I’ve been in the translation racket ever since I was a kid stealing fruit off the fruit wagon. You could say I learned over my father’s knee. That is I did until he was kneecapped moving a trailer full of translation memory off the Jersey docks. That was back when TM was on punch cards. Many years ago my friends. Many years.
And what have I learned? This one thing: The demand for bad translation is bottomless. And in all these years, the market for bad translation has never been better than now.
So if you are some pissant punk moving in from the West Coast onto my turf, you think you’re going to make your big score in bad translation? Not so fast, wise guy. Because here’s the other thing I learned: There’s no money in bad translation. Bad translation only sells if it’s free. Your average Joe client will only pay if he thinks it’s good, so if it’s bad and he figures it out, you’ll find your check at the bottom of the East River.
You want to make some money in this business? Here are three letters you’ve got to know: TEP. As in Translate, Edit, Proof. That’s the way it’s done over here in Turtle Bay. All your guys speak the language, they’ve all been checked out, they know the drill. You want professional work, you pay professional money. And, oh yeah, you’ve got to watch these linguists with an eagle eye in case they try to pull a fast one. You mess up, you get an ISO tune up. That kind of enforcement don’t come cheap, but that’s what ya gotta do.
Sure, you could still do a pretty bad translation with TEP, if you were to send all your vendors a do-not-reply email telling them that you were going to start taking another nickel off the top without a by-your-leave. Or you could post all your jobs to several hundred freelancers at once to find the lowest bottom feeder in the carp pond. That I like. It’s good for business. My competitors control costs; we get their pissed-off clients. That’s what we call a win-win, right?
Now, in the other corner, we’ve got these new technology guys moving in, all talking crowdsource and how cheap crowdsource is going to be. You’ve already got all these amateurs giving it away, and maybe it’s bad for business, but maybe it ain’t. Anyway, these guys giving it away for free, it’s charity, right? Some bilingual guy feels bad about some of the stuff he’s done, maybe he regrets it a little, wants to do some good work, a little something in his pocket to get his parking validated up at the Pearly Gates. No problemo. We all gotta sleep at night.
But what if you get some pissant punk hijacking the same system, and then you’re paying a penny-a-word price to a pack of non-translators to translate? That I cannot respect. Randall Stross, NYT reporter, interviewed a couple of these characters a few weeks ago: When the Assembly Line Moves Online.
“‘Rather than crowdsourcing, we call what we do widesourcing,’ says Mark Chatow, the company’s vice president for marketing. ‘We take tasks like translation that used to be done by a single specialist and break them into pieces so a wide range of people can handle different parts of the work.’
“CloudCrowd uses machine translation software to make a first pass. Then it sends out individual pages of the machine’s translation to garble hunters, who look for sentences containing a nonsensical sequence. A translator with native language fluency is needed only for the sentences tagged by the garble hunter. An editor, without foreign language expertise, then polishes the prose, but possesses only a single page, not a chapter or the entire work.
“CloudCrowd exclusively uses Facebook members who come to it for assignments; it says it has 50,000 workers in its crowd. Traditional translation costs about 20 to 25 cents a word, Mr. Chatow, says, but ‘we’re doing it for 6.7 cents a word.’ He says translators make an average of $15 an hour and garble hunters around $7 an hour.”
So that’s some cheap translation, right? And bad? You know it’s bad, baby. No context, no consistency, no terminology or memory construction, no specialist knowledge, no security. So it should sell like hotcakes, right? Wrong. It’s $.07 a word, which means it isn’t free. Sorry pal. That’s not going to cut it.
Another one of these crowdsource guys, Microtask CEO Ville Miettinen, says, “Pure monetary compensation is a 20th-century concept.” Hey, whaddaya know? Call me old fashioned, but I am stuck on that whole “pure monetary compensation” thing. And so Ville, my friend, you will find too, when you show your accountant your balance sheet, ‘cause she’s probably 20th Century too. I am happy to meet with you so that we can reach a mutual understanding on this. I’ll take you to Sparks, which is kind of our clubhouse.
Which reminds me. . . Phil, your guys keep idling your TransPerfect trucks on my side of 46th St. Last weekend I asked them nice to move because one of these guys was in my parking place. He didn’t do it soon enough to suit me. Maybe he didn’t know who I was? Not to make a big deal out of it, it’s just that guys who lack respect can run into trouble with their equipment on this block, is all I’m saying.