway. Fast and expensive, understandable, but probably full of half-Danish syntax and less than optimal phrasing.

I cannot do that often, and I can't concentrate somehow today. It would really be better to use MT for that kind of thing, except that Google can't look up some of the names I can search for, and it can be really heavy going to read in my language pairs.

Luckily, there are still clients who will pay for quality, and I quite agree, there is still no way that GOOD translation is going to get cheaper in the foreseable future.

MT is like the weather forecast. Sometimes it is accurate. But it is all literally a calculated guess, or a replay of a more or less predictable situation. It undoubtedly has its uses.

However, if you want real translation and adaptation to the target patterns of thought and speech, not just a calculation of the odds, then be prepared to spend time and money.


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Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 03:49
English to Polish
+ ...
Nobody, and impossible Aug 20, 2013

LilianBNekipelo wrote:

want to "untrain" himself or herself from what they do to perfection, and what they love doing? It would be be like starting to wear dippers. Would anyone in sound mind want to do that?


But I can definitely live with the idea that a translation I do in a short deadline will perhaps be inferior in style compared to something I translated in a normal time-frame, precisely because I didn't spend the time I didn't have on revisions. I can replicate that effect by not revising much on my own when the client or agency has an in-house editor for that kind of thing. I can also definitely mark terms for research instead of researching them on my own, say, if the client has staff to charge with that type of research or is going to ask a specialised translator from that field (e.g. an automotive technical translator when I was translating some transportation-related legal work).

Or proofreading. Proofreading comes down to who hires the proofreaderer. Someone who retains an inhouse one might want to rely on that proofreader as opposed to expecting me to hire one or be my own proofreader (which takes more time than proofreading someone else's work in some situation). But, like I said above, I'm only in for such a division of duties if I have it on paper or if I can trust the agency.

Another example is consistency, editorial work etc. If you already know that the job has been divided among several translators and someone last in the chain (and not you) will be imposing a uniform terminology and even a uniform style, then your perfectionist, flawless work in that area is pretty much pointless.

Yet another example is that in for-information translations that aren't going to be included in any sort of high-profile publication or read aloud as a speech, there's a ton of things you don't need to devote scrupulous attention to: rhythm, alliterations, perfect placement of commas... who cares in an EU-required irrelevant public procurement translation that goes straight to the bottom of the drawer, or even in a business letter that's simply going to be read and forgotten?

Basically, it costs time to make things perfect or even excellent. That time is devoted consciously on top of whatever it would take to make it just a good job, and on really high levels it takes more and more additional time to ensure even a small step up on the quality ladder leading to perfection. In many circumstances you legitimately don't need that extra time and extra quality and can abstain from pursuing it. Just like you don't need a waxing job on a lumber truck, you don't wear make-up to the gym (I guess), you don't need freshly washed and ironed clothes if you're going to get dirty fixing stuff or tending to your garden and so on. So this is what I propose if someone wants to make translation cheaper without leading to serious problems.

[Edited at 2013-08-20 20:24 GMT]


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Chahine Yalla  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 03:49
Member (2013)
English to French
your reaction to this depends on your personal situation Aug 21, 2013

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz wrote:

But I can definitely live with the idea that a translation I do in a short deadline will perhaps be inferior in style compared to something I translated in a normal time-frame, precisely because I didn't spend the time I didn't have on revisions.


I understand your point, but I think the situation is nonetheless complicated for new translators. As an experienced, full time translator, you can probably afford to tell your clients that they get what they pay for, but as a new professional, you have to try your best on every translation work, to gain the outsourcer's trust, as you are requesting work and are not working full time yet. I believe it is quite easy to take advantage of people's weaknesses at a given time; the beginning of a career, financial difficulties, etc. On a globalized market, it mustn't be that hard to find people who agree to translate for peanuts.


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Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 03:49
English to Polish
+ ...
True, but there's some light in the tunnel Aug 22, 2013

Chahine Yalla wrote:

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz wrote:

But I can definitely live with the idea that a translation I do in a short deadline will perhaps be inferior in style compared to something I translated in a normal time-frame, precisely because I didn't spend the time I didn't have on revisions.


I understand your point, but I think the situation is nonetheless complicated for new translators. As an experienced, full time translator, you can probably afford to tell your clients that they get what they pay for, but as a new professional, you have to try your best on every translation work, to gain the outsourcer's trust, as you are requesting work and are not working full time yet. I believe it is quite easy to take advantage of people's weaknesses at a given time; the beginning of a career, financial difficulties, etc. On a globalized market, it mustn't be that hard to find people who agree to translate for peanuts.


