_TL: We Get Letters: TransPerfect is Still TransAwful

Since we first wrote about TransPerfect more than three months ago, we’ve heard from numerous translators who have their own stories of horror to tell.

Liz Elting = the Dark Lord of the translation industry?

Well, there's a lot of competition for the title actually....

TransPerfect’s new “strategy” for cheap, quick translations is crowdsourcing (as a translator makes clear in one of the comments below, TransPerfect now breaks up virtually all translations and sends pieces of them to multiple translators at the same time) coupled with a demand that translators provide deep discounts for CAT-tool “matches.”

As a business model, it sounds like utter panic to us. Does anyone actually still think TransPerfect is capable of providing quality translations?

From a July 27, 2010 job offer for English to Spanish (rush – same-day delivery):
I have an new translation job for you for, EN> ES.
2213 words
This is due 7/27 by 8am EST
I could pay $100 for this job.
So: less than $0.05 per word for a rush job (and, of course, TransPerfect will provide a transaltion memory and will insist that fuzzies and 100% matches be discounted or subtracted from the word count).

“How low can we go?” the translator asks. We can't be sure yet, because TransPerfect is still digging.

Another translator tells Il Segno:
[Y]our blog helped me finally make a decision regarding my relationship with TransPerfect....

When I first began working with TransPerfect, it seemed to be a very serious company. Their rates were low, but not as low as many other companies, and within what I considered the "bare minimum" I would be willing to accept.... My first jobs with TransPerfect were smooth ... and I received a check within 30-45 days. I worked with them a few times and was happy with their professionalism.

Unfortunately, much of this has changed. My first negative experience was last fall, when they wanted some help with a huge project they were distributing among translators. I took some files and translated them, I believe, well. A few days later, I received a startling e-mail stating there were some quality issues with my work and to look over the comments of the proofreader. When I looked at the documents, I realized that the majority of the documents with which they had a problem and which they wanted me to review were a)not the files I had translated and b)proofread by someone with no knowledge of the document's subject. TransPerfect wanted me (reduce my invoice) because they had associated my name with files I had not translated and with which an unqualified (for that field) proofreader had issues.

This is when I began to realize there was a problem, especially with distributing files among several translators, getting the assignments confused, and ensuring that the both the translator and the proofreader understood the subject of the translation....

Since this incident, I have noticed many other things that indicate the company's commitment to quality is not what it once may have been. There are many mass e-mails sent asking for availability; sometimes these blast messages seem personalized, but, when you write to give your availability, you receive no reply. The translations being offered are many words in a short amount of time (sometimes only hours), for very little money..... The company continually tries to lower the rates being offered, wants translators to complete impossible translation feats in little time (all jobs seem to be rush jobs now), now requires WordFast for most jobs, and has a habit of splitting jobs (even those that are large but not huge) among translators in order to complete them more quickly, rather than giving one translator a couple of more days to ensure uniformity in the translation....

My biggest complaint with this company is the lack of respect for the translator. Recently, I was sent a mass e-mail about a job. I answered and offered my availability. The project manager responded, sent the files for me to approve, and we had a discussion via e-mail to confirm rate and deadline. Everything seemed agreed upon, so I set aside the time and waited for the Purchase Order, which never arrived. After an hour, I e-mailed the project manager to ask him to send the PO or to let me know if he had given the job to someone else so I could accept other jobs. Two days later, I am still waiting to hear from him. I wish I could say this was an isolated incident, but, unfortunately, this is the second time this has happened, with two different project managers, and I am afraid this will mark the end of my association with this company.
And, finally, a former employee offers this insight:
As a former employee, I am in agreement with your article on TransPerfect; however I don't think putting up the names of individual project managers in the comments serves your purpose.

