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Just a link, but it’s so good it deserves a post. Gems range from NSFW:

Personally, I’m a huge fan of the derogatory Afrikaans term for South African English-speakers: soutpiel

Which translates to “Saltcock”, implying that they have one leg in England, one leg in South Africa, and their dick is dangling in the ocean.

to pure music:

Swedish is notable for the adjective “lagom”, being the only word in the world that is absolutely politically correct. It can be roughly translated to the middle ground between mediocre and good, just about perfect if you don’t want actual perfection, neither good nor bad, the quantum average that’s always approaching above average but never quite there, so-so but pretty good, almost three-quarters awesome.

Highly recommended.

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Some stats

We just got a word that Translated.net came up with an index that, according to them, reflects the market share of each language on the Internet. It doesn’t exactly look very accurate: everything between the input data and the resulting numbers is basically guesses and rough approximations (“if everyone in Switzerland spoke German, and if it were the poorest who didn’t use the Internet, and if personal income equaled GDP per capita with income distribution percentages factored in, then…”). Its value as a tool for choosing languages into which a company website should be translated is also limited: businesses normally pick geographical markets, then provide materials in the local language(s), not the other way around, though we can think of a few exceptions.

Still, the index deserves a thumbs up, if only because someone other than CSA has made an attempt to analyze large-scale data and make conclusions relevant to the translation market. Way to go.


While we are at it, comScore has published some fresh research on U.S. online Hispanic consumers. Stats of interest to those working in the En <> Es pair:

  • More than half (52 percent) of U.S. Hispanics online prefer English as their primary language, with 26.1 percent choosing bilingual and 21.9 percent preferring Spanish as their primary language.
  • When asked about Hispanic-themed advertising, approximately 50 percent of Hispanic online consumers prefer the advertisement to be in English, while 28 percent have no language preference.

Also, The Global Language Monitor’s annual Top Words list is out. Yes, refudiate is there. So, too, is Lady Gaga, which is sad but was predictable.

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This week the translation world has been busy tearing apart Lionbridge for its crimes against humanity, this time in the form of an attempt to fool freelancers into cutting down their rates. Heated discussion is a good thing, and not only as a venting tool: the less confident and experienced among us will find it easier to resist the arrogant move if they know what others are doing. There is a problem though: the emotional conversation is a bit detached from reality.

Most feedback falls into one of two categories. The first is, let’s voice our indignation and the monster will retreat. Let’s see. A universally hated SLA. A widely criticized translation environment. And now you pay to use it. And are required to reduce your rates. And summoned to their offices to wash the floor. Not yet? You will be. These guys would make Stanley Milgram proud. So you believe they’ll suddenly begin to care about whether you are happy because…?

The other suggested approach is grab some popcorn and watch Lionbridge go broke. Would be nice if the world were that fair. Everybody seems to have forgotten by now, but thebigword did exactly the same two years ago. Citing “current climate,” they “communicate[d] a necessary change in the payment terms <…>: your standard rate will be reduced by 6%.” Two years later, they may not be celebrating record profits, but they are definitely as alive as ever and their BB rating is a decent 4.5. (And they “value [their] industry reputation.”)

Importantly, this is not merely a matter of fairness. Many clients don’t care, but many care enough to avoid an LSP mistreating its suppliers, all else being equal. This brings us to the point that has so far been missing from the discussion: while it looks like nobody at Lionbridge will lose sleep over your departure from their talent pool or your eloquent e-mails to their VP of the Universe, if you bite off a portion of their market share they’ll have to pay attention.

Admittedly, you are unlikely to single-handedly ruin their record-profit-reporting, proprietary-software-imposing, discount-demanding empire, but that is not necessary as small steps add up across the market. Broadly speaking, you need to do two things: (1) make it easier for clients to find you and (2) figure out ways to prove your credibility. For most projects that, in essence, is the entire “all else being equal” part.

Clients are not just metaphysically attracted to agencies. Most of them opt for the line of least resistance when searching and try to avoid responsibility when choosing. So put yourself in front of their eyes (go for a niche to make things easier) and give them something persuasive to tell their boss in case they end up with a screwed-up translation and she demands an explanation (you know the translation will be fine, but they don’t). You will then be in a much better position to negotiate with LB, or any other client for that matter, and this includes the look-where-you-can-stick-your-rate-reduction kind of negotiation, too.

By the way, what on earth is in that SLA that so many people find it a joke?

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BeWords is being launched

Mathieu Maréchal from Trad Online is launching a new platform for translators, BeWords, which could potentially become like ProZ, only better. It is currently in beta, and much of the website is still under construction, but grab a user name if you want one: more than two thousand translators have already signed up.