As a new translator, you can still charge decent rates and give your translations more time (especially revisions, reading up before you start translating, perhaps running a couple of linguistic analyses to practice what you learnt in translation school), rather than loading up on cheap jobs to fill your calendar. Your skills (of which people only really know what you show them) and your reputation are always your greatest assets. You need to pay the bills, but you don't need to work full-time. Besides, you can make it full time by giving extra time to whatever jobs you actually have, at decent rates. This makes clients channel more work to you, recommend you to others, issue enthusiastic referrals for you and so on. You're also better motivated, sleep better, get enough rest, have the time for study and other continued development, all of which makes you at least a marginally better translator.

Working full time for peanuts, on the other hand, probably increases your experience at a faster rate, but not even that is sure. You actually benefit more from experience you analyse more, for which you need time, energy and motivation, so a couple of meticulously handled assignments may teach you better than a slew of zombie jobs. Plus, in doing that you teach yourself the trade of a quality translator rather than a fast translator, which may be more to your liking and better aligned with your hopes for the future.

Also, agencies that need to hand out oversized jobs that are also overdue generally also feel a knife on their throats. They will actually agree when you say okay, that can be done, physically, but due to the time constraints it's impossible to guarantee high quality (or, in specific terms: detailed research, should any be required; multiple stylistic revisions or any revisions for that matter; any sort of consultation with others; even any longer deliberation on the translator's own). The same applies when your translation job lacks context.


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Chahine Yalla  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 03:49
Member (2013)
English to French
I completely agree Aug 22, 2013

I absolutely agree with what you said, Łukasz, and I am lucky enough to have a house and someone who can financially help me, so I don't have to accept everything at any ridiculous rate. I also have standards, and to me, a decent rate is also a matter of self respect. I think this is crucial for my future business opportunities; a respectful approach to my own skills will greatly help business development.

I'm just thinking of those who aren't that lucky — I bet there are many — and have to accept these rates. Who else than someone in need would do that? I don't believe people are working for peanuts just for experience, pleasure or to beat the translation market down. As in any trade, it's only a matter of taking advantage of people in need.


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Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 03:49
English to Polish
+ ...
... Aug 23, 2013

Chahine Yalla wrote:

I absolutely agree with what you said, Łukasz, and I am lucky enough to have a house and someone who can financially help me, so I don't have to accept everything at any ridiculous rate.


Reminds me of my own start, Chachine. I had zero experience, but I had the highest rate the typical agency would pay, and I was good. There were entire weeks or longer spans without work, but that was actually rare, and even so, it followed just after densely packed 'fat months', so no disaster. I'm glad I hadn't entered the low rate spam market. I'd probably have had more clients, more work and so on but might also have got myself stuck with those rates. (Then again, some people just grab the referrals and increase their rates steadily on the basis of the acquired and documented experience.)

I also have standards, and to me, a decent rate is also a matter of self respect. I think this is crucial for my future business opportunities; a respectful approach to my own skills will greatly help business development.


Yup. Reminds me of something someone said once: if you want to have rich clients, be expensive. From what I've been able to gather, there seem to be fewer complications such as unjustified complaints (e.g. less than competent proofreading or reviewing) with the higher paying clients. Plus, yes, a respectful approach to your skills should help business development in general, not just for you but also for the entire profession. I've written an article about some current trends in our profession that are detrimental to our dignity, and a lack of self-respect in this profession is one of them. Translators generally seem not to value their profession much or have a wounded self-esteem, at least when it comes to actually functioning in the business world rather than whatever's said in classrooms and conference halls.

I'm just thinking of those who aren't that lucky — I bet there are many — and have to accept these rates. Who else than someone in need would do that?


Yes, I agree. It's also a pity that those in need sometimes don't realise the leverage they still have.

I don't believe people are working for peanuts just for experience,


That happens, actually, and is a popular start among the rookies, at least in my neck of the woods.

pleasure


Also.

or to beat the translation market down.


Well, no one would destroy the market just to destroy it.

As in any trade, it's only a matter of taking advantage of people in need.


It's more like sharky competition among translation agencies, a lot of which are operated by non-linguist businessmen who may be focused on a large turnover and low prices to take over market shares from the competition in a way more suited to a commodity market, or by linguists who aren't really business-savvy even if they try to be 'smart' (some agencies with shark practices really are linguist-owned).

Even though the market is supposedly growing, I still believe – judging by the symptoms – there are too many agencies, and it would be better if people to whom translation is basically a service or good like any other simply moved on to a different business sector instead of killing this one.


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tnieminen
Finland
Local time: 04:49
English to Finnish
Consistency of MT Aug 23, 2013

José Henrique Lamensdorf wrote:

While machine translation is pretty bad, it is thoroughly consistent. No software will update its parsing database while a translation is under way.



This is generally true for rule-based MT, but for statistical systems (which are most likely to be used these days), only a few adjacent words will affect the choice of the translation. So consistency is not guaranteed or even likely.

As for the actual subject of this thread, even though learning to translate worse is obviously impossible, it is possible to learn to adapt to different styles of translation and to separate real quality problems from stylistic preferences. Why should clients pay a premium for things which are only of interest to a small group of specialists?


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