Why do big companies think that translation should be free?

January 18, 2017
Why do big companies think that translation should be free?

Contributing to crowd-sourced translation can be a great way for newbie translators to practice their craft. However, they very concept of crowd-sourced translation should be of concern to the translation industry. 

Facebook and the birth of crowd-sourced translation

In its essence, crowd-sourced translation projects see many individuals each contributing small chunks of translation to a large project. Facebook was one of the first large companies to use it on a massive scale. With volunteer translators adding daily to the company’s translation abilities, Facebook has leveraged the goodwill of its 1.79 billion users to help make the site available in more languages through the automatic translation of users’ status updates. 

Facebook states:

“Volunteer translators help make Facebook available in new languages, and can help improve the translations for existing languages. Anyone who wants to bring their language to Facebook or improve the current translations on Facebook can be a translator.”

The snowball effect

Of course, where Facebook leads, others follow. The social media giant has inspired other large tech companies to use crowd-sourced translation to grow their own businesses. Encrypted email service ProtonMail has become the latest company to appeal for volunteer translators to help the service achieve its multilingual goals. 

Rewards such as ProtonMail gift cards and free pro accounts will be dished out to helpful translators, but such treats are a far cry from receiving actual cash, which is the reward that most translators like to receive for their work!

Free translation 

So why do large corporations feel that they deserve to receive translation services for free, or in exchange for (tax free) perks? And why are so many people happy to contribute their time and linguistic ability in order to line the pockets of those companies’ shareholders?

In terms of the big companies, it’s clear to see the benefits of using volunteer translation to achieve their multilingual targets. Using volunteers avoids them having to pay for professional translation. They save on consultancy costs, wage bills and tax. 

They can also potentially save on time, too. Facebook had 1.79 billion users as at the third quarter of 2016. According to ilanguages, 43% of the world’s population is bilingual. If this is representative of Facebook users, Facebook has access to 769,700,000 bilingual individuals. No translation agency can hope to offer that many translators simultaneously to work on a project!

Many of the huge corporations concerned also leverage users’ perception that they are getting the service in question for free and should therefore give something back to show their appreciation. Of course, with the value of big data to advertisers, no service is really free: if you don’t pay for the product, you are the product!

Love of language

Of course, there are plenty of other reasons why bilinguals (whether or not they work as professional human translators) might contribute to corporate translation projects of this nature. For some, it is the desire to contribute to a more connected world. For others, it is a sheer love of language and the opportunity to be part of something big so far as a multilingual challenge is concerned. 

Whatever the motivation, some of the big players in the tech industry have benefited hugely from volunteer translators over the past few years. Bilinguals working for free have enabled vastly wealthy companies to expand their services, maintain their competitive edge, pay less tax and line the pockets of their shareholders. At the same time, professional translation services have lost out on a vast amount of revenue that they would otherwise have earned. 

So, next time you see a request to contribute to a crowd-sourced translation project, think twice! What will your contribution ultimately achieve? 

Final thoughts

Have you contributed to crowd-sourced translation projects? What was your motive for doing so? Did you receive any reward for your efforts? Share your thoughts with us by leaving a comment. 

By Ofer Tirosh

Ofer Tirosh is the founder and CEO of Tomedes, a language technology and translation company that supports business growth through a range of innovative localization strategies. He has been helping companies reach their global goals since 2007.



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