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Guest Article on Pricing for Translation by Michael Schubert
one of the many great discussions initiated by a curator of TranslationTalk,
this one about rates, Michael Schubert chimed in the other day with
began phasing out word prices in 2010 and stopped using them altogether
in 2013 -- even with agencies. It began with my refusal to engage in a
conversation around "Trados rates" or haggle over pennies. Shifting the
focus from word count to content changes the whole conversation!
thought that was interesting, so I asked Michael to write something up
for the Tool Box Journal, and he was kind enough to oblige.
Here it is:
the Conversation on Pricing
in a word? Precious little. We all know that we don't translate words,
or even sentences and paragraphs: We translate content, in all its
context. (Worte and not Wörter, for those of you who know German.)
And yet, most of us bill our services by the word. Why? And what
message does this send?
why is simple: It's the easiest way to assess the volume of the task
and provide a price in advance. And the message? To our clients, it
says we are selling a commodity -- the very message that, elsewhere, we
keep trying to contradict. To ourselves, the message is that the faster
we can translate, the more money we will earn. It incentivizes speed,
away from word rates toward hourly or project-based fees better
reflects how we actually work -- and how we want our work to be
I entered the profession, I worked mostly for language service
providers (LSPs) and charged by the word. As I moved upmarket, this
model became unsustainable for me: Since my word rate had risen to
become higher than most, LSPs saved the tricky or sensitive jobs for
me, leaving me feeling underpaid. Or they peppered me with smaller jobs
that, even with a minimum fee, led to death by a thousand cuts. And
then came the dreaded conversation about scaled word rates based on TM
analyses (more on that below), which is what really drove me away from
that model. Word rates also discourage, or make it difficult to bill
for, value-added services: documenting errors or ambiguities in the
source text, consulting with the client about the objective and target
audience of the text, suggesting adaptations ("transcreation"), and so
began phasing out word prices in favor of hourly and project-based fees
in 2010 and have not used word rates at all for many years now. LSPs
generally ask for a word rate, since this is the dominant model and
allows them to more easily compare translators by price. My response is
always that I cannot offer a one-size-fits-all rate for future jobs
sight unseen, and this argument resonates with LSPs that truly care
about quality and have this same conversation with their end clients.
Hourly and project-based pricing changes how clients think about our
services, underscores that a 500-word internal company memo is not the
same as 500 words of website content, and opens the door to offering
and billing for value-added services, which helps us move upmarket.
we approach and begin working with direct clients, we need to think
carefully about how we present ourselves. Are we like the paper clip
vendor who deals in unit prices, discounts by volume, and works with
some low-level vendor manager? Or are we more like the consultant who
provides professional services and interacts with department heads and
pricing mischaracterizes the nature of our work and leaves us talking
about pennies. And that defines us as vendors of a commodity with a low
businesses I work for don't think in terms of word count, anyway. My
clients never say, "Can you translate 2,000 words by Thursday?" They
say, "We have a white paper we'd like you to translate." And from
there, I ask them about target audience and deadline, not budget. Only
after I've seen the text and talked with them about the project do I
offer a price quote. By then, I've amply demonstrated that I care about
their baby. This is how we change the conversation from unit pricing to
would (and do) argue vehemently that translation environment tools do
not, on balance, make us faster -- they yield smarter and more
sustainable workflows, improve internal consistency, and give us more
versatility and efficiency in working with complex file formats.
Proficiency with state-of-the-art translation tools should never be a
trap door to lower prices. It is, in fact, a rationale for higher
prices. (Please reread this paragraph three times. I'll wait.)
instead of trying to hide my use of TEnT tools from my clients for fear
of opening up the dreaded conversation on scaled word rates, I make
sure my clients know that I use state-of-the-art translation technology
to organize their bilingual content and harmonize their corporate style
over a relationship that will last years, even decades.
know that translation is not a commodity, and we need to demonstrate
that in how we frame the conversation around our services with clients.
Word count may be the metric of choice in the language services sector,
but we translators are the largest group in this sector and have it in
our power to steer the dialog away from individual words and toward
content -- away from quantity and toward quality.
