A friend and translation colleague, Natalie Soper, recently messaged me to tell me about a friend of hers who was considering using Fiverr to translate professional texts. The text needed to be translated from English into several languages and Natalie’s friend didn’t know where to start. We were both horrified that anybody would think Fiverr is a viable option for finding translators. Personally, if I can’t recommend a trusted colleague, then I refer them to the directory of a professional translation association, depending on the languages required.
So we decided to put Fiverr to the test. We selected a text from a newspaper website relating to one of our common specialisms: tourism. This is a field that is sometimes considered “easy” in comparison to other fields, say legal or medical. Yet it has its unique challenges, and this text was tricky, ready to trip up our translators in every paragraph. And it did. The least we’d expect from a professional translation is a text that reads fluently in English, that adapts to the new audience (with clear research and extra explanations where needed), has taken numerical formats into account and has creative solutions to the uniquely Francophone complexities… and we got none of that.
You can read more about how we selected the translators and the intricacies of Fiverr on Natalie’s blog.
Natalie and I also translated the text as if we were delivering for a client. We met to discuss our versions plus the versions delivered to us. I am going to outline a few of the parts we found difficult, and compare the translations.
First of all, it was plain to see that every translator used a machine translation tool and made slight edits to the output. We suspect they used Google Translate. The texts delivered by Translator C and Translator E were so similar in parts that I thought they may have been delivered by the same person. This is despite the fact that, as Natalie mentioned in her blog post, each translator claimed to translate their texts “manually”. (One translator also claimed not to use “spinning software”, whatever that means!) When we compared our own texts, they were vastly different but still accurate, which is what we expected from our Fiverr translators.
Two of our translators, A and C, used US dates and spelling, whereas B and E adapted the date to UK English but used US spelling conventions. As Natalie mentioned in her blog, none of them asked if we’d prefer US or British English, but we hoped that they would at least stick one style consistently.
For some reason, Google Translate added in a space at the end of the third paragraph:
The director general of Atout France, the French tourism promotion agency, confirmed that France “really started a recovery from September / October”, and that the end of 2016 had been better than expected “.
Miraculously, this erroneous space turned up in every single translation we purchased.
La France séduit toujours autant.
For me, the very first sentence was one of the toughest in the text. Each translator (including Natalie and me) dealt with it differently.
Translator A: France still seduces as much.
Translator B: France is still very attractive, […]
Translator C: France is still quite seductive.
Translator E: France still remains attractive as before.
These are all pretty literal translations, and some are less effective than others. Translator A’s solution is an outright word-for-word translation, and it doesn’t work. Nor does Translator C’s version as the French author did not mean seductive here. The verb ‘seduce’ has sexual undertones in English, which is certainly not what we were going for here. Natalie and I thought that ‘attractive’ was a better option, although Translator E’s version seems to be missing an ‘as’ (“remains *as* attractive as before”. Yet this still makes the reader wonder: “Before what?”) I used ‘attractive’ in my version: “France remains an attractive destination.” Natalie, on the other hand, went for a much more stylish: “France hasn’t lost its charm”.
Another challenge came in the second sentence: “C’est le constat tiré par Jean-Marc Ayrault, qui a annoncé, le 10 février, que pour l’année 2016, le pays conservait sa place de première destination touristique mondiale.”
Being published on a French news website, the French text is mainly aimed at a French audience who is expected to know who Ayrault is. Yet a generalist English-speaking audience probably would not know who he is. Natalie and I both added his title in this sentence, but none of our Fiverr translators did.
Natalie: This was the conclusion made by the French Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean-Marc Aryault, who announced on 10 February that the country has held onto its crown as the world’s top tourist destination in 2016, […]
Me: This conclusion was drawn by French Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean-Marc Ayrault, who, on 10th February, said that the country remained the number one destination in the world in 2016, […]
Le directeur général d’Atout France
About halfway through the text, the author writes:
Le directeur général d’Atout France, l’organisme de promotion du tourisme dans l’Hexagone, a confirmé que la France “a vraiment amorcé un redressement à partir de septembre/octobre”, et que la fin 2016 avait été “meilleure que prévu”.
All of our translators came up with a different title for this man. Translator A chose ‘general director’, Translators B and C opted for ‘general manager’ and Translator E went for ‘executive director’. A simple Google search reveals two viable options for his title, CEO or Director General. I plumped for the former, whereas Natalie chose the latter. It’s important to get the person’s title right as he could be mistaken for somebody else, especially as his name was not mentioned in the text.
In the last paragraph, all of the translators stumbled on the following sentence:
2016 a été une année difficile pour nos entreprises, surtout à Paris et sur la Côte d’Azur”, a confirmé Roland Héguy, président de la principale organisation hôtelière, l’Umih.
In fact, Translators A, B and C all stuck to Google Translate’s version:
confirmed Roland Héguy, president of the main hotel organization, the Umih.
And Translator E wasn’t far off this with:
affirmed by Roland Héguy, president of the main hotel organization, the UMIH, simply changing “confirmed” to “affirmed” and capitalising the name.
The problem here is that Umih is a union, not a hotel organisation. A little bit of research would have helped our Fiverr translators here, as both Natalie and I managed to spot this:
Natalie: says Roland Héguy, President of the French hoteliers union, UMIH.
Me: confirmed Roland Héguy, President of UMIH, the country’s main union for the hospitality sector.
As highlighted throughout this post, the Fiverr translators depended on Google Translate, adjusting it slightly where they thought appropriate. None of them researched any part of the text or added glosses for aspects that English-language readers would not understand or be aware of, which a professional translator will do as a matter of course. Although these translations only cost $5 each, we got neither speed, quality nor good customer service – we basically paid for Google Translate with a few tweaks, some of which weren’t even appropriate. Was this a good investment? No. If anything, this exercise demonstrates that it takes much more than language skills to craft a good translation: knowledge of the subject of the text and target audience are also crucial factors, and although Natalie and I are clearly biased, we feel that hiring an expert translator is still the only option for translating professional texts.
Edit: here is the French text plus the translations we received.