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The professional vs. the crowd

In a world of ever-growing amounts of content and ever-growing needs for translation, strategies include the use of technology as well as crowdsourcing translations. This is often described as circumventing “professional” translators and hiring the merely bilingual individual or group.

By Tabea De Wille, University of Limerick, Ireland

The use of quotation marks around the word professional in the above paragraph is not to doubt the professionalism or abilities of those translators. It is meant to highlight that any debate around “professional translators” vs. “the crowd” is hindered by the lack of definitions to delimit the two groups.

The assumption that those are two separate groups cannot always be made, as in many cases it is not clear who are the individuals who provide translations in crowdsourcing initiatives. In other cases, such as voluntary translation communities, professional translators have provided free translations to non-profit organizations over many years, as have some who aim to enter the profession soon.

Additionally, there is no consensus on what actually defines a professional translator, beyond whether or not a translator self-identifies as such. Is it a question of being paid? Do all professional translators need to have training in translation and, if so, what training would be acceptable? Is the status related to a number of years of experience or is it based on a number of words translated? Can experience be quantified at all? Or should only those who are members of a translators’ association or who have been accredited by a respected organization be considered professional translators? And what differences can we expect to see in translations provided by professionals or non-professionals? The reality is that in today’s translation market, the line between the non-professional and the professional translator is… unclear.

Professionalism and confidentiality

Why do these considerations matter in the context of cybersecurity and confidentiality in translation? Because they are issues that organizations which request translations from the crowd need to bear in mind, plus they also represent an opportunity for the translation profession to distinguish itself from the crowd of bilingual, non-professional translators. Cybersecurity and confidentiality should therefore join the list of issues that have already been considered to varying degrees in relation to crowdsourcing, like quality of output, service quality and ethical considerations.

In this context, we need to be aware that “translation crowdsourcing” in fact covers a wide range of models with varying degrees of openness, as well as different approaches to requesting and receiving translated content. At one end of the spectrum are the self-selecting community on Facebook, with a many eyes approach to quality assurance, and projects on Trommons that are open to anyone who wishes to provide a translation, regardless of their professional status. At the other end are translation projects on Trommons that involve translators being selected and translations requested from them specifically. In this case, translators occasionally have signed non-disclosure agreements in order to protect the information while still providing translations for free.

Since the latter scenario is likely to be the exception rather than the rule when it comes to crowdsourced translation, organizations requesting translations from the crowd must make sure that their content is suitable for a crowdsourcing approach. They must bear in mind that confidentiality breaches might occur, not only in the shape of source language content being released to the crowd, but also through translation memories that include lines from unrelated, confidential projects. When confidentiality of information, protection of intellectual property or timing of the release of information is at stake, organizations might prefer to mirror common practices in professional translation, or indeed hire translators who by way of their training can be expected to understand those issues and have pledged to adhere to a code of ethics laid out by a professional translation body. Such translators might sometimes be willing to provide translations for free for non-profit organizations. However, if security and confidentiality are a priority, they will most likely not donate their time and expertise.

While this limits the opportunities that arise for crowdsourcing and the ideal of open, free content, it also gives the translation profession the opportunity to distinguish itself from the crowd in clear terms. Topics like quality and professionalism might often be difficult to communicate to individuals who are not deeply connected to translation, but content owners will likely recognize security and confidentiality as pressing concerns that justify paying a professional translator.



Tabea De Wille is a lecturer in the Computer Science and Information Systems Department at the University of Limerick (Ireland) and director of the Localisation Research Centre. Her research is focused around crowdsourced localisation and perceived quality. Tabea has in the past worked in the localisation industry, primarily in video game localisation.


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