Managing Crowdsourced and Professional Translators Together

Can you really have it both ways?

At some point every localization professional at a software company sees the allure of crowdsourced localizations for their app, game, or website.

All for one?

What could be better than all the people of the world coming together in harmony to translate your software into every language of the world — for FREE?

Facebook and Twitter did it, right? (Actually, not right.*)

In reality, these crowdsourced translations by volunteers and fans are rarely done to completion. Nor are they very accurate.

The next step is to bring in professional translators to “finish” the localization of key languages.

Sound familiar yet?

The end result is a mix of professional and volunteer translators. Websites and apps are updated, and the cycle repeats.

Managing a combination of professional and volunteer translators becomes really hard. The immediate consequence is inconsistent translations. These only become apparent later on once the company’s localization strategy becomes more serious and formalized. 

Crowdsourcing translations pros

In this article, we’ll discuss the pros and cons, and how to manage the problems that arise from hybrid localization projects with both professional translators and volunteers.

Using volunteer translators – typically referred to as crowdsourced localizations or fan translation – sounds like a great strategy at first. It has some fantastic benefits, such as…

  • It’s “free!” 
    Fan translators are not paid. They work because of their own personal interest in the app or service, as well as the language. 
  • The largest userbase is translated first. 
    Depending on your app and the size of the community, you might already have a large group of users who want the app available in their language and are willing to work on it themselves.
  • The translators “know” the app and its vocabulary.
    Because they are familiar with the app’s style and content, they should be able to translate it well.

Crowdsourcing translations cons

Crowdsourcing localizations rarely plays out as you’d expect. What you don’t pay for in money, you usually pay for in time, human resources, and quality assurance. The not-so-apparent downsides to volunteer translators include…

Crowdsourced volunteers do not always work out
  • It’s not free. 
    Crowdsourcing requires a crowdsourcing platform (we recommend Crowdin), a localization manager and engineers to oversee the project, recruit volunteers, train volunteers on the platform, answer context questions, and somehow perform quality control.
  • Slow or no progress. 
    Community translators work for free — and at their own pace. Progress is characteristically sluggish and completion amounts can vary greatly between languages. The app will have an odd mix of translated and untranslated text in all languages. You can’t give a deadline to a volunteer.
  • Poor or unpredictable quality. 
    Volunteer translators tend to be translation-hobbyists, bilingual speakers with no translation training or vetted language proficiency. Worse yet, some are language learners who want to practice their skills at your expense. In rare but serious situations, it attracts trolls who replace your texts with obscenities. (Yes, this happens.)

What are the pros and cons of professional translators?

Hiring professional translators or a localization vendor has more obvious advantages and disadvantages, but let’s summarize them anyway.

 Professional translatorsVolunteer translators
QualityExcellentPoor
SpeedExcellentSlow
EaseVery easyDifficult
CostPay per word“Free”

Professional translators produce accurate, consistent translations and respect deadlines. They can see “the big picture” and make important decisions about vocabulary, build a glossary, and shorten texts that do not fit in the user interface.

Professional translators are responsive to requests and questions. They require less oversight, which means less time managing them.

Peace-of-mind is priceless.

— Every localization project manager ever

If professional translators are needed to review the crowdsourced translations, the final cost of localization could rise a LOT. It might cost just as much to fix the volunteers’ translations, especially when you consider all the time you have spent managing the crowd.

Using a language service provider (LSP) alongside volunteer translators

Let’s be honest: the primary reason to crowdsource localizations to volunteers is to save money. That is a good reason, and, if it works, that is great. However, in most cases, the community of volunteers is not large enough, dedicated enough, or trained enough to complete the localization in the languages that matter most to your company’s bottom line. 

Eventually, companies realize they can’t meet their launch goals by solely relying on volunteer translators. Their work simply isn’t good or fast enough to meet objectives. This is when they reach out to language service providers (LSP) looking to employ professionals on short notice in any language necessary. These professionals will meet deadlines, and typically offer additional services which companies find useful as their localization needs become more complex.

However, transitioning from a crowdsourcing model to a professional one isn’t so easy. These two strategies run contrary to one another, so many clients try to use a “hybrid” model.

Companies may continue to rely on volunteer translators while hiring professionals to review translations or round out the remaining work before a deadline.

How to handle disputes between professional and volunteer translators

Having professionals work alongside volunteer translators always leads to disputes. Although both teams are working towards the same goal, they have different incentives and priorities. Like any group, each individual has his or her own opinion, too.

Here are strategies you can use to reduce disputes and tensions between professional and crowdsourcers in a hybrid translation.

Disputing between translators and volunteers in the 19th century
Disputes between professional and volunteer translators, circa 1830.
  • Define clear roles. 
    Use the best volunteer translators to translate and use professionals to review. Most translation management platforms allow you to assign a professional translator a higher Role within the system to approve translations. Make sure the professional translator has the ability to remove (or at least demote) inaccurate translations. If a volunteer rewrites their work, you have paid for nothing and probably lost your best translator in a single stroke.
  • Maintain a glossary. 
    Make sure the professional translator creates and updates a glossary of key terms for your project. While volunteers should be encouraged to comment and suggest alternatives, allow the professional to make the final judgment alongside anyone on your own team that speaks the language natively.
  • Leverage your international team. 
    Many companies with large localization projects have native-speaking engineers, marketing, or sales staff that are too busy to localize, but can answer questions insightfully. When a key term is in dispute, ask for their help.
  • Reward appropriately. 
    Volunteers are often passionate and are content with rewards such as badges, acknowledgement in the app’s credits, promo codes, or special content. You may think professionals only care about the money, but that isn’t the case. Translators are trained professionals, and they value your trust and reliance on them. Defer to their judgment on language, and acknowledge their difficulties working with such a large and diverse community. You’ll find they become even more interested in your company than your volunteer fans.
  • Remove problem-causers. 
    Some volunteers are not native speakers, or are just terrible at translation. Don’t hesitate to remove them and send a polite email saying “Thank you for your contributions, but we don’t need more translators right now.” Differences of opinion between translators can also get out of hand. You must be ready to block volunteers who cannot engage civilly in discussions about the best translations and accept their role as a contributor, not a decider. This is one of the biggest issues we see in hybrid translations. Failing to remove such users will lose you both volunteers and professionals.
  • Consider separating them. 
    Often allowing the translators to work separately is the most effective. This may mean choosing “key” languages for your business to be done by professional translators, while leaving volunteers to work on languages that are not critical to your business. This allows you to expand the number of languages you offer and gauge interest in international markets. Once you see enough interest, considering adding a professional for that language instead.

Conclusion

Professional translation services always seem expensive when compared to the free option. But like everything, with translations you get what you pay for.

Unlike other types of outsourced work, it’s hard to measure the quality of translations unless you are a native speaker. It can be even harder to quantify the return on investment or even the costs on either localization strategy. 

When you’re ready to move beyond just volunteers, reach out to Babble-on for help managing your translation project. We’re professionals, but we’ll soon be your biggest fans as well.

* Both Twitter and Facebook have large localization teams that try to manage crowdsourced translations, hire professional translators to review translations submitted, and to translate important and legally binding documents.

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