Tag Archives: translation alliance

A sad tale but true

24 Apr

IMG_3358 best cropped to 320 x 200 shortIn a recent moment of uncharacteristic whimsy, I responded to a ProZ enquiry by a private client, who needed a certified translation of various documents.
The client’s response to my offer of assistance opened follows:  Thank you for your response!  I am rather dismayed that, of the dozen or so responses that I received via proz, yours was the only one without English spelling, grammar and usage errors.  But I suppose I should look on the bright side: if I want to sign up with proz myself later, as a translator, the competition won’t be as tough as I had thought.  🙂

She is a native English speaker, and her compliment initially lifted my spirits; after all, most people are reluctant to compliment one’s professionalism, lest they be thought of as patronising.  It is a rare treat, therefore, and should be savoured.  On reflection, however, I understood that her words should not be regarded as a compliment about my skills and professionalism, however tempting that may be.

Her words should be understood for what they really are, i.e. a serious indictment of the so-called ‘translation industry’ that has sought to harness and exploit the skills of translation professionals through global sourcing mechanisms like ProZ et al.  This is sometimes erroneously, but more often than not fraudulently, referred to as an innovative expansion of the ‘free market’.  There is nothing new about this sort of opportunistic, exploitative and long-discredited c[r]apitalism, of course, and it is not going to be abandoned in favour of more ethical but less profitable alternatives any time soon.

It would be easy to dismiss it as a minor incident of little consequence, but I have come across disappointed, and sometimes despairing, clients before; so I think it is worthwhile to have a closer look at the details and what they imply:

1) The client clearly indicated that she needed Dutch translated into English and that she preferred a native speaker of the target language.  If we lived in a rational world, having to spell out the latter requirement would be regarded as redundant, but it seems we don’t.
Why then would all responses, bar mine, be from people who are either not fluent in English, or worse, who are not very articulate if they are native speakers of English?

2) She also asked for a certified translation.  Am I to assume that all the responses came from ‘accredited’ professionals?  Or did those who responded believe they would be able to ‘fake’ it; or worse, believed they could get an ‘accredited’ translator to do it for even less than what they quoted?

Are we seeing the beginning of the end of the ‘free market’ global sourcing model for translations?  Are those who are qualified to handle a translation like this no longer responding to the ‘offerings/opportunities’ on ProZ et al?  Did our professional colleagues wake up to the idea that depriving predatory language services brokers/agencies of their expertise, though perhaps counter-intuitive, is the obvious way to improve their own professional status and career?

In view of the warm feelings of appreciation the client engendered in me, I felt I owed her a warning about entering the translation profession on the basis of assumptions derived from the responses she received via a blind auction site like ProZ.  I pointed out to her that linguistics, professional competence, knowledge or expertise, are not necessarily the deciding factors for an ‘industry’ that uses ‘global sourcing’ to hire casual or freelance translators.

What really saddens me about this, is that yet another person will talk about her very ordinary experience, without clearly understanding and differentiating between the translation  ‘industry’ and the translation ‘profession’.

It is mostly our own fault.  Many among our colleagues appear unable or unwilling to decide whether they are free-lancers (casual, contract workers), run a small business (selling services for profit), or whether they are self-employed professionals (in private practice).  Until we decide among ourselves who and/or what we are, we will not convince anyone else.
As a consequence, we will have the devil of a job protecting and advancing our personal, professional interests and long-term careers.

When the current, downward spiral hits bottom and the opportunistic part of the ‘industry’ hits the wall, the ‘profession’ will both gain and lose.  We will, of course, be blamed by the very entrepreneurs/opportunists responsible for the cause the collapse; after all, they are not likely to blame themselves for the poor quality of the translations they have sold and subsequently procured from dubious sources, are they?

Hopefully though, the end clients will learn that having a close and enduring relationship with a professional translator delivers better quality at the same if not lower cost.  The critical factor in this, is whether the end client understands the difference between an intermediary sourcing the cheapest possible translation through the internet, and a well-established, accredited, professional translator.  Even more importantly, whether a client will be able to locate and identify a professional translator.  If not, the client will choose an agency to ‘find the translator’ (read: handle the translation), and we will be right back where we started.

There are a number of solutions, but until everybody agrees on what the problem is, no solution will be seriously considered or accepted.  This is where my innate optimism takes a bit of a beating.  Discussions among translators suggest that every 12 of them have 13 or more different opinions on whether translators are free-lancers (i.e. casual employees hired by agencies), self-employed professionals, or business owners/vendors of translation services.  Few of the opinions demonstrate any knowledge or understanding of the differences.  Yet, it is the thorough understanding of these differences that determines the strategies that are likely to succeed and/or fail.



08 Internal audit – our strengths

22 May

IMG_3358 best cropped to 320 x 200 shortWe are now into the home straight, the place where we start dealing with solutions and strategies.  But before we get to that, we need to complete the internal audit and identify our strengths.  When it comes to languages and translation, there are none so confident as translators!  However, when it comes to talking about being successful commercially, many among us start looking uneasy, nervous and confused.

