How Many Translators Do You Have?
We get asked this quite frequently.
Before I get into the answer, I want to try and pick apart the question slightly. If you’re asking that question to translation agencies, I think it’s worth considering what it is that you really want to hear.
I’ve spent a lot of time talking to translation companies, and looking at their websites and their literature, and they all quote some very interesting numbers in terms of the size of their linguist “network”. I regularly hear numbers of anywhere from 1,000, to 13,000. Huge variation, and always a suggestion of a vast network of linguists.
Presumably there is an assumption that more translators means higher quality, or better availability, or faster turnaround times. Personally I would challenge this. Or rather, I would suggest that it’s a case of measuring what’s easy to count, rather than what really matters.
The sports team analogy
To demonstrate my point, let’s consider the metaphor of an international rugby team. They have 15 first-team players. Then they have a small pool of substitute or “squad” players. Then they might have an immediate talent pool of players they would view as strong potential recruits, probably from a number of the country’s top teams. Outside of that, you can imagine ever growing rings of potential players who could be sourced from further afield, other countries, or from slightly lower standard teams, getting to a point where eventually you reach the outer edge of players who would ever stand even a remote chance of playing on that team.
So, from the team’s 15 ‘real’ players, we’ve grown to a squad, and then ‘potential’ squad, and potential ‘talent pool’ which would be very hard to honestly measure in size, and your estimate of its size would simply depend on where you choose to draw the line. And in all honesty, when counting the size of that whole talent pool, there’s likely to be a bit of guess work involved.
But, as an opponent of that team, does any of that really matter? What matters is the players who are going to turn up to the match, and how well prepared and skilled they are.
Pick your favourite number
So – returning to translation agencies, a network of several thousand translators (while the detail will vary from company to company) is made up of a core group of translators who are approached first and given first refusal on all translation projects. There is then a further list of “B category” linguists, who are approached if needed, and then ever growing rings of linguists who are more distant, less familiar and who the agency know less and less about, the further out you go. The reality in most of these cases is that this ends with a whole load of linguists who are little more than a name on a spreadsheet, or a list of people who could potentially, be called on to help out.
In all likelihood, the different evaluations of network size come down to where the line is drawn, and to be quite blunt, whatever number they’ve made up. Given that every agency (and end client, if they want it) has access to online directories of linguists and receives dozens of applications every week (of highly variable quality), you can basically set that figure anywhere you want to.
Bigger, better, stronger?
But, there’s a second part to this. At a fundamental level, why is more better? If numbers led to quality then there would be a blatant relationship between the population of a country and the quality of its sports teams. There really isn’t. When did you last see any of the world’s biggest countries win a football or rugby world cup?
A wide network does not suggest that there is a strong relationship, or a strong attention to the precise experience, abilities and strengths of each linguist. Unless it really well managed, I feel it usually represents the opposite. And furthermore, as a buyer you are presumably looking for a good agency in the recognition that not all agencies are equal in quality or results… so surely it follows that not all linguists are either. Vast networks and a huge linguist headcount is the domain of the generalist, bulk driven translation company. And in our eyes, that is a model of the past.
Doing things the right way
At Integro, we approach this whole question differently. We don’t really believe that strength comes from having a massive network of linguists. We believe that it comes from having the RIGHT linguists – and only the right linguists. Because we specialise so sharply in marketing translations for high quality brands, we are lucky enough to know precisely the kind of linguists that we need. Secondly, we don’t want a network simply for the sake of it. Rather than create a network and then go and find work for them to do, we work the other way. With every new client who appoints us, we go back to the drawing board, and after doing all of our learning and research, we recruit, test and appoint our marketing specialist linguists. We do this starting with the excellent and expert linguists who we know and love, but we’ll often also recruit marketers, copy writers and even SEO people or graphic designers from the markets in question.
That’s the hardest, longest way to do it. But it’s also the right way. Numbers don’t get you to quality – they get you to a one size fits all, homogenous answer. At Integro we hate homogeneity. We run away from middle of the road and standard. We believe in content that really works, that really delights and that converts.
So, our answer to the question “how many linguists do you have?” is “precisely as many as we need.”