Fiverr: Do you get what you pay for? (Part 2)

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.

Analysis

General

startup-photosFirst 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”.

 

Jean-Marc Ayrault

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.

 

Umih

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.

Conclusion

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.

Text for translation

Translator ATranslator BTranslator CTranslator E

MT, CAT, and Skype Translator: clearing a few things up

Last month, an article was posted on the Guardian’s website about translation, machine translation (MT) and computer-assisted translation (CAT). You can read it here. Reading this as a freelance translator, I have to say that some of the information conveyed in the article was either flawed or confusing. I’m writing this blog post to clear a few things up.

First of all, what the article lacked was a clear definition of MT and CAT. The Oxford Dictionary defines MT as “translation carried out by a computer”. There is no human input involved here, and this is the technology ‘threatening’ to make the translation profession extinct.
Cattools.org defines CAT as “a form of translation wherein a human translator translates texts using computer software designed to support and facilitate the translation process”. In other words, CAT is a type of software used by translators in the translation process.

When the article quotes Angelique Petrits, a language officer at the European Commission, it should have been made clearer that her comments referred to CAT tools, not to MT. Her quotes only refer to “technology”, which is ambiguous. Yet her references to technology “automatically replacing strings of texts which have been already translated” and contributing “to the consistency of terminology” make it clear to those familiar with the profession that she’s talking about CAT tools. CAT tools involve importing documents to be translated into the software, storing the translations created in translation memories, and saving repeated terms in term bases to ensure consistent translation.

One last thing to note is that the Microsoft “Star Trek” Skype Translator is not “impressive, making only a handful of mistakes.” The demonstration at the Code Conference was over-simplified, full of errors, and quite frankly, awful. It looked good to anybody who couldn’t speak German, but anybody who can will confirm that it is far from being impressive. Andy Way, associate professor of computing at Dublin City University, was quite right to say “You’re more likely to have everything else in Star Trek before you ever get a universal translator” in the Guardian article.

Did anybody else read the article and have similar reactions to mine? Feel free to post them in the comments below!

Tips on getting into the translation profession

The translation industry is a notoriously tough industry to get into when you first start out. If you plump for working with agencies, many ask that translators have at least 5 years’ experience before they can be added to the agency’s books. If you decide to target direct clients then you have to stand out from everybody else in the industry, including those with decades of experience. Here are some tips to consider just before launching your career and when you’re first starting out:

1) Get a degree… and use it Whether in the languages that you want to translate from, or in a subject that could ultimately become your specialism, a degree is a major advantage to translators. Having a degree in a field other than languages and translation can also work in your favour as that field could become your specialism in translation.

2) Get translator training Be it a master’s degree in translation from a university or another qualification such as the IoL’s DipTrans, some form of training in the principles and practices of translation is absolutely vital in this industry.

3) Get as much experience as you can There are several ways to gain experience in the translation industry. You could take on a translation internship (many translation agencies are on the lookout for interns for 3-12 month placements) or you could volunteer as a translator with a not-for-profit website or company requiring translation (I volunteered with Watching America a few years ago. There are a number of options out there, and the more experience you have, the better.)

4) Exposure There are many sites out there aimed at online networking, and there are a few that are specific to the translation industry. Sites like LinkedIn are more general, whereas ProZ.com and TranslatorsCafe.com are specific to the translation and interpreting industry. It’s good to have profiles and be active on these sites (e.g. posting in the forums, asking terminology questions), as potential clients often use these sites to find new freelancers.

5) Specialise While you may accept whatever job lands in your inbox when starting out as a translator, it’s best to quickly suss out what you like and what you’re good at, then focus on gaining work in that field. That way you can focus your efforts on knowing your potential source material inside out, rather than being just relatively good in many subject areas.

6) Further training Once you’ve got a foot on the ladder, make sure you keep up-to-date with professional training. There are always ways in which you can improve as a professional – after all, we all have weaknesses. Webinars are an excellent tool for improving skills. My two favourite sites for this are ProZ.com and The Alexandria Project. They both offer insightful webinars on a wide range of translation-based topics.

Are you a translator? Feel free to add your tips for getting into the translation profession in the comments section below!