Let’s hope we can change that.  One of the problems I encountered when running workshops on technical commercial issues associated with being a free-lance or independent professional, is that there is great variation in the levels of knowledge and understanding between individual translators.  Some are way up there and even do their own accounting, whereas others have only the vaguest of ideas about the basics.

Whilst a major drawback for the latter on an individual level; and probably one reason why some qualified professional translators continue to work for agencies offering a pittance; the enormous variety of backgrounds, knowledge and experience available within the profession as a whole, can be an enormous resource.  Having said that, I have also noticed that we are not very good at marshalling this resource.  Long periods of working alone, seems to reduce confidence of many who could make an enormous contribution to the profession.

Perhaps the fear of criticism, as opposed to the confidence born of the ignorance on the part of those who are less than properly qualified, may discourage those who have a positive contribution to make.  Be that as it may, I know from experience that there is a great deal of knowledge and talent among professional translators.  Here are some of the positives that I am aware of an may be able to be used to our common advantage:

  1. Most professional translators have (and must have in my view) at least a Bachelor degree or equivalent from a reputable university, either in translating or any other discipline, together with more than 5 years of experience.  Many, like myself, have a Master’s degree , and I know there are quite a number among us who have a PhD.
    So we are not going to be short of intelligence or knowledge if we are prepared to work together to achieve our objectives;
  2. Having a tertiary education is not the ‘be all and end all’, of course, but it will draw a clear line in the sand that every lay person (read: potential client) understands, and it will clearly differentiate us from a great many dubious entrants into the sector, attracted by agencies and auction sites like ProZ et al;
  3. Also like myself, many of us have come to the translation profession later in life, after a career in either a different or a related field, and can contribute practical knowledge of experience where required;
  4. Almost all of us are very comfortable with computers, software and the internet, and we are very connected with all parts of the world and each other.  I would be surprised if we cannot do most of what needs to be done to restore our profession to a place that fulfils our professional aspirations without much outside help;
  5. We are competent communicators and know how to put together a promotional page or brochure when we need one.  We understand and know how to research and explain concepts;
  6. Since we are self-employed, we have the freedom to conduct our professional life as we see fit, at least within the boundaries of what is ethically acceptable and professionally responsible.  We do not have to sell it to any superiors, we can just go ahead and do it;

Now, I did not say that it is going to be easy, so when we start working on objectives and strategies, we must bear all the foregoing in mind

Moreover, few of us, myself included, are going to make an enormous effort for the ‘greater good’ if every Dick, Tom and Harry is going to be able to just walk in and take advantage of it; or worse, attack it because of ignorance or because of a vested interest in seeing us fail.
We cannot and must not allow any infiltration by those outside the profession.  The reasons will be discussed in confidence later.

It is clear therefore, that before we start developing short and long-term objectives and the strategies for achieving them, we must close the doors, post a bouncer, and only admit those who qualify.  This is where the rubber hits the road.

My suggestion is that we start simply, with an internet site exclusively for the listing of qualified (later certified), experienced professional translators, who are able to handle projects competently and professionally by themselves.  It must not be used for any other purpose than to provide a platform for potential clients to find and choose a suitable professional in the knowledge that he or she will be in good hands.  The site should have no commercial purpose, and given enough participants, individual costs should be minimal.

Each page should be uniform and simple, providing basic information such as a head shot (photograph rather than a bullet) to make it more personal, and the bare essentials to determine whether the professional concerned specialises in the languages and specialisations that fit a potential client’s needs.  As I have said elsewhere, there should be no e-mail address or other contact details, because they will be stripped out and used by agencies and advertisers to bulk mail.
That would put us back to square one, blind auctions of agency jobs!

The site should only provide a link to the personal URL of the individual chosen.  The potential client can take it from there, in the knowledge that he or she will be dealing with a ‘professional’. In doing it this way, we will be building a database of professional colleagues in a closed environment, and we can build our objectives and strategies amongst ourselves as we go forward, without having others looking over our shoulders.  Moreover, we will start getting the benefits from the site whilst we build it and develop the strategies to promote it.

When, individuals wish to link up with colleagues down the road, to form partnerships, groups or other arrangements to strengthen their commercial success, there will be a ready supply of vetted colleagues to choose from.  There will also be the opportunity of selecting colleagues for ad hoc collaboration, such as proof reading or getting a second opinion, etc.

Paradoxically, the one thing that is likely to complicate things is languages.  If we do not work in cohorts of, say English speakers, Spanish speakers, and perhaps others down the track, it is going to be very difficult to create order and unity to move forward.

However, before we can do anything, we must decide the requirements for being admitted to the profession (and the group).  We cannot afford to have anyone listed who is unable to deliver a project within his or her area of expertise, in a professional manner, meeting the standards that we consider desirable.  We will be condemned immediately and ‘en masse’, if one of us lets the side down, particularly as we start to promote the site.

It seems to me therefore that we are going to need a simple code of conduct that we can start out with, simply outlining the how to respond to an enquiry, how to cost and price the service requested, how and what to deliver and how to invoice, for example.

I have been working on such a code for a while, more on that after we closed the door to outsiders.  I look forward to hearing from you whether you are happy to proceed on this basis, or whether you propose an alternative.

More in 09

For more details about my professional profile, go to: www.doubledutch.com.au