Translation Commoditization Makes the World More Equal

translation-comoditizationToday, more and more people are getting an opportunity to get translations. The evolving technological solutions and the increasing number of translation service providers are making this development possible. Translation is transforming from luxury to commodity. Translation commoditization is a good thing because it reduces inequality.

Language skills create an access to knowledge in different languages. The uneven distribution of information has divided people around the world. The elite with most resources and language skills used to enjoy the privilege and the power. Previously only companies and other big entities in the developed countries have had a chance to use translation services. Nowadays, translation is becoming more available to the masses everywhere.

The competition is harsh and new service providers are entering the global translation markets all the time. Due to the increasing competition, average prices have decreased. Professional translators who used to have steady positions in the market may feel uncertainty and discomfort when new competitors are changing the overall price image of the industry. However, the cause and effect goes to the other way too.

It is a new situation to have translation options available in every price category. This brings more potential customer to the markets. There aren’t enough professional translators to serve everyone. This is why language technologies are such a hot topic right now. Language technologies make it possible to produce a bigger amount of translations than before. The productivity increase comes from both the increased total production of the industry and the improved personal productivity when a professional translator adopts a new piece of technology to his working processes.

Due to the translation commoditization, people will become more familiar with the translation industry. The step from being an outsider to becoming a translation buyer gets smaller. People want to get their share of the power which comes with the information, and so the demand for translations will continue to grow. As a conclusion the whole cake becomes bigger and there will be more to share to all the translation solution providers.

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6 thoughts on “Translation Commoditization Makes the World More Equal”

  1. I think this post has a very good idea: commoditization as a means of having a more fair world.

    More proposals: let’s commoditize education, legal counselling, everything around Medicine (doctors, drugs, treatments, surgery)… I am sure more ideas will appear.

    We may even end up commoditizing sofware. That means, instead of dowloading a free trial from Multilizer, we can dowload free complete sofware.

    Yes, a different world is possible.

  2. Thank you for the comment, Aurora!
    It is a great vision to have a world like that. However, by commoditization we mean that people will have more options. We don’t suggest that everything should be free. People need to get a living from their work also in the future.

    Our main point is that getting something translated or understanding information shouldn’t be a yes/no question. Language technologies make it possible to have a wide variety of options with different prices, and everyone can choose the one which suits their resources. Of course the quality correlates with the price but the best quality isn’t always necessary. Likewise, those who need the highest quality will choose the best professional for the job also in the future.

  3. I’ve always been intrigued by this hasty generalization of the “globalization set”–the folks who have given us the monstrous cheap plastic chairs that plague the eye and assault good taste worldwide, regardless of country or culture –that “quality doesn’t matter” in translation. Or, at least, that it “sometimes isn’t necessary”.
    I suppose, just as “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, that depends entirely on your definition of “quality”.
    The error, to my mind, is to believe that quality is merely about the use of “beautiful language” and only applies to fine literature. The fact is that, as in any other worthwhile endeavor, quality is about getting it right! And what does getting it right mean?
    A. First and foremost, fully understanding the source text and reproducing the precise meaning, construction and register in the target language–something that seldom or only randomly happens in MT or when the inexpert are called upon to provide a translation.
    B. Providing a text that will be fully understood in the target language. This means delivering a translation that is entirely recognizable, familiar, self-explanatory and unquestionable. Try installing or setting up a new appliance by following a “gang-translated” or machine-translated manual that comes to you from, say, Chinese without ever having passed through profesional or human hands and your maddening frustration will prove to you why saying that “quality sometimes isn’t necessary” is simply a fallacy based on “thrifty” wishful-thinking.

  4. Thank you for sharing your opinion, Dan. You have it right; the correctness of the translation is important. But please notice that we said that “the best quality isn’t always necessary”. By “best quality” we mean “beautiful language”. If we put “quality” into to a continuum there certainly is a point or level that is needed to be able to understand the message.

