American Translators Association (ATA): Business Smarts-Outsourcing

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American Translators Association (ATA): Business Smarts-Outsourcing


This column returns to the topic of outsourcing among translators. As we have emphasized before, you should never outsource a text to another translator without the express permission of the client. Although permission was granted in this case, the outsourcing result was less than satisfactory...

Dear Business Smarts:

I am writing to get your advice about an unusual situation. A direct client, for whom I translate regularly, recently asked me to do a difficult technical translation into Spanish. I was not sure I would be up to the task because technical translation is not my field of expertise. But since I know the company's product line quite well, I asked permission to have a more experienced colleague do the translation, while I would provide proofreading services to make sure the correct terminology was used. My contact person at the company readily agreed, and I gave the project to a well-respected colleague, who often responds to questions in Spanish online forums and has a good résumé. To my astonishment, I found a number of strange errors in the final product and it took me three times longer to edit and proofread the document than I had expected. When questioned, the colleague cheerfully let me know that she dictates all her work using speech recognition software, since it allows her to "get more done." I did not want to kick up a fuss, and ended up redoing the project on my own. I felt resentful and angry. What should I have done?
— New Mexico

Dear New Mexico:

Quite a few translators use speech recognition software, which allows the text to be "dictated" into the computer using a microphone, eliminating a lot of typing. The programs can be trained to understand certain words and expressions based on samples spoken by the user. The text that results from voice-input sessions is far from finished, however. On the contrary, it has to be edited very carefully to eliminate small errors and correct the punctuation. For example, a speech recognition program may interpret the word "together" as "to get there," which would completely distort all meaning. Apparently, such programs can be used with great success for documents that often contain the same phrases, but the error rate can be so high that some translation agencies have expressly banned dictating. Your colleague was not wrong to save time with speech recognition software, but it was inappropriate for her to send you the unfinished copy of a translation that had specifically been outsourced because it required her expertise, and to assume you would do all the polishing and editing. She was quite obviously taking advantage of you and "got more done" because you did half her work.

The best approach might have been to send your corrections back to the colleague to let her know the amount of editing you had to do. It may also be useful for you to reassess your own skills. What made you think you could not do this particular project yourself, even though you understood the product and knew the client well, and were able to edit the final product with authority? With a little research and a few deep breaths, you may find that "insourcing" is the best solution.

Reprinted from The ATA Chronicle: September 2006, p 36