Schubert is an ATA-certified German-to-English translator based in
San Francisco providing premium translation services with a focus on
corporate communications, information technology, and finance.
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An Artificial Intelligence Proposal
other day I received an email from a colleague lamenting the complexity
of one of the leading desktop-based translation environment tools. She
was especially exasperated by its intricacy after having primarily
worked in web-based tools that tend to have a much simpler interface.
were some of her main concerns (and these are actual quotes):
cluttered interface that literally hurts her eyes
multitude of features that do not relate to the translation process
tool tip boxes that randomly appear and obscure her view of the text
she is trying to type
asked several times in the email whether she's the only one who feels
that way. She's not. In fact, I would dare to say that especially now,
more and more translators feel the same when faced with essentially two
classes of software products: the all-bells-and-whistles, desktop-based
(with some cloud features), "traditional" tools; and the cloud-based
tools with a more minimalistic interface.
probably important to ask where the increasing complexity of the first
class of tools originated. I think there are primarily two reasons.
most obvious, of course, is our diversity and our large variety of
needs. Not only do we translate in many different language combinations
and subject matters, but our positions within the translation process
and corresponding needs are wildly different, including anything from
translator and editor to project manager to vendor manager or IT and
database administrator. All of these groups need to be satisfied with
their specific set of features.
other reason is something very positive at its core: competition.
Developers have naturally attempted to best one another with an
ever-increasing set of features -- individually helpful and valuable
features, at least for one segment of the user group. But with each
additional feature, the tools have continued to balloon to the unwieldy
size we have today. Developers are not unaware of these problems. Both Trados
and memoQ, for instance, have focused specifically on usability
in their latest releases.
years I've been defending the difficult learning curve and multi-screen
approach of existing tools by saying, "If translation were an easy
task, the technology that supports it could be easy also. But since we
know the former is not true, how can we expect the latter?" And while
there is still a grain of truth there, it has seemed increasingly
hollow. Yes, the technology that drives the tools supporting the
translation process is by definition complex, but does that mean the
user interface has to be complex as well? I don't think so.
talking with software developers, I have often suggested that they
offer several kinds of user profiles for their users to choose. Star
Transit has taken this approach, though not in quite the way I've
imagined as most helpful. They focus on functional roles
(terminologist, translator, reviser, etc.) with the necessary features
presented once the role is chosen. But why not (also) use the same
concept for technological savvy? Clearly, any role the user chooses
would be reversible, and any feature the tool offers could be activated
at any point.
seems like a no-brainer to me, and I find it kind of hard to understand
why no one has ever taken that leap.
I recently realized that the availability of new technology might
achieve us even better results with something slightly more advanced.
Yes, I'm talking about artificial intelligence (AI).
me very quickly interject a note on the kind of artificial intelligence
I'm talking about. AI experts talk about different kinds of artificial
intelligence: "narrow AI" and "general AI." Narrow AI is when a
technology makes a prediction based on previously processed data within
a very specific field (think AutoComplete or Netflix
suggestions). Computers have been doing this for a long time, and it
works really well. General AI is when a computer becomes aware of its
environment and makes appropriate decisions accordingly -- comparable
to what humans do. As translators, our experience with the
unpredictability of generic machine translation has proven that general
AI is still far from employable. (A recommended read on the subject of
artificial intelligence and the typically male-dominated world of
"technochauvinism" is "Artificial
Unintelligence: How Computers Misunderstand the World" by Meredith
to translation environment tools, tools like Memsource and Lilt have
prided themselves for implementing artificial intelligence features
unrelated to the "usual suspects" like neural machine translation.
Instead, they've incorporated it into other features such as
language-specific recognition of untranslatables or morphology engines.
In translation project management there is also a lot of talk about
using artificial intelligence to streamline and automate workflows and
ease the job of project managers.
is my challenge to tool vendors who are selling technology that causes
users to respond like my exasperated colleague: Why not allow a user's
actual interactions with the system to determine what features the
system should offer to that user? If the user never works with
translation packages because she works only with direct clients who
don't prepare translation projects, there is no reason to have the
whole variety of options dealing with processing packages available to
that user. If the user never uses the termbase (shame on him!), why not
make the user interface less cluttered by hiding all the relevant
features? I could clearly go on and on.
