Document tendering: a sad trend of substandard translations

Document tendering is a technique used by middleman companies to profit by paying less and charging more.

When you need to translate business or personal documents, you start by looking for personal referrals or online reviews. You finally find a language service provider (LSP) that seems suitable to your needs, and you trust them with your documents. Good practice dictates that your documents are to be translated and then revised by certified translators (or highly qualified individuals when there are not certified translators for languages of lesser diffusion (LLDs)), but do you really know what happens with your documents? Here we explain the unknown underworld of document tendering, where your documents are offered to the lowest bidder to people all over the world.

What’s a standard translation process?

Generally speaking, a good LSP must work solely with certified translators. Your documents are first translated by a certified translator and then revised by another certified translator in that same language combination. For most common languages, such as French, Spanish and Arabic, there are plenty of certified translators in Canada, and it is not a problem for good LSPs to work with pairs of translators to guarantee quality. However, for LLDs, such as many African and South-Asian languages, there are not always certified translators in Canada to be found. In these circumstances, the LSP must have a strict selection process in place to choose their LLD pairs, in line with Canadian and international industry standards.

The other side of the coin: document tendering

Unfortunately in Canada, not many LSPs abide by Canadian or international industry standards. Their model entails a bidding process, where they will give your document to an individual who is not necessarily certified and not necessarily in Canada. A document-tendering LSP will charge you as high as possible for the translation of your document, bid it to its large database of individuals, and give it to translate to the lowest bidder. We have learnt of middlemen taking up to 300% of commissions at the expense of both the client and the translator.

A document-tendering LSP will bid your document to its large database of individuals, and give it to translate to the lowest bidder.

Follow these tips to spot a document-tendering translation agency.

How to recognize a document-tendering LSP

Here we offer five tips to ensure that you are not dealing with a document-tendering LSP:

  1. The company has a large database of “translators.”
    A document-tendering LSP will tell you that they have hundreds of translators available for you. What they don’t tell you is that they don’t know the people on their databases. This practice makes it challenging for the LSP to keep good quality control, and will prevent the LSP from protecting confidentiality. A good LSP knows its translators and will be very careful and selective with the members of its team.
  1. The company charges more for certified translations.
    Document-tendering LSPs may claim that certified translators are expensive and their services must be used solely for official documents. They will tell you that anybody can do the job.  What they don’t tell you is that certified translators go through a long certification process to ensure quality, and abide by a strict Code of Ethics to guarantee confidentiality. They won’t tell you that you’ll be on your own if your information is leaked or the translation is of poor quality. A good LSP will only have certified translators in their team (or will disclose that they don’t have them for LLDs but follow strict quality control measures), and will provide consistent non-certified and certified translations, both in quality and price.
  1. Price ranges are disparaged. LSPs that tender documents will not have a price base for their translations, but will assign a random price based on what you can afford. Therefore, an LSP may be charging $90 to you and $300 to your friend for birth certificates that look exactly the same, because they are sales-oriented and not industry-oriented. An ethical LSP will have a price base that is ethical, transparent and reasonable.
  1. The company is not led or owned by certified translators. Imagine a law firm owned by a person with a database of lawyers. Or imagine an engineering company led by people who know about engineering but are not engineers. If this was permitted (which is not in Canada), you would probably think twice before engaging their services, right? Well, the same goes with the translation industry. In Alberta alone, just a few multilingual service providers are led or owned by certified translators, and the others are owned by unqualified middlemen.
  1. The company offers certified translations in all languages. There is no such a thing as Canadian certified translators in all languages, simply because the provincial associations in Canada do not have certified translators in all languages. Period. If an LSP offers you a certified translation in Oromo, chances are that the translation is not, and the provider is using the word “certified” to lure you into using their services.

Because the translation industry is not yet regulated in Alberta, unqualified people may have found a way to make easy money by charging you a lot and paying the translator low. To avoid falling victim of these schemes, always keep these tips in mind, and make sure you contact a professional and ethical LSP.

ETS Translation Solutions is a company owned and led by certified translators. Our multilingual team of certified translators and carefully selected translators for LLDs always work collaboratively in multilingual projects, with an incredible value brought by this cohesion. We work following industry standards, like Canadian CGSB 131-10-2017 and ISO 17100, which translates into a solid business model that has our client’s satisfaction and our industry wellbeing at heart.