Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Freelance Translators & the Effect Of Emerging Markets On Them

How are the so-called "emerging markets" affecting freelance translators and the market in general?

Sometime just after the advent of the Internet, multilingual people from all over the world realized its potential to help them to make money from their linguistic skills. Freelance translators - some working part-time as a way to earn a bit of extra cash, and some working full-time - decided to use this amazing new connectivity tool to cash in on their “skills”. Unfortunately, not all of them had the “skills” they thought they did (or claimed to).

Soon after followed the Internetification (it’s a word NOW) of a group of “emerging markets” - better known as “3rd world countries with electricity and a little bit of money coming in”. These emerging markets jumped on the Internet/Freelance Translation bandwagon even harder than the previously-mentioned folks did. And once they jumped on, they rocked it even harder.

This is relatively problematic for me, both as a translator and as a project manager. It’s problematic as a translator because of market saturation, i.e., too many people offering the same service as I, and usually for much cheaper than I am willing or able to offer it for. As a project manager, it poses a problem in that if I post a job on an Internet translation site, I tend to have an exponential number of candidates than before, meaning that I have to sift and weed through dozens and dozens of potential translators to find one that can fit my needs. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem – indeed, it would actually be more of a blessing – if the majority of these “translators” were actually working in their natives tongues as opposed to working both from and into their secondary and third languages.

As a rule I generally try to hire a person who translates from his or her secondary language into their native language. When translating, I mainly work in Japanese-English translations, and although I’m quite fluent in Japanese, the fact is it’s not my native language. I like to take pride in my work and because of this – and because I want my clients to come back – I try to put out the best possible translation I can. This is usually just not possible when working into a language that is not fully your own.

Since this outbreak of “McTranslators”- less-than-qualified translators who provide cheap quality for cheap prices – many of the more qualified freelance translators around the globe have been hurting. Especially with the world economy continuing its slump, more and more outsourcers and non-translation-related companies in need of translation work are turning to these “emerging market” translators in an attempt to keep costs down. On top of taking work from proper, qualified translators, these translators also tend to give the more qualified among us a bad image. Many companies become wary of hiring freelancers after having a few negative experiences with these people, due to general low quality of work and/or late or missed deadlines.

There may be more aspects to this turn of events of which I am not aware, but personally I don’t see much but trouble in the market in the future as long as this trend of what could almost be called “sweatshop translation” continues. Of course there are many, many fully qualified and capable translators in these “emerging markets” who do proper work with proper language sets, but I’m afraid that there are just too many who aren’t doing so. For now, all we can do - as translators as well as project managers – is hope that they find another market to saturate and somehow lose interest in ours, or at least that outsourcers and general clients learn to pick up on hints that the person they’re considering contracting is less than qualified for the work at hand.

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