Posted by: patenttranslator | August 14, 2015

Applying Corporate Production Models to the So-Called Translation Industry

An important principle of the corporate production model is that higher profitability can be achieved with better efficiency.

A hundred years ago, Henry Ford, who was incidentally an admirer of Adolf Hitler, greatly increased efficiency in his factories by introducing the first moving assembly line for mass production of automobile parts and entire automobiles. Evidence of the fact that fast moving production lines were not very amenable to a great variety of choices for customers already a century ago is the following famous Henry Ford quote:”Any customer can have a car painted any color he wants so long as it is black.”

In the 1950s, the restaurant chain McDonald’s applied the mass production model of efficiency to the production of fast food meals based on the principle that every task can be broken down into a series of smaller tasks so that workers, unencumbered by having to follow through the entire production process, could thus work much more quickly. Burger flippers who flip burgers for hours without having to do anything else until a manager rotates them to another position, such as that of egg-frying specialists, are able to flip burgers and then fry eggs faster than cooks or chefs who are entrusted with the task of preparing entire meals.

They are much more efficient because instead of being cooks or chefs who prepare entire meals, they have become burger flipping and egg frying human machines.

The highly efficient corporate production model was eventually also adopted in the communist economic model. A good example of the application of Henry Ford’s and McDonald’s’ highly efficient mass production model is the Soviet style of housing for the happy workers who were living in the communist paradise. Rows of huge, grey, ugly, identical blocks of buildings constructed from prefabricated panels made of stressed concrete are lasting monuments to the application of Henry Ford’s model of efficient production not only in the former Soviet Union, but also in many former Soviet block countries, from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea.

It’s hard to tell whether the cheap public housing architecture, typical of the huge “project” style of housing in big American cities, was originally inspired by the Soviet style of housing for a country where everybody was able to breathe completely freely, unlike in any other country: (at least based on the lyrics of the Soviet anthem: “я другой такой страны не знаю где так вольно дышит человек”,) or whether it was the other way round.

What probably happened was that a powerful synergistic effect was exerted back and forth across two different economic and ideological models, which in spite of many differences also shared some similarities.

Large translation agencies also applied the corporate mass production method to what is called “the translation industry.” But unlike the original creators of McDonald’s production method, or the mass production model of efficiency for the Soviet style housing for enthusiastic builders of a future society where everybody is provided for according to his or her needs, or creators of American-style cheap housing for the tired, poor, huddled masses, translation agencies say that their translation production method is the only legitimate way to translate anything, and that it in fact results in a higher quality of the final product thanks to added value and additional services.

So let’s take a look at the some of the claims about added value and additional services that are typically supplied by translation agencies.

1. Unlike Mere Translators or Small Translation Agencies, Only Large Agencies Are Able to Coordinate Large Translation Projects

Ehm …. but mere translators such as myself are also able to coordinate translation projects, and some of them are pretty large and continue for years.

I started coordinating projects involving a number of translators, sometime in different languages, let’s see … in 1994, and it’s a part of my job to this day. I believe that I can do it better than your average translation agency project manager, typically a kid who does not even understand the language in which the documents being managed are written.

I also happen to know a number of other translators who are also coordinating large translation projects, some of which have continued for a number of years, because I myself have worked for them.

So this claim is false. You don’t have to be a translation agency to coordinate a large translation project. In fact, a translator who understands both or several languages of the managed project and who has experience relevant to the field of the project will by definition do a much better job managing a complicated job for several translators than your typical translation agency project manager.

2. Only Translation Agencies Are Equipped to Use ISO-Certification or EN-Certification

This claim is absolutely true – but what does this particular claim really say?
The ISO or EN certification models is a set of rules originally designed for manufacturing industrial products. It is possible to design a set of techniques and rules for manufacturing products, such as cars, or even of meals such as hamburgers … but the product called translation is created in the brain of a human being. An educated and highly experienced translator will most of the time produce a good translation. An inexperienced and poorly paid one, who is much more likely to be used by a large translation agency due to the low cost, is likely to produce a poor translation, possibly containing many mistranslation that can never be detected with methods that were designed for mass production of industrial products.

Certification for thinking processes taking place in the heads of people called translators, who may or may not know what they are doing, is obviously nonsense. However, since so many clients don’t know much about translation, it is a popular and useful advertising gimmick.

To say that the accuracy of translations is guaranteed because a translation agency is using a certain method is to be dishonest in the extreme in order to fool prospective customers.

When a translation agency uses “ISO certification” or another type of “certification” in its marketing propaganda, it is consciously being deceitful. The chances are that a translation agency that is lying to its customers also delivers translation at a lower quality level than a service provider, be it a translator or specialized translation agency, who does not feel that it needs to deceive its customers in this manner.

3. Unlike Mere Translators, Only Large Translation Agencies Are Able to Manage Huge Multilingual Projects

This claim is in fact true.

Although I do have a lot of experience with management of translation projects, an update of several hundred pages of a printer manual into 16 languages, for example, is not something that I would be able to handle.

