Translators

Does Size Matter in a Translation Company?

Does Size Matter in a Translation Company? 2500 1667 Atomic Scribe

Here’s a question: how many times have you heard a company boast about their size? Can you recall, or is that number too high? It seems as though the biggest grocery store always claims to have the most food. The biggest sporting goods store must have the largest selection of tennis rackets in the world. And, without fail, the most well-known translation companies claim to have the highest number of translators, even numbering in the tens of thousands.

That sounds reassuring at first. With so many translators, surely your translation will be done in a timely fashion and of the highest quality, as there are so many workers to choose from. But is that really the case?

Personal and Professional

A large number of translators often means it’s impossible for an agency to know their translators one-on-one. The translators become a number, just one part of a mass e-mail blast that gets sent out when a project comes in. As such, that means the project manager can’t match up the perfect person for the job. If you don’t know where your translators’ strengths lie, how can you know if they are the best person for the project?

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Although some may suggest otherwise, there is always someone more apt for one project than another person. It could be a technical translation that requires specialized knowledge, or it could be a certain dialect or industry. It could be a poetry project that needs someone familiar with literary translations, or a medical conference with difficult terminology.

We all have our strengths and weaknesses, and translators are no different. Because of this, knowing your translators personally and matching their strengths to certain projects should be a consideration for all companies. That’s why we suggest taking time to select a translation partner and to learn about who you will potentially be working with. It’s a little effort that will go a long way in helping you achieve the most accurate translation possible.

4 Major Problems With the Translation Industry

4 Major Problems With the Translation Industry 2500 1667 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.”

I’ve copied that 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 their 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.

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. Don’t forget that.