    Unfortunately, not all people in the world can afford to buy a professional translation when they want to understand a piece of foreign text. And professional translators can’t afford to decrease prices. In addition, not all people want or can search for professional translator when they have a sentence or two (like a tweet or email) to translate and the translation needs to be done right away.

    It’s the company’s responsibility to make sure that their customers understand their manuals. Companies should never distribute a machine-translated manual without a proper proofreading. But from the customer’s point of view, if there isn’t a manual available in his language or in any language that he speaks, machine translation might help to get the main idea. Of course MT doesn’t always help, especially if the product and its manual are very complex. But if it’s the only option for the customer, I don’t see why he shouldn’t at least try it.

  5. “Translation is a utility”, “translation is a commodity”, “translation is…” People seem to need to redefine what translation is at the moment, which I suppose is natural in a time of rapid change. In fact, the point of translation hasn’t changed: Translation is a professional service that helps people communicate.
    Now, in common with many professional services, there are different levels of service. There’s fully automated, where you know that a given percentage of the output will be rubbish. That’s a risk you take – are you prepared for every word in four to be wrong, possibly sending you off in completely the wrong direction? Then there’s semi-automated, light-touch post editing, where everything will basically be ok, but you’re never going to win any Pulitzer prizes, and probably not any customers either. And finally there’s good, solid professional translation of the sort that MITIs (Members of the Institute of Translation & Interpreting) and ATA Certified Translators produce day-in, day-out. These all involve a level of professional service, from building and tuning a machine translation engine, through post-editing to a full translation-editing-proofreading cycle.
    You almost, but not quite, addressed the capability of commoditization (in your definition) to bring translation to communities that cannot afford a professional service. But surely we know that if we give a man a fish we feed him for a day, if we teach him to fish we give him the opportunity to feed himself for a lifetime? It’s incumbent on all of us in the “first world” of translation to work in support of those communities, bringing professional translation skills to languages that have not benefited from them before, giving them the tools to do a professional job and the acumen to do it professionally.
    Finally, on commoditization. Your description isn’t really of commoditization. Commoditization is what I experienced this week, when a customer sent me a file (an academic journal article) that was marked up heavily with yellow highlighter. The yellow portions were the German text that I was to translate. In between were sections already in English. But these sections ranged in size from paragraphs to individual words within otherwise highlighted sentences. Most of the time these words were technical terminology, but every now and then, there was a “they” or an “it” that I had been instructed not to touch and told that would not be paid for. This is what commoditization of translation means, and it is the perception that translation “is all about the words” that promotes it. Translation isn’t about words. It never has been. Translation is about making sense of the world and about communication. The words are a means to an end, rather than the end in itself. It frequently takes an expert professional to make sense of a complex subject. That’s why translation is… a professional service.

  6. “Translation is
not a commodity
. This is important, so we’ll say it again: Translation is not
a commodity.
    If it were, it would be enough to say: “You need a translation? Go out and ask several translation service providers how much they charge per word and choose the lowest figure.” End of story.
    But it’s not like that. For example, you’ll obviously need to specify which language you want your text translated into (e.g. French or German
or Japanese).
    And just as color and price
are not the only factors in buying a car, you’ll want to consider other criteria here, too.
    For example:

    – The type of document being translated.
    – The subject-matter expertise needed by the person doing
the translation.
    – The intended readers.
    – The purpose of the translation.
    – The regional variation of
the target language.
    Taken together, these and
other factors make up the specifications for your translation.
    It is the huge variety of possible specifications for a translation project that makes translation—just like music recordings—a non-commodity.
    A single source text has dozens, hundreds, thousands of possible translations. Which one is right for you? Listing your priorities— drawing up specifications—will help you get what you need.
    -> A universal truth?
    The sheer variety of translation projects is daunting. So daunting, in fact, that even experts sometimes wonder if there is any single piece of advice that applies to all translation projects.”

    Source: Chris Durban, Translation, Buying a non-commodity – How translation standards can help buyers & sellers, American translators Association (recommended!)

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