;   Medical Translation Insight: Are quality expectations declining among translation buyers? - ForeignExchange Translations

Anecdotal evidence indicates that the translation industry is engaged in a race to the bottom. We have talked about that a lot over the years, including here, here and here.

Now there is a bit more to substantiate this notion. Kirti Vashee's post Emerging Language Industry & Language Technology Trends features varied perspectives on where the translation is going. One of the comments that stood out was the following from an anonymous client:

Declining Quality Expectations
It got me thinking about state of quality in our business. Is quality perceived differently in different translation sectors (say, medical vs. legal)? Do clients in different industries (e.g., software vs. financial services) value quality more or less? And, finally, do different translation providers have different experiences with regards to clients' quality expectations? It is this last point that we want to put to test with a quick straw poll.

What's your take on clients' declining quality expectations? In your professional experience, is that accurate or not?

Let's hear from you!

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  1. Anonymous said...
    Customers are actually raising the quality expectation, but only when they talk about it, typically to scare the translator into doing his/her best.
    In their mind they do not 'fear' quality is lower, they do know quality level is actually coming down.
    Unfortunately they cannot acknowledge this is due to themselves driving down tariffs, also because their customers are demanding to pay less and less.
    Economics dictates that prices come to their lowest possible level, but then so does the quality of whatever is produced. Inescapable, I'm afraid.
    Covalent Translator said...
    Is this poll aimed at translators or translation buyers? Unless we actually get real results from translation buyers, this poll will be skewed by translators' views of the market. Translators who participate in the race to the bottom will probably feel that buyers' quality expectations are declining. Those translators who feel bullied by the giant agencies and, unfortunately, submit to the pressure, will feel worse about their own work. Those translators who choose to ignore the race to the bottom and instead focus on "premium" clients will feel that clients have high quality expectations.
    There are ways to combat the race to the bottom. 1-Decline work at low rates. 2-Improve your own work, keep your quality high, and market to clients/agencies that recognize and value quality.
    I recommend Chris Durban's book "The Prosperous Translator."
    Andres Heuberger said...
    @Covalent Translator: Since the poll is anonymous, we can't know how responds. However, everybody in the translation "chain" has a sense of the end-client's expectations re. quality.

