Do You Get What You Pay For?

Recently a good friend of ours asked us to recommend a translator from German into Ukranian. We gladly gave her the name of a linguist who is very well respected and well-known in the profession and serves on the board of a translation association. Our friend, who works for a large firm, obtained the quote from the translator (for a 150-page document), and, as was to be expected from a seasoned professional and for the size of the project, it was quite high. To compare prices and potentially save some money, the firm sought out a second translator on their own, and that quote came in at half the price. Difficult choice -- or is it? They had no information on the abilities of the second translator, but knew the first translator was a superstar at twice the price. Could this be worth the gamble?

We really understand that this might be a tough call for decision-makers at companies. Without knowing much about translation or speaking the languages, it's really challenging for an outsider to judge if there is a valid reason behind the significant price differences. Typically, the more seasoned the professional, the higher the prices (with exceptions, of course). In this case, the firm decided to go with the cheaper translator in light of the economic crisis and their limited budget.

The translation has now come back from the language services provider and it clear that it was unusable even to folks who don't speak the target language. In places where the translator did not know the word in the target language, he/she just left the German word in. This occurred every few sentences or so. The firm was quite surprised by this lack of professionalism, and they might have to send the entire project to get re-translated, most likely by superstar translator #1. Price: 1.5 of what they would have paid if they'd choosen more wisely in the beginning. Of course, cheaper isn't always worse and more expensive isn't always better, but it proves to be true quite frequently, as it did in this case.


Kevin Lossner on March 26, 2009 at 10:58 PM said...

"Dummheit hat einen Aufpreis." Fifty percent in this case. Particularly in view of the economic crisis, companies cannot afford to waste time and money on cheap amateurs. The ones who understand this will pick up market share as their competitors fumble.

Holly Behl on March 27, 2009 at 12:12 AM said...

What a timely topic and a great anecdote. Thanks for providing a balanced viewpoint that considers both the client and the translator's positions.

Judy and Dagmar Jenner on March 29, 2009 at 5:39 PM said...

@Kevin: Agreed -- ganz deiner Meinung. This is the time for companies to use their (scarce) resources to expand their markets to new regions, and translation isn't a great place to save money. Potential alternative cost savers: buying cheaper envelopes, less expensive computers, servers, etc. -- lots of options!

@Holly: Thanks for commenting and for reading! We do put ourselves in our customers' shoes all the time.

Riccardo on March 30, 2009 at 8:55 AM said...

I do wish that the downside of opting for the cheaper choice was always so immediately apparent as in this case.

Great post, thanks!

Corinne on March 30, 2009 at 9:56 AM said...

Great post! I recently heard someone at a local translators' lunch say "I ask my clients, would they rather have it done right the first time or the second time?" which I thought was great! I think that a great way of dealing with the economy is to remind clients that it saves their time, money, reputation, etc. to hire a top-notch person the first time!

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on March 30, 2009 at 3:10 PM said...

@Riccardo: Agreed, if it were more obvious ahead of time, that would be much better! Hindsight is always 20/20.

@Corinne: Excellent point about "getting it right the first time". That's a good one to remember.

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