Machine Translation

Good Translation Isn’t Free

Good Translation Isn’t Free 2500 1667 Atomic Scribe

There are so many different ways to translate things nowadays. You can hire a company who employs linguists, like Atomic Scribe. You can hire a freelancer you aren’t personally acquainted with off the Internet. But probably the most common method today is using free sites, such as Google Translate, to have a machine translate your text and bypass paying an actual human.

The truth is there are a lot of instances when not paying is the best option. Want an article headline translated without needing much accuracy? Google Translate is your best bet. But anything more than that can cause major problems.

In 2014, the Irish government was in hot water for translating a web site commemorating the 1916 Easter Rebellion using Google Translate. The results were “nonsensical,” readers claimed. Though the government said it was a mistake and the text was meant to be replaced by a real translation, the incident shows how far the gulf still is today between human and machine translation.

Why It’s Worth It

Even human translation is fallible. There are so many different ways to translate a single word—let alone a full text—that it can be difficult to figure out the best way to do it.

That’s why Atomic Scribe uses two linguists for every project. This extra step ensures every word is translated and proofed by two native speakers who have created the best translation possible. But they also look at the project as a whole so that context, tone and meaning are consistent with the client’s vision. That’s something machine translation can’t do, and it’s something lowly paid translators are not willing to do if they aren’t paid fairly or at all.

Communication is imperative in every situation in life. Whether you’re a business, an author, a journalist, or just one person, we all need to be able to connect and understand others and be understood in return. Paying for high-quality translation services ensures that happens, without looking foolish or being misunderstood.

4 Major Problems With the Translation Industry

4 Major Problems With the Translation Industry 5988 4000 Atomic Scribe

The translation industry is booming. There are large companies bringing in millions of dollars in profit each year. Some of those companies claim to have over 10,000 translators available to help clients. Most importantly, there are more ways than ever for a potential client to get what they need, and they have many translation agencies, apps and freelancers to choose from. But are those in need of translation really getting the best service?

Let’s look at some problems that are currently plaguing the industry as a whole, and then at how some are doing things right.

1. Translators Aren’t Being Properly Vetted

On Glassdoor, a site where employees can post reviews of their employer, someone wrote on one of the biggest companies in the industry:

“They lie to clients that their documents will be handled internally, while all are sent to unverified translators in other countries. Anyone can work for [redacted] if they have a computer and pass an easy 300 word test.”

That was copied word for word because it holds such truth for how a lot of agencies in this industry are run. It’s a good business model: get cheap labor from another country (or even within their own country), charge the client 200% more than what you paid the translator, and then pray the poorly-paid translator did a good enough job that the client won’t complain.

Almost all agencies use independent contractors and not employees. That means many agencies only speak to the translator through email, where it’s much easier to disguise fluency in languages, credentials and even if you’re the person you’re claiming to be. It’s a slippery slope, which is why a thorough vetting process needs to be in place.

2. Translators Are Barely Being Paid

There is a great group on LinkedIn with over 7,000 members where translators share ridiculous offers they receive as a warning to others. Unfortunately, offers seem to be getting lower and lower with each passing day.

It’s true that you get what you pay for, but most clients don’t realize how little some translators are being paid because they only work with the agency, who charge a high price to the client and keep most of the fee for themselves. But if the translator isn’t being paid a fair wage, then what incentive do they have to turn in a high-quality translation? If the agency breaks their contract due to poor quality (if they even catch it), they can simply go get paid peanuts elsewhere.

3. There Are Few Quality Standards

An agency likely doesn’t have someone on staff that can proofread a translation from English to Burmese or what have you. Because agencies use independent contractors, they have to put a huge amount of faith and trust in the translators they work with.  And if their translator is being poorly paid, again, what incentive does that translator or proofreader have to spend hours slaving away to make a translation perfect?

They don’t, and who can blame them? So with no way to correctly assess quality and little knowledge about who the translator even is, that means an agency’s knowledge of whether a translation is acceptable or not could be just guesswork. But a lot of clients don’t have a way to question the translation because they’re not fluent in the language pair, and it would be too costly to ask an independent assessor to look over the completed translation. So they put faith in their agency, because what else can they do?

4. A New World: Machine Translation

We’ve said it multiple times: sometimes Google Translate is truly all you need. It is absolutely nowhere near perfect, but it can work if you need a quick, low-quality translation. But lately a new trend in the industry is an agency using machine translation on a piece and then asking a translator to proofread it for a very low fee.

This is probably the future of the industry. As machines become more adept at language services, we’re going to have to change how we translate. But, at the moment, machines aren’t capable of 100% accuracy on anything that’s beyond simple and short, which only makes up a minority of projects currently. We still need capable translators that can edit machine translation, and they need to be compensated fairly. Together machines and humans can help the industry… but don’t forget the human part of that equation.

“A bigger company doesn’t always mean a bigger commitment to quality.”

“Just like in every other industry, you get what you pay for.”

Maybe some of you will read this and say, “So what?” Maybe for some translations it really is okay if the quality is mediocre at best. But it’s not okay what many of the translators in this industry are being paid. And it’s not okay that non-vetted translators are working on legal documents, doctors’ reports, government files, and more with limited knowledge. It’s not okay that the quality of translations is going unchecked.

Here’s some good news: a lot of agencies actually do great work. They know their translators personally and have thoroughly tested them, checked their credentials, and have proper proofreaders checking their work. So don’t despair! Just do some research on who you’re working with and follow these tips:

1. Shop Around

Don’t just go for the lowest price. Thoroughly research the company you’re looking at. Look at how their workers rate them on places like Glassdoor or translator forums. Look at their job postings and see what they require from translators. A bigger company doesn’t always mean a bigger commitment to quality.

Also, there are a lot of freelance translators available who don’t work with agencies, which might be better for your project if it’s small or if you work better directly with a translator. It takes more time to find a good match, but it could be a great option for some.

2. Don’t Expect Great Work for Free

Just like in every other industry, you get what you pay for. It’s normal to want things for free, but translators work extremely hard. They’re providing a specialized service that most people can’t do or don’t have the time to do. They need to be paid a fair wage and deserve most of the pay from the client. If you’re paying an agency a few pennies per word, just imagine how little the translator is actually getting paid.

3. It’s Okay If an Agency Tells You No

The other day we had someone email us who wanted to translate a book into Russian from English. While it sounded like an amazing project, we referred them to a small translation agency that specializes in literary translations and where the owners themselves do great Russian translations personally.

The truth is we could have done it. We have Russian translators. But that’s not their area of expertise, and literary translation needs to be done by specialized translators. It requires nuance, passion, knowledge, and a whole other host of things to make the cost of translating worth it. So it’s okay if you and agency aren’t a good fit. Just make sure you find this out before you pay them!

This industry isn’t cheap, but it’s worth it when done correctly.