Friday, May 8, 2015

Compensation for Post-Editing MT All Comes Down to Compromise

This is a guest post to provide an alternate and independent perspective on issues I have discussed in this blog. It is unedited and may or may not be consistent with my own views, but I think it is always useful to hear other views on these issues. I invite others who may wish to share their opinions on these MT related issues to also voice their opinions, especially those with very different views. I have added very few clarifications (in italics). My own views are outlined in this recent post and this older post which is still one of the most popular posts on this blog.

With thanks to @MattBramowicz for this submission.
If you ask a professional translator, chances are they will tell you that they’ve been requested at one time or another to provide post-editing or revisions for machine-translated text. When this happens, more often than not many translators either begrudgingly accept or refuse the project altogether.
This can be attributed to 2 main reasons:

  1. The machine-translated text is not very accurate, to begin with, resulting in sometimes more work and time to decipher the text than it would take to translate it outright.
  2. The rates to post-edit are oftentimes significantly less than the translator’s normal translation rates.
As technology progresses, so do the methodologies for translation practices. Of course, technology is not just instantaneously perfect. It takes time to develop, improve, and advance until it is if not perfect, at least to a level that is efficiently satisfactory. At this moment in time, machine translation is in its “needs improvement” phase. While the accuracy has come a long way since its inception decades ago, with some languages being translated more accurately than others, it has still not reached a level that would be deemed “good”. However, for it to improve, it must still be a technology that is utilized so that there is a need to warrant the time and energy it would take to improve its process.

While many translators may refuse to provide post-editing services, the fact remains the need for the service is at an all-time high. Whether there are platforms created for mobile app translations, website content management systems, or even standardized document content formatted for machine translation, there are many resources that are utilizing the ubiquitous nature of web development to promote the post-editing or “hybrid” method of translation services. Therefore, translators could and should be more open to the process.

That being said, in no way should translators be “exploited” for their services either. There should be a compromise between translation service providers and translators to ensure fair pay is given for quality work.

For a compromise to take place, both sides must understand the other’s concerns and needs. Since we’ve already established the translator’s concerns, let’s go over the translation service providers’:
Hybrid translation is usually offered as a cost-saving method to the client to provide translation services for items that either would not have been translated in the first place
  1. due to the content not being of utmost importance, or there is too much text and the client wouldn’t be able to afford professional translation for it.
  2. Hybrid translation is usually offered as less than perfect translation method, not as good as professional translation, but still much better than mere (raw) machine translation.
  3. For reasons 1 and 2, the rate they charge the client is much less than for professional translation, so the budget for translators is much lower.
Now that we know both sides, the trick is to find a solution so that all parties’ needs are met.
For starters, we can look at post-editing translation jobs as opportunities for translators to make a little extra money on projects that for all intents and purposes came about thanks to hybrid translation being an option. Therefore, translation service providers can categorize these types of projects as such, and create a separate list of available translators who are willing to make themselves available to work on these from time to time as a means to earn some extra income. That way, TSP’s are only contacting translators who are willing participants in these projects. Likewise, TSP’s can and should keep more than the usual amount of translators on file for these types of projects, so if a translator is too busy to work on a certain project, they can decline without feeling pressured into taking it because the TSP has no one else available.

Second, while translators will have to work at a lower rate than ordinary for these projects, they should still be given a rate commensurate with the work involved. Translation Service Providers should set a rate at or close to the proofreading rate of translators. While the margins may not as be as profitable as professional translation service orders, the quantity of orders placed by clients should make up for it, provided the outcome is good enough quality that they want to order again. The best way to ensure that is the case is to pay the translators enough so that they feel compelled to do the best job they can. 

Also, deadlines should be reasonably set so that translators are able to work on these projects in between their traditional and more lucrative projects. However, many TSP’s tend to offer hybrid translation as a “speedy” translation service. While this can still be true, especially when formatting is taken out of the equation, they should still set reasonable deadlines with the client. If the client is in need of a rush delivery, TSP’s can offer a rush delivery surcharge option to the client, and pay the translator a little bit more for that particular project. If that isn’t an option, the project could be split between 2 or more translators in order to meet the deadline on time without putting too much strain on one translator.

Another option is for TSP’s to set up some sort of reward package for translators who consistently accept these projects and provide good services. For instance, for every 15 projects completed, let’s say, the translator receives a $50 bonus. While the amount may be relatively small, it still provides an incentive for the translators to accept as many projects as possible and it shows that the TSP appreciates their loyalty and hard work. 

Perhaps TSP’s could also pay translators an hourly rate instead of a per word rate. That way, for segments of text that are exceedingly difficult to decipher the meaning from, the translator is compensated fairly for their time. The only caveat for this option is that the end-user is usually charged a per word rate (since there’s no way of knowing how much time to charge them upfront). So there is a potential for the project to go over-budget if the time it takes to complete the translation is much longer than anticipated and surpasses the per word rate charged to the client. A possible solution to that issue would be to have the client agree to a clause that states the price they are given upfront is simply an estimate, and the final amount may be more. This is the traditional practice for services like auto repairs, home repairs, etc., and most other service-based industries, which translation services are most certainly a part of as well. However, for some reason, many clients don’t view it as such and are reticent to agree to such terms upfront.

While post-editing jobs may pay less than traditional translation projects in terms of word count, in some cases (depending on how the platform is set up and quality of machine translation), the process of post-editing can be completed much more quickly, and therefore result in a higher rate per hour than initially anticipated. In such cases, depending on the source text quantity, a translator can earn close to, if not the same rate, as traditional projects in a given time span. 

In the end, it all comes down to how the platform and post-editing process is set up by the TSP and the level of cooperation that can be achieved between the TSP and the translators.

About the Author
Matt Bramowicz is a content writer and graphic designer for Translation Cloud LLC (, a leading professional translation company located in Jersey City, NJ. You can follow him on Twitter: @MattBramowicz