Thursday, June 13, 2019

How to ensure poor translation results

 I've just received the following email from

Ciao! Abbiamo appena ricevuto una richiesta di traduzione di 40.000 parole, con subject legal. Il documento (word caricato su Matecat) sarà diviso in link da 1.500 parole circa. I link saranno inviati domani mattina (ore 10.30 \ 11.00) e dovranno essere pronti entro le 17.00 del giorno stesso (14\06\2019).  Facci sapere se sei disponibile e se si per quanti link da 1.500 \ 2000 parole circa

For those who don't speak the execrable Italian-English mixture used in the above message, the following is a rough translation:

Hi! We have just received a request for the translation of 40,000 words, subject legal. The document (word loaded in Matecat) will be divided in sections of about 1,500 words each. The sections will be sent [to translators] tomorrow morning (by 10:30 - 11.00 AM) and must be ready by 5:00 PM on the same day (June 14, 2019). Let us know if you are available and, if so, how many 1,500-2,000 word sections you can take.

This means translating 1,500-2,000 words in a bare six hours or so (possible, though probably a bit tight, considering the subject), but it also means that the whole translation will be done by a group of between 20 and 27 translators. You'll notice there is no mention of terminology coordination (impossible anyway, given the time constrains), nor of editing or proofreading (and no sign of the rates offered).

Even assuming all translators who accept this "offer" are all good professionals (and, frankly, I doubt any good translator would participate in such a project), the resulting translation is likely to prove disastrous because of the inconsistencies that will inevitably crop in, given the likely number of translators and the little time available.

This is the recipe for a failed translation.


  1. Hello Riccardo, do you think that the team at Translated would then review the entire project or simply leave it as is? I totally understand your concern here but I never tried Translated's system and from what I see (externally) they have a decent business going on... don't know, just a thought. Interesting post!

    1. Hi Arrigo, I have no idea whether or not they plan to review the resulting translation. But let's assume they do: if they have allotted only a few hours to translation, as they have, how much time can they then allot to revision?
      If this project had been assigned to a single translator and a single editor, the time necessary to complete it would have been about 20 business days for translation (at a rate of 2,000 / day), and about 5 business days for editing (at a rate of 8,000 / day). I know that there are faster translators and editors, but these are good averages.
      So the total time necessary to do a good job on such a project would be 25 business days total.
      If the translation job is then split and assigned to several translators, the time necessary for editing increases, since (inevitably) the number of problems to be corrected increases (inconsistencies, and so on).
      If the translation is split between 20 or more translators, the time necessary to edit it well is probably some 8 to 10 business days... and if they had that amount of time available, it would have been much better to give it to translation by reducing the number of translators necessary.

  2. Also...what is "subject legal"? How can a translator willing to accept even have any idea if he/she is capable of properly doing the job. "Legal" is so vast. How does one use a project-common glossary/termbase in Matecat (I have used it)? Yes, Arrigo, they have a decent business going on. McDonald's does, too, but we all know it is junk. (Bad example, I know, but you get the point... a lot of business, but forget the quality).

  3. Translation takes time. Splitting documents into teams can be acceptable for some projects, but uniformity in word-selection suffers a bit. It is always best to have one translator or one team complete an entire project. We all know that not all customers can wait.

  4. Hello, my name is Aura, and I'm an English literature student from Medan State of University in Indonesia. During this semester, I study Scientific Translation courses. So how do you translate a legal document? how do you choose the word to be translated? Please answer my question, Thank you in advance.

    1. Dear Aura,
      Thank you for your questions! They deserve a longer answer than what one can provide in a comment here, and I will maybe write a new blog ost to attempt to provide such an answer. But to give you at least a brief answer:
      1) You translate a legal document as you would any other kind of text - by understanding as well as possible what the document is, what it means and what its purpose is, and also by understand what the purpose of your translation will be (the same as the original document, or some other purpose?)
      2) You choose the words for your translation based on your answer to your first question. For example, if you are translating a contract so that the translation itself will be a legally binding contract, you may translate certain terms in a different ways than if you translated the same terms for instance for an academic article on comparative law.


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