Why LSPs Still Hire Lousy Translators

Post date: 20-May-2011 15:34:17

It is often said that translators do not make good business people, and that translation companies should be managed and administered by individuals from other industries. Whilst I believe this may hold true if you focus solely on short-term profits, such a statement couldn’t be more wrong when it comes to quality and long-term growth.

As I have mentioned to countless translation buyers throughout my career, trust is fundamental in our industry. I am a professional, and I don’t want to be just an easily replaceable nut or bolt in the middle of a huge, inefficient machine.

For example, upon starting a new project, I trust that my client will abide by the payment terms we have agreed upon. But even more important is to work for clients or companies who trust I am the best person to provide a solution to their translation and localisation needs.

However, trust must not be blind. Clear-sighted trust cannot exist unless you have the means to assess who's trustable and who's not. And that's not possible unless you're an industry insider, unless you've been there and done that as a translator.

Some people might wonder why lousy translators still get work. It's simple: they are given work by somebody unable to evaluate their quality. By the way, I’m not saying that the people behind translation agencies have to speak all languages in the world in order to evaluate writing quality. However, some small steps can go a long way, such as interviewing translators, looking for references, checking credentials, doing the whole thing. Nothing could be worse than trusting statistical methods, hiring several cheap translators and then hoping that cross-review between them will produce anything good.

If you’re a translation company owner and tell me that vetting each translator individually is not possible in mega projects, I’ll reply that yes, it is possible. But perhaps you’ll need more linguistically qualified people at management positions. And of course, you must not be excessively thrifty when it comes to the heart of your business. Unless you hire well and pay well, you're not going to get quality work.

The crux of the matter

It seems to me that some outsiders running translation companies really think that the work translators perform is just a tiny part of the whole process known as, well… translation!

Automation has always been a buzzword when it comes to most industries, and it has long penetrated the translation business as well – some highly automated and customised solutions offered by software companies are based on the premise that you just need to add the source on one side, then have it translated, and the target will come out on the other end.

Amazing, isn’t it? You ‘just’ need to have the document translated. It’s clear that some people have little clue of what translation is – an intricate and complicated process that involves different skills and efforts and is conducted by a highly educated, competent and ethical linguist. TM and CM systems are there just to streamline translation and localisation work, but they cannot be seen as more important than translation itself.

Fortunately, I've noticed that many LSPs have recently changed their business models and recruitment processes. They have started hiring more specialists to work either in-house or remotely in order to provide real quality assurance. And they’re doing that not only to make unverifiable claims aiming at attracting potential investors willing to invest big bucks in an acquisition, but mainly to achieve the ultimate goal of any service provider, which is to drive customer satisfaction and grow organically. You could say there still a glimpse of hope.