Translation services for a nickel?

By Adriana Adarve – Owner of Adarve Translations

Lea esta bitácora en español

Commodity: a raw material or primary agricultural product that can be bought and sold, such as copper or coffee. A useful or valuable thing, such as water or time.Last week, my friend and business coach, Glenn Geffcken, wrote an interesting article about commoditization, called Battling Commodity Marketing. It is a very interesting and thought-provoking article that reminded me of something I have wanted to write about for the longest time.

It has to do with translation, and how it seems to be regarded by many as a commodity. As explained in the Translation Buying Guide published by the American Translators Association (ATA), “Translation is not a commodity. If it were, it would be enough to say: ‘You need a translation? Go out and ask several translation service providers how much they charge per word and choose the lowest figure.’ End of story.”

And that is a big mistake. When looking to buy translation services—not a commodity—the lowest price in the market cannot be the only decision-determining factor. Among the several factors to consider, the two most important ones to keep in mind are subject-matter expertise of the translator and the target audience, or the population for which the translation is intended.

One of the things that I have noticed over the years, and which is getting more and more dominant, is that translation vendors are sought outside the communities where the translations are intended to be read because the lowest possible price plays a highly determining role.

In principle, there is nothing wrong with wanting to buy anything for the lowest price and still “serve our communities.” But that is just in principle. However, deeper thought into the matter brings me to the need to point out a key cautionary factor when taking this approach: When buying translations from a provider outside our target audience community, how sure can one be that the vendor is actually aware of the intricacies inherent to said community? How can one be sure that the vendor is not infusing his/her translations with his/her country’s particular jargon, thus leaving out the rest of the members of the intended target population?

“Translation is not a commodity. If it were, it would be enough to say: ‘You need a translation? Go out and ask several translation service providers how much they charge per word and choose the lowest figure.’ End of story.” ATA - Translation Buying GuideLet’s take for example the Spanish-speaking communities in the United States. It is true that there are a lot of Spanish-speaking countries in the world, and that we can all understand each other. Nonetheless, it is also true that each one of those Spanish-speaking countries use jargon that is not used, or sometimes understood, in other Spanish-speaking countries.

The members of the Spanish-speaking communities in the United States come from a myriad of countries. We all bring with us our culture and way of speaking. We all understand each other, but what is more important, we all learn to adapt to one another as well, not only culturally, but also within our common language. We learn what is proper to say or not to say to another Spanish-speaking person in our community who does not come from our country. We adapt words and concepts from the English language to turn them into something understandable to us; and we adapt our own particular jargons in order to better communicate with one another. In other words, we sort of put our different Spanish jargons into a “simmering pot,” we mix and stir, and we come up with a neutral Spanish that is understandable to all and intrinsic to our personal experiences in this our host country.

When buying translations as a commodity and looking outside your community to buy this ‘commodity for a nickel,’ are you sure that the selected vendor is really using a neutral language that will cater to the real experiences and way of living of the community you intend to target?

Well, I like to avoid falling into prickly situations. That is why I believe that my friend Glenn is right when he says, “The remedy for commoditization is to be unique and produce and provide the products and services that are uniquely us, and unique to the world. The remedy is to be our authentic selves and be willing to make small sacrifices to do business with those who are also doing their authentic work in the world, even if it costs a little more.”

All the best,

Adriana Adarve, Asheville, NC

 

Adriana Adarve is the owner of Adarve Translations and is fluent in three languages (English, Spanish & French), as well as pluri-cultural, multi-cultural, plurilingual and multilingual.
Adriana Adarve

About the Author: Adriana Adarve is the owner of Adarve Translations and is fluent in three languages (English, Spanish & French), as well as pluri-cultural, multi-cultural, plurilingual and multilingual.

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Published by Adriana Adarve

I’m Adriana Adarve, a multilingual, plurilingual, multicultural and pluricultural English to Spanish freelance translator. My primary interests—besides my passion for languages—are in science, chemistry, and medicine. That is the reason why I concentrate on medical, scientific and technical translations. I am also passionate about cultural diversity, which means that my translations always take into account my clients’ culture, as well as that of the audience for which the translations are intended.

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