At least as far as some translators are concerned, it’s definitely an ugly word.
They say it with the same kind of disdain that most right-wing ideologues in the United States reserve for words like “entitlement” (Social Security is an “entitlement”), or “socialized medicine” (also an “entitlement, and also considered to be a really bad thing in this country, so horrific that it must be resisted at all cost).
Without Social Security, many if not most old people would not be able to afford even cat food. But it is an “entitlement”, so it’s a bad thing anyway, old people be damned. Privatized corporate medicine does not work and is about 50 times more expensive than socialized medicine, which for the most part works much better. But because it is “an entitlement”, it’s better when people suffer needlessly and die prematurely as long as they don’t have to deal with the monstrous “socialized medicine”.
Outsourcing is another word that seems to have an ugly ring to it among many translators. A real translator does not outsource. If he or she is offered a job that he or she can’t do because it is not in his or her language combination, the proper thing to do is to simply say no, just like Nancy Reagan told us (Say No To Drugs!).
Outsourcing is done mostly by greedy shylocks. This is the clear implication of statements by translators who proudly say in online discussions, “No, I do not outsource, I would never do that!”
Whenever I read something like that in an online discussion, I always think to myself, this person is either lazy, dumb, or a combination of the two.
Why do I think so? Because I have been “outsourcing” for more than 20 years. Initially, I too thought that it made sense to simply say no to a customer who was asking to translate something into Japanese, or German. I can translate myself from those languages into English, but not into those languages from English.
It is too dangerous, I was told by other, older and more experienced translators some 20 years ago, so it’s best to stay away from this kind of thing. You should concentrate on what you know best, and that means that you should translate only the languages you know yourself into your native language and say “no” to everything else.
I still remember how an older, much more experienced translator shared this pearl of wisdom with me when I told her that I had recently accepted a project involving translation of a patent from English into Japanese, and that it went well. I translate from Japanese into English, but I cannot translate from English into Japanese. I remember the look of genuine concern on her face when she was saying these words to me. I even remember that at that moment, we were walking through San Francisco’s Chinatown on Post Street.
Well, I didn’t listen to her. Instead of saying no, I started looking around for native Japanese speakers and if there was a request for translation into Japanese, I tried to match the job with suitable translators and then “outsourced” the project to them, proofread it and delivered the final translation to the customer. And then I started doing the same also for other languages from which I translate into English as well, and since I translate from seven languages into English, this means that I can translate, partially by “outsourcing”, from and into fourteen languages. Some of the projects I translate myself and some of them I handle with the dirty “outsourcing” technique.
I am hardly the only one who thinks that it makes perfect sense for a translator to “outsource” translations in this manner. Of course, this can be done only with translations from direct clients. For one thing, it would be dishonest to pretend to a translation agency that you are translating something that will be translated by someone else. Perhaps even more importantly, there would not be enough profit margin for you in such an arrangement if you were working for an intermediary, i.e. a translation agency. But when you are the intermediary, or agency, if you will, who usually works for a direct client for X cents per word, you can ask for 2 x X cents per word for projects in language directions that you cannot translate yourself … and you can generally get away with it and split the remuneration with the translator.
I think that this is how the concept of a translation agency was originally created, before the advent of mega-translation agencies, back when most translation agencies were actually run by translators who understood complicated translation problems, unlike many, possibly most translation agencies today that can be characterized best by the word “clueless” when it comes intricate translation issues because they don’t understand the languages from and into which they are translating.
Imagine, for example, the following scenario: Let’s say that you are a medical translator who has been translating articles from medical journals for a direct client, for example a pharmaceuticals company, from Spanish and French into English for several years now. The client obviously likes you and trusts you because the company has been sending you the same type of projects to be translated into English from Spanish and French for a number of years.
But all of a sudden, this client has a different project for you: translations of summaries of the same articles from the same medical journals into Spanish and French, which is something that you cannot do yourself.
What should you do? It’s quite a dilemma, isn’t it? According to many purists among translators who are convinced that “outsourcing” translations to other translators is a filthy practice unworthy of a genuine translator (in fact on par with “crowdsourcing”), you should simply say to the client, no, sorry, I don’t do that, the way Nancy Reagan taught us to say no to drugs.
The other option is that you accept the project but tell the client that you have to charge 2 x X cents per word instead of 1 x X cents a word because you need to share the bounty with qualified translators.
If you say yes, the client will probably go along with the higher cost because you have already proved your worth to the client if your expertise is more important to the client than the cost.
If you say no, what is the client likely to do? Well, he or she will probably go on the internet, click on one of the advertisements from mega-agencies because they usually come up at the top of the page and the project will be handled by a project manager who most likely does not know anything about the field of medical translation and who does not understand the languages in question either.
And if the client gets used to the mega-agency, the projects that you used to translate yourself may after a while disappear too.
If we now change the translation field and language combination, this imaginary dilemma was a real dilemma that I was facing myself about eight years ago. At that point, I was swamped with very profitable Japanese patents that I was translating myself and I did not want to bother with projects into other languages. I don’t need this hassle, I thought to myself. I will just say no to the client.
But in the end I said yes, asked for a substantially higher rate, and when the rate was accepted, I started looking for suitable translators with experience in the field.
I am so glad I did that all those years ago, especially since I don’t have nearly as many Japanese patents for translation at this point. But the projects that I “outsource” into other languages that I cannot translate myself, projects that I organize and proofread, have been coming from the same client several times a month (who might have been tempted to defect to another agency had I said “no” back then).
At this moment, I in fact have no work, which is why I have time to write another silly blog post this morning. I sent my cost estimate to a client yesterday and if it is accepted, that project will keep me busy for about a week. But even if my bid is not accepted (it was for several fairly long patents, and the client of my client might say no to the cost), I still have four translators working on six projects in two language combinations that I cannot handle myself thanks to the fact that I said “yes” to a project that I did not really want to do when I was busy translating myself.
So even if my cost estimate from yesterday is not accepted, and even if no other work comes through the pipeline in the meantime, I should have enough money to pay my bills from the translations that I “outsourced”.
I think I made the right decision when I dared to ignore conventional wisdom and ventured beyond my comfort zone all those years ago, don’t you agree?
I just checked my e-mail and saw that my bid from yesterday was accepted.The little engine that could, called PatentTranslators.com, is now firing again on all cylinders.