With the exception of Amy DiTrani, none of the others have been there longer than 3 years. They work 12+ hour days and are often called in over the weekend. They are underpaid ($35-$50K in one of the most expensive cities in the world). They themselves are unlikely to make excuses for the company. The sales people undersell the jobs and hand them over to the project managers, who then have to find someone to translate it. They have to meet a stated mark-up of 2.1 (or the sales people get no commission) and an implicit markup of 3.1 (or the project managers get no bonus, which many count on to balance their checkbooks at the end of the quarter). Their profit centers (which is where their bonuses come from) are docked $300 for every faulty PO and other slip-ups.

While it may not seem like it from the outside, most of the project managers who work at TransPerfect are victimized by the company at least as much as the translators. For one, they can't say no or press delete when a new message comes in, asking them to turn 40K words around overnight for a budget that leaves only 4 cents per word. Linking their names to TransPerfect makes it seem like they are the problem, but they are but cogs in the machine.
We have no difficulty believing that TransPerfect treats its sales people and project managers badly, using punishments and “incentives” that sound like a cross between the robotic excesses of 1980s Japanese-style corporate management and the personal charm of Gordon Ramsay (the “F-Word,” indeed). But that doesn’t get them off the hook.

No more “we were just doing our job”; no more “we’re just foot soldiers.” If they have direct experience regarding the rot in TransPerfect’s human and business model, they should stop helping the business exploit translators.

Or, better yet, they need to mount a serious media campaign to let the public know what TransPerfect is, what it stands for, and how it is harming translators and the translation profession.

So we say again, write them and make your position clear:

Liz Elting, CEO: lelting@transperfect.com / Amy DiTrani: aditrani@transperfect.comAnne-Claire Lord: alord@transperfect.com / Cristina Farelo: cfarelo@transperfect.com / Hyojin Park: hpark@transperfect.com / Jennifer Adie: jadie@transperfect.com / Jennifer Bucci: jbucci@transperfect.com / Michael Petrigliano: mpetrigliano@transperfect.com / Pearl Leo: pleo@transperfect.com / Sara Hutchison: shutchison@transperfect.com / Sung Ha Lee: slee@transperfect.com / Zachary Eldridge: zeldridge@transperfect.com


  1. As someone who used to work in TransPerfect's London office, I had a ringside seat in watching the company mutate from its former position as a hungry, dynamic multinational to what it has now become – a chaotic and bloated tantrum of a company that drools uncontrollably at the slightest prospect of ripping off its service providers.

    Back in 2002-2003 TPT had a fairly liberal internal attitude with regard to how its internal linguists structured their working day – you could use whichever methods you wanted to when proofreading a file, provided the work got done on time. This was actually crucial in allowing me to develop the skills I still use today as a freelance translator. They then decided that in order to become more efficient (read: in order to charge their clients more and pay their service providers less) they would obtain ISO 9001:2008 certification. This was the effective death-knell of internal and external quality, since linguists were forced to spend all their time filling out endless useless checklists and forms rather than actually translating documents.

    Fast-forward a few years...

    Last week I got a call from TPT asking if I would be available for an interpreting assignment in my home town. I asked whether it was still true that TPT paid only in dollars, regardless of where the service provider was located, and the PM said it was. They would, however, be happy to send me a cheque. I then explained to the PM that cheques in US dollars were completely useless to me, since I have only a euro bank account. She was very apologetic and said that payment by bank transfer was fine, and agreed to accept an extra $20 on my invoice to cover the processing fees involved.

    I then received my PO, clearly marked “Preferred Payment Type: Check”.

    After removing my head from my hands I went back to the PM, got my login details and changed my profile preferences on their website, giving them all my bank details as required. About three hours later I got a specific e-mail from their payment department saying that their preferred payment method was by cheque, and that any bank transfers would incur a fee of $20. I replied “I know, I’ve already factored it into my invoice.”

    Following day: job cancelled. The thought of paying for a job where the linguist would actually receive his full, original price was just too hard to swallow.

