In the Netherlands there is a saying “voor niets gaat de zon op,” akin to the expression “There’s ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” It implies that there is a cost to everything, even if it has the appearance of being “free.” There are many real world applications where the No free lunch theory applies. Think of all the “free” apps and services we get online these days. Somewhere, somehow, someone is making money (or gains a perceived amount of value) from your use of these services. For years, technology has made our industry worry about the impact of automated Free Translation services. But how free are free translations really and where are we to gain from free translations? If the idea is that nothing comes for free, then where are the hidden costs of free translations?

Free is soooo tempting! 

Free is one of those tempting options that can easily blindside us into thinking it’s the right option. How often do we hear in advertisement the promise of free? If it’s used a lot, it must be working really well. We once hit a snag with a customer who wanted their welcome messages translated into many different languages. The cost for translating all these welcome message using traditional linguistic services went through the roof because of the many different linguists we had to use who all charge their minimum rates. Putting together a multilingual card to wish your employees around the world a warm welcome, or send some ‘Christmas cheer’ to your customers, seemed like such an easy request (that should be practically for free!). But the actual costs of verifying all these messages were never considered. These short and common messages can easily be looked up online and there are many resources like Google translation that can provide translations. One good site for different Welcome messages can be found here for instance. However, how confident are you that you are signing off on the right message?

Image of free Translation in Google of Welcome in Spanish

With so much information available, the problem is not necessarily the quality anymore, but the quantity.

The trouble? Verification!

Did you hear about the sign language interpreter that turned out to be a fake? We probably all remember the news about the interpreter who became famous for signing gibberish at Mandela’s funeral. A recent press conference in Florida reminded us of the perils of using incompetent interpreters. Officials are now grappling with the questions surrounding the nature of events that led to this person being allowed to sign at this news conference. It seems from early news reports that there is quite a bit of confusion surrounding this person. Part of the ASL issues in Florida are attributed to the lack of standards or licensing requirements in that state.

While costs were probably not a main cause, these events do illustrate the burden of being able to verify whether or not your sources are credible and reliable. In the example of a welcome or holiday card, there are many resources out there to obtain free translation. But who is going to ensure that it is accurate? Who’s going to ensure the message is typeset correctly? And if there are different translation options, which message would be best or most appropriate? With so much information out there, choosing free translation could even become a paralyzing problem of too many choices. Especially on smaller jobs where just a few words carry a lot of meaning, even in professional translation, we see a disproportionate amount of effort being placed on making sure the message is delivered right. We specialize in healthcare translations and can’t even imagine using free translation for those communications…..yeah, let’s confuse the patient more!

There ain’t no such thing as free translation (TANSTAFT)

When the technology innovation started to disrupt the translation industry, professional linguistic services started to feel threatened. This worry has not gone completely away, but as an industry we seem to be maturing into a theme of coexistence. Most professional translators will every now and then use “free” translation technology to their advantage. And why not? If there is anyone as qualified to verify free translations it’s the translation professional. Even with our clients we sometimes see the need to provide more cost effective options for translation using automated translations where appropriate. The value in these services is the ability to deliver these translations in a way that is useful and meaningful to the end user (value over free).

For the person burdened with acquiring translation services, costs are always a consideration. But the qualifying standard by which at least every method of acquisition should be measured is whether or not the translation can be verified to meet the needs of the end user. If you are unsure whether the translation has been or can be verified, the choice should be to either find someone qualified to do the verification or not do it at all.  In situations where the law requires you to provide services by a ‘qualified’ person, there may be an incentive to find the most cost effective option. However, when you are dealing with people that are important to your business; whether it being customers, employees or patients/members in the case of healthcare translations or interpreting, evaluate the costs that is associated with confusion, misunderstanding, or even offensiveness. It may turn out that having a professional Language Service Provider on your side might be your best investment after all; even when you do need to compromise on costs. At Language Solutions, we’re always happy to provide at least some free advice on your best options.

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