Guest post : Low Paying Agencies by S. Caller

Guest post, July 22d, 2014

Low Paying Agencies – bad for translators, even worse for their clients

by Steven Caller

The website you are currently browsing, aptly named Translation Ethics, promotes the fair pay of translators and other ethical considerations in the translation industry. As an owner of a translation company myself, I am only too aware of the stiff competition we face on a daily basis from translation firms claiming to offer a similar service to ours for a fraction of the price. If you thought this practice was bad for low-paid translators then you'd be right; and it's no better for their clients either.

When I refer to low-paid translators, I am of course talking about those that have the necessary qualifications but still find themselves over-exploited by greedy firms seeking to push down prices. I am fully aware that many firms, even ones you may have considered respectable, like to select under-qualified translators and pay them low rates. A translator must have a language degree as a minimum and be a proficient user of their native language; a professional translator should only ever translate into their native tongue. You should also have been asked to show a scan of your degree certificate or had your qualifications verified by your awarding institution.

Low pay, high output
So how can one firm undercut another by so much and why should clients care about how much an agency pays its translators when they're getting such a “good” deal? The truth of the matter is that even a professional translator can be pushed into rushing or performing at less than their best when asked to work for a low rate per word. The equation is incredibly simple: lower price per word equals more words per hour in order to maintain an acceptable hourly wage. This in turn equates to lower diligence and poorer quality work. When working for various agencies, I have seen evidence of machine translations being passed off as the work of a human, possibly by translators that have been pushed into translating too many words for too low a price. That brings me on to the second part of this equation: the words translated per hour. In many instances, an agency sets a target or expectation that they wish their translators to achieve on a daily basis which is, of course, entirely unreasonable.

I can imagine many translators reading this post and nodding their head in agreement or shared experience, however I would also like to leave an impression on those clients that pay for budget translations. The quality produced under such circumstances is simply unacceptable. The majority of professional translators will tell you that they have been asked to perform a translation for a client who has already had the same document translated, only to a very low standard. In essence, if you opt for a budget translation, you are not only financing the poor treatment and low payment of translators, but also wasting your money. I hasten to add that many translation clients only realise that they have been separated from their money in exchange for a poor service once they receive complaints from their own clients struggling to understand the translation produced.

What strikes me as simply absurd, is the fact that many large firms happily spend many thousands of pounds on product development and marketing materials yet seem to tighten the purse strings when looking for translation services. The translation community can sincerely hope that the new EU legislation on product documentation will sting a few of these firms.

How translation should be done
So what should you expect from a translation agency in order to perform an acceptable translation and how much should you expect to pay? Firstly, they will assign a project manager to each client personally who is qualified in the languages involved and capable of performing quality control. You should expect to pay at least £0.10 per source word for translation and this price should include monolingual proofreading and quality control. You should also expect to pay an additional 50% of this price if you require the translation to be reviewed by a second qualified translator. This price accurately represents all of the work an agency must carry out in order to provide a professional translation and pay their translators accordingly. If you are paying less than £0.08 per source word, the agency will be working at a tight squeeze and may be skipping important tasks. Anything less than this is likely to involve underpayment, or worse, non-payment.

Low prices, even lower quality
So there you have it. If you opt for a budget translation option, you may be funding the underpayment of highly-qualified professionals as well as sabotaging your public image. Either way, low-cost translation simply isn't worth the pennies you pay for it.

Moreover, the thought that large and seemingly reputable companies are contributing to the unfair treatment and low payment of highly-qualified professionals should be of deep concern to us all. In this light, I commend the efforts made by the Translation Ethics website and all those that have contributed to its blacklist. By bringing the issues represented by this website to the attention of those large firms seeking to cut costs regardless of the consequences, we can collectively ensure that their reputation will be damaged by their involvement in such practices, and rightfully so!

This post has been contributed by Steven Caller who is Managing Director at Verto Languages. Our policy of treating our translators with respect and paying them a reasonable rate is part of our promise to clients and is a contributing factor in the quality of our work. 


1 comment:

Unknown said...

Great post Steven. Let's all contribute to stop these unhealthy practices. I am doing my part by explaining to small boutique agencies and freelance translators how to participate in EU tendering procedures. I will do this in English on ProZ on September 30th.