Due to the nature of language services, it is rare that a client requires the service of one language pair only. Procurement officers and inquisitive clients often wonder how a company like BURG Translations in Chicago could possibly supply hundreds of languages to nationwide hospital networks and large multinational companies every day. Below is our secret (and how the whole industry works).
All language service providers (LSPs) can be categorized into three types:
- Single Language Vendor (SLV)
- Regional Language Vendor (RLV)
- Multi-language Vendor (MLV)
Through these categories arise alliances that network together to provide all the language resources of the industry. No two LSP networks are the same and how they vary can significantly affect translation quality, price, delivery speed and customer service. As you will see, due to the nature of language services, a network of professionals is actually required, but building and maintaining the network is not enough. Crucial value-added services such as project management are key to streamlining the use of everyone in the network and ensuring the successful execution of translation projects.
Single Language Vendor
SLVs, including freelancers, are those that only provide services in one language pair. Between two freelancers, one that spent 10 years translating in one language pair, and another that spent 10 years translating into two language pairs, it is assumed that the extra 5 years the first translator spent on the same language would yield a higher quality translation ability. All vendors ought to be native to their target language; however, in cases of languages with very few speakers, this may be nearly impossible to find.
Individual freelancers, classified as an SLV, are the least incentivized to network with others because it then requires them to act as a translator and also as a project manager. SLVs that are willing to please their clients and win more work, transform into teams or agencies as a result. However, most favor the translation work and specialization that comes with staying as an individual. Cold calling, sales, marketing, human resources, etc. is not for everyone.
SLVs are the most common type of LSP and have the most cost-effective offering. Of course, finding an SLV that is responsive, available, professional, good quality (including having the requisite technology), and provides good customer service pre- and post- sale is extremely challenging.
Regional Language Vendor
RLVs provide services in multiple language pairs that are within the same geographical region. Here are some examples:
- East African Languages
- Southeast Asian Languages
- Eastern European Languages
- Scandinavian Languages
RLVs exist partly due to the similarity between some languages but also out of a need to consolidate work for languages with a small population of speakers. It would be rare to find a professional translator that knew Croatian, but not Bosnian, or to find many English to Karen translators ready for work. RLVs can act like a safety net when SLVs are not available.
RLVs are a necessity in a world where demand for different languages varies significantly. As demand evolves, more SLVs will appear and take their place, while some RLVs will adapt and turn into MLVs. For RLVs, the evolution will also come with a trade. The more translations are outsourced, the more value must come from elsewhere.
RLVs rarely collaborate with other RLVs and typically never serve clients directly as it puts them in competition with their most common type of client – MLVs. Clients are also not likely to work with RLVs because RLVs typically cannot offer the customer service (time zone challenges) or language needs (because they are regional only) that they require.
MLVs are vendors that provide translation in multiple language pairs and in more than one region. BURG Translations, and most LSPs in the US, are excellent examples of this. The added value of these vendors comes from consulting, project management (making sure deadlines are met) and vendor management (having good quality vendors that will deliver), since they themselves rarely provide language services directly. MLVs network with SLVs and RLVs to provide a broad list of language services to clients. In some cases, MLVs partner with other MLVs. Through robust communication with clients and careful testing and negotiations with SLVs and RLVs, MLVs of almost any size can delivery almost any language service solution.
Some MLVs partner with other MLVs only. This is one extreme example of an LSP network. In this example, the MLV has no project management and very little vendor management to do – they are simply adding a profit margin on top or their own vendor costs. The benefits to the client are limited – project management but the benefits to the MLV are significant. A key area of risk in this model is that the MLV has no direct visibility to the person who is doing the work. Their vendor may use alternative freelancers for each project, which causes quality to vary. If the MLV only offers generic translations services, such as translation of website or other types of content that do not require special knowledge or skills, then the risk is not as high.
Another extreme example of an LSP network is if an MLV networks with SLVs only. In this case, the client benefits from the MLV offering to do all the vendor and project management. Quality will be consistent, but it might be harder to place vendors on every job and some rarer language pairs may be impossible to place.
Arguably, the best LSP network is one that balances SLVs with RLVs. SLVs would be the main vendor providing most of the services, while RLVs fill in the gaps when necessary. This approach would maximize quality, cost, speed and customer service.
Language services are not accredited in most countries and the service itself is highly subjective (there is more than one way to write the same thing). Furthermore, many freelancers who are unaware of the profession claim to be professional translators in order to earn extra money using their less-than-professional language skills; this has become worse since the creation of the “gig” economy.
The combination of these characteristics makes finding and testing high-quality translators very difficult, particularly for clients. In fact, the task of vendor management can be a job in itself. Unfortunately, clients do not need language services every day nor in the same language, so freelancers, which typically only offer one language pair, are therefore required to offer their services on an adhoc basis and in collaboration with other freelancers that provide services for a different language pair. This adds a new activity for the client, translation project management, which may come as an unexpected addition to their job description.
To streamline, both vendor management and project management are outsourced to a company that manages vendors and translation projects; this exactly what an MLV does. The benefit of outsourcing is that the new company can scale by providing the same service to other companies that need language services. This reduces the overall burden of vendor management and allows project management to be better streamlined.
If you’d like to learn more about how BURG Translations helps you ensure high-quality translations, contact us today.