Thursday, March 26, 2009

Babylon Ltd. is looking for translators for their forthcoming online human translation service

Up to now I knew Babylon only as providers of dictionary software. They offer a straightforward application to query several dictionaries and glossaries at the same time, and a utility to build and manage your own glossaries. The standard Babylon subscription includes many "free" glossaries, but for more professionally finished dictionaries they charge extra.

While some of the claims Babylon makes are over the top (for example they offer the English-Italian Oxford Paravia Concise dictionary - a decent dictionary, but far from "[...] the most authoritative and comprehensive Italian-English dictionary" they claim: several more comprehensive and authoritative English-Italian dictionaries are available, some of them even with free online versions), I found their software fairly useful, especially if you need to query several different references at the same time.

Now Babylon wants to enter the online human translation field. I received an e-mail inviting me to apply on line.

Unlike those of many translation companies, the application form takes only a few minutes to complete. However, I noticed three potential issues:
  1. Among the required fields were Gender and Year of Birth,
  2. There is no field to enter your rates, and
  3. While the "Basic Agreement to Terms of Conduct and Terms of Conditions" are short and clear, they include one I would want to negotiate before accepting: "If you have returned an incomplete or low quality work, your payment might be withhold or/and reduced" (sorry, but "low quality work" according to whom, and verified in what manner?)
I asked Ursula Ron about the reason to include the Year of Birth, and she answered it was useful to double check the claims made by the translators about their experience "If someone is born 1980 and tells me he has 15 years of experience, something is definitely wrong". Fair enough, but I still don't understand why they also need "Gender" as a required field.

I'm posting here some of the additional information Ms. Ron sent me, with her permission:

  • What is this all about?
We envision the Online Human Translation Service as a web site that allows customers to place projects to be translated, and translators to pick those jobs that suit into their daily workflow.
  • When will it happen?
A limited test version should be online within three to four weeks and we are aiming to have the official version ready by the end of May.
  • What about the rates?
We are still trying to figure out the most suitable rates that a) will allow qualified translators to get a fair payment, b) will allow us to offer competitive prices and c) will make this enterprise profitable to Babylon.

Since Ursula Ron clearly said they are looking of experienced translators, I urge her to let the translators set their own rates.

I have some misgivings, since this could turn out as yet another site offering cheap translations. Still, the declared interest in experienced professionals is an encouraging sign.


  1. Dear Riccardo,

    thank you ever so much for the interesting article and for spreading the word about the forthcoming human translation service by Babylon.

    Concerning the "Gender" field in the online application: I made an adaption of the form and "Gender" is not mandatory anymore. Actually this was mainly of help to me. I get many emails from translators from all over the world, and honestly there are first names I never knew they exists and which certainly do not give me any indication about the gender. I like to keep the contacts I have as personal as possible and for me it is strange not to know if I have now an email conversation with a woman or a man. BTW – I always thought Ursula is clear cut case of a female first name, but some emails I got have proven me wrong.

    About the low “quality of work” section. I would like to see that I am able to find translators within the applications who could function as “Seniors” and will mediate and decide in cases like this, of course against payment. We need some recheck of quality other than user satisfaction, I guess. So far I haven’t been able to get the budget approved for the “Senior”. The main function of the "Basic Agreement to Terms of Conduct and Terms of Conditions" is to give a first glimpse at the responsibilities of each site. Those chosen will anyhow sign a more carefully phrased agreement.

    I am happy about every experienced translator who is sending me an online application. I am the only one who has access to this data and I treat confidentially.

    Best regards,
    Ursula [at]

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Thanks for the informative post, Riccardo. I know requesting gender and age information is now considered politically incorrect and even illegal in some jurisdictions, but I agree with Ursula that it is relevant.

    The "quality of work" issue and the apparent lack of PMs to handle more complex projects disturb me.

    Rates are always an issue, of course. But I don't think letting us set ours is so important. If the offered rates are too low I will simply reject the job and that is that.

    Danilo Nogueira, male, 66.

  4. Hi Danilo,

    I appreciate your take on the rates. I truly believe this is how it is going to be. Those that will see the rate not suitable will not accept a job offered by us. Which is a kind of feedback, having many translator in my database is one thing, having them working for us is another. IF we see that we loose to many of our translators with a certain rate we will have to rethink and to adjust the rates.

    There will be a lot learning in the first phase I am sure.

    Best regards,
    Ursula, female as said, 43.

  5. Interesting. Are they offering project management as well?

  6. Babylon got the idea after several meetings with One Hour Translation ( few months ago.

    We already offer web based, fast, high quality human translation service which is based on a community of over 8000 translators from all over the world.

    To their credit I should say they tried running such a service in the past and failed. Maybe this time they will get it right. Good luck to them the market is big for all :)

    Ron from One Hour

  7. Dear Ms. Ron,

    Are you still in need of translators? I would like to participate in this project, could you be kind enough to let me know. my contact email is below:

    Best regards,

    Elsa T.

  8. Babylone is one of famouse translator and i used many times, I really satisfied with it.Thanks for share article related to babylone.


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