Transperfect's redefinition of proofreading

SWEATSHOP alert.... 
There was so much to say about the translation agency Transperfect that I decided to create a special entry for them. The complaints from translators seem endless. As a matter of fact, this company has very unethical methods and its business model seems to revolve solely on the systematic exploitation of its translators, who get paid under 4 cents per word. Their greediness knows no bounds and they have made a huge fortune finding ingenuous new ways to pay their contractors less. Even ProZ Blue Board cannot manage to salvage TP's reputation as the "likelihood of working again" earned by TransPerfect from its translators between January 2009 and the present is barely 24%. They even sometimes go as far as banning them. What on earth do they do to deserve such radical measures from such an unselective portal? It appears that in fact, they sometimes have trouble paying their translators.

Reading all these reports, one wonders who still wants to work for them and what benefit they get from it. And above all, who still hires this company but unaware clients who have been told translation is a cheap, quick and automated process? But even if they end up collapsing under the weight of their shame, Liz Elting and Phil Shawe wont die of starvation like their cheap labour, since their gross profits amounted to $221 millions just for 2009, and $300 millions in 2011.
TP is actually the 4th biggest language services company in the world, see this report on the profits made in 2011 : 

However, their generosity has limits.

A translator's comment : 
" The other day, a newbie PM called and said that another PM (one who has been around for a while) had suggested me for a "fun and exciting" job writing the narration (in English) for a 40-50 second advertisement ordered by a major U.S. retailer (not WalMart or K-Mart, but not an upscale place). The offered price? $25. Yup, US$25 for writing the script for a 40-50 second video.The PM told me that writing advertising copy was a new field for Transperfect. This was my reply: "Thank you for your inquiry, but $25 for copywriting for a large company like X is ridiculous. They'd pay an advertising agency much more. If TransPerfect is really accepting $25 plus company's overhead plus profit margin (=$100 or less?), then there is something seriously wrong with its account executives. In any case, I'm very busy this weekend." Like many of you, I received better rates from Transperfect in the 1990s.
" I just did some googling to find out what the going rate for advertising copywriters is. For free-lancers, the average is about $83 an hour. That's a useful bit of information to have."

Now one aspect of their recruitment really bugs me and it concerns the proofreading. For TP, proofreading is something else altogether. They just reinvented the concept.

When I started as a translator I filled in an application with them. But then they realised that I only had one year experience in the business. Therefore they offered me another  job : proofreader !!!! (Yes, the one who corrects the 10 years of experienced expert translator !) 
The test was incredibly long (but short in time), incredibly impossible and seemed only to focuse on spotting formatting problems. A real robot job. I failed by their standards.The pay was 15 euros per 1000 words but I had managed to obtain 20. But since, I have heard such back feedback on this company that I am glad I never worked for them. 
Big problem there: how do they expect a newby to correct the translation of an expert? What is he gonna do but add problems to the text or check the formatting? 

So yes, Transperfect finds its own solutions to cut down on costs and time. They just reinvented the concept of proofreading: it no longer implies the verification by a translator of a source doc and its translation, the research and checking of certain tricky terms in dictionaries and glossaries, or the reworking of clumsily built sentences, as we fools may have believed. None of that nonsense. For TP, proofreading is a highly speedy reading operation, purely visual, consisting of a "spot the difference" fun little game. A space missing, a double dot, a line out of the box? TP hires you to solve that. It doesn't really matter if you don't speak the source language, you won't have the time to check the original text anyway ! Just take the 5 euros an hour and agree on the officious principle that the faster you go, the more money you make, just keep quiet about the quality, nobody needs to know;).

The rate seems indeed to be approximately 5 euros per hour, provided you don't pay tax. Here is one of their offers (kindly forwarded to me by a fellow translator)

"Diana Chemparathy (she can be found on LinkedIn) offered me bi-lingual proofreading for US$ 0.01 per word, telling me that "2,000 words per hour is the norm in this industry"! The proofing/editing/reviewing (she never really clarified what she meant by "proofreading") was to be done over the weekend and came with very detailed formatting instructions as well as two separate style guides. The work was highly specialised and not to be undertaken lightly, as it consisted of pages of faxed medical case notes, pathology reports and culture results, some handwritten.Needless to say I turned the job down flat. The agency she works with/for is TransPerfect. I complained directly to their head office but never received a reply. Well done you for initiating this blog and list and thank you!"

Now this is seriously taking the pxxx. This person needs to be educated about her own job. She is is completely wrong and knows it. A translator can proofread maximum 1000 words per hour if the translation is top notch. Then, it depends on the technicity of the text, the deadline, etc. 
In any case, a translator should not accept less than 20 euros per 1000 words for proofreading, and should charge  according to the amount of errors and corrections they had to make. I charge a minimum, plus a certain amount per correction made. That is the only way to not undersell yourself. 
Another crucial point: poor quality translations should not be proofread, they should be retranslated from scratch, and there is a big difference in price. You should check the text before they send the PO, then make an offer (in hours) and if it took you longer, complain about the quality and ask for compensation for extra time. I always do this and it has always worked. 