    The worst thing is that complaining to anyone within the company is pointless. The project managers are so lowly they're in no position to change anything and the executives just don't care. The only thing to do (as this article shows) is to get word out in the industry that they are absolutely never to be worked with, ever.

  2. I chose never to work with this company, just based on the outrageously low rates they offer to translators. It should be enough to figure them out, and as a matter of fact, it is. All that I have been reading about them is obviously consistent with that. The low rate says it all. Do not spend any more time with them. It is not worth while even writing about them.

  3. Nothing of what you all said surprised me. They wanted to hire me as a PM in NYC and when I asked 60k a year they said it wasn't possible and that everybody lives on 40K in NYC, they just use the first half of the monthly pay to pay the rent and the second half to eat.
    When I asked how much they pay the translators they decided not to hire me anymore. And this after one month negoting and several tests, phone interviews and personal interviews. I just wasted one month of my life and I'm SO happy they changed their mind. Maybe I was using mine too much for them.

  4. I have been on their list for about a year and just accepted my first assignment from them this week. It was an audio transcription job EN>EN of phone conversations from a jail inmate. They had a huge rush job of 70 hours. I mostly do interpreting and translation so this was fairly new territory for me. After negotiating to find out their best rate on the job, I agree to take on a small amount and see how it went. Even their best pay rate seemed very low, based on my and others' experience with audio transcription, i.e. how time-consuming it can be to do a good job. I mostly did it out of curiosity.

    I ended up putting in around six hours over three days after which time they told me they had given the job to someone else. My main complaint is that they never said to stop working. I was aware they had multiple (very short) deadlines that kept getting pushed back, and I was not meeting their deadlines.

    The content of the audio files was challenging--mostly intelligible but the people were arguing and often speaking over one another so it took a lot of repeat listening to sort it all out. I had other things going on and didn't want to make my life crazy so I emailed several times to let them know I was still working on it. I mentioned at one point that I really was tired of it, and just working to fulfill my commitment. At one point I even asked "Would you like to give the work to someone else?"

    They responded to my emails several times but never emailed or called to say they were giving it to someone else, until I emailed them the second-to-last time to let them know it was finished, which was within a couple of hours of the last deadline they had asked me to meet, which I already had told them I could not meet.

    If they have policies that do not allow them to extend a particular job past a particular time, I think they should be upfront with the translator/transcriber about it. Instead they kept saying there was a deadline then extending it, and then let me keep working until I was done, and then refusing to take the work. When they finally told me they had given the work to someone else, they offered me another file to work on for an under-2-hour deadline!

    I was disappointed but not entirely surprised by my experience with TransPerfect. How can they imply their translations are "perfect" when the deadlines are so tight? Who is capable of doing this "perfect" work for them? In Your Dreams Translator?

    It occurs to me that had I been paid, it would have been at a rate of just over $4 an hour for my effort. Granted I was slow because I don't do a lot of these and I was taking pains to do it well. Nevertheless, I can imagine putting in a lot of time and effort to get really fast at transcription, learning to use macros and other tools, investing in some software, lowering my standards a bit--and reducing my time by 60% and STILL be making about ten bucks an hour.


  5. Dear colleagues, in general I agree with the first comment. It is true: once a quality manager cut very skilfully my payment by more than € 300,00, attributing this reduction to the proofreader's cost. It goes without saying that I tried to state my case and expressed my unwillingness to pay for proofreading, no controversy was filed for the content before (several weeks had gone by). But the QM was inflexible and steadfast in his weird principle (of making me pay for it).
    It is true that on another occasion their ATA-qualified proofreader (for huge energy job I was translating), was very unexperienced in the field.

    But apart from these 2 events, I was always paid the requested sum, several times I was awarded projects for my full rate, which cannot be considered as low rate. I worked with CAT tools but no staggered rates!! This must also been taken into consideration. In 2010, I accepted some interpreting jobs around the region. Correctly, I must say, I was paid for the whole period, even if the Client had used my services only for a shorter period. I got the payment check 15 days before payment term expiry, but the authorization from the American bank to release the money was given about 15 days after it.

