Posted by: patenttranslator | April 2, 2012

Dividing A Long Translation Between Many Translators Is Always A Recipe for Disaster

Many translation agencies use complex flowcharts to explain to potential customers their intricate and unique Translation Quality Control Process. The marketing people who create these flowcharts probably know a lot about marketing, but I think that most translators will agree with me that these marketing types don’t really understand at all how translation really works.

Below is a sample of a typical flowchart, which I simply copied from the website of a translation agency. All I did was change the name of the agency to Translation GeniusesTM.

Quality Control Process

Translation GeniusesTM – Translation & Quality Control Flow Chart

TranslationGeniusesTM receive HTML, Word or any other electronic file

Master Index is created

* Glossary of terms created

Translations Project Leader

File assignments are made with delivery timetable

Files Delivered to Translators

Translation Process

Translation Process

Translation Process

Translation Process

Translation Process

Translation Process

Files are returned
to Proofreading team

Files are sent
to Copy-Editing team

Graphic Department Process

Sent to Approval Department
for final recheck of files


Note how the individual translators are just small, unimportant cogs in the ingenious process designed by the TranslationGeniusesTM Agency, sort of like dock workers who are unloading goods from a ship. Nothing is said in the flowchart about the requirements placed on the translators, no explanation is really warranted here because they could be just some cheap hired help. That the role of translators and interpreters is considered to be really quite insignificant, as long as a translation agency has in place an ingenious and comprehensive Translation Quality Control System, was documented recently by a Czech court interpreter in Great Britain who enrolled her pet rabbit Jajo as a qualified court interpreter with an agency which holds a major DoJ contract worth 300 thousand pounds for supplying interpreters to police and courts.

Dividing a single translation between a number of translators may be unavoidable in some cases. And in some fields, it is probably done quite often. But I think that it should be avoided as much as possible in every translation field.

The flowchart above is in fact a recipe for disaster because at least a dozen people would be involved in the translation: A translation project leader (who, as translators know all too well, is typically monolingual and often does not really know anything about translating), 6 translators (who will have different backgrounds, qualifications and experience, which means that some of them will probably be quite good, and some of them may be mediocre to awful), and perhaps 2 or 3 people on “the proofreading team”, plus another 2 or 3 people on “the copy editing team”.

I will ignore “the graphic department”, since it has really nothing to do with the translation, but there is still “the approval department”, again 2 or 3 people? (Who are they? Are they fluent speakers of the source and native speakers of the target language and do they know the relevant field? If not, how can they possibly approve a translation like this)?

Following the flowchart would mean that there would have to be at least a dozen people working on a single translation, correct?

And each one of them would have to be paid a fair wage by the Translation GeniusesTM Agency, n’est-ce pas?

And the translation would have to be offered at a competitive rate, nicht wahr?

Well, of course not. If the flowchart really reflected the actual division of labor, the resulting cost would have to be astronomical. This flowchart is obviously just an advertising blurb, or in other words, complete fiction.

Let us consider a real example from my field, which is patent translation.

A client needs to translate a long Japanese chemical patent, about 50 thousand words, into English ASAP. In similar cases, there is really only one choice if you want to produce a translation that actually makes sense, you have to give a single translator enough time to complete the entire translation, which would be in this case about a month.

If you need to have the translation done in less than a week, you will have to chop up a long patent and divide it between 6 translators as suggested in the flowchart above. Even then, you don’t really want to give the translations to a proofreading team because the more people participate in the proofreading process, the more likely it is that each proofreader will introduce his or her biases and idiosyncratic changes (mistakes) into the final translation. Sometime you have to divide a single translation in this manner, but one should bear in mind that the quality will be always inferior in such a case.

Ideally, there should only be one translator and one proofreader who is at least as good as the original translator.

It is not really all that difficult to design the winning formula for achieving the elusive goal of “quality in translation”.

Instead of using a dozen people, including translators (the cheap hired help which we can call “dock workers”), and a whole bunch of proofreaders, editors, and other “quality managers”, you use as few people as possible.

A sound method for achieving “translation quality control” in three simple steps is outlined below.

1. First, you have to find a really good translator. It is not really that difficult to tell which translator is probably good: It’s the one who despite the fact that he or she charges slightly or quite a bit more than the competition, is still very busy, at least most of the time.

2. You give the translator enough time to finish the translation. A rule of the thumb here is that the translator should not be expected to finish more than about 2 to 3 thousand words per working day. Some can translate 4 thousand words a day or more, but not very many and not for too many days in a row.

3. At the end of the translation, you leave enough time for proofreading.

If you find a good translator and create a good working environment by giving the translator enough time to do a good job, the chances are that you will be very happy with the final product.

If you use a translation agency that organizes translation work the way unloading of crates from ships or coal mining was organized 200 years ago, the chances are that the resulting translation will be pretty horrible.


  1. Wie WaHr!


  2. Got it.



  3. Right on the money!


  4. And before long they will pay in company coin to be spent at company stores: “I owe my soul to the company store….”


    • 16 tons (16K words) and what do you get…..


      • “You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
        Another day older and deeper in debt
        Saint Peter, don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
        I owe my soul to the company store”


      • I guess we’re just a bunch of old timers, hah? Try running those lines by anybody under —hmmm….25? 30? You’ll probably get a lot of blank looks or meaningful stares….


  5. We’re not old, we just remember a lot …. way back.


    • Haha! I never said old….just “old timers”, as in “sympathizers with the olden times and their music”, :). In Spanish we have a saying, “viejos son los trapos” – meaning “It’s rags that are old” (not you, or I…). We are, so to speak, and in line with what you just said, good “rememberers”.


  6. Well, “old timers” means old.

    There is a Czech idiom that is or was used mostly by macho Czech men, but also by some nasty women, about women who are no longer young:”She’s not old, but she remembers a lot”.

    It is really a tongue-in-cheek comment which means “she’s an old hag who acts as if she were still young”.


    • I know “old timers” means old. I was just kidding…. and of course I caught your tongue-in-cheek meaning about remembering. Usually I come across as so serious that when I am kidding, people don’t realize I am… You know how some people complain that nobody takes them seriously? With me it’s the other way round.;)… Have a nice evening!


  7. […] Myth Series – Myth 1: SW #g11n = #i18n = #L10n = Translation Dividing A Long Translation Between Many Translators Is Always A Recipe for Disaster Anonymous Sock Puppet Steps Up to Defend ALS: The Ethics of Cheap Translation The Six Commandments […]


  8. […] Details: […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: