Bidding for Trouble: The Problem With Online Auctions

By Dagmar Dolatschko

Few of us language professionals have managed to escape this new and troubling phenomenon: online bidding for translation work. Why has price become such a major focus? Even the government has changed its bidding requirements from “the lowest qualified bidder” to “the lowest bidder”- the “qualified” part has been dropped lately.

The world is changing at the speed of light. Location doesn’t matter any more and there are well-educated and experienced translators all around the world with widely diverging costs of living. I do not mean to slight colleagues from countries where $0.04 cents per word affords them a good standard of living. They should be deriving the benefits of the globalization of our industry. The problem arises when clients and bid-lines then expect every translator to bid as low, at the risk of being outbid, and put out of business.

The core of the issue is that many clients don’t seem to care about quality, don’t understand what is entailed in translation, and don’t want to understand why a second linguist (and additional cost) is required for editing and proofing.

At my own agency, we had our first wake-up call two years ago when a high-tech client demanded our participation in an “online auction” where the lowest bidder wins. The process was so disheartening that my colleagues and I were speechless as we watched the numbers going down, graphically supported by online charts that showed the bidders and their pricing in comparison to each other.

In the meantime, many outsourcers are using the new online bidding forums such as,, or And then there is GSA Advantage, for those who have worked hard to obtain federal supply schedule vendor status only to have to engage in online bidding and keep losing business to the lowest bidder – qualified or not.

I came across an interesting blog by the founder of, Christian Hansel, stating that he had actually considered introducing minimum prices for postings to stop the price dumping. He, too, hopes that outsourcers and clients will learn from their mistakes and understand that a $0.02-per-word translation is worth just that. He also makes the point that any businessperson in his right mind wouldn’t buy the cheapest legal or medical services available, but would instead value the professional’s experience and reputation.

It must be said, of course, that services in other professions – such as architecture, consulting, and software engineering – may sometimes be purchased at below-market pricing, and one may occasionally get lucky with a talented novice. Still, as Hansel says, the contractors – that is, professional linguists and translation service providers such as ourselves – need to fight the price-dumping battle ourselves and continue to educate our clients.

Low-cost language service providers are able to stay in business (some only for a short time), largely due to their bypassing of the editing and proofreading functions – or using “cheap” edits/proofs carried out by a native English speaker or a multilingual language “wizard,” working both into-English and into-foreign.

What can we do as a professional community to ensure that our line of work is recognized properly, achieving status similar to that of accountants or medical professionals? In my view, there are three key areas:

Client education

Besides using our own communication skills to educate clients about the differences in translation quality and the various quality assurance steps (editing, and then proofreading by additional linguists), we can point them to a professionally presented little booklet called Getting it Right, published by the ATA. This publication is available online at

Translator education

Translators need to understand that there is and should be a pricing difference when working with an agency and when working with a direct client. Mentoring programs should focus not only on the technicalities of translation, but also on the business side, including issues concerning proper pricing. Translators are doing themselves a disservice if they undervalue their work (especially to direct clients), and in turn cause downward price pressure to other professionals.

Agency education

This is a free market economy and I don’t want to propose price fixing. Yet, agencies who feel pressured to make the sale need to be aware of competitive pricing and should know that they often hurt themselves in the process when they “spoil”their clients. The low-margin, fly-by-night, online translation outfit that manages projects by price alone using online bidding portals has its place. But the output will be commensurate with the input.

We have to do our part to educate our clients about why quality matters. We have to educate new translators to ask a fair price and encourage them to negotiate and also educate their clients in turn. And as agency owners, we should show some pride in our profession and stick to our quality commitment. Underbidding by extreme percentages and letting translators “fight it out” in online bids is only creating artificially low pricing that confuses clients and hurts our profession as a whole.

If we can establish personal contact, be it only over the phone, often the transaction can be brought back to a human interaction, where we have a chance to bring the focus back from price to precision.

Caught in the WebPart II: Internet T&I Brokers—The Response

By Stafford Hemmer

In September, NCTA members were invited to participate in a 25-question online survey of their experiences and opinions of translation and interpretation broker sites. Thanks to the contributions of 57 translators and interpreters, and 6 agencies or industry agents, we are now able to offer a member-based assessment of the T&I marketplace on the Web.

Responses to the multiple choice/open comment survey questions cut a broad swath of sentiment, from the favorable (“My experience is quite good. I’ve made contact with many employers through, and several of them have continued to contact me for other projects”) through the web-curious (“I have very little contact with them, but would be interested in finding the useful ones.”) to the quite unflattering (“It does not work. It is definitely not the real world out there.”).

Yet the T&I market continues to be an underused (which isn’t to say untapped) resource for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the most salient indicator is that three-quarters of the respondents have joined at least one T&I website through free membership (suggesting that the resource has indeed been “tapped”), whereas a whopping 68 percent express frustration at having never gotten a job, or found a contractor, from T&I websites (which may explain the “underused”status of the resource).

A few grains of salt regarding the survey: despite generous support from 63 survey participants, many respondents decided to skip one or more questions here and there. Hence, the first 13 questions were short of the full 63 responses by a range of 12-19 responses. The decision to “skip” increased exponentially for the subsequent 10 questions. It is unclear what prompted survey participants to skip questions: unclear wording, too many questions, or some other reason. The consequence is that the percentages discussed in this article reflect the responses of those who replied to a specific question, and not the sentiments of the group as a whole. All percentages have been rounded.

Additionally, the survey allowed for respondents to answer “I do not participate in the bidding process at all” to three different questions, resulting in three different percentages. While these variations are mentioned below, bear in mind they are cited within the context of the respective questions posed in the survey.


The virtual T&I market is familiar terrain to NCTA members. Respondents confessed to having signed on, for free, to at least 1-3 sites (67%) or even as many as 4-6 sites (11%). By contrast, 23% indicated they hold no free memberships. This was perhaps a common choice among those translators who, as one respondent indicated, “ … don’t use T&I websites because I have enough work from reliable sources that I know are reliable and pay what is fair without the extra hassle.” The chances are good that this latter group has opted out of T&I websites altogether: when it comes to taking that extra step and upgrading to fee-based membership, 59% of respondents decided against, while the remaining 41% limited payments to only 1-3 websites. Of those, 26% pay over $100 in combined annual dues. While 16% of respondents believe upgrading is significant to optimizing website exposure, another 18% regarded this as of minor importance, and 18% felt it made no difference at all.

If a T&I broker were to attend an NCTA meeting in the hope of increasing hermember base, she should brace herself for disappointment: exactly 0% of respondents were inspired to upload resumes to a broker’s website on the basis of a conference presentation. Using the survey results as an indicator, the most effective method for a broker to increase its client base is to trawl for prospects through a mass email that includes a start-up free membership offer (33%). Almost as many respondents (30%) were encouraged to sign up by colleague recommendations, while 15% joined websites based on Internet advertising. An equal number said they never join T&I websites.

The bidding process

If resource utilization is proportionate to login activity, then the survey results established that the web-based T&I market is largely ignored by NCTA professionals. The benefits of membership privileges are negligible to the majority of those respondents who said they used broker websites, since 40% indicated they logged in less than once a week, compared with 23% who login 2-4 times per week, and 14% who login every day. Although finding job offers/contractors was rated as one of the most important features of T&I websites, the relative inactivity among NCTA members is further reflected by the 43% of NCTA professionals who, when asked if they would lower rates to win a bid, said they did not participate in the bidding process at all.

“Membership rates should be based on how many jobs you actually get via the website,” suggested one respondent, “I’ve paid $30 but have gotten exactly zero jobs.” This perspective is likely shared by the 68% of translators and interpreters who have never gotten a contract from a website, or the agencies that have not awarded a contract through a website. While nearly 21% reported a successful bidding experience within the last 60 days, only two respondents (less than 5%) reported having any real success within the last seven days. Another respondent complained, “These sites seem to be designed for either extremely specialized, high-end work, or extreme bargain basement prices, with nothing for the rest of us.”


The “bottom feeder” phenomenon to which the above respondent alludes is indeed a common complaint among those who have struggled with website job searches. “The prices are always below what I could afford to charge,” that same survey respondent continued. This disparity in pay rates may be reflected in the 60% who, when asked what percentage of income they attributed exclusively to T&I websites, indicated they do not participate in the bidding process at all. Would it make a difference if an interpreter lowered his rates in order to win a bid? Despite the fact that 24% of respondents said they would never lower their rates, 17% would consider a reduction of 1-10%, and 5 respondents (11%) said they would even consider lowering rates up to 20% in some circumstances. Not an entirely unreasonable proposition if a project is big enough or a client important enough for the service provider to offer entry-level rates.

Still, competition is no picnic for any job seeker. The online T&I marketplace can turn the battle into a feeding frenzy. It is difficult to match the lower rates offered by competitors who can snap up job offers quickly when the net is cast 10 time zones east or west of the Left Coast, where the cost of living may be a fraction of the Bay Area’s. So it should come as no surprise that 40% of NCTA members who were asked to rate the bidding process overall said they never participate, while 34% of respondents rate the bidding process as “an enormously frustrating waste of time,” and a mere 21% use it as “a backup resource when the river’s dry.” Only one respondent felt the bidding process to be an invaluable resource overall. As for results, 25% estimated that less than 10% of their efforts resulted in contracts, and only one individual felt he or she had a greater than 50% success rate in the bidding process.


Show me the money: When it comes to money matters, 37% attribute less than a quarter of their income to T&I websites, while 60% do not use the websites for income-generating purposes. So is it the other website features that inspire language professionals to open up or maintain memberships to these sites?

As mentioned earlier, the top-rated feature among survey respondents was paradoxically “job assignments/hiring contractors.” This was followed by “payment practices/contractor ratings” and “forums and other translator/interpreter/agency contacts.” By contrast, the one feature considered “totally useless” was “teamwork on projects.” Promotions of T&I software, books, and other resources were considered “superfluous, but interesting,” while online glossaries were rated as “interesting and sometimes useful” by a majority of respondents.

Half the respondents said they never submitted a terminology question to a website. This was followed by 34% stating they submitted terminology questions only as a last resort. As for replies, 42% of respondents said they never post replies to terminology questions, whereas 40% post replies only on an occasional, ad hoc basis. Only one respondent said he or she responded frequently. Overall, the terminology assistance was seen as somewhat reliable, but it doesn’t always hit the mark (56%), whereas 22% felt the assistance was not very reliable.

The envelope, please: based on the votes tallied, the award for the best broker website in the virtual world goes to … Interestingly, the site also bears the dubious distinction of being voted the worst website as well. Indeed, it was the single website cited most by name in both categories. Oddly enough, the same phenomenon applies to the websites which tied for second place— and TranslatorsCafe, which were likewise voted both winner and loser in equal measure.

Winners and Losers

This equivocation characterizes the broker survey overall: sites were voted best and worst simultaneously, called useless by default and yet useful by chance, or esteemed as an invaluable resource and a complete waste of money. Harvesting the most from a broker membership ultimately depends on the specific needs of the individual translator, interpreter, or agency. The broker phenomenon is well known to NCTA members, and the reasons for accessing or ignoring the benefits and features of these websites are as diverse as the variety of language groups they serve.


On the negative side

“I am negative on T&I sites since members have no credentials (some exceptions of course exist) and jobs almost always [go] to the lowest bidder which in a global market means working peanuts per word. This is a totally out-of-date system of assigning value and so is the Euro per-page concept. Our clients get a fixed, hourly-rate quote based on deadline (and difficulty).“

On the positive side

“It is mainly important as a marketing tool and to stay on top of the new developments in the business. You can sometimes establish durable client/translator relationships. I noticed that very qualified agencies also bid on these sites.”

And some sage advice

“I bid on jobs only during my dry periods. I only bid on jobs that appear serious. I never alter my standard rates. The ‘serious’ jobs (i.e. rates acceptable for U.S. cost of living, reliable payers, etc.) may only account for 10% of the jobs posted, and I may only be awarded 10% of the jobs I bid on, but that has nonetheless resulted in tens of thousands of dollars in work over the past few years and often a steady, direct relationship with the outsourcer. My advice is, therefore: first sort the wheat (10%) from the chaff (90%), then bid on jobs that suit you and your specialties. Be prepared to lose most bids, but one successful bid, especially if it leads to followup work, can easily justify the annual fee and the time invested with the site.”

Mariam Nayiny: Faithful to Translation

By Michael Schubert

Mariam Nayiny holds a Master’s degree in International Relations from the Institut Universitaire de Hautes Etudes Internationales in Geneva and a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Geneva. She began her career as a journalist and was on assignment in New York at the time of the 1979 revolution in her native Iran. Her decision to remain in the U.S. prompted her career change. Mariam worked initially for the United Nations Development Program while freelancing as a translator of French and Farsi into English, then later as a translator, interpreter, and project manager for Berlitz Translations and other companies in New York and San Francisco before founding IDEM Translations, Inc. ( in 1983.

Explain the meaning of your company’s name.
MARIAM NAYINY: Idem is Latin and means “the same.” It is used routinely in French and I assumed it was common here as well, like the equivalent terms ditto or ibidem. Actually, the name creates curiosity about our company, so it’s not a bad thing. It signifies our striving to create translations that are replicas of the originals.

What motivations led to your company’s founding? Who were the founders and how large was your team?
My language combinations were not ideal to sustain me in the freelance world. The Farsi business died after the Iranian hostage crisis, and in French I was competing against so many others and did not have the technical language skills. Translation was what I knew best, and I did not want to be employed by others, so starting my own company was the logical conclusion. At the time, I was freelancing for Berlitz in San Francisco. I notified the director of my intentions so there would be no conflict of interest. She not only encouraged me but actually joined my new company and remained my partner for 17 years. We started with just the two of us, a typewriter and a home office – no outside financing.

How large is your staff today and how many freelancers do you work with?
We are still small, with an in-house staff of seven. We regularly work with 160 translators and have a database of 500 who are pre-qualified (resume, three references, and a test translation) and ready to be called upon if the volume exceeds our present capacity. Generally, we try to use our established team and introduce new, screened candidates gradually.

Were there strategic considerations for choosing the Bay Area?
No, quite honestly. San Francisco is where I was, so that’s where the company began. When I moved to Palo Alto in 1988, the company moved with me.

What was the business character of the region before the high-tech boom?
In San Francisco, we had both traditional and established clients, mostly in the financial sector. When we moved to Palo Alto, we shifted much more into high technology; even the legal and litigation work we did had a high-tech basis. Software localization already dominated the local industry by 1988.

In addition to your Palo Alto headquarters, IDEM has an office in Madrid. How is your European office distinguished from your U.S. headquarters?
We had a highly valued project manager in Palo Alto who returned to Madrid after two years here. We continued working with her there, eventually opening a production center. The Madrid office is beneficial for us not only for the human connections it gives us in Europe, but also for the time zone advantage as we work transatlantically, across two continents. However, all of our operations are still centralized in Palo Alto.

Tell us about the fields and language combinations that make up your core business.
We have accounts in the health care industry (biotech, pharmaceutical, medical devices) and the IT sector, and we have recently become the preferred vendor for some major retailers. 80 percent of our work is conducted in the EU languages, in Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese for Latin America, and in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.

And Farsi?
Farsi has become an “exotic language.”The volume of work we have in exotic languages is small and non-technical.

Which CAT tools do you use in-house?
Trados is our main tool. We have no problem with translators using other tools, as long as they are compatible.

Have clients responded favorably to the “My Account” section of your website?
Yes, and our regular clients are all on it. Some of them use it not only for up- and downloading, but as a repository for previous work. We keep the documentation online for at least two years. It is also a great place for our translators and editors. We can define scaled access levels for the various roles: clients see only the final documents, which they can approve; editors see only the files they need for their work. Automatic notifications are sent to us whenever there is activity. It behaves like an FTP site but is more intelligent. It maintains all the documentation with the proper references in the existing format, manages revisions, and protects the original versions against changes.

What is the most satisfying part of IDEM?
The thing that we are most proud of is that we give the same weight to both translators and clients. Our philosophy does not say that the client is the boss – the translator is equally important and gets the same respect. If one of the two has to give, it is not the translator. Most of us come from that background, so we have a respect for our colleagues.

Caught in the WebPart I: T&I Brokers on the Internet

By Stafford Hemmer

Translation and interpretation broker sites: love them or hate them, you can no longer ignore them. In this first of two articles, Stafford Hemmer examines the growing phenomenon of the web-based T&I marketplace. In addition, he asks you to relate your own experiences in a survey, which he will analyze and report on in our December issue.

“Dear Translator! Company XYZ invites you to join our database of professional translators, interpreters, and agencies …”

Sound familiar? Merely being listed as an ATA member will land you at least one of these enticing emails. Who are these people?

Who indeed. They are the relatively new kid on the block in the T&I marketplace—a “new” kid that follows the model of other industries in using the Internet to the advantage of all parties in a transaction. They are the broker site. And they raise interesting questions regarding the ways in which translation buyers and sellers can come together. Where ATA and NCTA online referral services offer one set of advantages, those tend to focus on the respective association’s overall purposes, with translator and interpreter referrals an added (albeit crucial) perk. With broker sites, one must wonder about the prudence of investing in T&I services marketed online. What does the plethora of auction sites have to offer the freelancer or agency? How does a freelancer or agency navigate these websites without getting sucked into a vortex of global bidding wars? How does the user know which site is worth the expenditure of time and money, and which site leads to a dead end?

Unlike agencies, which are corporate entities subject to the governing jurisprudence and tax practices of their domiciles, T&I websites are global marketplaces for vendors and clients. Here, translators typically negotiate job terms (timing, format, payment) directly with a client found on the broker sites. As such, caveat emptor applies: eliminating the agency may have its benefit (no third-party fees), but in direct relationships, both sides dispense with the risk protection an agency offers (QA and liability insurance, among other protections).

One of the best known of these organizations is ProZ (or at least best-advertised: “Tradosis a Partner” boasted the back-cover ad of the April 2005 ATA Chronicle). Founded in 1999, the company defines itself as “a directory of translation services by freelance language translators and translation agencies.” The banner for another popular website, “ – reloaded!” extols the power of its new and improved homepage for “the market leader in translation outsourcing … with an ever-expanding network of language specialists and translation customers.” GoTranslators lays claim to a more modest existence as a “world translation directory.” Admittedly, its world is limited to 30 languages. The common thread? Translation & interpretation broker sites are Internet websites that connect T&I buyers with T&I sellers.


Beyond this shared purpose, each site distinguishes itself through a variety of distinctive bells and whistles, intended to add value and create synergy in a collaborative virtual office environment. Among its many useful services, offers a weekly report that informs participants how many times their profile was viewed, and how much that profile was “promoted” by the site. The “Content Hit Parade” on keeps translators abreast of the most popular topics and software among users. To lure its members out of their translation caves and into a real live café for an in-person with neighboring translators, established its “Powwow” service. The re-launched site allows users to create “groups” for team communications and ostensibly project communication management through its “Friends, Teams, and Ignore” lists. For freelancers who risk accepting work from an unknown client, shared information on payment practices is an indispensable resource. The sites also fill the void in client education with concise articulation of business conditions.

To some, online collaboration with fellow language professionals on terminology questions is invaluable. Some websites offer incentive bonuses to participants in such exchanges. For the asker, getting the right term is the obvious bonus, although at times it may be slow in coming—a key drawback when you’re in a time crunch. For the respondent earning “KudoZ” points, for example, the precise answer to a perplexing terminology question will boost credentials in the ProZ marketplace; ostensibly, outsourcers seek out high-scoring translators. I have accumulated exactly zero KudoZ points, because I post my own terminology questions to the GLD (German Language Division) list of ATA. That community provides me with virtually immediate and highly reliable answers, and typically provokes stimulating conversation.

It’s possible, then, that one might see more job offers from ProZ if more time is put into researching and answering other people’s terminology questions. The same holds true for other websites as well: “The more Conges points a TRADUguide member has, the more he/she will move towards the top of the TRADUguide translators’ list.” Not a day goes by without a Conges question in my email box posted by a TRADUguide user in desperation. If I know the answer and have time, I will post an answer and, if lucky (and precise), get the coveted points. But I am astonished at times when assistance is required for terms as basic as eins, zwei, drei.

Membership and bidding

Typically, “membership,” whether free or fee, is offered to any taker. Yes, this means anyone, from the person who has two years of high school French to the most pedigreed Arabic-speaking linguist … and everyone in between. Some websites do make a stated effort to “certify” the qualificationsonline. Sign up for Global Vision’s database, for instance, and each of your three references will be emailed a recommendation request as soon as you hit the “submit” button.

“Free membership” is invariably a lure to the better exposure, greater access (e.g., ProZ’s “Blue Board”) and more work promised by “professional membership upgrades.” While brokers make money from advertisers, endorsements, product sales, and sometimes client fees—occasionallytying membership upgrades to product purchases (“Hello, WordFast 5.0!”)—membership fees are a main source of funds for the websites (the broker needs to pay rent too). Different tiers of membership mean you pay for different levels of exposure. Your faith in upgrading from Economy to Business or First Class membership on Aquarius may ease the turbulence you feel when the work conditions are rough. Both TRADUguide and GoTranslators remind non-paying members that such status relegates them to the job offer notifications 12 hours after paying members. Since time is money in this global market place, such a delay likely means someone else wins the bid.

Still, this “open door policy” invites the harshest criticism of the brokering business. Case in point: take the Spanish>English translator, who, assuming she submits a timely offer, bids on a 10,000-word contract at her rate of US$0.12/word. She loses to another translator who may be a non-native speaker living in a country whose lingua franca may be English, and where the competing offer of $0.03/word supports that standard of living. While the T&I buyer might receive a poor-quality translation, if he ferrets the work for “proofreading and editing” to another professional, at $0.04/word, he nets a translation at almost half the cost offered by the native-speaking (and presumably better) translator. This phenomenon makes it extremely difficult to compete in the global market and begs the question: what’s the point of paying for greater exposure on a website, when in the end, you’d have to cut your rates in half to win a contract?

Other models

There are other portals for translators and clients having different formats than the T&I broker website. A company like Choice Translating describes itself as an agency with in-house translators (covered by its liability insurance) that also hires freelancers to meet excess demand. While a freelancer may apply to become a member of the company’s database, the added “perks” mentioned above are not part of the deal, because the freelancer is working for the agency, not directly for the client. is a similar type of companythat has a particular focus on localization and, although multi-lingual in scope, emphasizes its Spanish-language capabilities. is a small shop that’s thinking big: a website now expanding its scope beyond its German-only environment. At the complete other end of the spectrum, the focus of a language-specific website like Übersetzerportal is on industry issues in the German language, even though it also offers job search facilities.

