A translation disaster in the making

30 million Japanese to English translation

Tokyo Electron and Applied Materials are heading toward a merger.  They are still apparently in the process of demonstrating to governmental authorities that the merger will not reduce competition to the point of unfairness and/or demonstrating to their stockholders that they have done due diligence prior to the merger.  Why are we writing about this on a blog concerned with translation?  The ripples of these efforts have already been felt by translator providers, not only in the US, but also in far-off China and India.

Some entity (probably legal counsel for Applied Materials and/or Tokyo Electron) has purportedly ordered 30 million words of translation from Japanese into English, to be done in just three weeks, according to the brokers attempting to do the translation.  From comments heard by translators, the ordering entity has evidently gone to numerous translation brokers in efforts to get this work done.

A number of translation brokers have offered this work to some qualified Japanese-to-English translators at rates that would only be attractive to JA-to-EN translators in India, China, or perhaps Eastern Europe (USD 0.06 and USD 0.07 per word—take note, Applied Materials and/or Tokyo Electron).  Most of these translators seem to be wisely ignoring these comically low offers.

Going around and coming around.  As of March 16th, translators in the US have revealed that they have gotten inquiries from not only a huge translation broker in the US, but also from translation brokers in China (apparently three brokers), India, Italy, and Egypt that the US broker is apparently subcontracting to for the same merger project.  What connection do these subcontracting brokers have with Japanese/English translation? None, other than a desire to broker some of the work to desperate translators willing to work for very low rates.

Late breaking news:  A translator has now revealed that a China translation broker sent her files that are to be translated as part of this project–unsolicited.  So much for confidentiality.

The scenario that could explain this is obvious, but only if you understand the workings of the bulk translation market.  The ordering entity (probably a US law firm) gives the work (or a request-for-quote) to US translation brokers, which turn around and give the work to Chinese and Indian brokers (and, in this case, brokers in Italy and Egypt as well).  In addition to using their very cheap (and often not very good) translators, the Chinese and Indian brokers then, perhaps hoping that there are numerous translators in the US desperate enough to work with a Chinese or Indian broker, go to translators in the US with a ridiculously low rate.

It is time for a reality check on the part of numerous people involved in this comedy.  Doing 30 million words in three weeks, assuming each translator puts out 2500 words per day on average, would require 571 translators working every day for 21 days.  What this tells anybody in the translation business is that it will not be possible to use good translators, who are few in number and usually (because they are good) busy.  The solution to this problem (again, obvious to people in the industry) is to use bad translators, who are available and willing to work cheaply.  Translation brokers are very familiar with where to find bad-but-cheap translators; they are power users of such people.

What will likely happen.  Although the translation brokers claim to translators that they have 30 million words to translate in three weeks, it is utterly impossible for them to do that using qualified translators.  Only a tiny fraction will be given to qualified translators, who are already being offered USD 0.07 per word (again, please take note, Applied Materials and Tokyo Electron).  The overwhelming portion of this work will be done in China, India, or other Third World venues at much lower prices than USD 0.07 per word.  Unless they are reading this blog (and I hope they are), the end users (Applied Materials and/or Tokyo Electron and their counsel) will never know what hit them and why it hit them when they see the garbage sold to them as translation.