A brief guide to comparing translation platforms

Since starting the original builds for Linguaquote many moons ago, several platforms have emerged, each vying for a piece of the translation market. Competition is great, all things being equal, so I've put this guide together to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of what's currently available for use. I don't want this to be a scare piece, but there really is no way around the cold, hard truth of what's out there.

Based on the assumption that you're looking for an online platform to translate some text into or from one or more languages, mainly to avoid paying through the nose for local translation agencies, hoping to bypass the middleman yet not have to directly vet every linguist you want to work with. You see ten to twenty results for translation platform in your search engine - which should you pick?

Major considerations

  1. Speed
  2. Cost
  3. Qualifications
  4. Area of focus
  5. Use of 'crowds'

1. Speed

You'll see many promises of translation completion in under one hour. This is typically done proudly by notifying available translators in the matching language pair(s) that the job is available. There can be several problems with this, not least consistency of your text when taken on by a 'crowd', see below for more on this, but also because rushed work in any field is rarely the best work. If you want your translations to be effective with their readers, taking time to get it right is essential. If the text is going to stand unchanged for many months or years, selling or instructing your prospects or clients, any mistakes or lost opportunity through ineffectiveness is magnified by each new reader. There's little point doing half a job, which is essentially what these 'rapid translation' services are offering.

2. Cost

Competing on price for a service like translation is exactly like competing on price for webdesign, home improvements or clothing. You know it'll look done, but will it be any good for any length of time? And when platforms are charging just $0.03 (that's 3 cents) per word, the translator cannot be earning a living wage in Europe, Australia or North America etc. in most cases, and therefore is highly unlikely to be a native speaker. If they are a native speaker working at these rates, they would need to translate many more words per day than are viable to ensure any kind of proofreading or QA, let alone offer the client any kind of value by understanding their target reader. Why not buy the 'premium' package offered then, at $0.08 per word, which includes additional quality checks? Because this rate is still well below that which will allow a professional translator the time and space to transform the text into an effective and native-level work.

Have you ever read a blog post that somebody paid $10-20 for a student or non-native to write? Think along those lines when entrusting your company's success in foreign markets to these platforms.

3. Qualifications

Tying in with the previous point on cost, there is little chance that these 'race to the bottom' platforms can be working with translators who have invested their earnings into professional association membership, translation tools, home offices etc. in order to work full-time as a translator as their main source of income. You're most likely to end up with those who enjoy languages, claim to be bilingual (or worse, tri- or quadri-lingual...1), working on your text, which presumably intends to effect some action in its readers. Students, people from around the world looking to improve their English, folks bored of their cubicle jobs trying to earn money on the side, etc. - this is the reality of who will be working on your campaigns via these platforms. Many even mention in their terms, upon closer inspection, that you don't need any language or translation qualifications or experience to sign up with them. All this while their front pages promote professional translation!

4. Areas of focus

Some platforms pass themselves off as working with experts in all areas (at those prices this can hardly be true), others promote human translation but neglect to mention until quite far into their site tours that they cater mainly for Twitter or Facebook update translations. Or software localisation. Be sure to find out if the platform can meet your needs in terms of allowing you to work with translators who are experts in their fields.

5. Use of 'crowds'

Related to the speed point, many platforms use the old agency trick of scaling up a project across many translators. Now herein lies the difference: you pay more to an agency to proofread and check your texts for consistency. A project manager will ensure, among the best agencies, that your text reads naturally, as a coherent piece, from start to finish. This guarantee is not offered by the platforms. Sure, your entire product catalogue can be translated in 60 minutes flat, into 5 languages. But the potential for lost business is clear as clients struggle to understand the varying products descriptions and leave the site or put down the brochure. You invested in your English, or native language, website and marketing materials and it worked enough for you to want to expand to new markets; it would be a disservice to skimp on quality by allowing 'crowds' to 'translate' your business copy in record times to save a little upfront cash.

So obviously I'm going to tell you that Linguaquote doesn't work that way. I'll be brief, but essentially we allow you to build your own teams from a range of professionals who deal with translation into their native languages daily, and who are more than qualified and experienced to do so. They offer a fair price, usually below the full agency rate, although you're free to work with pre-approved agencies via Linguaquote also, and only deliver print-ready translations in their specialist areas. They operate by the codes of their various translation associations, relying on their colleague networks, university training and years of experience to solve the toughest translation problems.

Sign up with a Buyer account free trial today and you'll see the difference.

  1. I tend to think there is a 'language pair inverse quality rule', which describes the tendency for the quality of work to reduce as the number of claimed language pairs spoken increases. I know I'm not alone in this, even if fully aware of the few very lucky exceptions that are out there. Those folks are all the more special for being outliers - just have your evidence ready for discerning clients. ↩︎

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