Maybe I’ll eventually learn how to manage also these projects, but why would I want to learn to do so when projects likes this represent only a very small percentage of all the work out there, probably less than 1 percent?

Although I have been working for several years on ongoing projects involving translation of patents from or into just a few languages, namely languages that I can understand, I ignore requests to bid on patent translation projects involving translation of patents into many languages if the project is too big and includes languages that I can’t understand myself.

When you specialize in something, by definition, you have to turn down work in a field that you don’t know, or if this is a project that you would not be interested in for other reasons.

Just like fast food restaurants represent a reasonable dining option if you don’t mind eating mystery meat and French fries that taste so good (although you know that they’ll make you fat), the corporate translation production model is in fact a reasonable option under some circumstances.

But both of these options should be used sparingly. I like Burger King, but I eat there only a few times a year because I know that those burgers and fries are not really good for me.

I wonder how many customers of large translation agencies realize that the translations produced based on the corporate translation model are not really good for them.



  1. I guess the question is about one’s mission; is it to ‘provide a reasonable translation for as much income as possible ‘, or ‘to make a reasonable income by providing the best translation possible’.

    The former characterises the ‘translation industry’, whereas the latter characterises the ‘translations professional’.

    A qualified translator seeking a future with the industry is likely to find an easy start, but will inevitably face disappointment from a career point of view. The qualified translator striving to be part of the profession, on the other hand, will find it challenging to build a client base, but if dedicated and hard-working, will eventually develop a satisfying career.

    If there is a professional practice that is easy to establish, I have yet to learn about it, and opportunities to be mentored in our field are rare. Agencies have no interest in developing the careers of translators, indeed, the evidence suggests quite the reverse. The answer is ‘professional’ development for qualified translators.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You got the right answer: professional development for qualified translators.

      The problem is: when you find your spacious homeland, you are getting semi-retired.


      • The right answer is given by Shai Navé on Aug 2, 2015 in Steve’s facebook space

        “With time, no one in their right mind would pay to study this approach to translation because it leads nowhere. Why invest time, effort, and money for nothing? You can already get “hired” (as an independent contractor, mind you, with all that entails) by those commoditizers without spending a dime on education, or knowing much beyond copying content and pasting into GT, so why even bother?”

        The written above corresponds to the ideas expressed in an article by a Bulgarian colleague, posted on Apr 14, 2013 on her blog:

        “It would take you years to become a professional translator, but only a couple of days to register a translation agency. Having gone to bed unqualified and unemployed, you wake up in the morning a manager of a translation company. You rent an office and start “translating” in any and all possible languages.”
        (loose translation from Bulgarian, source: “Does a Professional Translator Need the Services of a Translation Agency?”)


  2. Just a few points to consider when speaking about the so-called translation industry. It’s a quick attempt at comparing industrial car manufacture and “industrial” translation.

    Industrial car manufacture:
    – before a new worker may start contributing to a car manufacturing “project”, he or she will need a short on-the-job training as to how to handle a specific machine tool, or perform a specific operation (what button to press or lever to pull etc. in order to keep the machine working), and will be instructed on safety measures and protective devices

    ‘Industrial” translation:
    – before a new translator may start contributing to a translation project, he or she will need not only a short on-the-job training as to how to handle a specific CAT tool, but also a background of years-long learning of BOTH languages, and desirably, some knowledge in the specific field of translation for the ongoing project: medicine, engineering, banking, law, etc. (indeed, people generally believe that learning a foreign language is a piece of cake, and rarely, if ever, think of what a vast ocean each language is in terms of professional fields with specific terminology, that no one can master even in one’s native language)

    Industrial car manufacture:
    – machine tools guarantee that identical cars will come off a production line regardless of what personality, intellectual skills, academic background or mentality individual workers have, for industrial production of cars is not an intuitu personae activity (a worker has to be careful, however, or else an accident may occur resulting in bodily harm)

    “Industrial” translation:
    – CAT tools do not guarantee that identical pieces of translation will come off a “production line”. The successful completion of a translation job is highly dependent on the personality, intellectual skills, academic background and/or mentality individual translators have, for translation is an intuitu personae activity (indeed, CAT tools do help make terminology consistent, and that’s all they do)

    Industrial car manufacture:
    – the same model of car is manufactured hundreds and thousands times by using the same parts and following the same assembly instructions regardless of who the workers are. What matters is the quality of parts and the strict observance of assembly steps.

    “Industrial” translation:
    – each time a unique translation project is undertaken, a real challenge for the minds of translators who participate in it. CAT tools can only useful for translation projects of the same type (highly repetitive). Therefore, industrial translation is only feasible when, say, a construction company needs regular translations of mostly identical materials (here’s the strength of CAT tools, you can’t deny). In all other cases, which make the majority of translation projects, industrial translation is a mere fiction.

    Intuitu personae definition:


  3. […] I wrote in another post, certification of thinking processes taking place in the heads of people called translators, who may …. However, since so many clients don’t know much about translation, it is a popular and useful […]


  4. […] one of the modern features in the jungle of translation industry 2.0, for example this one in 2014, this one in 2015, or this one in […]


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