Translation : The Problem With Start-Ups

19th February 2016

Translation is an art that has been practised for millennia, with some of the earliest translations, such as partial translation of the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, still in existence. As with many art forms, todays 21st century technological revolutionaries believe they can bring the power of technology to bear on established practises, in an attempt to improve life for everyone involved; and the translation industry is no exception. Recent years have seen the growth of buzz-word dominated marketing pitches for angel investor funded translation companies. Each and every one forecast to ‘disrupt the industry’ and change the translation process in ways beyond belief!

Putting aside the Dragons’ Den style hyperbole for a moment and looking to see what many of these start-ups are actually offering, it seems that there’s really not much in it for the customer. In fact, switching your translation process over to a translation start-up based on the promises in the sales brochure, or because they have a fancy new web app, might very well be disastrous! And here are a few reasons why…

Our research has shown that the three mains needs a Client has with respect to translation are quality, cost and speed of turnaround.

The USP of today’s many start-ups believe that their method of working and technology will bring new paradigms to the translation industry, allowing them to provide a better service than existing businesses.

However; established translation agencies are established for a reason. They have built long term relationships with their linguists, enabling them to deliver quality, professional translations to their Clients on a consistent basis. The translation project managers will have worked with a range of technologies, across every technical subject. It is this wealth of experience that allows them to suggest solutions, advise on methodology and work efficiently and harmoniously with Clients to achieve the required end-product and deliver on time.

As discussed, in a previous article, many start-ups have jumped on the crowd sourcing bandwagon, allowing them to boast that they have access to thousands of translators. While large numbers may look impressive on a PowerPoint slide, the challenge and reality of managing a team the size of small village and expecting quality to remain constant, let alone of consistent commercial quality, is usually glossed over.

“Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM” is an old saying in the tech industry, and as with ‘Big Blue’, established agencies have a tested track record of delivering quality translations over an extended period of time. While some start-ups may look like the next big thing, what happens when the technology doesn’t work as expected? Who is accountable when the translation is delayed or poorly done? The transition of your company’s translation project to the new model can suddenly become an expensive mistake.

‘Cutting out the middle man’ is another strategy that many new enterprises seem to be advocating. If we ignore the obvious for a moment – what they really mean is ‘make us your new middle man!’ – and concentrate on the suggestion that a translation agency is simply an unwanted, expensive link in the supply chain, we can see that the business logic is potentially flawed and somewhat naïve.

Initially, running your translation projects internally does appear to make a cost saving when it comes to foreign versioning. However, as covered in The Hidden Costs of In-House Translation, running your own translation projects has its own costs and risks associated with it. The members of staff have to be paid for running the projects for one thing, and the time spent on translation projects could be more effectively spent concentrating on the core business functions. The ‘cut out the middle man’ ethos also dismisses the commercial advantage of working with dedicated language professionals that will help avoid the pitfalls encountered when attempting to go it alone.

While it’s generally true that advances in technology will help to drive down costs for products and services across any industry, some translation start-ups are dangerously close to inducing a race to the bottom when it comes to delivering a quality end product. Crowd sourcing and human assisted machine translation are touted as the way forward when it comes to reducing costs, but a closer inspection of the business model reveals a variation on the Dutch Auction – translation projects are posted online, with linguists competing to get the work for the lowest price. The person willing to do the work for the lowest amount of money gets the job! While it will allow cost reductions to be passed on, would you be comfortable using this model when it comes to getting legal advice or choosing your next dentist? Professional translation of your projects isn’t the best time to test the adage “you get what you pay for!”

For speed of turnaround and accurate delivery times, Foreign Tongues are acknowledged as the best in the business. While a number of companies may offer similar speeds, their process relies heavily on machine-translation, edited to fix the broken text.

Foreign Tongues work, exclusively, with professional and commercially qualified linguists to tight deadlines, leaving you more time to finalise your projects, confident in the knowledge that your files will be managed by a real person, throughout the entire process, with full accountability.

When you choose who to trust with your documentation, as with any professional service, it pays to do your research.

Before making the decision on your next project, talk with Foreign Tongues and see how your company will benefit from working with an established, professional translation agency.

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