Fishing for Translators

by Translation Guy on March 5, 2012

In my last post, I was ranting about all the bad translators trying to clamber aboard 1-800-Translate after whatever translation shipwreck they might have survived. Heartbreaking as it is, we must fend them off with our oars and gaffs and such, as even one bad translator can sink our quality assurance boat. Operations Captain Rodrigues stands athwart the  thwart, the rain lashing her face, whistle in one hand, flare gun in the other,  “Stand off, you erroneous son’s of guns! Stand off I say! No room on this boat for bad translators!”

OK. I’m exaggerating a bit. Think of that incident as a metaphor. We would never fend off unqualified job applicants in that situation, and I want to assure readers that the steely determination of Captain Rodrigues is the only part of this story of shipwreck survival  that is factually accurate. All that oar-beating drama is a waterlogged dramatization of a business process dry as dust, but as important as all hands to the pumps –the recruitment of the  kind of translators who are essential to our success. Talent first. All the quality control in the world will not get you around a bad translator. So, we have to go all-out to  recruit only good linguists.


  1. In-country native speakers with professional degree and accreditation.
  2. Demonstrated translation mastery in the subject area.
  3. Five-years plus professional translation experience, (promise-keepers only).
  4. Client dedicated, customer service-dedicated. This is a service business.


  1. Hunt…

Accreditation makes it easier for everybody. Accredited linguists are likely to be the pros our clients need to get the job done in the target language. A cleaner input into a QA process means a cleaner output.

A long professional track in the subject area makes for best outcomes.

  1. Peck…

Subject-specific testing: We administer our own translation testing program, a selection of passages relevant to the initial assignment that the candidate must translate into the target language.

Metrics: We use a proprietary version of the Localization Standards Association Quality Assurance Model to score results. (Under review, we’ve got something better in mind for later this year).

Involve the audience:  We want our clients to work with us on selecting the right vendor. (I have to admit that most prefer to leave it to us, however.)

  1. Preferred translators

Operations calls this “preferential” recruitment as opposed to “pool recruitment,” meaning that we pick the translator for the job, not the other way around.

Pooling is the method used by those single-pass swarm translation shops and other language service providers like TransPerfect. I think “ponding” would be better, since its basically talking about a bottom-feeder fishing expedition. Put some old bacon on the hook, toss it into  translator pond and gig the first sucker to take the bait.

When I was a kid, my Dad used to take us out evenings on Goose Pond to fish for hornpout, which is what they call brown bullheads in New Hampshire. Same kind of bottom-feeder  action as they get in those  translation pool carp ponds.  Except for the snags and skeeters, it was a lot of fun back in the day. But that kind of fishin’ hole recruitment doesn’t work for what our clients need in these here modern times.

Keep your bait wet until next time!

-Ranger TranslationGuy


  1. That’s a very sound selection process, and it definitely keeps you fishing for a bigger fish (and a better translator). I’ve posted it as a guide for translators who want to work with reliable agencies, so they may well learn how not to succumb to “ponding”.

  2. AnIdealWord says:

    I understand the need for quality but I think if every agency insisted on 5 years experience they would soon run themselves out of a business because no one new would be able to break into the field. Yes, experience is undeniably good and will almost always lead to better and/or more consistent results but there are other ways to test ability and people who have been around 5+ years had ability when they started which they have honed.

    • Ken says:

      You’re right, Bethan. But we aren’t like all those other agencies.

  3. Harry says:

    What do you mean by In-country native speakers? They live in the US or their native country? I have several workers that have never even been to the states and simply work via the net.

    • Ken says:

      We value our state-side linguists for their work into English, and their understanding of US cultural nuance, but for us in-country means in the country. We want people who are living their life in the langauge our client’s want to speak in.

  4. The Circuit says:

    One would hope that an acredited linguist was good at their job. However, I also feel that most anyone can prep for and pass a test. The true litmus is goals 2 and 4.

  5. In the Steps, the second number one refers to Peck. Do you administor a subject-specific test for each assignment?

    • Ken says:

      Peck as in “Hunt and Peck.” We do not do a subject-specific test for each assignment. New linguists are audited more closely than the old hands.

  6. Transperfect has a nice website. How can a prospective client differentiate between them and say, 1-800-translate?

    • Ken says:

      By reading my blog?

  7. Preferential vs. pool recruitment would depend on the size of the company, no?

    • Ken says:

      Agreed. I think smaller firms have better incentives to resist the siren call of the carp pond.

  8. Picking the translator for the job is best. I totally agree. But, when you have a few “better” translators, they seem to get all the work. How do you go about making the rest of the pool “worthy” of being picked?

    • Ken says:

      Good question. I wish I had a better answer. It’s a never-ending struggle for our project managers, Ronnie. We try to have back-up teams practiced and ready to go as per our best practice, but with the Key Performance Indicator for operation team members provided by customer satisfaction survey, PMs are naturally reluctant to rock the boat by switching horses in the middle of an engagement.

  9. Ken, did you eat the bullhead (hornpout) are was it just for fun? Growing up, my dad always had us cut the line when we caught one.

    • Ken says:

      Breakfast the next day, flour, salt and pepper, fried in butter. I prefer them to trout. Your dad probably didn’t want you tangling with that dorsal spine, which can leave a painful wound prone to infection.

  10. I agree with the goals, but I think 5 years experience is a bit high. As with any profession, some people just “get it” faster and a very qualified applicant my not apply if that requirement is posted with the job. I look at potential as well as experience.

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