    If the client puts a high value on quality, that will result in stronger processes, more support, and enhanced quality feedback throughout the service-delivery chain. If, on the other hand, the client doesn't value quality as high as time or price, then those items will be stressed, reinforced, and used as selection criteria.
    Grae said...
    As freelance translator since over 25 years in the business I can say that quality expectations are not declining, actually there are many signs to show they are rising, unfortunately clients are not ready to pay for it and they have been driving for lower prices very year. The result is that a schizophrenic market, on one hand an increasing request for quality on the other driving translators with lower rates and shorter turn-around times which of course is not exactly what is needed for more quality.
    Anonymous said...
    In my experience clients value time, and above all value, over quality. If they can get it cheap and fast, they don't think twice about quality. Obviously, this is a generalization, but I am afraid it's the reality out there...
    Kirti Vashee said...
    My sense is that for some kinds of content the quality expectations do not change, but there is now much more variation in content types that need translation and further international initiatives. Some or much of this does not need TEP and some of it can even be raw MT and still provide business benefit.
    Anonymous said...
    In the last few years I met a few translation agencies which explicitly stated that legacy translations should be reused without editing them, as they are not paid for reviewing existing TM content and accordingly are not willing to pay translator for this task. This applied even after reporting that legacy translation quality is very low.
    At the same time most of translation agencies implement improved QA processes.
    So it seems that divergence is happening in the market, with different translation agencies adapting their quality requirements according to the clients' needs.
    Anonymous said...
    The request for Quality is always there but the demand for lower prices and faster turnaround times often win out. Being requested to do more for less and quicker is not the proper formula for the best quality.
    Halina said...
    I think they are, as criteria like the speed of delivery and costs take precedence over quality. This is particularly evident in the area of I.T., where stakes are high for fast delivery. Also, the definition of quality in this area is rather blurred, as English dominates other languages and translation is frequently reduced to introducing English terminology into target languages, turning them into hybrids, e.g. Franglais, Denglish, Spanglish, Polglish, etc. Please see here: http://wp.me/PZs8o-m
    Halina said...
    I think they are, as criteria like the speed of delivery and costs take precedence over quality. This is particularly evident in the area of I.T., where stakes are high for fast delivery. Also, the definition of quality in this area is rather blurred, as English dominates other languages and translation frequently becomes reduced to introduction of English terminology into target languages, turning them into hybrids, e.g. Franglais, Denglish, Spanglish, Polglish, etc. Please see here: http://wp.me/PZs8o-m
    Guia Translations, Lisbon said...
    As we never lowered our prizes, nor our quality, we made the experience that we lost a lot of little and medium sized agencies due to the prize pressure. I refer to agencies that do not add own value to the service they are paid for, but just sell and buy. So we sticked with the high end clients and guess what: work is now coming back, because most have figuered out that it is worth to pay a little bit more, in order to sleep well, once the job is delivered to the client.
    We too reorganized our business as well and are now a SLP, working exlcusivly the language pairs we really know. We have now 95% in-hous production and expanding.
    Anonymous said...
    I have the feeling that at the moment clients are experimenting by trying to get the same quality for a lower price, and that they are hoping that it is possible to get that same quality to leave out some QA phases.
    They'll probably have to come back to that later on.
    It's not the first time clients try to do that, and it's not the first time that the see that it is impossible.
    In the meantime, however, good quality translation providers have lost some clients, but they can find some consolation in the fact that their formers clients have lost clients too, because of their lower quality.
    Ilse Andrews, M.A., CT said...
    Only highly educated or bilingual clients have a perception of what to expect. If I translate for a museum curator, he will be able to judge the high quality of my work because he has a high level of linguistic knowledge - his own work requires it. A poorly educated client will have to show my translation to a third party to be able to judge quality. All of my clients are amazed at my speed and reliability, but very few can really judge quality. Because I always come highly recommended, they have the faith that I will do well. I feel sorry for clients who turn to translators of low quality - yes, they do exist. It is not really true that "everybody talks about quality".
    Anonymous said...
    My impression (anecdotal) that quality expectations vary depending on the type of client and its needs. Legal documents still have to meet exacting standards both of style and factual content. In other fields and in other circumstances, the client may need only a rough idea of what the SL text says, so the Google Translate product (even unedited) may be sufficient. For these reasons, I think it's probably unwise to try to make a blanket statement about quality expectations.
    Ramona Rosbif said...
    I agree with most comments here. The demand for quality is not lower, only the willingness to pay decent rates. Agencies adapt their processes and quality requirements (and their rates, don't forget) to please clients. That leaves us translators with increasingly lower rates and high pressure for results. It is very depressing. Schizophrenic agencies who press you to accept lower rates so you can "compete" with your peers and then ask you to review another's translation because they "do not trust anyone else". I am very, very sad with the direction the profession is taking.
    Procopius said...
    The market is becoming increasingly bifurcated, with large numbers of companies eschewing professional translation in favor of MT-based jisting.
    Another aspect is the trend toward overseas outsourcing of translation, especially for Asian languages, where clients are happy to have either a poor to uneven-quality translation that can be used as is.
    Thirdly, the outsourcing trend has impacted the remaining translation market such that companies are happy to outsource the translation, and hire 1st-world editors to clean up or proof the results of the overseas providers.
    The downward pressure on rates and turn-around times is inexorable. Rates for Japanese have been reduced by 1/3, and Chinese rates have been halved over the past decade. Translation is no longer a viable career choice that I can recommend.
    Anonymous said...
    "Different folks, different strokes."

    Some clients are expecting higher quality and getting it, even paying higher rates! Others don't care that much.

    I think it depends on the client's needs. Huge regulatory documents are supposed to be accurate, but even the slightest change in rate has a huge effect on the final price. Besides, 500-page documents just don't get that much attention from the target. I used to do a lot of these kinds of texts (15 yrs) and I really worked hard at my term research. I never heard a complaint. Later, I was relegated to editing because I refused to lower my rates, which meant I often spent hours looking up terms and abbreviations the translator had merely guessed at. That short-lasting experience showed me that most translators were not committed to quality, so I quit editing unless I knew the translator. Clients don't care much about quality when the text is long and has a limited audience.

    On the other hand, anything related to public image can readily command a better price. Anyone who isn't spending their own money (e.g., ad agencies) is also more concerned about quality (must be superb) than price.

    Covalent Translator is right: "1-Decline work at low rates. 2-Improve your own work, keep your quality high, and market to clients/agencies that recognize and value quality." I also agree: Chris Durban's book and seminars are worth it.