Weigh in and be heard

What is your own experience with broker sites? In the interest of stimulating a constructive, frank, and comprehensive discussion of the subject, we’d like to hear from you, via a survey at the NCTA website. Here, we invite NCTA interpreters, agencies, and translators to give voice to whatever perspectives you may have: positive, negative, or neutral. Through the data gathered, we hope to be able to publish, in Part Two of this series, an objective assessment of the sites, and, with luck, answer difficult questions that cannot be covered in an overview. To participate in the survey, visit


Aquarius: One of the pioneers, recently remodeled, claiming to be the market leader in translation outsourcing.

Babelport: Informs participants weekly on how many times their profile was viewed, and how much that profile was “promoted” by the site.

Global Vision: Automatically sends a recommendation request to each of the three references you enter when registering.

GoTranslators: Dubs itself as a “world translation directory,” currently limited to 30 languages.

MCable: Boasts a “Content Hit Parade,” keeping translators abreast of the most popular topics and software among users.

ProZ: Home of the “Kudoz,” Monopoly money of sorts. The high-profile website from Virginia has also been the first to attract controversy.

TRADUguide: Here, it’s the “Conges points” that will move a member towards the top of the site’s translators’ list.


Monique Rivas: Shedding Light on Translation

By Michael Schubert

Monique Rivas is the CEO of NCTA corporate member LUZ, Inc., a global translation services company with headquarters in San Francisco and a production facility in Buenos Aires. Along with partner Sanford Wright, Monique co-founded the company in 1994, when both individuals saw an opportunity to fill a need that was not being met by the marketplace: namely, providing comprehensive translation support for large-scale projects in the life science industries. “Luz” means “light” in Spanish, and it symbolizes the founders’ desire to create a transparent approach to translation service offerings.

Did you grow up bilingually?
Monique Rivas: I am a third-generation Mexican-American and grew up speaking both Spanish and English. But a foreign language can get quite diluted by the time it makes its way down to the third generation, so I did see a need for advanced language studies. I earned a degree in Diplomacy and World Affairs from Occidental College (in Los Angeles, near Pasadena) with a minor in Spanish.

Describe LUZ: type of business, areas of specialization, number of employees …
LUZ translates into about 35 languages—about 80 to 90 percent of our business is from English—with an exclusive focus on life science industries, specifically medical devices, diagnostics, and pharmaceuticals. Since most of our clients are affected by the European Union’s regulations, we have seen increased activity in Eastern and Central European languages. These clients must have their materials translated into the new EU languages; this is no longer a voluntary marketing decision but a necessity for compliance with the In-Vitro Diagnostic Directive and Medical Device Directive. Our market is a highly regulated industry.

To handle this, we have 25 full-time employees and work with 1,500 to 2,000 freelance translators, depending on the workload. Our focus of large-scale medical devices can generate quite a bit of volume. Our San Francisco office handles sales, while the Buenos Aires office focuses on production—translation and desktop publishing.

Is there an advantage to being located in the Bay Area?
Yes! Sanford and I considered the Bay Area to be the ideal place for our business, both because of the biotech centers here and for the proximity to leading universities. We do much of our recruiting at the Monterey Institute for International Studies, Stanford University, and the University of California, San Francisco.

Will the new stem cell research center to open in San Francisco be a boon to your business?
That is still to be determined. Research and development industries have less of a need for translations; most of our business is generated from the tried-and-true industries. The stem cell research center could be helpful as a resource or recruiting center, however.

Has it been your experience that most of your clients understand the importance of quality translation and budget accordingly, or do you have to engage in a lot of client education?
Since we provide services to highly regulated industries, our clients inherently buy quality at two levels: the translation work product and, equally important, consistency of internal production/QA.

Which industry-specific software do you use in-house?
For translation memory, we use TRADOS and SDLX. For Web globalization, we use Idiom’s WorldServer. We have also developed an internal translation management system called Aurora, as well as a suite of TM automation tools.

How has the Internet changed the translation business?
The Internet has changed the business in two ways: Linguists have become more technologically savvy, and the Internet has allowed pharmaceutical companies to expand their business, which in turn has expanded ours.

