Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The absurdity of outsourcing Greek translations to India

Fresh out of the oven, yet another job ad on ProZ, for a Greek-to-English translation.
"We have a small certificate to be translated from Greek into English.
We are looking for translator who is immediately available.
Please send your resume with your best possible price per word in subject line at [ e-mail address ].
Source format: PDF Document
Poster country: India"

First of all, why on Earth is this request coming from India? The original certificate is in Greek, so the person who wants it translated is most likely Greek. Why would that person send it to an Indian translation agency? Or maybe he sent it to a Greek agency which then sent it to an Indian agency, which in turn posted it on ProZ. The point is that some Greek person sent it over to India. Why? It baffles me. Do they think there are many Greek-English translators in New Delhi? Or do they expect Hindi translators to speak Greek and English fluently and to be able to translate an official document from Greek to English? (side note / question: Who would notarize the translation?) What is the logic here? I guess the Greek person/agency hopes for a very low price. Fine, but in the end, who receives that very low price? The Greek-English translator. Does the Greek-English translator live in India? Probably not. Can he survive with Indian rates? Probably not. 

So let’s follow the journey of our Greek certificate. The Indian agency receives it from Greece and posts an ad on a site like ProZ to find a Greek-English translator. Then it selects one of the translators that bid on the project. This translator most likely lives in Greece (statistically speaking), or maybe in the US or the UK or Australia, in any case in a country where Indian rates are probably not a viable option. Let me repeat this, to stress the absurdity of the process: the document is sent from Greece to India and it ends up back in Greece or another country other than India for translation. It gets translated and then is sent  back from Greece (or that other country) to the agency in India, and then from India back to Greece to the person who first requested it. So the certificate takes a very long and uninteresting trip, and in the meantime the price has dropped to sewer level. Doesn’t this even cross the mind of the person that needs the translation? And doesn’t it cross his mind that, in the end, the person receiving the sewer-level price will be the Greek translator, who lives in a country with the same standard of living as him? He probably thinks “Great, I got a good translation and I saved some euros, no harm done”. But no, there is harm done, and it’s significant; to that particular Greek translator, to all translators, and to the translation market in general. In this case we’re talking about a one- or two-page document, at a rate of $0.04 per word versus an average rate of $0.14 per word, i.e. a total of $8 versus $28. We could be talking about a much larger document, of 10 pages, and then the price would be $120 versus $420 (assuming about 300 words per page). Or it could be a 30-page document, $360 vs $1260; you get the picture.   

Now, as if the low price requested in the ad weren’t enough, the agency needs a translator that is immediately available. This normally calls for a surcharge for urgent work. Also, note that the source format is PDF, which means that the translator will have to use OCR (not always very successful with Greek) or recreate the layout manually from scratch; another surcharge would be in order. Would the agency be willing to pay these surcharges? My guess is that no, no way, what a funny thing to say… Not only may the translator not charge extra, but according to the ad he should give his/her “best possible price”. “Best”, as we all know, means “lowest”. They want the lowest possible rate. Why? Why should the translator give his lowest possible price for an urgent translation from a PDF?  

Some years ago, when translators responded to such ads, it was very often to complain about the ridiculous conditions of the work. Of course when ProZ went from being “The Translators Workplace” to “The Translation Workplace”, a new rule appeared that forbade translators to contact the outsourcers for anything other than bidding for the project. So there you have it, you’re not allowed to complain on proZ, it’s a free market, if you don’t want to do the work, don’t do it, but don’t bother the outsourcer with your complaints and don’t try to influence other translators who might agree to do the translation for a fraction of the cost and spend two hours on a certificate so they can buy a small bag of peanuts. On the other hand, is it really the Indian agency’s fault? They simply agreed to take on a project someone assigned to them. I think the problem lies with the lack of common sense of the person or agency that decided to outsource the project to India; lack of common sense and blindness caused by a frantic search for low prices.


