Different levels of translation quality?

Written by Aga Gordon

Today, while browsing the web as I do everyday, I encountered a translation agency (which name I won’t mention although perhaps I should), which both shocked me and provoked to write this short (and the first) note in my blog.

The agency, which claims to be the leading translation agency, happens to claim to have three levels of quality: gold, silver and bronze. The gold one is supposed to be the immaculate process of TEP (Translation, Editing and Proofreading), silver means only TE and bronze consist only of T. The underlying idea is seemingly a cost-effective solution for those, who perhaps, are only in need to roughly understand the text , therefore might not need the standard, thorough process of the quality translation.

Well, I could not agree less. As everyone involved in professional translation surely knows, translation is always synonimous with the quality. Not only the first round carried out by the professional translator is required, at least one process of editing and one of proofreading should follow. The translator should be also a talented writer. All these, in my opinion, are basic essentials in order for the translation to read smoothly and not appear ‘a translation’ but a text written by a native speaker. Knowledge of  both cultures and sufficient terminology in both source and target language is a must.For more specialised subjects, like chemistry or medicine, in depth knowledge of the area is also necessary. Wide range of specialist vocabulary, dictionaries and internet resources might prove not to be sufficient in certain, narrow specialist areas (I have seen a lot of bad translations in chemistry).

All in all, good translation can never be cheap . Are cheap clothes of a good quality? Or do you expect a luxury stay in a cheap hotel? Besides paying little first round, can cost you more later (I could quote a lot of examples from other industries, when outsourcing to companies in India or China to cut cost, resulted in terrible quality and hence more cost).

It all appears a desperate move towards attracting more clients but in my opinion it really undermines the translation industry and can potentially result in more terrible translations, we unfortunately see more and more around. It all stems from the fact that there are financial cuts everywhere but it is a way to go? I do not think so, do you?

Please leave a comment, I am very much interested in your views.


About acgtranslation

Highly qualified English Polish translator and entrepreneur, business coach and consultant, quantum chemistry researcher and lecturer. Translation specialities: Business, Scientific and Medical Translation. Bilingual with two bilingual daughters; vivid reader.

Posted on January 31, 2011, in Translation quality. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Hello!
    Yeah, I’m still new in this world (this is year 1) and I’m noticing that a good translation is not cheap. There are people who complain about it. I don’t know what they really want. Actually, I’ve been thinking how a enterprise interested in the release their product can t risk it in order to save money.

    Anyway, this is such an interesting blog! I’ll add you right now to the Members section in my blog 🙂 Thank you very much for reading!

    Bye! See you next time.
    PD. Sorry if my English is rusty or something like that. I really get nervous when I’m writing to someone who knows more than me lol

    • Hi Ismael,
      Many thanks for your comments. I am glad you enjoyed my post. I had a look at your blog, looks interesting and will serve well for your studies for reflection, which is an essential part of the learning process. Your English is not bad, just keep writing, one always feel nervous writing publicly in not native language:)))

  2. Great post and I agree with you completely. Welcome to the world of blogging. I, too, was nervous when I first began. Sometimes I still get nervous when I click “publish”. 🙂 Looking forward to your next post! ~ Val

    • Hi Val,
      Many thanks for your encouraging words:) I am glad you liked my post. I will probably feel nervous for quite a while, but I love challenges! Will definitely look at your blog. Aga

  3. A very interesting article. You make some excellent observations.

    As you say, the translation industry is currently under threat from a glut of translation companies (mainly from China and India) promising to deliver a quality translation at absurdly low prices. As far as I can see, this is achieved by using machine translation or, at best, engaging the services of a real person with no formal translation training (who may even be translating into a language other than his or her mother tongue); even if professional translators are used, they are paid a pittance, forcing them to rush the job in order to get onto the next – volume is the only way they can earn sufficient money to keep body and soul together. All in all, these poor practices result in some horrendously bad translations.

    In my opinion, though, the problem is more deep-rooted than simply a matter of suppliers cutting corners. There is also a lack of appreciation on the part of end customers as to the value of good translation. You quite rightly point out that you would not be entitled to expect five-star hotel luxury when staying in a budget hotel. By analogy, the same should be true for translation: quality does not come cheap.

    Yet, as with all analogies, they are only true up to a point: when staying in a cheap hotel, you can see what makes it is cheap – the room is small, the bed uncomfortable, the staff unfriendly; when it comes to translation, particularly for translations into a language the client does not speak/understand, how is one expected to assess the quality of the finished product? After all, anyone can promise quality, but how does the client actually know that they are getting quality? (At this point, one might wish to discuss the pros and cons of quality standards, such as EN 15038, for example.)

    If clients are unaware of what constitutes a quality translation, they cannot differentiate between the services of particular translation companies on any ground other than price (even “speed of delivery” ultimately boils down to a question of cost, with the poor translation still winning out, because the review procedures required to produce quality texts take time and involve extra levels of expense). Why, therefore, would any rational client want to pay more for something he or she considers to be the same?

    Consequently, translation companies are forced to compete solely on price. Those agencies that do not resort to unscrupulous and exploitative practices themselves, such as the use of students, for example, have to find alternative methods of winning business. One such way is offering different levels of service, such as bronze, silver and gold.

    I am afraid that I cannot subscribe to your view that a bronze translation produces a substandard translation. Returning briefly to your hotel example, even a luxury hotel has different grades of room (standard, deluxe and full-blown suites). Clearly, a suite is better than a deluxe room, and a deluxe room better than a standard one. But it is all a matter of relative quality, as a standard room in a luxury hotel would certainly not be described as poor.

    The same applies to translation. Provided that all translations – regardless of which package – are undertaken by a professional translator working into his or her native tongue and with sufficient expertise in the relevant field, these three distinctions offer a helpful quality framework for price-sensitive clients. Silver and gold services are not better per se; they merely add an extra layer of refinement to the basic package with every stage of review, since producing the initial translation still requires the same level of craftsmanship and skill in each case. To suggest otherwise does the translator a great disservice.

    I cannot imagine any professional translator disagreeing with the principle that his translation would benefit from being reviewed. Ideally, all translation should go through a three-stage process (translate, edit, proofread). However, market forces dictate what customers are prepared to pay and what they expect.

    Ultimately, though, if the translation industry wishes to establish a culture of quality, it must highlight the benefits of reviews to polish texts, particularly those intended for publication, i.e. emphasise the additional benefits of the silver and gold packages over and above the standard bronze service. This happens in a multitude of other industries. Why should translation companies be any different?

    • Well said! All work should go through a 3-stage process, but I can just imagine the freelancer at home trying to survive having to go through these three steps. Another problem with rates stems from the so-called professional translators who charge high rates and deliver poor translations. I don’t believe they are easily found out as most companies cannot tell if the translation is appropriate, and in most cases, ‘bad translation’ goes unnoticed unless reported – and then again, a system has to be in place to correct the errors. I have reported a multitude of mistakes to companies who do not even reply. So are companies truly interested in correcting their Websites? Not really — as no one seems to care and as the amount of illiterate people seem to increase with text messaging, acronyms, and all-around bad schooling. Good to have a blog! Thank you.

  1. Pingback: Different Levels of Translation Quality by Susan Andrus | LD language services

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