    An anecdote from a direct client I picked up through a family member... The conversation: "You really know what you're doing in our field! You have a pretty good grasp of the terms we use." "Oh really? Who did you work with before? "Agencies. Sometimes the texts were well done, but sometimes they were mediocre and sometimes downright poor. We'd rather work with someone whose quality is consistently excellent even if it costs more" "Hmm, makes sense"

    Some of us aren't suffering any type of crisis and quality is precisely the reason.
    Anonymous said...
    I had a job where the client required to go through 65 ttx files in 45 minutes and correct everything .. the translation was hideous ... so I think that at least this company is not into quality.
    Anonymous said...
    In pace with the growth of the information society, of course we are producing much more information. A consequence of this for our industry is that the market (like many markets directly affected by the rise of the Internet and information society) is becoming far more differentiated. I think quality expectations are changing rather than declining. Some clients don't want or need 'publishable' quality, while for others it is still vitally important. The answer lies really in the quality of the original text, the audience for the translation, its purpose, etc - the usual in other words, since translations are a form of communications.
    Michael Marsan said...
    Quality has always been a moving target for the translation agency. What works for one language buyer may be unsatisfactory for another. It's important to know what the buyer's needs and expectations are and then build your process and pricing around that. I.e. a medical device manufacturer may need multiple QA checks including a reverse translation, whereas an online portal for second hand tractor tires may be content with a Google Translation or one step up from there.
    Arianna said...
    I have been receiving requests recently of high volume projects to be done in unreasonably short turnover times, not pertaining to my subject fields. For me this does raise the question if there is any consideration for quality at all, or if translations are just frantically placed so that the customer is at peace.
    Taking on project like these is usually to the detriment of the translator who is always at fault when something does not sound right.
    Unknown said...
    Judging by source texts they are lowering quality standards, as one often is confronted with the issue of translating only or enhancing drivel.
    'translation better than original'

    Anonymous said...
    My experience is that it really depends on too many variables.
    Overall, the trend seems to be the same quality for less money and possibly in less time (which sometimes ends up going terribly wrong).
    I have clients (end clients, not agencies) that used to pay for quality and that are now choosing what they want to have translated with top quality (meaning more money and probably more time) and what can be translated maybe not so well but cheaper. Sometimes I can help them, sometimes I can't or won't. It will depend on how busy I am and how much consideration I have for the client (which is proportional to the consideration I get from the client).
    I would say that in addition to declining work at low rates (although this can vary a lot: when is the rate too low? I have seen miserable work having been done for rates that were way too high, even for a fairly decent work, and surprisingly good work for less money than I would have worked for, so there), decline correcting miserable work done by someone else. That will probably do more for quality than just not selling yourself short.
    Anonymous said...
    As for Arabic market, there is a trend now to use cheap translators because some translators based in Egypt in particular offer extremely low rates which do not make sense at all. These translators claim they are professional and provide highest quality, but in reality, they don't care and most of them will let you down once you come across a technical problem. Many of them don't have a degree in translation even. I have been bidding on some jobs on Proz recently and the answer I keep getting these days is: "We get such lower rates $$$ for your language combination. Would this be acceptable?" I decline right away and never look back. These agencies are taking advantage of poor translators, but I believe at some point, they will lose their end client once they found out about the poor quality delivered. Many agencies now are taking advantage of the current economy and asking freelancers to lower their rates. Freelancers should start contacting the end clients directly and skip the third party; 'MLVs' in this case. It is not easy, but it is possible. Again, this is the only way freelance translators can punish such greedy agencies, I believe.

    I believe the good translators are diminishing and the market will be left out with the average translators. I know many good translators who changed their career due to the status quo.

    Elmer H. Hara, Ph.D., P.Phys. said...
    I have two approaches to translation:
    First is to be faithful as possible to the original writing. This means no editing of the original document. Run together sentences, ambiguous statements and illogical expressions are translated as is. In other words I do not act as an editor. That is the original writer's repossibility.
    Second is to provide a readable translation so the the person requesting the translation does not need to struggle therough a poorly written document. I charge more for this because of the extra editing that is required.
    The two choices are offered to my clients. Scientist tend to choose the first approach and journalists tend to choose the second approach.

    Elmer H. Hara, Ph.D., P.Phys.
    ATIS English-Japanese; Japanese-English translator/interpreter
    Anonymous said...
    I have the strong feeling that clients want more or less the same quality but at lower prices. This seems to fit the general tenor of the postings here. I do not see an easy way out of this, as many of the cheap translators are good (unfortunately for us). That makes it harder to try to command premium prices for good quality. In most cases it is not a question of premium quality, simply of good quality, as there is little difference in something like a technical manual.
    I would also agree with the point made above that there is little incentive to stay in the market. I really would not advise anyone to take up translation as a career, it offers neither money nor security. One reason is a growing trend to machine translation followed by post-editing / cleanup. That is good enough for "translation for information", and I suspect that MT will slowly get better, so the low-end high-volume texts that are among the most profitable for a freelancer are lost. Instead we just get increasingly complex texts while the prices remain static or actually drop.
    Anonymous said...
    It is often the case, even with medical translation, that the deadline is determined by the wordcount rather than the amount of work entailed in producing a clear and accurate translation. Then, if a translator succeeds in translating something in a very short time (very often incorrectly), it is assumed that the editing won't take long, either, whereas it could need hours of editing, due to inaccuracies in the translation. I recently edited a translation like this, was told - also by the translator, who I'm sure was capable of producing a good standard of work - that my editing was excellent, and then, a month later, that they would cut my fee by one third, as the client had only allowed a minimal time for editing.
    I am not sure that this kind of thing is becoming more common, but it is a problem with medical, and probably other technical texts, and possibly more so now the use of TMs is so prevalent (as translators are expected to work more quickly, even without a TM).
    Tim Drayton said...
    I wanted to vote "Don't Know" in the poll, but this wasn't an option.