Finally, I have no problem saying to project managers that a job is shoddy since I don't consider these people as my "fellow translators" but as incompetent amateurs. This may sound harsh but these people are damaging the profession and dragging it down. They obviously should be doing something else, which is anything but translation. I haven't proofread in a while and am far from missing this ungrateful activity. Someone is responsible for these nasty translations and it ends up being your job to save the day (and rescue the agency's reputation). 
Don't let this happen. Ask yourself : does this agency deserves to be saved or shall it pay for its avidity and loose their client? If you find a collaborator seriously incompetent, say it (and justify it!). They are probably taking the place of someone who is actually qualified but asking for a fair rate. There are always interesting returns after these complaints, such as "you're not the first one to complain", "that's a non professional's work", "one of the client's employee" and so on...
Very negative blogs solely focusing on them (lots to say):
Read more about Transperfect on LinkedIn
Read more on Transperfect on Ripoff report
Interesting article about Transperfect :


Michal Pober said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

We are currently awaiting confirmation of a very large job for Transperfect (we've previously done 3 or 4 small ones without any problems arising). After reading this we will be thinking again about accepting a large chunk of a 1000 page job.. sur TRANSPERFECT's redefinition of proofreading
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Translationethics said...

Sorry Michal for the glitch, I cancelled your comment by accident so I added it underneath. Thanks for posting ;)

Anonymous said...

I have worked for Transperfect for around three years now. In terms of making the payments and organization, they are fine. However, several months ago, they lowered their rates across the board, requiring constant negotiation. So, while it may not be pleasant, it is possible (and sometimes profitable) to negotiate the rates with them.

Anonymous said...

They have always paid me, but often paid LATE, meaning I have incurred numerous bank charges this year. I have always felt there was something wrong with their proofreading process and this confirms my suspicions... There are many things I could say about this agency but the main one is DON'T WORK WITH THEM!

Translationethics said...

I would like to add this blog which is compiling all the complaints up till 2010. This is terrifying, they should really be ashamed of themselves.

Mario Beer said...

Sorry for disturbing: they may really mean proofreading when they say "proofreading", i.e. making sure that spelling and format are right without touching the content. I suppose you are getting carried away by a general redefinition of proofreading (designed to devalue *editing*) and you mean editing, to be done by an expert, seasoned specialist.
[This said, I know of course that Transperfect also means editing when they say "proofreading" but that is not a good enough reason for torturing the language]

Translationethics said...

Mario, thanks for your comment! You are pointing out something v important that I forgot not mention in my post: it's crucial to know exactly what agencies mean by "proofreading", because it's different each time. Most of them mean checking both original and target for formal and semantic mistakes, because that is what is genuinely needed. And indeed I agree with you we should call the actual semantic work "editing". "Proofreading" then in your definition could be done by someone who only knows the target language.
As I said proofreading is not a usual activity for me, and I fell into the taxonomic trap myself. But I d be interested to know how other translators define the term, because I believe there are plenty of opinions (and that's the problem!)
What I do every now and then is called by the agency "checking and editing".
I think that expression represents exactly what the task entails, which should be the necessary step following the translation. What I find dishonest from TP is their suggesting that their translations are so "transperfect" that they only require proofreading (as in surface correction) without the need to to check if the actual translation work is accurate. That is hypocritical. They skip the essential step of checking, which takes time, and should be done by an expert translator. An insider's perspective would be great here.

Anonymous said...

A freelance friend of mine did a translation for Transperfect, who wrote back and said they were not paying about 60% of what they owed my friend due to 'mistakes' in the translation. We went through the document together and there was not a single genuine mistake - the 'mistakes' were either subjective changes to layout or cases where the rereader, obviously with less experience and no time spent on research, had reintroduced the 'obvious' mistakes that my friend had missed. In any case, I find this behaviour shocking.

Translationethics said...

Thanks for sharing; it is absolutely unacceptable. But if he or she proves that her work was undamaged they have no excuse to impose that discount. It's very important to defend yourself when a client treats you unfairly. Some will always try to blame you in order to save a bit of cash. That's what they learn in marketing schools. I had a similar problem once when a client tried to impose a discount on my translation on the grounds that the end client wasn't happy with it. They got an independant translator to check my translation and wanted to take off this extra spending from my pay!!! What was insane is that the independant consultant found absolutely nothing wrong with my work and even said it was very accurate. The odd thing is that he/she was an inhouse translator, so why should this cost anything to them? I refused categorically this discount and complained angrily. They did not insist, but they were "trying out their luck" on me.

