Posted by: patenttranslator | June 11, 2012

Surprise, Surprise – When It Comes To Translation You Get What You Pay For

Last week I ignored a potential translation job from German because the e-mail that was sent to me from a translation agency that I know very well did not address me by name. When an e-mail is sent to me and to a number of translators, I ignore it because when I see a mass e-mail, I automatically assume that somebody somewhere will do it cheaper and faster.

Somebody somewhere did translate it cheaper and faster, but he or she could not be located to certify it according to an e-mail that I received a few days later. The guy who runs the tiny agency was asking me (and an unknown number of other translators) whether I could certify it.

I ignored the e-mail again because it was not addressed directly to me and because I don’t see how I could possibly certify another person’s work. But somebody somewhere did proofread it because a couple of days later I (and a number of translators) again received an e-mail from the same agency asking about my (our) availability for retranslating a part of the German text that was translated last week.

Some of the reasons why the proofreader refused to certify the translation, although it was “reasonably okay” according to the reviewer, were as follows:

1. There are many places where German words were left untranslated in graphics. ?????

2. Symbols for chemical compounds are written without subscripts. ?????

3. Some terminology is misspelled in some places, while it is spelled correctly in other places. ?????

4. Some spellings are British, not American, while American spellings can be also found.   ??????

These are relatively minor problems, but combined together they make the translation unusable. I took a look at the German original, and it was a very simple text from a PowerPoint presentation. But although the German text is quite simple, the whole text or at least most of it must be now retranslated.

I sometime have to deal with problems like this when I function as an agency, which is happening more and more frequently. But since I normally only accept projects in languages that I can at least read to some extent myself, I can usually save a job like this when I proofread it myself, which means that I only have to pay the original translator who will never hear from me again, rather than several translators and a reviewer.

But as most agencies do not specialize in only a handful of languages as I do, they have to spend a lot of effort and money in order to save a mediocre or pretty bad translation in cases like this.

So in the end, this particular translation that I chose to ignore will be very expensive because instead of one translator who would be probably charging a somewhat higher rate than the “subprime” translator who tackled this fairly simple PowerPoint presentation, at least three translators will in the end have to work on it in order to produce evidence that can be used in court.

It will cost at least twice as much as what it would have cost had the e-mail been addressed only to me or to another experienced translator.

This is an example of how a bidding game aimed at minimizing the cost and ensuring a short turnaround time can result in a much higher cost and a late delivery of the translation. I am no genius, but I do know that I can’t leave German words untranslated, even in graphics, I put subscripts in chemical compounds, my spelling is consistently American, etc.

And I can be always easily located to certify my own work.



  1. Sounds like one big merry mix up. It’s a good thing you decided to pass on the job:)


  2. It was a simple job, I could have done it easily, and there would have been no problems with my translation.

    But I refuse to bid when agencies use mass e-mails because somebody will inevitably put in a lower bid.

    I only bid on price quote requests from direct customers.


  3. I used to advise my fellow Chinese translators: Do not respond to cattle calls. But it’s funny that there are still many fly for cattle calls. Why? I really want to know.


  4. Cattle calls … I like that.

    Why do the translators respond?

    Because they are desperate for work.

    Subprime translators are always desperate for work.


  5. You see, Steve, though I feel sometimes as subprime as a fake, I find it really difficult for me to respond to cattle calls, not even to cattle calls for translator profiles (CV) and not to mention responding with a “F***k off!”

    I guess we are of about the same attitude, as I read your opinion commenting that matter at another translation colleague’s blog some time ago. Sometimes I would like to respond with a “F***k off!” to cattle calls, but I am usually able to refrain myself from doing so. Quite a hard work, I must say.

    BTW, the term “cattle calls” was an invention of either Kevin Lossner or Miguel Llorens. I like that very much. In Chinese, we say to it 呼牛喚馬 which comes from
    that is interpreted in Japanese as

    I guess that’s why people still respond to cattle calls. They must be wiser than me. Had I suffered more from translator’s dementia, I might have found it much easier to do so.


  6. Here is Google Translate of your Chinese text:

    “Full working knowledge of the world taste the term Fuyufanyun, 総 careless opening the eyes. Will do the favor, with teaching call cattle call horse, just nod.”

    And Google Translate of you Japanese text:

    “Do not touch the humanity schizo Once the reality of the world knows, and it’s cloudy rain, even annoying thing to see, open your eyes.
    Once the reality of human nature knows, even if called sardine keep it horse, cow and I, absolutely, and crawling, just have a reply.”

    Do not touch the humanity, Schizo!


  7. Wonderful Machine Translation!

    Isn’t it?


  8. 飽諳世味、一任覆雨翻雲、総慵開眼。

    Having familiarized yourself with the flavors of the world, no matter how heftily the rain pounders and how thickly the clouds are gathering, you will remain inactive.
    Having gotten to know human nature, no matter in which ways they do cattle calls, your sole response will be nodding and saying, “Ay ay Sir!” and “Ay ay Ma’am!”

    Now, do not touch the humanity, Shizo!


    • I forgot something refreshing from Mongolia for our Shizo:


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  10. As a translation buyer, I can confirm that you get what you pay for indeed. Low rates look very suspicious to me, and I know the quality is at stake.


  11. Thank you for your comment.

    As a translation buyer, what would you consider a suspiciously low rate?


  12. […] all know the saying “you get what you pay for” and in many cases this isn’t actually true. However, translation services are one of the […]


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