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Winning and Losing in the Game of Translations

August 2, 2011 1 Comment »

Every day I try to find how small things that happen in my life can relate to the business world. Being a huge soccer fan gave me this opportunity a few weeks ago. As an avid follower of the Primer Division in the Argentina Soccer League, I was found at a loss for words when one of the world’s biggest teams, River Plate, got moved down to the 2nd division of this highly competitive league. In River’s 110 year history as a club they have always played in the 1st Division. They have one of the biggest stadiums in South America, not to mention die hard followers all over the world. They have won the title of this division many times and are always considered one of the best teams in the world. This year however, they just could not win. They lost game after game, came in last place, and got moved down to the second division. This will not only have a detrimental effect on the actual club, but also on the entire league considering how much money this club brings to the table. The thing that I found strange is nobody even mentioned who actually won this year’s crown. Velez Sarsfield, a relatively unknown club outside Argentina, took this year’s championship home; but not too many people know that, as River stole all the headlines for losing.

That being said, I know you are now thinking how in the world this can relate to business. As an Account Manager for one of the world’s leading translation companies, my main job is to sell translations. This industry has become so competitive over the last few years, that sometimes I feel that the I have to make every sale that I can, or the client will go somewhere else. This pro active attitude can be great if every project that you sale is a “winner”, but what if one of these projects has a high chance for failure? The other day I received a call from a client that had an emergency project of 50,000 words from English into Arabic. He needed this project in 4days, 2 of which were Saturday and Sunday. Our normal turnaround time for this project would be around 25 business days and this client wanted it in 2. My mind was racing. What should I do? Should I sell this huge project and make a nice commission even though I knew the chances of delivering a quality product were slim? How can I risk losing the commission on this project in today’s market? Well, I had to weigh my options!. The only reasonable thing I could do for this project to sell would be to put the text through a machine translation, which everyone in this industry knows can spell disaster. Later, we could break it up and send it to a team for a quick post-editing with no chance to squeeze another team of different proofreaders to fix any mistakes. Well In any case, if the translations will be proofread, it should be ok, right? Wrong!. Sending a machine translation to various editors and proofreaders will not guarantee accuracy. They will have their own preferences in the language, and for 1 person to actually edit 10,000 words in 1 day is an impossible task. They are human and they will obviously make mistakes, as this is over double of what they are asked to do in a days’ work. So, with no more options it was decision time.… What do I do? Well, I had to think back to Velez Sarsfieled and River Plate: I did not sell the project. I think it is better to be a quiet winner than to make a lot of noise losing.

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