I'm not the first to come up with this idea (for instance, see this
article), but I do think this would be a good approach, especially
in a field like ours. A highly complex tool like Microsoft Word
offers the user an overwhelmingly large number of options. In contrast
to a translation environment tool, however, the processes activated
through Word's many features are successive, one after the other, on a
single screen. We expect our translation environments to process many
things simultaneously because we want that multitude of resources
displayed as we translate. But we don't all use the same number or
kinds of resources. Similarly, when processing XML files, it's
admirable that even the most advanced users will find all the options
they desire, but why not have a simple layer below all this to make it
accessible for the less-technical user as well?
the recently published ITI
Research Network e-book, two of the authors discuss the sometimes
problematic collection of data during the translation process. I agree,
it can be potentially problematic if it's done for surveillance
purposes. But it's important to remember that the kind of data
collection required for an AI-driven customization of our translation
environment user interface would be completely different. In fact, it
will be just like the existing "Usage Data Collection" in memoQ
or the "SDL Trados Studio Experience Program." Both of these optional
programs transmit data about the use of their tool back to the
developers so they can gain insights on what features of the tool are
used and in what frequency. What if that kind of data could be used to
customize the tools to the individual process and preferences of each
course, this could work just as well for browser-based tools; in fact,
there it would be even easier for the developer to collect such data.
-- in this case, translators -- need to be included in the development
process. Part of that process may be using AI to take an active role in
designing our individual tools to our individual needs.
Training for Translators
you new to Across, and would you like to get
help to get started with the Across Translator Edition?
In our four-hour online training, our trainer Julia will walk you
through the software. Learn
The Tech-Savvy Interpreter: The Webaround -- Green Screens and Chroma
Key Technology for the Masses (Column by Barry Slaughter Olsen)
growth of videoconferencing and video remote interpreting (VRI) have
laid bare an inconvenient truth -- most of us don't have a
professional-looking place in our homes where we can participate in web
meetings or interpret remotely. I grappled with the problem when I
first started teaching interpreting online in 2016. My home office is a
little overpopulated with my books, my printer, my kids' trophies,
family pictures...you get the point. A cluttered background is
distracting and just doesn't look professional. To address this issue
with their interpreters, especially sign language interpreters, who
work from home, VRI companies usually require them to have a screen or
backdrop behind them.
are many ways to get a simple monochrome backdrop behind you for VRI
work, but most of the solutions that I explored initially were too
cumbersome or required a permanent change to my office. I settled on a
pop-up green screen and stand that are about 8 feet high and 6 feet
wide when in place, but they take up a lot of space in my office and
require some setup and takedown time. And when up, there isn't much
room in my office for anything else.
cool thing about these screens and backdrops is that you can use them
together with chroma key
technology to insert virtual backgrounds of any color and style into
your outgoing video. It's what most television meteorologists use when
they provide the local forecast each evening. Once available only to
motion picture and television studios, chroma key technology is now
within reach of anyone with a modern computer, webcam and green screen.
But few people want to paint their home office walls bright green or
hang a large green cloth on the wall behind them. I've been using
chroma key technology for a couple of years now with web conferencing
platforms like Zoom.us and the open-source streaming and recording
It provides a much more professional look and keeps the home office
clutter out of view.
was content with my large green screen until, while attending Zoomtopia
in San Jose, California, in October, I came across an ingenious
backdrop solution for VRI interpreters who work from home called The Webaround.
It's a foldable backdrop that mounts on the back of just about any
office chair providing you with an instant uncluttered backdrop for
video remote interpreting. (If you having a hard time visualizing just
what I'm describing, go to their website
and check it out. A picture is worth a thousand words.)
as soon as I returned from the conference, I purchased one to test it.
