Are Bad Translators Driving Out Good Translators?

Are Bad Translators Driving Out Good Translators?

this is a guest post written by our partner company Interpreters and Translators, Inc. from Manchester, Connecticut USA

Paul Sulzberger on his blog, The Translation Business, recently asked whether bad translators are driving out good translators. Paul’s posting tackles the issue of how the need for translation is growing steeply but the fees translators earn are decreasing. The posting is an interview with a 30 year veteran of the industry, Luigi Muzii who voices some strong opinions that we thought bear repeating.

Damaging: Buying Translation Services Based On Price

Luigi says bad translators drive out the good ones because of structural problems within the translation industry. The most damaging problem is that the main parameter in selling/buying translation is price–and usually price alone.

“Rather than looking to understand and meet their customers’ real needs, language service providers find themselves trapped in a downward spiral of destructive price competition,” Luigi says.

“The effects are passed down the line affecting all players in the industry,” Luigi continues. “The damage is made worse when professional translation services are auctioned via portals like ProZ and TranslatorsCafe. Projects are offered to a large, undifferentiated mass of translators and those who offer the lowest bids generally win the tender and get the work.”

The Best Translators Are Marginalized

To survive and withstand price competition in the market, resellers who are unable to improve or streamline their processes find they have no choice but to put pressure on the rates they pay to translators. This approach marginalizes the best translators. The best translators become increasingly unwilling to work for poorer and poorer rewards and eventually they’re squeezed out of the market. Does this sound accurate to you?


More And More Translation But Less And Less Qualified Translators?

According to Luigi, this process is hurting both the customer and the middlemen who perpetuate this obsolete system. The unprecedented growth in demand for translation will lead to a chronic shortfall of qualified language specialists. The gap between the lower and the higher end of the translation labor market is widening and the process will inevitably continue. So, if Luigi’s  scenario proves right, we’ll have more and more translation by less and less qualified translators.


Translator Productivity Must Increase

The content explosion caused by the digital age and the Internet has caused the demand for translation to increase steadily over the last three decades. There’s no doubt that increase will continue.  Luigi says content is doubling every year and this growth is outstripping the rate at which translators are entering the profession. And it takes many years to master all the skills of  professional translation. The only way to handle this growth in content is by increasing translators’ productivity, but the translation industry remains a relatively low-tech industry.

With machine translation and other advances, translation is rapidly shifting online. And the costs associated with the online economy are trending toward zero at a very fast pace. Luigi sees the prevailing model as free translation for basic online services and premium charges for advanced translation or special features.

How will you do in this translation future? Luigi thinks the interpretation and translation winners will be those who can leverage their specialist linguistic skills by increasing their productivity with advances in technology.

Do you agree or disagree with Luigi Muzii’s assessment? Tell us why.

5 replies
  1. Francois Rossi
    Francois Rossi says:

    Alas, this article rings so true! My professional fees today are the same as they were in 2002, over 10 years ago. And I have stopped counting the emails I get from people who think they’re doing you a favour by proposing jobs paid less than $0.05 a word.
    I am getting seriously fed up with this profession, to the point I am considering doing something else. If I want to earn bar wages, I may as well work being a bar!

  2. Jose MPM
    Jose MPM says:

    I agree on most points but not so sure on the last one. Mostly because, no matter how good the automatic translators become, the human translator is always going to have to go through the whole text to see if mistakes were made. This leads to the goal of making quick automatic translations followed by a quick proofread, and that’s where it goes south for me. A quick proofread is a sure-fire way to leave mistakes. Not big mistakes, but the sort of small mistakes like a small misspelling that the built-in spell check won’t detect and our eye won’t either if we’re not paying attention.

  3. Louis Vorstermans
    Louis Vorstermans says:

    Like many before them, Luigi and Paul are confusing the ‘translation industry’ with the ‘translation profession’. The Internet today also provides any amount of medical advice for a given symptom, and legal advice for almost any situation. Almost everyone of my colleagues does his or her own accounting using sophisticated accounting software. Yet, my doctor, solicitor and accountant are doing very well and are not the least bit worried about the future. The ‘industry’ has every reason to be worried, because they are going out of business by driving down translation prices, which in turn is driving down the quality they are able to provide as professional translators stop accepting assignments from them. As the middlemen fail, many of the para-professional translators will lose money and their only avenue for obtaining work. The qualified professionals, on the other hand, will ultimately benefit from the shake-out that is approaching, provided they continue to operate as professionals, rather than allow themselves to be absorbed into the ‘industry’.

  4. Slava Borisov
    Slava Borisov says:

    Do you think that perhaps the “translation market” is splitting into two – quality-sensitive clients working with translators directly and the “we-do-everything” (and-outsource-to-anyone) agencies, competing only on price?


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.