Interesting take on quality/rates/time tradeoff

There's a trade-off between rates and quality. Although rates don't guarantee quality, you generally get what you pay for; higher rates get you better quality, and lower rates worse.

Over on the Honyaku mailing list, Matt Stanton has a rather unique take on this topic: he believes in providing the entire spectrum himself.

Then all you do is adjust the time you spend on a translation to reflect the rate you're getting. Suppose you think you're worth 5,500 yen per hour. At 7 yen a character, you need to get through 786 chars per hour; at 5 yen, 1,100 chars. (At 4 yen, you'd have to get through 1,375 chars, which you might decide is unfeasible, in which case you would set 5 yen as your absolute minimum rate.)

The 5 yen version is not going to be very well written, there might be a few chokuyakus ["literal" translations — Ryan] in there, some of the terminology might be a bit off, etc. – but so what? As long is there are no serious mistranslations or omissions of key material, you've provided a reasonable product at the
price. If the client wants better quality, they can either pay you more or find someone who's prepared to work for 4,500 yen an hour.

I personally would never take this approach; I can't stand sending work out the door that I know is sub-par. Sometimes with extreme rush jobs, I might not have enough time to do the translation to my own satisfaction, but in that case my quality is deadline-constrained, not rate-constrained.

It seems to me that intentionally doing shoddy work could backfire, by giving you a reputation as a poor translator. This approach seems to be working for Matt, but I think I'll keep turning down the low-paying work, rather than accepting it and doing a lousy job on it.

Matt goes into quite a bit more detail about his unorthodox work style in this thread.

10 comments to Interesting take on quality/rates/time tradeoff

  • Hmm, interesting business model 🙂 And even though I don’t speak a word of Japanese, I like the term “chokuyaku.” I agree, personally I could never do this; I think that most successful freelancers are successful in part because we are, well, compulsive overachievers and perfectionists, and it’s hard to let that go.

    I think it’s one thing to take on work that is easy, and therefore you can churn it out quickly. I translate customer service surveys for one client and they’re so non-technical that I sometimes listen to books on tape while I translate them. I think that’s a legitimate way to work faster and make more per hour. But deliberately turning in an “OK” translation is something I really couldn’t swallow unless the client specifically directed me to.

    Sometimes, a client has told me that a translation that they need done in a hurry is “for internal, informational purposes only,” and then I blaze through it because I feel that it’s understood that the quality won’t be A+ and the client needs the translation back ASAP. But I think it’s another situation entirely to take work from low-paying clients and then give them what they’re paying for. Interesting post!

  • […] by Corinne McKay Ryan Ginstrom has a really interesting post (that links to yet another post) on translation quality. Besides learning the helpful term “chokuyaku” (apparently Japanese for “literal […]

  • Yeah, I thought that was a, well, notable comment as well, and thought about blogging about it, but you beat me to it. I wonder if Matt isn’t being a bit of a contrarian just for grins.

    I don’t think I could follow that approach even if I wanted to (which I don’t), simply because I’m not all that fast, and doing shitty work isn’t going to speed me up enough to make it worthwhile.

    I do think that Matt—and anyone who advocates chokuyaku as a viable approach—lays a trap for himself. There are many cases where a chokuyaku is either so incomprehensible as to be meaningless, or is flat-out wrong. Admittedly, there are some clients who will be satisfied with that kind of translation, and some who will positively prefer it, but I still can’t see it as valid.

  • I have always been a firm believer in the “You get what you pay for” principle.

  • @Adam

    I definitely think Matt is playing to the crowd. You can tell because when he doesn’t get enough of a rise out of people, he starts calling them idiots. 🙂

    But I think he’s sincere about his method. It fits so well with the screwy back-translation method he described as his QC method some time ago. That’s just what someone churning out lots of garbage would use.

    I can’t find the quote, but I liked when someone said on Honyaku recently that literal translation is only correct when it happens to coincide with iyaku (“free” translation).

  • I’ve heard of this approach – crap work for crap pay – and I firmly reject it. While I do agree with Werner that “you get what you pay for”, if you want to pay peanuts, you’ll have to find a different monkey. I have too much respect for myself and my work to turn in a lousy translation on purpose.

    There is a translator here in Germany (working in a different language combination) who follows a similar approach to Matt’s. He allocates a certain amount of time to a job based on its value and will not go beyond that to do necessary term research, etc. I remembered him mentioning something about it to me only after one of my agency clients specifically complained. This client was desperate to find a good translator with an engineering background, and he was an obvious recommendation and well-equipped to handle some other special requirements of the job. From the PM’s reaction, you would think I had offered her a cup of rat poison to drink.

  • That whole exchange told me nothing new about the art of translation except for the fact that I won’t be hiring Matt to do any translations for my company. How could I be certain he was bringing his A game?

    His comment actually reminded me of the excuse people trot out when their horrible online grammar/spelling gets pointed out. “O lol i can write beter if i want too, this is just the internet tho, so i dont make the effort” and so on. It takes me far more effort to write that sort of crap–it takes me out of the zone where I’m used to composing text. Translation would be the same way for me. Churning out garbage would probably take me just as much time, since I don’t have any practice doing it. 🙂

  • This just shows that Matt isn’t a good translator.

    The only way someone would have an easier time doing low-quality translations is if that person’s skill in translation were low — extra effort would be needed for a normal- or high-quality translation.

  • I can sympathize with the point being made in the excerpt, I hate seeing work I’ve spent loads of time on go out for very little pay, but, as someone who’s just starting out, I don’t see myself having the luxury to take that advice. Doesn’t it just make obtaining future assignments more difficult if there’s subpar work floating around with your name on it?

  • @Bill

    Definitely. I think everybody I’ve spoken with except for Matt says they do their best every time, regardless of rate.

    I think two factors might make a technique like Matt’s work.

    First, a lot of Japanese agencies have a hard time spotting chokuyaku and bad English, because they don’t have any native speakers in-house. This, of course, will come back and bite you in the end, when the users of the translation start to complain.

    Second, agencies don’t tend to share information on who is good and who sucks. An agency treats its “stable” of translators like a trade secret. The exception is when coordinators move from one agency to another, and take their lists with them.

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