I've been using it regularly for the past month or so. Here are some
Webaround is lightweight and easy to set up and
take down. It takes me less than 30 seconds to open and install it on
the back of my chair. It folds and unfolds like those sunshades that
you put in your car windshield on a hot, sunny day to keep the
dashboard from getting too hot. That makes setup and takedown of the backdrop easy.
fits snugly on the back of my office chair. The model I purchased (the
56-inch Big Shot) comes with an integrated stabilizer to keep
the backdrop from drooping so it stays correctly positioned behind you.
though I bought the largest chair-mounted backdrop they make, I still
had to zoom in my Logitech C920 webcam to get the green screen to fill
my entire video background. The need to tighten the shot to get full
coverage means that these chair-mounted backdrops may not work well for
sign language interpreters who need to have as wide a shot as possible,
so their clients can see what they are signing. But for spoken-language VRI, the backdrops seem ideal.
green version (they also come in blue and grey) of the Webaround
works well with chroma key software, so I can easily project different
backdrops behind me, depending on which client I am meeting with.
told, I really like my Webaround. It has quickly become my
go-to green screen for impromptu web conferences, online teaching and
remote interpreting, mainly because of the ease of setup and use.
you have a question about a specific technology? Or would you like to
learn more about a specific interpreting platform, interpreter console
or supporting technology? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
for Lenguas 2019 Now Open. Register Today!
just two months away from this one-of-a-kind conference. The program is
published, and workshops are filling fast! Continuing education credits
for ATA and CCHI have been approved. CIMCE credits are in process.
Choose from dozens of continuing education workshops for translators
and interpreters. Join your colleagues in Mexico City on January 24-26,
for more information.
I wanted to or not, with my left hand temporarily out of commission,
I've had to once again solely rely on voice recognition for the last
couple of weeks. If you don't find many errors in this Tool Box
Journal, it's due not to my (non-existing) above-average skills of
dictation but rather the above-average skills of my editor❤️.
The truth is that voice recognition is simultaneously an incredibly
powerful tool and frustratingly confusing. Not confusing because it's
difficult to use -- it's anything but -- but because of the different
strategies of proofreading. There are no squiggly red lines below typos
-- the program writes out only known and correctly spelled words -- and
while it might highlight syntactical and grammatical errors, these
checks are not available in many programs and are often not
particularly helpful anyway.
I mentioned on Twitter
the other day how welcome a webinar on proofreading dictated text would
be, a good number of colleagues chimed in with suggestions, including
the tried-and-true method of having the text read back to you by one of
the many tools that can do that. And, yes, that can be helpful, but it
doesn't catch homophones, which are one of the biggest problems when it
comes to voice recognition. Here's what I have found helpful: changing
the background color of the text I've dictated (in Microsoft Word,
for instance, you can do that without changing anything permanently by
selecting View> Read Mode> View> Page Color> Inverse).
Somehow this tricks my brain from reading the text as something I
entered where errors are magically hidden into something that can be
evaluated more objectively. Most importantly, though, I've learned to
distrust my texts more and read them more slowly, a fair trade-off
considering that I've gained a lot of time by dictating rather than
also noticed that I'm noticeably better in German dictation than in my
non-native English. It's that little bit of an accent and my German
inability to distinguish between aspirated and non-aspirated closing
consonants in English that penalize me with the additional couple
percent of errors.
course, I'm among the fortunate who deal with two languages that are
excellently supported by Dragon,
but the good news is that there are more and more possibilities for
many other languages as well. I've previously mentioned GBoard,
Google's keyboard for mobile devices, for its huge number of languages
that can be connected to transfer to your computer (see the 290th
Tool Box Journal), and just last week Kevin
Lossner mentioned on his blog the voice to text notebook as
even if you try to control your computer as much as you can with voice
recognition, there's always the random keyboard command that you want
to enter directly on your keyboard. And if you have a virtually
unusable hand like me, those are the times when you start to hate keys
like the CapsLock
key that your clumsy hand might activate all too often.
I found the simplest but very handy software to deactivate or reassign
those keys. Believe it or not, it's called CapsLock
Goodbye and does exactly what the name describes. (Tip: if you
use it, make sure that you remember where you downloaded it or stored
it on your computer since you might need it to reactivate those keys at
Translation for Professionals
PDFs is easier and quicker with TransPDF.
within Memsource and memoQ
with all CAT tools.
log-in for Proz members.
for your next PDF project.
file formats, all languages, all target groups, better quality, shorter
time-to-market -- one standard solution.
