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It’s a Small World

It’s a fairly common belief in our industry that the percentage of reliable translators is limited. I’ve seen quite many professionals in our line of work arrive at such a conclusion after seeing too many poor translations and too few good ones. Although certainly controversial, this belief is supported by an interesting observation: often, several translation agencies share one and the same preferred translator for a given language combination who demonstrated excellent performance over time. Such “shared” translator is the best translator all these agencies could find. Sometimes, these different agencies receive one and the same request for proposal from a client (i.e. a client contacts several potential vendors at a time). And all of them then turn to their best translator who happens to be one and the same person. I would like to share one such incident from our experience, which I find particularly amusing.

Some time ago, a translation agency contacted us with an offer to provide a medical translation sample, but didn’t accept our price. Just as with any other unaccepted quote, we completely forgot about the incident. In a few weeks, however, we received a request from another agency to edit the same sample, which at that point was already translated by two different vendors and required editing before submission for evaluation by the end client. Accepting this request could create a conflict of interest: because our services for translating this sample were previously rejected by another agency, we could be potentially interested in debunking the work of the other translators who had been preferred to us. We informed the agency about this potential conflict, but they instructed us to proceed anyway.

Already extraordinary, this “shared translators” story still wasn’t at its climax. As we proceeded with editing, it became clear that the translation samples, supposedly from different translators, were actually identical with a few minor exceptions. The agency had no idea as to how this had happened.

Summing it up, this translation agency received identical translation samples from two different vendors and used an editing vendor who had also received a request to translate the same sample from another agency previously. How is that for a small world?

To make sure your English to Russian translation projects do not run into problems like these, you can work with a translation company that has your best interests at heart as we do. Contact us for a quote.


  • Timur Chichanov says:

    I’m sorry, I’ve read and reread this story about ten times already, but I just keep losing you in the middle of the second passage. Could you please explain to me this plot twist where the medical file all of a sudden gets translated by two different agencies at the same time? And what’s a vendor? Do you mean ‘freelancer’?
    So, let me get this straight at four in the morning:
    1.We have a medical file that needs to be tranlated
    2.Translation agency X takes on the task
    3.Translation agency X contacts Translation agency Y (which is you) and asks them if they could translate the medical file for them
    4.Translation agency Y (which is you) quotes a price which Translation agency X finds unacceptable. Translation agency X walks away from Translation agency Y
    With me so far? Good, cause here’s the part I can’t seem to understand:
    5.Translation agency Z (where did THEY come from?) finds 2 (two) ‘vendors’ (freelancers?) and has them trasnlate the medical file
    6.The freelancers, obviously good guys, do the job and give the files back to Translation agency Z. Translated.
    7.Translation agency Z goes to Translation agency Y (which is you) and this time asks them to EDIT the medical file
    Here’s also something I don’t understand:
    8.Translation agency Z gives Translation agency Y (which is you) 2 (two) files to edit which, upon closer examination, turn out to be identical
    9.Translation agency Y bursts out laughing. Translation agency Z has no idea how they could possibly have gotten two identical translations of the same file.
    Alright. I might not be the best logical thinker in the world, but here’re my questions:
    Why on Earth would anyone give two different people the same job to do?
    Why on Earth would a translation agency ask a translation agency to ask a translation agency to translate a document? Or is that how you guys usually do business? By outsourcing the job to someone who knows where to futher outsource is so that it gets outsourced once again to someone who will outsource it to a guy who knows how to get it done?
    Even supposing that Translationg Agency Z gave the file to 2 different freelancers and was willing to pay double price for the sake of safety and/or quality, how on Earth did they first fail to notice that the translations they got back were identical and then just pass the translations along to Translation Agency Y (which is you) to get them edited?

    • Timur, thank you for reading the blog!
      By the way, your detailed description is quite logical and easy to understand.
      Here are the answers to your questions:
      1.We are not quite sure how this happened ourselves. This was likely a simple coincidence or a human error. Also, they could assign two different vendors to the same sample translation in an attempt to choose the better translation by comparing and assessing them. As these were sample translations, the agency (Z) probably did not pay anything for them.
      2.Subcontracting work to another agency is a normal practice in this industry. The most common scenario is a multi-lnaguage vendor (MLV agency) subcontracting work to a single-language vendor (SLV agency). One benefit of doing so is the ability of an SLV to deliver both translated and edited files, so that the MLV agency does not have to contact two separate linguists: translator and editor.
      As to your last question, perhaps, the Project Manager does not know Russian or did not look these translations through.
      And yes, vendor is any person or entity providing their services to another party. This includes freelancers, translation agencies, etc.

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About the Author

Roman Mironov
Roman Mironov
CEO & Founder

As the founder of Velior, Roman has had the privilege of being able to turn his passion for languages into a business. He has over 15 years of experience in the translation industry. Roman has helped dozens of clients increase sales by making their products appealing for speakers of other languages.