This is the first article in a series about some of the most critical challenges our industry faces today. The point is not to rant (I like what I do)—I’m just interested in sharing my perspective with readers like you and getting your feedback. A good example of an inherent industry problem is what’s been happening in healthcare for years. Although many folks, including healthcare practitioners, understand that a body is a self-healing system and the focus of healthcare should be on prevention, the conventional system is designed to focus on drugs and surgery instead. The HCPs just can’t refocus on prevention because this will mean losing clients! This conflict of interest leads to dire consequences such as unnecessary lifestyle-related diseases, premature death, and sky-high medical fees.
Translators Don’t Have a Say
While the magnitude of the challenges in our industry is much lower than the one above, they do have a huge impact on our lives, too. One of the challenges is dealing with the agency-driven deadlines. When a translation agency (and agencies represent a huge part of the market) prepares an estimate for a client, they often do so without negotiating a deadline with a translator upfront. It’s only after the client confirms the estimate that an agency contacts a translator. But a deadline that originally made sense to an agency doesn’t necessarily make sense to a translator. Oftentimes, a translator is already busy with other projects and either grudgingly accepts the deadline, hoping to somehow squeeze it in, or is simply unavailable.
When Something Else Is a Priority, Quality Is Not
- A translator, the very person who does the most important and time-consuming part of a translation project, is often unable to have a deadline he/she feels is necessary to do a good job. As translators are expected to work faster with every year, deadlines get increasingly shorter. Many translators find themselves in a situation where they either accept whatever the deadline is on the table or go on without any work for days. Another compelling reason to accept an agency’s deadlines is that a translator doesn’t want to appear uncooperative, which can have a negative impact on his/her relationship with an agency. And I don’t have to tell you what happens to quality when a translator has less time than he/she needs and works under stress as a result.
- Now imagine that an agency can’t find a translator immediately, which isn’t that uncommon. While they spend precious time looking, the deadline keeps shrinking. When someone finally accepts a project, he/she has even less time that the agency initially planned. And less time means even lower quality.
- Because many translation projects are ongoing, a translation agency ideally wants to use the same translator for each new portion of a project. What happens when that individual is unavailable? Does an agency go back to a client to renegotiate the deadline? Some do, but some choose convenience over quality by simply giving the job to a different translator that has zero knowledge of the project. If an agency is lucky enough, this will only lead to inconsistency of this new portion with the previous ones because the translator will fail to re-use the existing translations. In the worst-case scenario, the new translator will also “improve” them and make errors resulting from misunderstanding.
- Another possible consequence is that big players generally prefer faster turnaround as it enables them to invoice clients quickly. As with all large organizations, a positive cash flow is a priority. Waiting longer than they planned is just not an option in this paradigm, and they have to put quick turnaround above all else.
Of course, I am generalizing here. There are agencies and translators that succeed in avoiding this death spiral. But I think my point is clear. Do you agree it makes sense? I barely scratched the surface of this issue. Your comments and additional ideas are more than welcome.