Disable Fuzzy Repetition
is a little program -- or really an application-driven process -- that
is interesting partly because it grew out of an actual need perceived
by the translation agency Kevrenn.
were frustrated by the translation projects they sent to freelance
translators that typically contained a large number of segments they
called "fuzzy repetitions." These are segments that are different only
because of the difference in numbers or punctuation or a single term
(provided that the term is either classifiable as a variable -- such as
a <product name> -- or is contained in the termbase). While
different translation environments are able to locate those "fuzzy
repetitions," Kevrenn's program goes one step further by preprocessing
any translatable file and locking each fuzzy repetition so translators
see the context but are not able to do anything to the translation of
those "reps." It's naturally not paid for either. Once the translated
file or project is sent back to the agency and the translation memory
is populated with the translation data, either the project manager (if
she is familiar enough with the languages in question) or an editor
fills in the empty and now unlocked rows.
had a relatively long talk with Jean-Marie of Kevrenn about his system,
partly because it took him a while to convince me of the benefits (and
I'm still not quite sure he succeeded). I can see the system working
well for smaller operations where there is a real or perceived need to
squeeze cost as much as possible without immediately interfering with
the pay to translators. On the other hand, I imagine that quite a few
translators would find an option like this not particularly helpful to
the workflow and would not be thrilled to work with it. I think this is
one of those situations where much depends on the relationship of the
translator and the agency they work for and goodwill on both sides.
tool is not immediately for sale, but Jean-Marie would be happy to talk
with you about how you can use it either as an SaaS solution or as a
desktop-based tool that so far has been tied in to memoQ, the
translation environment that Kevrenn uses and for which the solution
was originally developed.
style, your wording, your content. Utilize translations quickly and
reliably throughout your company.
machine translation powered by STAR MT
the short video for more information on STAR MT functionality and usage:
This 'n' That
have to have been on NASA's InSight on its long and
finally completed journey to Mars to not have heard that IATE,
the massive European Union terminology database, has been completely
overhauled -- at least as far as the user interface is concerned,
including the possibility of connecting to it via application
programming interface and an overall greater usability. Kudos to the
team that worked on it: I think the result looks beautiful. Over the
years I've had the opportunity to meet some of the people who are
responsible for developing and maintaining IATE, and I have rarely
encountered such passionate linguists.
of you who don't use IATE directly via its interface but through tools
like IntelliWebSearch might have been a little frustrated when
you realized that the old links don't work anymore. Both the folks at
IATE and IntelliWebSearch (and I assume any of the comparable
products) are working on a fix for that which
should be available in no time.
GT4T -- the little tool
that connects you from any program to many machine translation engines,
glossaries, and other online resources -- is now available to Mac users
as well (and by the way, already supports the new IATE).
looking forward to a free webinar
I'm giving to launch a series of translation community-oriented
webinars sponsored by Lilt. I will be talking about the Translation
Technology Wiki, what the platform can do, and what can be done to
make it even better.
the holidays upon us and so many colleagues to thank and show
appreciation to (remember that large job last April you never would
have finished on time if he or she hadn't helped you?), how about a
surprise gift for them? Or something for yourself?
a one-of-a-kind gift idea: Aside from his regular presence on Twitter,
Jeromobot -- the robotic, eight-centimeter tall, wind-up patron saint
of translators -- has gone very quiet. Well, it turns out there was a
reason for his silence: He's been multiplying, and now he has 30 tiny
clones! Every single one wants to find a new home, and each comes with
a CD or USB stick containing the Translator's
Tool Box e-book (value $50) plus a signed copy of Translation
Matters (value $15) (signed by me, not Jeromobot!). Until
December 15 (or until the 30 translator-extraordinaire packs are gone)
they're available for $30 (plus postage). Click here
to order or find out whether there are any packages left.
Last Word on the Tool Box Journal
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Tool Box Journal. Just paste the code you find here into
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2018 International Writers' Group