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Dumping costs? What?!?

Dumping costs! Within the language industry, like any industry, there are also translators and language service providers that offer dumping prices. What are dumping prices? These are prices that are considered “unfair” to the competition because they falsely misrepresent current pricing, thus causing overall price pressure on the market along with false assumptions and expectations. It is my intention in this article to set things right by informing you what translation pricing entails. Said in short, it is by no means wrong to work with an agency offering cheap prices, you just have to be aware of what you are buying and what is realistic.

To start, let’s examine why companies look for the cheapest of the cheap.

Along with it being a sign of the times to increase quality and productivity and lower costs, the effort behind translation work is often misjudged. Furthermore, texts in general tend to be associated with very little value due to the fact that there is much of it. Today’s world is getting more and more cluttered. Just look at how complex bureaucracy has become. A lot of documentation is required to be translated into several different languages as a matter of conformity and principle and not necessarily according to need. When I think of how many hours a translator sits on a single translation or how much a customer is required to pay for a “handbook of guideline structures” or “statistical project documentation” for example, just to have it archived somewhere, never to be touched again. It is only understandable that many companies nowadays are saying, “I don’t care who does it or how good it is, let’s just get it translated.” On the other side of the spectrum, translations are often the first line of communication to the outside world, do a lot for corporate image, and should therefore be treated with the utmost care.

In order to understand how dumping prices are achieved and what challenges are behind these methods, it is firstly important to define the roles required to perform translation services:

  1. The project manager acts as an interface between the customers and organizes the translation services. In some agencies this role is split between a salesman and a project manager in the background managing the project itself.
  2. The translator performs the translation and a quality control
  3. The proofreader(s) carry(ies) out quality assurance to ensure that nothing of bad quality gets sent to the customer.

Here are some of the techniques involved with achieving the “cheapest” translations possible:

Machine translations

Contrary to belief, language service providers rarely feed text into a machine and send it onto the customer. What does often happen entails the usage of an API (Application Programming Interface) to have segments of the translation translated automatically. These segments are proofread and, in the case of error, corrected.  This method can be effective in finishing a translation quickly at a reduced level of effort, although depending on the language combination, the topic at hand, and the ability of the “proofreader”, such translations are often riddled with errors. Part of this has to do with the speed at which the translation is done and carelessness on the one hand. On the other hand, the aspect of performing re-work has to be taken into account. When a good translator translates, he/she writes the text from scratch. If you have to go through correcting texts that have been automatically generated, the room for error is increased to a great extent.

In this connection, I would like to present a parallel in the construction industry. Would it be more efficient to build a house from scratch, making sure that it is of 100% from the foundation up, or would it be more efficient to have robots build the house with a lot of structural faults and try to fix it? Rework is always less efficient than doing something right the first time.

Cheap Translators

Due to the price pressure on the translations industry, some agencies have found a solution to this by finding translators located in low-cost countries. There are, for example, many Indian nationals that speak English very well for example asking a fraction of the cost a UK national would ask for. This strategy is associated with great challenges and risk. The challenge has to do with finding an experienced translator that works for these prices among so many people that are trying to do exactly the same. I would like to draw a parallel to English to Chinese translations. There are millions of Chinese translators that translate into this language combination and incredibly inexpensive prices can be found, but only a small fraction actual translate at a professional level. The good ones are normally not so inexpensive. Since numerous corrections are required in order to assure the best quality, this is one reason why the market rate of Chinese translations at agencies tends to be so high.

On another note, keep in mind that you do not need a license to be a translator. Anyone with a computer who possesses knowledge of a second language can be a translator, but that does not mean that they can translate well or at a very professional level. Unfortunately, a large percentage of the population has little understanding for this. This is why good agencies require documented proof of extensive experience, an education in translation and even ask for test translations. Even then, constant evaluation has to be made in order to maintain a continuously high level of quality.

Leaving out the proofreader

The easiest way for your supplier to save on translations costs is to leave out the proofreader or work with unqualified proofreaders, assuming that the translation has already been checked by the translator. In the case of common languages, to save costs, agencies often only have the target text read without looking at the source. This may ensure that the translated language has no errors in it, but this does not ensure that no mistranslations have been made.

All in all, it is not wrong to go with cheap translations, but it is important to know what you are getting yourself into and that there is a very high risk of errors being made. Let’s not forget the good old saying, “You get what you pay for.”

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