Translation agencies often state on their websites that they pride themselves on delivering superior quality with every one of their translations because every translation undergoes a strict quality control check consisting of at least 5 quality control stages. A few seem to be happy merely with 3 stages, although some may claim as many as 7 stages of quality control. To my knowledge, 7 claimed stages of strict quality control is the limit at this point in time.
The more languages they translate, usually in every subject and every direction, the more strict the “quality assurance checks” become in their own advertising of their own incredible dexterity and expertness. To believe the marketing spiel on their websites, a translation agency translating any subject from and into 150 languages (not an uncommon claim) is a like a huge, quasi omniscient computer brain linking together eminent linguists and other professionals in every field known to man, thus ensuring perfection.
And all of these eminently qualified professionals, armed with advanced scientific degrees, at least an MA if not a PhD, eagerly work for these translation agencies. Let’s say that a translation agency uses 5 level of strict translation quality control as stated on its website.
This would mean that 5 professionals would need to participate in the preparation of every single translation. Translators know that checking is good. We may not be able to check our own work very effectively because people are often unable to see their own mistakes. That is why I always proofread my own translations next day, or better still after a couple of days. I am not sure how exactly the mechanism works, but I do know that the passage of time removes the block that prevents me from seeing the typos and inconsistencies in my translations. And when I proofread translations done by other people, I almost always find a couple of typos if the translation is at least a few thousand words long.
If 5 different, highly qualified professionals would need to be involved in a rigorous quality guaranteeing process, then 5 highly qualified professionals would need to be paid accordingly for their work.
But since the typical profit margin of a translation agency is 50%, once the remaining profit is divided between all the members of the quality guaranteeing members, each of whom is a seasoned professional and thus not exactly cheap, how much would be left for the translator who in fact first translated the document?
Between 10 to 20 percent would be my guess. So for example for a translation that cost 1000 dollars, if the translator receives 200 dollars and the agency would get to keep the usual 50% which is 500 dollars, this would mean that the 3 remaining members of the team (a second translator, equally qualified as the first one, a PhD subject specialist who is also fluent in both languages, plus an additional multilingual genius to be on the safe side) would split between themselves the remaining 300 dollars.
The calculation does not work. Either the agency would have to forego a healthy profit margin (which means that in the long run it would not be able to stay in business), or the subject-qualified multilingual genii would need to be paid peanuts or work for free.
Most translators would also know that the calculation has no chance of working also on the logical level.
The assumption behind the theory of multiple stages of rigorous translation quality control is that the translation is being improved with every additional stage.
But this assumption completely ignores the fact that the most important ingredient of every good piece of writing, including translation, is creativity. A second level of quality control will help even the best author, including a translator, to eliminate typos, omissions and inconsistencies. But five levels of rigorous quality control would most definitely murder and mutilate beyond recognition even the best translation as different proofreaders and checkers would be introducing their own ideas and personal preferences into the mix.
The same principle of creativity holds true for instance also about cooking, which is why the proverb “Too many cooks will spoil the broth” exists in so many languages. Do you know a famous restaurant that happens to be run by 3 to 5 famous chefs? You don’t, of course. There can be only one chef in a good restaurant, the rest of the people working in the kitchen are called cooks and they mostly do things like chopping onions, while the chef gets most of the money and all of the glory.
When I was a child, I had a book of short stories by the Czech writer Karel Čapek called “The Misadventures of Doggie and Pussycat”, two four-legged friends who were always getting into some kind of trouble in spite of their best intentions. One of the stories is called “How Doggie and Pussycat Baked a Birthday Cake” (Jak si pejsek s kočičkou dělali k svátku dort).
Although Doggie and Pussycat were the best of friends, they had different ideas about the best ingredients for their cake. And because they were such good friends and they wanted to bake a really, really good cake, they decided to use all of them. Pussycat put in milk, chocolate, sugar, nuts, cucumbers …. (and four mice). Doggie put in sausages, bones, hot sauce, lard and sweets, cinnamon, cottage cheese, semolina porridge, gingerbread, cabbage and raisins.
Fortunately for Doggie and Pussycat, when they left the cake to cool off a bit, a vicious (and stupid) neighborhood dog greedily devoured the entire cake while it was still hot.
The mean dog was sick fourteen long days because the Doggie’s and Pussycat’s cake was really horrible.
And so would be even the best translation should it really be subjected to 5 to 7 rigorous quality control checks by 5 to 7 different proofreaders.
Fortunately for clients, these multiple stages of rigorous quality control exist only in the minds of creative marketing specialists who can write the content for the website of any business, including the websites of translation agencies, even though they may know nothing about the business per se.