Judging by the initial communications, BeWords will focus on direct clients, make some effort to rule out dumping (no more than five or six bids per project will be accepted), offer escrow service (possibly only for a portion of each payment) and a mechanism for testing translators (preliminary copy suggested there would be a flat rate per test, further details were unclear; as of this writing the page is empty), validate profiles at a cost and provide a bunch of communication tools (probably not focusing much on this part, since everybody already has a ton of communication tools of all sorts elsewhere).

The official launch is scheduled for September 1. Premium membership will be available starting from that date, but it has not yet been specified exactly what the money will buy.

Mathieu is requesting input from LSPs, so if you have any suggestions, go ahead and submit them: since pretty much everything there is work in progress, it must be relatively easy to get them implemented, or at least considered, at this point.

To sum up, the site creators’ attitude looks promising, and we are hoping things will get more interesting soon.


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Katja Grace over at Meteuphoric argues that being a native speaker of a rare language is akin to being deaf: you get to partake in a special culture, but can’t (comfortably) communicate with much larger groups, so on balance you lose. She lists the typical arguments in favor of language revitalization and explains why, in her opinion, none of them is valid.

It remains unclear whether the author is, or will be, raising her kids in Chinese since English is far less popular. The post is worth a read regardless, if only for an insight into how (some) outsiders of the language industry regard language. Hint: who cares about some obscure cultural heritage if protecting it means you’ll have trouble being understood by, you know, me.


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“If you are a successful professional, that is probably in part because of your unjustified arrogance,” says Robin Hanson, citing studies in corporate management, medicine, law and software development to prove his point. We once again don’t have the stats, but anecdotal evidence suggests translators fit the pattern (why would we not?).

People choose many types of suppliers, including LSPs, on the basis of incomplete information: for obvious reasons, clients in need of a translation typically find it hard to evaluate somebody else’s translation skills. So they look for signals, the more reliable, the better. Talk is cheap and, as the data illustrates, confidence does not necessarily imply competence. However, lack thereof can reasonably safely be interpreted as a sign of inadequacy. You, after all, have an incentive to present yourself in a favorable light; if you readily admit limitations, it must be for a reason.

Depending on your perspective, this may sound disturbing. Those of us who flourish in the market are likely too optimistic too often. You may indeed be a terrific translator loved by clients, or you may get positive feedback when you’ve done a particularly good job, then regress toward the mean and never realize that on average, you are not that great after all.

That is worth keeping in mind; but notice, too, that it’s not knowledgeable failures vs ignorant successes. What the data shows is that confidence is rewarded regardless of the level of expertise. If tomorrow everybody gets an accurate idea of their respective capabilities, nothing indicates that resulting quality of services will get better overall.

Food for thought.


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A trio of researchers recruited a group of college students for an experiment and told them they would be paid between three and ten dollars for playing a game. After four rounds, an experimenter handed each subject three dollars and asked if that was OK. If a participant asked for more money, he or she was given ten dollars. Those who, instead of asking directly, merely complained about the compensation, were not offered a larger amount.

The goal of the study was to look at sex differences in negotiation behaviour. In the experiment, almost nine times as many male as female subjects asked for more money.

The story comes from Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide, which contains quite a few impressive figures that are not intuitively obvious. The most interesting part is not even the XX vs XY stuff, but how much leeway is often available and how the difference adds up over time. We suggest you read at least the free excerpt available on Amazon, it is enlightening.

Still, we are now wondering whether the translation market is indeed dominated by women. It seems to be the case, but we have no hard data. Findings in the book sound too familiar: people accept whatever they are offered, are unhappy with outcomes, yet never attempt to do anything about it.

In our industry, that behavior is displayed by male and female translators alike. It does matter who sets the trend though: “if I don’t accept this, somebody else will” is a self-fulfilling prophecy, and it makes everybody worse-off. Therefore it may be useful to get a clearer idea of who initiates this domino fall.

So far, the usual suspects have been students, residents of countries with a low cost of living and, more generally, unspecified bottom-feeders. They are assumed to provide low quality, thus operating in a separate market in which self-respecting translators are not interested anyway.

If women’s aversion to negotiation is real, it can’t be interpreted the same way: there’s clearly nothing inferior, on average, about their translations. So we end up with normal-quality services available more cheaply for cultural rather than demand-driven reasons. Good for buyers, not so good for suppliers, and a solution would involve drawing attention to the issue rather than discarding the non-negotiators as a separate breed living on a different planet and working for greedy clients that wouldn’t recognize quality if it hit them in the face.

Thoughts?


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