  6. I would like to thank you for all the information above.
    I have recently received the following email from Transperfect: I found your information on the list of sworn translators from the Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores y de Cooperacion. TransPerfect Translations is looking for qualified translators to assist with a Spanish into English translation project. There is a very large amount of work to be completed in a short amount of time. There are a variety of source files which should be general or general legal material. If you are able to assist at any time over the next few days, please send your CV and rate information in US dollars to spjobs@transperfect.com. Please also fill out and physically sign the attached ICA form. The document needs to be physically signed (we cannot accept typed or digital signatures) but can be scanned and returned via email or faxed to +44 870 167 0512 (UK fax) or +1 425 696 5555 (US fax). We'd also need the new vendor details below so we can add you to our system. Once we have the ICA form back a project manager will contact you and you will be able to look at source files etc before making a final decision.

    So it seems somebody in their company had the great idea of using our list of official interpreters and translators published in the website of the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Contact us.

    Fortunately I thought about searching them on translation blogs and through the blog of Kobalt Languages I reached your blog.

    After all the above comments I do not know what is best to do whether to answer or not.

    I have started a blog on legal translation and I will put an entry in Spanish about this as well, at least to try and warn people about this.

    Once again thank you.

  7. I just left TPT, the company 'philosophy' is one of the reasons why.
    I have to say that what said in the post is true for the American branches of the company, while the European ones never really accept to go too low on prices.
    The difference lays in the fact that European PM and salespeople tend to come from a translation background, while this doesn't seem to be true for the American branches.
    Actually, the main problem of all is that the man who created the company only did it because he saw a business opportunity. His only target is to become bigger than SDL and he doesn't have any translation experience. This clearly emerges from the hilarious newsletters he sends every month, full of business chit-chat and statements where you ask yourself "does he really think we are that stupid?"

  8. I have worked with this company on the other side - as an employee of a final user (a law firm). They market themselves very aggressively as specialists int he legal field, yet the final translation fell so far below the standard that we refused to pay them. Now I also see that it was not a one off. Won't order from them any more, thanks for the warning.

  9. My experience is similar to the poster's. I still work for them though things are getting worse and I do not know how long I can go.
    As for the former employee's insight, I quote: They are underpaid ($35-$50K in one of the most expensive cities in the world). They themselves are unlikely to make excuses for the company."

    It makes me laugh, because I was asked to offer a 1 cent discount on my rate on the base that USD XXX was not bad for 2 weeks' work!!! The PO had the nerve to tell me this, when I make half the yearly salary mentioned above, and I do work 12 hours a day, weekends, do not get paid for vacation. Most important, it is none of her business how much I get. The fact they are exploited (which I do not doubt) does not mean we have to put up with it also.
    And then she gave me a list of "positive" sides for the project, which were basically reasons for me not to lower my rate: things like I know the client, I am familiar with the glossary and the specific team (yeap, I know they serve the company's interest, ask me a ton of stupid unnecessary questions at the QM step 2 weeks after completing a job, and so on), I am knowledgeable. Finally, even "we want you on this project).
    How does that work? We want you AND we want to pay you less. Interesting.

  10. I just love how they wait two weeks and suddenly say in a preformated letter that they found "quality issues." I looked at the QM issues and found that they redid my whole translation and placed in incorrect translations. This is absolutely absurd and I am livid about this. They are trying to get me to lower my rate by creating "quality issues" that are not issues in the first place. They changed Formalin to Formaldehyde and called it a mistranslation. Absolutely ridiculous as they are completely different chemicals!

  11. Yes, Joe, they probably used a bad proofreader. And they blame whoever is available. I remember once they asked me to review translation and proof to find out who was responsible for the client's complains. This ISO thing is BS and the end clients should know this. How could we launch a media campaign. Are these big pharmaceutica companies willing to trust indepenent translators?


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