Translationethics said...

Also here is what the employees do all day in order to bring money to the company (to con those stupid linguists is their job):

"Cons – a) We used to constantly lie to the linguists and sometimes to each other. Most "client reviews" are just proofreader's opinions. We used to tell linguists "the client has an issue", while the project was still in production. It's psychological terrorism through lies. Similar practices sometimes among employees. The management from America has established this malicious culture, it affected us all.

b) At Transperfect all linguists involved in a project may be paid less than half of a project's budget. I felt ashamed asking people for highly specialized work at such rates.
I had to use good linguists to secure a client (samples, glossaries etc), and promised them "a big project coming up", and then we would send the bulk of the work to the cheaper ones. To those that worked to get us the client, we would lie that "the client cancelled it".
Our promises worth nothing in this company, I felt I was not a trustworthy person.
Project managers are trained in methods to lower the linguists' rates, as if the linguist are fat cats (!). The "production metrics" for linguists are based on no scientific or empirical evidence whatsoever and are unrealistic. Cheaper linguists accept them and then we consider them responsible for the entire project.

Sales charges clients with "formatting", which is actually done for free by the linguists (!!!). Shameful, and not standard in the industry at all. In one case the linguist asked me for formatting fee, which we charged the client at 3x what the linguist asked me, and I had to refuse it."

Found on http://www.glassdoor.com/Reviews/TransPerfect-Translations-Reviews-E32824.htm

Anonymous said...

2000 words are the 'industry standard' now? Used to be 1500 just a while back. Interesting inflation.

Translationethics said...

For proofreading as in simple checking and correction of the target text : 1000 words per hour is normal.
Editing: less than that, from my own experience.
In fairness, each agency reinvents their own standards thinking freelancers will let them do so.

zu. said...

Well, although I generally agree with your opinion I have to go and defend the PMs at TransPerfect. Unlike you think they all have a Master's/Bachelor's in Translation and Interpreting and are fluent in several languages (at least those in Europe, I think the story for US branches is quite different). PMs in the European branches are normally people who has just finished their studies and cannot go straight into freelancing/translating because they do not have the connections to do so. I was a PM there for a couple of years and I can assure you PMs do not make the rules, actually quite often they leave because they do not agree with the company's policy and almost every day they work over 12 hours (unpaid)... The company is not only sucking linguist's blood but PM's blood too using the international crisis as an excuse while billing millions.

Mrs. Rehim said...

Hi, I've been working with TransPerfect for a couple of years now and I have to admit that I haven't suffered that much. As for payment, they pay me on regular basis according to my threshold and they always help me with any arising problem regarding my payments. I just hate the invoicing method which consumes time and effort, specially when u do many tasks for low POs and u have to do an invoice for each including all details. I hope the process was automated.

As to rates, I used to negotiate my rate to the one I prefer depending on text and urgency. However, lately, they seem to go for low rates not caring for quality. I'm facing a delema; either to lower my rate or lose many jobs.

Nevertheless, I like working with this company, and if I get angry I'm mad from the PM, not the company itself. Sometimes the PM is so cheep and offers an unacceptable rate, but some other times I meet very good PMs who appreciate quality.

The real thing that bugs me about that company is that with all those multinational PMs, I don't know to whom should I complain in case I have a problem with one of those cheep PMs.

Cuthbert Rattigan-Smythe said...

Interesting post, but I disagree with the 1,000 words an hour max for proofreading. As a translator and editor with 7 years in, I must say I think that's pretty slow. Maybe if the text was translated by a complete goon, perhaps, but 15,000 a day + is quite possible, more if you have trados.

mariod10 said...

From a linguist's point of view, I side with the Pro. I've been working for TPT for more than five years and all in all I'm very satisfied. The initial rates were fare (unlike so many other agencies), payment time (45 days) could be better, yet, it is acceptable. Communication with the PM's is usually good and considerate. I had a problem when they switched to the "bidding" method. Then of course my communication with the PM's was greatly limited, and it seemed like they are going for the lowest offers, compromising quality. However, I got used to it and they keep providing me quite a bit of work. This is, in my view, a win-win situation.

Charlotte Hardy said...

This is a very interesting read. I am a qualified translator and conference interpreter and have worked as a translator for TransPerfect for several years, along with other agencies such as Lingo24, and I actually find them ok. The PMs in the States try to negotiate rates fairly regularly, but I just stand my ground which they seem to respect. I also negotiate formatting fees, although generally tend to avoid all pdf work and stick to txmls for Wordfast. I do mostly work with the London office, however, and I find the PMs friendly, respectful and polite. I've never had any problems with payment at all either. Maybe I've been lucky? I will be vigilant having read this post and all the comments just to make sure I'm not being conned :-)