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Translation crowdsourcing companies and the translators who work for them: A startling duality in client-targeted image and provider reality

By Maria Ortiz Takacs, traductrice agréée/Certified translator

For crowdsourcing companies, brick-and-mortar offices have become outdated, or at the very least, they have been downsized. With translators working remotely all over the planet, huge offices and even huger overhead costs have disappeared. Most companies claim to be global or to have offices in several countries, but many of them do not list any particular office location. Moreover, quite a few of them do not limit themselves to translation, but offer localization, website and app testing, desktop publishing, SEO, interpretation, training, and other services.

Qualifications to apply as a freelance translator vary. While a few crowdsourcing companies request translators to hold a translation degree and have a certain number of years of experience, most of them claim to work only with professional translators, but qualifications to apply are not listed.

Here is a short list of translation crowdsourcing companies you can check to find out more.

Acclaro Website Translation

Acclaro specializes in localization. It defines itself as a global company with offices and affiliates on four different continents and a global team of in-country experts. Job applicants must have at least three years of translation experience and a university degree. However, it is not specified if the degree must be in translation.

Ackuna

Ackuna offers free and professional translation and employs volunteer and paid translators. There are no specific requirements on their website regarding qualifications to work for the company, but on their Ackuna Freelancer platform, translators can introduce themselves and offer their work for a fee. Most translators describe themselves as being native speakers of the target language and as having translation experience, but do not seem to have formal education in translation.

Gengo

Gengo requires translators to pass a test, but does not list any specific qualifications to work for the company. They also provide resources for translators to improve the quality of their work. Their guide for translators of common mistakes seems to be very basic (the difference between your and you’re, it’s and its, affect and effect, than and then, etc.), which suggests that freelancers working for them are not professional translators at all.

Get Localization

Get Localization offers free and paid translation management workspaces as well as crowdsourcing services. In their crowdsourcing guide for clients, the company explains how the process works. Even though professional translators might be part of the translation team, it is clear from their explanation that translators are volunteers

LingoTek

Apart from their cloud-based translation management system, LingoTek offers translation services. The company, headquartered in Utah (U.S.), requires translators to apply by filling out a form with details about their qualifications, but in their offer to potential clients, they do not specify if their freelancers hold a college degree in translation.

Moravia

Moravia provides translation, localization and testing for content-driven businesses. Their biggest offices are located in the Czech Republic, China and Argentina, and the company has local offices in other countries as well. They require freelancers to be proficient in the target language, but do not mention any education qualifications.

OneSky

Headquartered in Hong Kong and with an office in San Francisco, OneSky offers localization and translation for the applications and games industry. Their website states that the company employs translators who are gamers themselves. According to one of their job profiles listed on their website, the only requirement to translate for them is to be “excellent in Chinese and English.” However, they claim to work with professional translators.

Rev

Rev offers subtitling and translation of diplomas, birth certificates, academic transcripts, and other documents that need certification in the U.S. They also provide general translation by professional linguists and translators. Candidates apply by filling out a form where they must provide a brief summary of their translation and/or subtitling experience. The website does not mention any formal qualifications needed to apply.

VerbalizeIt

VerbalizeIt is a cloud-based translation service. The company offers translation in over 140 languages. Translators log on to their accounts to work on projects. They are requested to pass a test before being hired. The website states that only 10% of applicants are invited to join the team, but does not mention the qualifications needed to apply.

Lionbridge

A division of Lionbridge Technologies, Inc., Lionbridge crowdsourcing offers crowd translation and interpretation, as well as other solutions such as global testing and data services. The company combines in-house employees located in their offices all over the world with freelancers who work from home. The company website mentions translators are pre-qualified, but does not specify their qualifications.

A few thoughts

Since most crowdsourcing companies employ many non-professionals, editing and quality assurance should obviously become two essential phases of the translation process. However, there are two currents of thought on how high the quality of crowdsourcing can be when applied to translation, even when most volunteer translators on a project are not qualified to do the job.

On one side, researchers like Omar F. Zaidan and Chris Callison-Burch, from Johns Hopkins University’s Department of Computer Science, claim to have demonstrated1 through different computational models that it is possible to obtain high-quality translations from non-professional translators, though the question arises as to whether or not the authors of the paper, not being language specialists themselves, can competently judge what is high-quality translation.

On the other side, translators who spent years of their life attending college or university to get a Bachelor’s or a Master’s degree, argue that translation is a complex task that requires specific skills to be carried out correctly. Those professionals will state that, no matter how much knowledge a subject-matter expert can have, if they lack translation skills, the quality of the work from a linguistic point of view will be lacking. From that point of view, a combination of formal education and specialization in the field in question is the best formula to render a translation that is correct on both counts.

While crowdsourcing as seen from Zaidan’s and Callison-Bush’s perspective certainly has its advantages for clients – faster turnaround and cost savings come to mind –, from a qualified translator’s point of view, the fact that people who perform the task are not qualified to do it professionally is a major drawback in spite of any quality control efforts made.

The translation community often complains about the many people who take up translation based on the mere fact that they are bilingual. It seems basic enough that a person without the proper qualifications to do a job should not offer such service in a professional capacity. When it comes to volunteering for non-profit organizations, crowdsourcing might be a good option, but in the translation business, turning to crowdsourcing when projects are large and deadlines tight is counterproductive, as better quality can be achieved in the same period of time by hiring a team of qualified translators from an agency or a collaborative freelance team. And for-profit organizations should above all aim for excellent quality.

Many professionals work hard at educating their clients as to the benefits of hiring a translator with the right qualifications. Should official steps be taken to support them in this endeavour? Should translation become a reserved-title profession, as is the case with doctors or lawyers? Should the responsibility lie with the government and the professional associations that bring together professional translators? Individually, we may have different opinions on the matter. However, as the representatives of the profession as a whole, shouldn’t associations take a clear stand on the different ways in which crowdsourcing—or any kind of translation performed by non-translators for that matter—might damage or benefit their members and the public?

1. Zaidan, Omar F. and Chris Callison-Burch (2011). “Crowdsourcing Translation: Professional Quality from Non-Professionals”, Proceedings of the 49th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics: Human Language Technologies, held in Portland, Oregon, U.S.


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