    I feel that as an individual freelancer, I lack any kind of meaningful overview of our business. I do, however, have a gut feeling that there is something rotten in the state of the translation industry.
    Sukmei Yeung said...
    The trend is quality work, lower price and quick turnaround
    Anonymous said...
    Anonymous said "Freelancers should start contacting the end clients directly and skip the third party; 'MLVs' in this case. It is not easy, but it is possible. Again, this is the only way freelance translators can punish such greedy agencies, I believe."

    There sure are some greedy middlemen around, mere brokers who just buy and sell translations with no added value at all, and these would not really deserve to get rich on others' expenses, but even just "project management", playing interface between the end-client and a team o translators sharing a bigger assignment, reassigning tasks according to the overall progress etc... takes time too.

    But there are also many small start-up agencies, actually freelancers who want to upgrade to agency, using the "look bigger than you are" philosophy while striving to get enough clients and work to really launch their business at the next level. These usually need to care about and check the quality of whatever they are delivering to their end client, which means re-reading everything they outsourced to other freelancers, so their work should be paid too, and it then is normal that they take some part of the pie too.

    But then again, the end-clients are not dumb and have already found out about ProZ and other translators communities portals, and will for sure put everyone at the same level to ask for the best quote. This means most of the time there is nothing like the possibility of a big profit margin for the "agency", if they have to bid low to get the project assigned to, when in competition with freelancers who bid for the same project.

    I hate the idea of being part of the translation "industry", but if this really is so, we must accept that, like in any other trade, there is a value chain, and that each link of that chain must find a way to get revenue from its work (preferably in accordance with the actual amont of work involved, which is the trickiest part of the eqation).

    In other words, yes, the freelancers should accept to get paid less by agencies, if what theses agencies provide is worth the discount, i.e. : feed with a relatively steady stream of work and revenue, and take the hassle of constantly finding new customers and running after due payment, among other chores, away from their chests.

    Martin said...
    Anyway, the initial scope of this post was about the quality being
    given less priority than speed and price.
    Yes, "they" tend to care more and mre about low rates and fast
    delivery, and less and less about quality, I would say.
    And this trend will not stop as long as we have to compete against MT,
    and against dumping by those living in countries where little money is
    enough money to pay the bills.

    We should be more unite, stick together to defend our interests as a
    whole, but since everyone looks forst after one's own interests, this
    is not quite likely to happen, ever.

    Is there a miracle solution against this trend ? I guess not.

    So I unfortunately have to agree with Procopius who said :
    "Translation is no longer a viable career choice that I can
    recommend", unless we specialize in a niche market, join efforts in small SLV units with in-house collaborators, or manage to unite into small teams and share work in a cooperative model, where everyone gets paid fairly, according to the involved efforts.

    englishandportuguese said...
    I agree that in some aspects the quality expected of translations is declining. However, there are a few considerations to be made. First of all, many translators here sound a bit depressed about the translation industry, because notably there are many translation agencies on the market that are not willing to pay fair rates. Well, what I have learned very quickly is: don’t work for them! Or, "use" them to learn as much as you can, to fill slots when you don't have enough well paid work and dump them when anything better turns up. If you do this, it is a win-win, they will need a database with a million translators like you, but they will get their translations done. You will learn and be able to pursue other clients and prepare to stand on your own two feet.
    In regards to quality, there are clients who are demanding more, particularly in the medical industry (in my experience) and there will always be clients who don`t really know what to expect (i.e. don`t care or have no means of validating the quality through a native speaker). This is true for every industry though and I don’t think it has anything to do with "the nature" of the translation industry. What we, as translators, must be aware of is that we need to push for quality, we need to demand longer deadlines if we can’t do a good job within the time requested, we need to ask questions to show our clients that we are trying to do a good job for them…In short, I think we set the bar so instead of asking what the market is the demanding, we should probably be asking ourselves what kind of service you would be proud of providing and demand the conditions to do that. In my experience, it has worked.
    Anonymous said...
    I think that sometimes the quality of translations declines because some people prefer to work on the quantity, therefore making more profits, than on the quality. This is why when it comes to important subjects it's better to consult a reliable translation agency, with years of experience.

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