How do you see your business in five years?
We want to be the industry-recognized number-one provider of life science translations and the best place to work in the industry. Every quarter we measure how much closer we are to that goal.

Tarek Dachraoui, Loq-Man Translations

By Anna Schlegel

NCTA Corporate Member Loq-Man Translations was founded in 1995 by Tarek Dachraoui and his colleague Natalie Mann. The agency provides expertise in all languages, with a special emphasis on Arabic, French, and English, offering translation, interpretation, localization, technical editing, copywriting, page design, production support, ongoing quality control, and consulting. A native of Tunisia, Tarek holds a B.A. in English Literature, a B.A. in Linguistics and an M.A. in Translation and interpreting from the Institut Bourguiba in Tunis, Tunisia.

Where did you grow up?
TAREK DACHRAOUI: I was born and raised in and around Tunis, in a multilingual and multicultural environment in which Arabic, French, and Italian were “de rigueur.” After high school I spent a year as an exchange student in the U.S. in a small, remote, and snowy town in upstate New York. A career in linguistics and languages seemed most natural to me, and once back in Tunisia I pursued my language studies. After a quick stop at the Ecole Superieure d’Interpretes et de Traducteurs in Paris, I headed to Moscow for a year to learn Russian, with the incredible thought that I might one day be able to read Dostoyevsky in the original (of course, that never worked). I then lived in Rome for four years, where I worked at a European Economic Commission agency coordinating different programs between the Italian government, the FAO, and different regional organizations.

How did you start your business?
I hate cubicles and ties. Starting my own business seemed the most logical thing to do when I moved to the Bay Area!

Have you seen an increase of work due to the political developments of these past couple of years?
We have definitely seen an increase in demand for our services based on recent political developments. As one might guess, there is currently a very high demand for quality translations from Arabic into English and vice versa. We have been working with federal agencies and local governments as well as the private sector.

Where is your work, and your translator pool, based?
Our office is based in Richmond, and we try as much as possible to employ local translators. However, our network extends beyond the state and the country. We regularly get job orders from outside the U.S., and so we work with translators and interpreters in Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, as well. Of course, the jobs are assigned in connection with the project and the destination of the finished product. For the last four to five years, we have been providing our services in France, the UK, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Finland, among others. We just finished a large job that is going to Spain.

Describe the translator that you love to work with.
Quality and time are of the essence for every competitive business, and translation is no different when it comes to these considerations. We want to work with translators who can deliver what they promise; who don’t get in over their heads with high volumes of work or subject content that they aren’t comfortable with.

We want our translators and interpreters to be naturally inquisitive; who keep up-to-date about current events, and who read the news and specialized magazines and reviews. Not people who feel they “know it all,” and who are never wrong. We believe that translation is an art – it is a professional art, and as such, it is demands constant learning.

We are always very responsive to our translators’needs. We help them extensively; we provide glossaries when we have them, and set reasonable deadlines. We want our translators to feel comfortable while working with us and in doing their work.

What are the challenges of the Arabic language in the US market?
We spend lots of time and energy educating our clients about translation in general, and the Arabic language in particular. Many people are not aware that Arabs do not speak the same language they use to read or write. Arabs speak “colloquial Arabic,” which is not written and differs from one country to another. They use Modern Standard Arabic to write and read. However, it is a language taught in school and, of course, the higher your education is, the better you master the language.

There are also other technical aspects. Arabic is a bidirectional language. In bidirectional scripts, the text is written from right to left, while embedded numbers or segments of text in western scripts (Latin-based ones such as English or French) are written from left to right. Furthermore, languages that use the Arabic script have special ligature and shaping features which add a level of complexity in their display and printing that do not apply to other European and Asian languages. Because of these factors, most clients do not have a good understanding of how to support bidirectional languages. We spend lots of time explaining these special features to our clients and helping them set their operating systems and applications.