Find-a-Translator, sooner or later (a new database project)
For those (probably few, but you never know) who are wondering about the obvious misprint in the title of this blog post, it’s an allusion to a song “The Times They Are a-Changin’”, released exactly 49 years ago, in January 1964. Steve Vitek, author of one of my favourites, the PatentTranslator’s blog, might have started his post with a YouTube video, but I’ll confine myself to the original cover photo and cut to the chase.
The keyword is “change”
There has been much talk about change in the last months. To quote from Jost Zetzsche’s Toolbox Newsletter, received by many of us on New Year’s eve, “machine translation has found its way into translation environment tools and the production process of many professional translators… while not everyone is happy with these changes… they are changes nevertheless, and we are free to take them up or leave them aside”.
I am not sure if our “freedom” is anything more than a mere figure of speech. The fundamental changes in translation technology bring about corresponding changes in the translation process, but is there something more a-changin’? Is the whole landscape of the translation industry undergoing change?
The Big Players and their tales of “Big Data”
In “The End of the World of Translation as We Knew It”, Rob Vanderberg of Lingotek (“a company that is looking to change the future of translation”) gets to the heart of the first change.
His “Big Data” is no less than a paradigm change, a shift from the conventional landscape centred around freelance translators and small translation companies (because “they won’t scale”), to a Brave New World dominated by the Big Players. It is a welcome change for the big translation agencies.
No longer would they be looked upon as mere resellers which generate little or no added value for the customer. No, “Big Data” will grant them the right to embrace the global challenge of localisation, taking care of bulk translations and cloud-driven translation processes (“companies used to translate content one document at a time, and now the cloud will enable bulk translations and easy scalability”).
On the Facebook forum of the Russian Translators Union, where a link to the article by Mr Vanderberg was posted, someone commented: “I read it twice and didn’t grasp a thing. Many fancy words, little sense. My increasing feeling is that many of these experts don’t understand what they write or don’t want to understand”. Assuming you, dear reader, are a freelance translator, these words sure make sense. They describe your – our – future, dawning now.
In the grand scheme of things, I’m afraid, your – our – place in the new world of translation is to be but a droplet in this nebulous cloud.
Clouds on the horizon
That brings us to the second change: the formation of the cloud.
One big cloud goes by the name of ProZ. Assuming you, dear reader, are a freelance translator, you will already know what ProZ is. Among job sites for everybody and his uncle, ProZ is probably the largest “marketplace” for translators of all sorts. Without going into the specifics of this particular job site, let me just state that all of them – from ProZ to Fiverr (“the world’s largest marketplace for small services, starting at $5″) – have already shaped the cloud, the heavenly skies for the Big Players in their Brave New World of translation.
ProZ and other job sites are the counterpart to the bulk translation providers which they effectively cater for. It makes sense and is pretty straightforward. ProZ caters for the large-scale and wannabe Big Data Processors, who in turn cater to Big Business with their global brands.
Is there something a-missin’? Well yes: us. In contrast to other major freelance industries, we, i.e. serious, quality-driven, highly skilled, experienced, high-value translators, have more difficulty upholding our own status and our market place (not to be confused with a marketplace like ProZ or other job sites).
An increase in professional awareness
The third change has been less marked than the other two, but the signs are there: there is a growing professional awareness among translator communities.
National professional associations are becoming distinctly more active in asserting their role in the changing landscape. Last year, the BDÜ definitely gained ground with its euphorically received conference (“Übersetzen in die Zukunft”) and its first (albeit still timid) efforts to open up for social media.
There is nothing wrong with Big Players and their services for the bulk translation market. It is virtually impossible for professionals to compete on price with machine translation, crowdsourced translation or semi-professional translators of all kinds. But this already severely commoditized, mainly price-driven market is not necessarily the market in which we have to compete.
Our “freedom” can become more than a mere figure of speech: in regards to the bulk translation market or post-editing for the Big Players, we “are free to take them up or leave them aside”. The more pressing problems to solve relate to the high-quality, premium market. You can buy all your groceries at a discount supermarket, but if you are looking for a nice bottle of wine, you are likely to receive far better service in a specialist wine shop. Often at no higher price.
The problem: finding the right translator
However, the problem with high-value, premium translators (as compared to premium wine shops, and please don’t tell me I cannot tell one from the other, that is B2C from B2B) is that really good translators who also specialize in the subject in question are hard to find.
Our professional associations, many of them with tough vetting procedures for their members, offer search functions for anyone looking for a specialised, high-quality, premium translator. But I doubt that many potential corporate, direct clients ever use or are even aware of them. Unfortunately, many of my German SME clients have never heard of the BDÜ or ADÜ Nord.
In fact, combing the public directories of various professional translation associations to find the right specialists, and, in turn, setting up their own databases, has been one of the key tasks of professional translation agencies (bottomfeeders will stick to ProZ). One man’s joy is another man’s sorrow, and the void left by professional associations as non-profit organisations is filled by the matchmaking activities of commercial entities of all kinds.
I am absolutely not interested in getting hauled into a verbal war on this. I don’t see anything wrong with the Big Players or translation agencies, and I don’t blame our professional associations either.
(Recently, when looking for a specialised architect in Hamburg, I made the acquaintance of the official Chamber of German Architects and wished there were some private company like a translation agency to help find the right architect for me. But the fees for services of architects and engineers in Germany are regulated by a standard scale, so the market is different.)
The solution: search and you shall find
Could there be an easy way to tap into the information and expertise held by our professional associations?
Well, if there was, it would probably not bring about the “end of the world of translation as we know it”. But I am sure it could be a major game changer, if not a breakthrough for many of us, überqualifiziert, like the Germans say, for the bulk market, the Big Players or ProZ.
The concept of a shared access to the publicly available databases of professional translators and interpreters associations was recently put forward on one of the many Facebook groups for translators. The option of a single point of access will promote the high quality standards of professional associations and make it possible for anyone – be it a member of the public or the localisation manager at a large multinational – to search and find the right translator or interpreter among any of the associations’ records, either by selecting a single association, a particular combination, or all of them.
A new, improved ProZ? No, because ProZ is not targeted to the premium translation market of direct, high-value customers. At the moment, there is no single, central international platform to fill the gap between professional, quality-driven translators and clients who require more than what the bulk translation companies have to offer. Instead, there are various local or national professional databases (which were started long before ProZ). The idea is to make these databases more widely searchable and better known to the target group. The change – and challenge – talked of here lies in making this resource more accessible to customers.
We are still to look into technical feasibility of the new approach. But, aside from the technicalities to be discussed elsewhere soon, the success of the new “Find-A-Translator”* engine will largely depend on it being widely known. If you’re looking for a book, chances are you’ll go to Amazon. If you’re looking for a specialist translator or interpreter, you’d go to …?
In an ideal situation, which is far, far removed from the Brave New World of translation envisioned by the author of “The End of the World…”, I would envisage a go-to search platform for quality translators, one which is immediately recognisable to potential customers and the industry alike.
Is the end of translation (as we know it) on the horizon? Or is there something a-changin’?
*name most definitely subject to change. This story started out with DYLAN, which could stand for Dying Language Association Network or Do You Love A Nerd. I don’t think Dylan is the right name for this project. But, sooner or later, we will learn more about a new database initiative and perhaps find a better name.
And thanks to Rose Newell
(@lingocode) and Jayne Fox (@jaynefox) for proofreading this text!!!