  1. Great post, couldn't agree more!
    However, I do believe that the agency you are depicting here is most probably US-based since agencies in Greece are run or have at least one person able to translate a certificate or even more so they have translated a similar certificate previously so they have the format ready and so on.
    What concerns me most here is why a translator should accept such a job, harming his income, lowering his service and harming the translation industry and most of all his colleagues altogether, for a job of 5 o 15 euros max, for which he will have to issue an invoice, sometimes chase payment and finally receiving a lower amount due to commissions (paypal, moneybookers, bank transfer and so on).
    This is an even greater mystery!

  2. I have dealt with some greek agencies and I'm not suprised at all. Two of them which contacted me (I live in Greece) wanted a specialized translation be made for...0.02Euro (around 0.03 USD)!!! One of them had an urgent job (shipping) of 3000 words to be made in 4 hours! The other was shocked by my rates (exact words) and advised me to reconsider my demands otherwise "we will both die from hunger") - this agency still harasses me with their offers despite the shock i give them by my rates. Both agencies have offices in Athens and I never heard anything bad about them. So, they find somehow translators at 0.02 Euro/word... maybe through India... in anyway, there is google translator and they can just find some eager editor who will edit the text translated by google! By the way, this is exactly the trick the Indian agencies do and offer officially to their clients!

  3. Well, someone will say that if a combination of Google Translate and eager revisor results in a usable translation what the hell? However, this combination usually fails. Unless the agencies spend less on the translator just to have the revisor re-translate. It will be a loss for the agency paying twice for the same job. If they continue to do it (which they surely do to warrant our complaints), it takes no magic to see they could be satisfied.

    The truth is that there are many young and hungry trainees out there, more eager to acquire experience than make money for now. If they accept such a job, it must be helpful to them. We must not forget that lowering prices is an entry strategy for beginners.

    Established translators confident of their skill and worth simply ignore such offers because they have a steady well paying client or two with whom business is guaranteed (and they can make transfer earnings i.e. enough money to justify staying in the profession).

    Now, in my opinion(which has changed over the past two years because I used to be very angry with colleagues accepting ultra-low rates), there is precious little danger to industry prices in general if high end translators maintain their prices and these low end translations are left to beginners. In this case, no one will complain about the other. If translators keep complaining about their colleagues' pricing, we do not expect the outside world to have greater appreciation or respect for our profession. It gives the impression that some people want to conspire to cheat clients by imposing non-market prices (prices not determined by demand-supply interaction).

    Unfortunately, these complaints get noticed faster than the quality high end translators get to offer. Result: the client knows (or thinks) that there is a place where they can get their translations done cheaply and the expensive translators are just unhappy about it. Effect: more clients seek out those notoriously cheap outsourcing destinations.

    This scenario seems even more likely because we do not hear many clients complaining about any bad quality from the very cheap translators (they simply hush unsuccessful transactions and get their documents retranslated). The net is awash with complaints about low prices paid to translators but not about low quality delivered by these translators. A novice client relying on the net to find a translator will simply conclude as hypothesized above and more work will go to the low end site.

    Like one commenter to this post on LinkedIn said, may be one should just focus on improving their skills and other translation quality descriptors and the kind of money we desire and deserve will likely follow. The downward pressure on pricing also benefits the industry in stimulating creativity (vendors think of novel ways of outshining rivals, translators think of better ways of using technology and saving effort, etc,). No good news maybe, except for people who like to innovate and take on new challenges. Translators should all be this way.

  4. In have template about "best price" and use it quite often. It goes like this "Our Best price is about € 0,30 per word. However, we can offer you our not-so -good price € 0,12 per s/w.


  5. This blog post was mentioned in IAPTI's LinkedIn group and a very interesting discussion followed. For those interested to read the comments (69 of them!) please see

  6. Without being cruel, the developing world is having a very dramatic, and often negative effect on the translation industry. The industry is a mess, and it has a lot to do with this influx of cheap labor, and low-quality translation flooding the market.