Is Good Translation Cheap?

That government and public authorities here in Slovakia procure poor translations does not surprise me at all. They blame it on the omnipresent economic crisis, the need to consolidate public finance and streamline their budgets. But I’ve never thought that similar problems with translations may occur in the US as well.The most recent case was reported by concerning the translation of fact sheets for the Washington Health Benefit Exchange website. While I understand that finding an excellent translator for such languages as Cambodian or Somali might be a ‘nut to crack’, I am sure it pays well at the end of the day. All the more so if, as the article says, the translations looked like as if “a teacher [had taken] a red pen to a student’s paper” after unofficial reviewers were done with them. It doesn’t speak well about their quality.

An interesting thing is they say the fact sheets were translated by state certified translators. It either means that the level of translator training and certification is poor, or that this statement is somewhat ‘misleading’.

What I believe is, judging by my experience, albeit brief, as a Slovak proofreader for a couple of foreign LSPs, they must have been done by wannabe translators who sell themselves cheap, or outright machine translated, using some ‘magical’ on-line translation service like Google Translate or Bing Translator. I believe this an absolutely wrong approach by LSPs seeking to cut their costs. The bad thing is that this hunt for cheapest possible translations can eventually destroy the freelance market. The even worse thing, at least for end clients, is that they pay more for translation in the end (not only in terms of money, but time and other resources too).

True professional freelance translators would never submit anything that’s below the industry standard.  First of all, they know it would harm their reputation (something every freelancer knows is most important if they want to keep in the business and get new clients) and, apart from that, if you’re really good, you cannot simply tell your skills to “downgrade”. It’s absolutely impossible.

Therefore, a good translation can never come cheap if you get it from a professional.


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