Translation Industry

A Decade in Review: The Language Services Industry and the 2010s

A Decade in Review: The Language Services Industry and the 2010s 2560 1707 Atomic Scribe

Welcome to 2020! To celebrate, let’s looks back on how the 2010s changed the language services industry, for the better and worse.

The Rise of Machine Translation and Transcription

One of the biggest impacts on the language services industry in the 2010s was the growing use and accuracy of machine-generated transcriptions and translations. Companies, freelancers, and consumers can use software (like Google Translate) for free or very cheap to get language services, and many companies are developing their own software. Even here at Atomic Scribe we’ve introduced an automatic transcription option for $1/audio minute that combines human quality with machine efficiency.

The good news is that this is helping speed up services, and a lot of software is widely accessible. The bad news is that the accuracy for most files and texts is nowhere near 100%, which can especially be worrisome if the software is used on medical records, legal documents, or other files that need to be correct. It’s also hard for software to offer nuance and localization instead of a direct translation of content, which can cause problems (like in the case of Norway’s Olympic team mistakenly ordering 15,000 eggs).

So what can we expect next? The use of such services will surely rise, though some fear that computers will erase humans from the equation entirely in this service sector. Fortunately, the ability for machines to be 100% accurate on every transcription and translation is far from a reality, as humans are still needed to ensure accuracy. But we can leverage the positives of this software to help human workers perform better and more efficiently.

Increased Outsourcing

Outsourcing for transcription and translation definitely grew in the 2010s. However, where it grew to is troubling to some.

With the internet making communication so easy, globalization is taking hold in the language services industry as well. While before companies would outsource to local U.S.-based companies, now many are finding much cheaper alternatives in countries like India and the Philippines. Some U.S. companies are also using non-American labor that they pay peanuts to avoid having to pay Americans a living wage. While that’s great for a company’s bottom line, U.S. workers and service accuracy is suffering.

Take Rev, a popular company in the industry that was recently exposed for their poor pay and treatment of workers. While this allows them to charge little for their services, it also means their quality is far below Atomic Scribe’s, and that their workers have little incentive to do proper work. Unfortunately, the lowering of rates was a common theme throughout the decade, but it was promising to see more speak out about workers’ rights.

“We suggest building a relationship with a business or freelancer that you get to know, can hold accountable for their work, and that you trust.”

“We suggest building a relationship with a business or freelancer that you get to know, can hold accountable for their work, and that you trust.”

Loss of Quality Control

The problem with outsourcing on the internet is that it requires a great deal of trust. If you pay a company to translate an English advertisement into Korean, you need to trust that they will provide you a translation that is both accurate and localized. So how do you know it is correct if you don’t speak Korean and have no means to double check the work?

That should be a question we all have in mind in the 2020s, because the standards for quality control are diminishing. While now the cheapest option is usually seen as the best, that means there is likely no or little money spent on a second editor or translator checking the accuracy of a translation.

Because of this, we suggest building a relationship with a business or freelancer that you get to know, can hold accountable for their work, and that you trust. A nameless person behind a huge company that is paid very little has no incentive to provide you great work. But someone you trust and can speak with and ask questions about their work will.

Easier Access to Services

So far everything we have reviewed has had both positives and negatives. However, we will always celebrate how the 2010s ushered in a new wave of accessibility for those seeking translation and transcription services.

For example, while there is still work to do, YouTube provided an option of captions on their videos. This has helped Deaf and hard-of-hearing people enjoy more videos, and it makes translating of content easier. Google Translate has also been successful at helping people with basic translations or has been used by travelers to foreign countries. This helps with communication and accessibility worldwide.

As we’ve said, accuracy is still an issue. But the increased normalization and importance of accessibility is helping people worldwide, and we hope this trend will grow exponentially in the 2020s.

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.