Are you really saving money by having employees do your translation work?

When I speak with prospective clients I quite often hear the statement, “We have employees all over the world and they do the translations for us.”

On the surface, this makes sense. You have a large global workforce with skilled, native-speakers already on the payroll who can translate a wide range of corporate material at no additional cost. But is that really the case and are there hidden costs to using a “free” resource to do the work.

Let’s look at the various ways a “free” translation is costing you money:

  1. Assuming you hired all the people on your staff to do specific tasks, they are experts in their various fields. The chemist was hired to do chemical research, produce new formulations or compounds, laboratory work and many other functions related to chemistry. They were not hired for linguistic ability or to specifically perform the task of translation. The mere fact that they are bilingual does not automatically make them a translator.

  2. Assuming the chemist has enough to do to keep them busy with chemistry related work from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., when will they have time to work on a translation request? Typically, this would be done evenings or weekends, or it would need to displace another chemistry related task they were originally hired to perform. There is also the factor that if the employee is doing translation work evenings and weekends, it is cutting into “family” time and may cause resentment. An occasional request should not trigger this response, but continued requests for lengthy translations will certainly be seen as a nuisance and distraction from “real” work over time.

  3. Personal preferences and bias tend to creep into any individual’s work, and a lone translator working in isolation is more susceptible to this than someone working as part of a larger translation team with an independent Quality Control check methodology. Given the lack of a reviewer in most corporations, the possibility for a regional or preferential bias goes up.

  4. Error checking falls under the same situation as the personal preferences. With no official QA/QC mechanism, the quality of the translation is very much dependent upon the time available to the translator to go back over their work to look for errors. If time is short, a thorough review may not be possible, and re-reading one’s own work is not always the best method of checking for errors.

  5. Who maintains a history of translation work done to capture benefits of re-use and ensure consistency with past work when doing new documents? If the same person is doing all the translations, they may have a very organized way of keeping track and become quite good at what they do. In fact, their entire job function may change to being one of corporate translator instead of chemical researcher. But what happens when that person retires and someone new picks up the task? Will they know where to find all the work done before? Will they agree with the style and terminology used by the original translator?

  6. Liability is another issue to consider when having an employee do the translation work. If a serious error occurs, how will the company handle the liability? Did they know they were taking on a liability when having an employee do the translation work? Are only non-critical documents given to employees to translate? What about a potentially embarrassing translation, such as the “Reset” button mistake done by someone in the State Department.

There are many factors to consider when sending a translation request to an employee. A “free” translation could end up costing much more than using a professional Language Service Company.

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