Why are local translators better than overseas translators?

Don’t think that discount pricing for overseas translations will save you time or money – chances are good that using outsourced translation services means auto-generated work that must be redone by professional translators to be useable.

When it comes to translation services, you can’t put a price on getting your information out to your audience with quality and reliability. When you put your content in the hands of translators, it’s essential to know you can trust them with your messaging – and that means local, professional translators who follow an established system with the proper credentials.

A Translation Outsourcing Case Study

Here’s a story about a recent client experience.

A client called Nathan sent a message asking us if we could translate 30,000 words into Spanish and French within 2 weeks. The task was fairly simple and the deadline was easy to achieve for a professional translator, and we knew we would be able to deliver a quality translation with a good outcome.

Nathan was looking for translations that would be deployed globally, from Latin America and the US to Spain, France and the rest of the EU. We were happy to assure him that our translations would be appropriate for all audiences and at a very high level of quality when it came to readability and communication. Despite our low rate, we would use professional, local translators who spoke his required languages as their first language.

Determining pricing for a client quote

Usually, determining the price of translation services must take into account many factors, including:

  • Restricting our talent pool to experienced, professional translators with the target language as their native language
  • Ensuring all our translators have the proper credentials, certifications, and years of appropriate education and training
  • Implementation of our proprietary, established quality process, including second-party reviews
  • Additional team members including project managers and customer service representatives, to ensure smooth and timely completion of the project
  • Matching each project to a translator with appropriate industry awareness and experience, and sensitivity to the target audience

This last point is crucial when it comes to corporate communications that will be deployed all over the world. Cultural values around the globe vary greatly; we are dealing with a highly sensitive market with regard to human rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ and minority rights, inclusion and values, and countries and cultures are at greatly varying levels of acceptance. Hiring a translator who lives in a place where those values and ideas are vital and applied consistently is critical to avoid business mistakes and make sure you protect your company brand, especially for marketing, legal and multimedia corporate communications.

As this was the first time Nathan and his company were contacting us, we gave him an introductory low rate so they could try out our services. We delivered our quote with confidence.

Losing the bid

The response to our quote came quickly. We had not been chosen as the translation company for the project despite offering prices that were lower than what is the norm for the North American market. I was very surprised. No other high-quality company could have offered the job at such a low profit rate than ours.

As a favour, I asked Nathan to send me the estimates that he received so we could have some feedback and learn about this experience to be able to successfully compete in the next bidding process.

I was truly shocked when I saw the actual estimates that Nathan had received from two companies. The prices were indeed lower than ours, despite our special discount.

But that was definitely not the end of the story.

Lower prices mean lower quality

The difference between the services provided was also startling. I took the time to analyze their offers, their websites, services, insurance policies, the overall quality of their business, etc.

One of the competitors had no domain in their e-mail; they were using a Hotmail account as their contact info; they did not have professional insurance for « error and omissions »; their website looking like an early 2003 website and the links did not work. The other also had a poor description of their services with free stock photos, prices lower than the average rate of a professional freelance translator, and a deadline 4 times longer than what we were offering.

I was not ready to start a battle to win this bid. I would simply not compete for this client.

Further research showed that one of the companies outsources Spanish translation in two different countries in South America. In both cases, the countries have a devastated economy where they often pay 1 or 2 cents per word to people that translate under poor management quality, people that at times are exploited and forced to achieve a certain quota despite poor work conditions, and where machine translation is often used as a source to translate long texts.

The other company we competed against does the same but in South Asia, in countries that are not even French-speaking countries, but for some magic reason they have teams that can handle dozens of thousands of words in days and charge a quarter of the rate that a professional translator in North America has to charge in order to make a decent living that pays for those many years of studies, certification, degrees, and annual fees for accreditations in local and national associations, errors and omissions insurance, etc.

It seemed clear that the discount, outsourced translation services were going to provide:

  • Autogenerated translated text created by a non-native speaker
  • No attention paid to the nuances of the messaging behind the content
  • No review process from a secondary translator that would validate the translation
  • No quality control process
  • No certification of translators or the resulting content
  • No insurance protection against problems or errors resulting from poorly translated content
  • Questionable contact and follow up paths for clients to use for questions and support

Worth it? It didn’t seem so.

Paying the long-term price for overseas translations

Since then, I have started tracking the number of bids that we lose against the every day bigger invasion of companies with a lack of scruples. I started to worry about the industry that I love, but on the other hand, I firmly believe that honesty and openness always wins.

While on the one hand, the number of bids that we lose because of pricing has increased, the number of jobs that we get from new clients asking us to proofread or fix materials that they have already translated has also risen. Cheap overseas work comes back with such poor quality that companies now hire us to proofread it for verification and fix any errors. We’re being shown work that has:

  • Discrepancies between the original text and the translation
  • Many typos and spelling mistakes
  • Phrasing mistakes that a native speaker of the language would not make
  • Errors in technical or legal details
  • Insensitivity to cultural values in the new language target market

Often, we do not accept this work because the lack of quality means the translation is worthless. It is simply easier to do the job again starting from scratch. These clients end up paying twice for something they could have done right from the beginning by hiring a certified, local translator.

By talking to the translators that we hire, we hear that the opportunities to grow in the industry are limited as outsourcing is often killing the market for those who study specializations and get certified by organizations with a great reputation.

Day after day we see more and more new companies that provide cheap services with questionable results that often are not understood by clients. Translators are becoming revisers for those who prefer to use machines and end up with low-quality translations, and many companies are not willing to pay the price for professionalism and excellence.

If you are looking for a translation company, make sure that the sources are reliable, the quality and processes actually follow the strict guidelines and requirements established by organizations or governments with credibility. It’s worth it to pay market price for translations you can trust by qualified, certified, local translation companies.

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