Back to human: Harnessing the power of partnership in localisation

At last year’s Association of Translation Companies’ Stargazing Conference, three localisation professionals, Karen Gammarota from Wise, Jennifer Vela Valido from Spotify, and Megan Hilleard from Renishaw discussed their job roles and what they look for in the ideal translation partner.

It quickly became apparent that the human touch is still very much in demand, not just in terms of the translation itself (the product) but between the translation buyer and the translation provider (the relationship).


What translation buyers need

Among the rhetoric from localisation industry giants who paint a future of AI and machine translation dominance that side lines linguists into a role of mere quality assurers, and the move towards automating every detail of the localisation process, it was refreshing to hear three localisation managers speak about what they value in their translation partners, and how the human element is very much at the forefront of what they consider a good service. They’re looking for:

  • a closer focus on quality
  • thoughtful and considered project management
  • a proactive attitude
  • helpful guidance that will support them in their own role, be it sharing cultural knowledge or suggestions on how to improve workflows
  • transparency into our workflows
  • faster conversations, including direct access to the linguists for creative collaboration


Technology alone is not enough

We all know that everything that can be automated, will eventually be automated. Technology is not our enemy, that’s for sure. But let’s also take a moment to acknowledge that technology doesn’t solve all our problems, no matter how much technology companies try to convince translation buyers otherwise. Just take another look at the list above.

In an industry where the largest players focus on selling tech and automation rather than the actual end result – i.e. fit-for-purpose translations for the customer – small, independent, owner-managed translation businesses who are focussed on providing quality translations, can be forgiven for feeling somewhat deflated and pessimistic about the future of translation. Why? Because the largest players are the most vocal participants with the biggest marketing budgets; the ones who organise and chair the webinars, the panel discussions and the fireside chats. And this has created a skewed representation of our industry, both for translation service providers and for translation buyers.

The discussion among these three localisation managers showed that there is another perspective out there, and that we all need to start speaking up to create a more balanced narrative – one that better represents the views of all participants in our industry, not just those with the deepest pockets.


The true cost of translation

In a bid to outdo each other and increase their market share, translation industry giants continue to peddle translations at ever increasingly lower rates, dangling the volume discount carrot as a cost-saving promise. But just like paying £5 for a company logo will get you a logo that’s at best a bit “blah” but at worst brand-damagingly awful, so will paying 5 pence per word for a translation.

Here’s the thing: translation is not a commodity. A translator can’t just work faster because there are more words to translate. If it takes a translator one day to translate around 2,000 words and hit the brief, then that’s what it will take – their time shouldn’t be undervalued.

So, what actually happens when industry giants offer volume discounts to secure a large deal? Suffice to say, they maintain their margin and in turn squeeze the linguists at the end of the supply chain. As a customer, you think you’re getting a good deal. But your good deal is a pretty rough deal for the translator doing the actual work; and the quality of the work will invariably suffer.

Quality is just as important today as it has always been. That being the case, we have a lot of work to do to demonstrate to translation buyers how budget is directly linked to translation quality, despite what the downward trend in translation pricing suggests.


Harnessing the power of partnership

I left last year’s buyer panel discussion feeling uplifted and validated by Karen, Jennifer and Megan’s conversation. Uplifted that despite the automation and commoditisation of our industry, these localisation managers are still looking for human-centric relationships. Validated that quality always has, and always will, matter.

And here is the really good news: as small, independent, owner-managed businesses we tend to be really good at building long-lasting relationships; we are highly invested in delivering outstanding quality; and we actually want to go the extra mile and are flexible enough to do so. Let’s face it, for a lot of small translation businesses – including freelancers – it’s our name on the door. It’s our reputation on the line. This makes us very much personally invested in keeping our customers happy.

So, it seems to me that what we have to offer, is actually what translation buyers are looking for – and I would bet a fair amount of money that Karen, Jennifer and Megan aren’t alone in their assessment of what makes an ideal translation partner.

To harness that power of partnership, we need to understand where we add value as translation businesses. And we need to advise our customers thoughtfully on how best to leverage technology without forsaking quality, so that they can have their translation cake and eat it.



The image shows a banner with the ATC and EUATC logos and the following wording: Ethical Business Summit, 21st and 22nd September 2023 in London. Do the right thing and future-proof your business.


Join the discussion

This year’s buyer panel will feature Jamie Brown from what3words, Carmen Sanchez Navarro, Senior Localization Project Manager at Expedia Group and member of Women in Localization UK ChapterJohn Devery from Crown Commercial Service – Language Services and Chris Piekoszewski from World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). They’ll be discussing what role ethical and sustainable business practices play when it comes to language service clients; how corporate sustainability practices flow down to the supply chain; and how language service companies can work with buyer-side organisations to build long-term sustainable business practices.

To find out more about the conference and to book your ticket, visit the Ethical Business Summit event page.