RWS, a massive LSP (language service provider) and the company that owns the CAT (computer aided translation) tool Trados, recently released a report stating that the number of experienced translators with 10+ years of experience has dropped by almost 10% in the last three years. Their research covered a wide range of industries and language pairs, but I bet that if you looked at the media translation industry, that number would be even higher.

RWS Trados graph on percentage of experience translators. There is No Translator Shortage, Just a Shortage of Decent Companies

But RWS isn’t looking into why these people are leaving the industry. Which you think would be really important, right?

Meanwhile, every single translator and editor who’s seen this report has commented that there are no translation agencies willing to pay decent rates!

And this is across all languages, all industries. It’s a global issue.


There’s No Translator Shortage, Just a Shortage of Decent Companies

The vast majority of large language service providers, ones that have multiple offices around the globe, who deal in all languages across all industries only care about one thing—profits.

I get it, they’re companies and we live in a late-stage capitalist world. It makes sense.

But these companies are achieving these profits at the cost of their workers, their client’s, and the industry as a whole.

A not so decent company has a tendency to

  • sacrifice quality for fast and cheap translations,
  • never change their rates for clients or workers,
  • have a high turn-over rate,
  • talk about how great machine translation is.


Sacrifice quality for fast and cheap

Large LSPs constantly push for speed and low cost over quality. They want it cheap and they want it fast. But I imagine the clients think they’re getting quality work, right? But how can they know if they don’t speak the language? They have to trust the LSP and if it’s bad, they blame the translators.

The translators who, mind you, are no doubt being asked to translate at a daily character/word rate well above what’s considered healthy, forced to work over the weekends, and never taking vacations. All of these which can easily lead to burnout. But if they don’t work fast and cheap then they won’t make a living wage. (See The Hustle and the Guilt)


Never change their rates

I don’t think I’ve ever seen translation companies change what they charge clients, and if they do, it’s adjusted “for inflation.” But I’ve for sure never seen the larger agencies pay their staff more to match this inflation increase.

In order to keep profits high these agencies almost never increase their translators’ rates, even when their translators are incredibly experienced and talented. “Everyone else is paid X and that’s our rate.” I know so many translators with 5-10 years of experience who are still being paid the same rates they were being paid 5 years ago.


Have a high turn-over rate

It’s another major red flag when giant LSPs are constantly looking for new talent to fill their roster. Whether they’re hiring freelance or in-house localization staff, it’s concerning when most people leave after only a year.

It’s a sign that the working environment is unhealthy, both for the staff and the company. Constantly burning through newbie translators is actually a lot more inefficient, costly, and time consuming than keeping experienced translators on. But newbie translators are cheap, innocent, and plentiful.

But that means they don’t have a talent pool who are specialised and experienced in the field you’re asking them to translate in. Again, cost over quality.


Celebrate the coming of the machines

One solution to the “experienced translator shortage” RWS is really pushing in their report linked above is the use of technologies like machine translation. Which is a terrible solution for everyone.

The problem with machine translation is it doesn’t help translators, instead it actively harms them. Machine translation has a track record of being terrible and constantly needs to be re-translated (usually at merely half the standard translation rate). (See Why Machine Translating Japanese Media is a BAD Idea)

CAT tools, meanwhile, are meant to help a translator’s productivity and they normally do, when they work. But the problem is all major CAT tools are old and broken. They constantly crash, meaning many companies using them need to invest in staff whose entire job is reporting CAT tool bugs to their parent company (like RWS).

Unfortunately, rather than investing in CAT tools that work and could help their localization teams, LSP companies would rather invest in machine translation tools with the promise that one day these machines will cut out those pesky translators altogether. All the while actively ignoring the fact they still require translators to check the accuracy of the machine translation and to fix it every single time.

When a company claims they’ll provide great quality with machine translation, massive red flag. It’s a sure sign they’re more interested in driving up their profit margin than providing quality.


What Does a Decent Company Look Like

There are decent language service providers! Ones who still make a profit without sacrificing their workers.

These companies tend to,

  • specialise in a niche,
  • train and invest in their localization staff,
  • negotiate and set realistic schedules,
  • have a better price-to-quality ratio.


Specialise in a niche

Smaller and medium sized agencies won’t promise they can translate every single language for every single industry under the sun. They offer their skills in one thing and they do it well.

Sometimes, sadly, these specialised companies are sub-contracted by the larger LSPs, meaning the larger company gets the credit without doing any of the work (while also pocketing the lion’s share of the proceeds). In these cases, the LSP won’t even inform the client they’re sub-contracting and certainly won’t tell the client who they sub-contracted with.


Train and invest in their localization staff

These agencies provide feedback and guidance to their translators in order to improve their skills. They’ll form relationships with and between their staff instead of treating them like face-less cogs in the system.

This in turn is really healthy for the company because it results in an incredibly low turnover rate. The employees and the LSP build up their experience and get constantly better at handling the type of work they offer.

Investing also means paying their staff a reasonable, living rate, and providing yearly pay increases based on experience growth.


Negotiate and set realistic schedules

Many companies are ignorant with regards to the world of translation and a decent LSP will help educate them on it, tempering expectations with regards to what is both viable and sustainable.

This happens via negotiating realistic schedules allowing them to provide the client with the best quality work.


Better quality-to-cost ratio

Being the cheapest option doesn’t mean it’s the best option, but neither does being the most expensive. A decent LSP will provide competitive and realistic rates for their services.

It can be hard to know what that “realistic rate” is, but a decent translation company won’t try to low-ball you or say yes to everything just to get the job. They’ll be detailed oriented in their pitch and be able to explain why the cost is the way it is—they know their stuff, after all!

Normally these companies have the best quality-to-cost ratio. That sweet spot where the client is getting the best final product for the most reasonable price, while also the localization staff are being compensated fairly.

The current push by large companies to keep clients ignorant while also poisoning the well for the sake of profits is a problem facing all industries right now. But it feels like the translation industry is really taking a hit. It’s driving out more and more talented people, and it just makes my blood boil.

Learning a language, learning to translate, and learning a specialised field takes years and years of work. Translation is a very brain intensive activity and it can be exhausting. I’m all for technology being used to help translators, but the current trend of technology investment is only looking at how to increase profits for CEOs. The translation industry is massive and clients need to make more of a push to making sure a company’s employees are treated well, or they’ll be the ones who lose out in the end.


Other Articles You Might Find Interesting

Translators Under Pressure
Marketa Brozova’s article on this RWS report

The Hustle and the Guilt

Why Machine Translating Japanese Media is a BAD Idea


Written by Jennifer O’Donnell
Edited by Wesley O’Donnell


There’s No Translator Shortage, Just a Shortage of Decent Companies
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1 year ago

I was a translator. I gave up being one because I couldn’t find a job. I’ve studied, dedicated my time translating to get experience and agencies always replied to me “you don’t have experience” or “we can pay only this much”. And even when I got into an agency I didn’t get a single project. When I asked them why they always replied “you don’t have anything for you yet”. I was SO frustrated and angry. I felt like sh**.