Outsourcing and Crowdsourcing Translation: Are We Doomed as Professional Translators?

Having read a lot lately about crowdsourcing and outsourcing translation projects, we can see the perks that clients might see in deciding to choose one of these options (or a combination of both) to get time-sensitive information to their target market. However, one question continues to lurk. Are we doomed as professional translators in this industry? First, we should define both terms, as they are options that many consumers are seeking in order to quickly get their message on the web. As an LSP (Language Services Provider), we often have to outsource projects to other linguists, both domestic and foreign. However, the outsourcing to which we are referring here is the use of native linguists who live in the country-specific region being targeted by a company or marketer, rather than utilizing domestic vendors. There are many advantages to outsourcing a project to a native speaker who lives in the target market region: a linguist who knows the area and is in constant contact with everyday terminology and register is likely to have an advantage over a linguist who no longer lives in his native region and does not keep up with modern colloquialisms and technology terms. Our opinion: Why can't we trust that those who are living outside their region are keeping up with colloquialisms, modern technology terminology, and visiting their native countries frequently enough to experience everyday modern speech? Besides, most of us don't stop at simply having a text translated. There are proofreaders involved in process as well.

Crowdsourcing is a form of outsourcing, but it implies utilizing volunteers to translate content in order to get it to the web faster. Certainly proofreaders and editors must review the texts prior to web publication, but this is a risky way to get information out that will be permanently online once the web expert presses "Publish." It seems that those who volunteer their time to translate the content are passionate about bringing information to their region and having it appear customized for local readers/web users. However, as a business that goes through a lot of resumes for translators daily, we can say that there are more resumes that we do not keep than those that we do. And these people are submitting their resumes as professionals!

So, where do companies find volunteers to complete the translation of their site information? Facebook and TED.com both use crowdsourcing as a way to put information on the web in an almost immediate manner. Facebook is available in so many languages today thanks to volunteers. Of course, they have to get their translations proofread by professionals and this takes a little more time, but why don't they use professionals for the entire process? The consensus seems to be that it simply takes too long and costs too much. Quite frankly, we find this to be very sad.

To read others' opinions and more information, simply enter "crowdsourcing translation" into a search engine and you will have plenty of reading material. Foreign Exchange Translations blogged about this topic in 2009, referencing a New York Times article, "A Web that Speaks Your Language" that mentions TED.com's efforts to translate its video subtitles and transcripts quickly for other languages.

We admit that we often use both domestic and foreign contractors when outsourcing translation projects, and we know we pay them fairly. We look at a number of factors when choosing the right linguists to work on a project, and all have a deadline that we personally (and professionally) don't feel to be outrageous. Deadlines depend on the length and type of project, as well as the client's desires. In the end, our clients are very happy with the finished product and the timeline in which we provide translations. In fact, many are repeat clients. We often talk in this industry about how we are developing and gaining more respect as professionals. So, why are companies looking to volunteers for their translations rather than paying professionals? Won't the peace of mind of knowing their information has been translated accurately and professionally, besides their returns, make it worth it in the end? We certainly hope so!

Volunteer work is important and necessary, but usually we do it for a cause we are passionate about. And yes, many volunteers who participate in crowdsourcing do work professionally as well. So, why not get paid for your work? Is the need to seek volunteers for social media sites a reflection of our need to have immediate results and feedback in everything we do? Sounds like a "fast-food" approach to translation.

What do you think? Feel free to share your comments or experiences with crowdsourcing and this form of outsourcing and how you feel it affects our industry.