Friday, June 29, 2012

My myGengo Experiments (1)

Last year there was a post on this blog about a translation agency called myGengo. To find it, enter mygengo in the Search Box on the right. MyGengo's peculiarity is that it openly offers paid translation work to bilinguals who aren't trained or experienced translators – in other words, who are Native Translators. For this it pays the translators very low rates and charges customers accordingly. The translations are of a kind which it calls "simple human translation". It sees as its competitors not Professional Expert Translators but the machine translation services that are available on the web for free.
"Before myGengo, you could only get free, easy, but awful machine translation or expensive, slow, human service. We provide good quality human translation as simply as using machine translation - for very low cost."
It's true that myGengo also offers more difficult translation work at substantially higher rates, but so do hundreds of other translation agencies. Its real niche is the "simple human translation." Things like personal messages and emails, perhaps. Indeed I think it may be a strategic marketing error for them to offer the more advanced level. They should stick to exploiting their niche. Trying to recruit both Native and Expert Translators leads to confusion and misunderstanding.

This misunderstanding, I believe, lies behind the two complaints that were sent as Comments on my blog post. One of them goes like this:
"myGengo makes the translation industry a tougher jungle for the truly professional and skilled translators who find themselves put into face-to-face competition with unprofessional spare-time jobbers with little experience... As a professional translator I would never be willing to work for myGengo under such conditions."
The other expresses anger at the way the writer was graded by myGengo as admissible to their Native but not their Expert level despite her nine years of Korean<>English professional experience.

So both complainants are Professional and no doubt Expert Translators. I certainly wasn't recommending that Professional Expert Translators should apply for work to myGengo. As said above, there are hundreds of other agencies that offer their level of work. In fact it wasn't my purpose to endorse myGengo at all; I was asking a general question. Will this kind of service lead to a two-tier market? Because I do believe there's a need for it.

Anyway, perturbed by these criticisms, I decided to conduct my own experiment. In fact, two experiments.

In order to do so anonymously and avoid favoured treatment, I adopted a new name and email address. Under this disguise, I first submitted two short texts for translation from Spanish to English as a paying customer. One of them was an email from a colleague, the other a telephone company advertisement. They were communications I'd actually received, with small redactions. They totalled about 300 words. The translations came back fast: in a bare four hours. I don't have space to reproduce both of them, but here, for the benefit of those of you who know Spanish, is the email.
Hola Kiko:
Tal y como te dije por teléfono, creemos que eres la persona más adecuada para revisar un artículo que vamos a enviar a una revista. El artículo lo hemos elaborado entre tres personas y creemos que, en algunos apartados, se puede notar la diferencia en la redacción. Además de revisar, nos gustaría que corrigieras lo que creas oportuno y que nos des tu opinión, por favor. Yo estaré "localizable" hasta el día 29, aunque el próximo lunes y martes no voy a estar.
Si tuvieras algún problema con el formato, dímelo y te lo envío con el formato compatible para word 97-2003
Muchas gracias por acceder a realizar esta tarea; ya se que el enero no es la mejor fecha para pedírtelo.
Un abrazo muy fuerte para los dos.

Dear Kiko:
Just as I said on the phone, we think you're the right person to revise an article we're going to submit to a magazine. Three people have worked on the article and we think there are parts where stylistic differences are obvious. In addition to revising, we'd like you to make any appropriate corrections and give us your opinion. I'll be available until the 29th, but I'll be out next Monday and Tuesday.
If there are any problems with the format, let me know and I will send you a copy compatible with Word 97-2003.
Thank you very much for agreeing to do this for me, since I know January isn't the best time to ask you.
Best wishes to both of you.
I judged it to be very satisfactory. The meaning is clear and accurate; the language is native English, avoiding 'false friends' (for instance, by using work on for elaborar). There's only one minor word that needed correction and it arose from an ambiguity: the Spanish term revista can mean either magazine or learned journal, and here the context suggests the latter. The bill for the two translations was $16, or about $0.053 per word, and it was payable by Visa. The price seems to me reasonable for the difficulty of the work and the time it needed. I wasn't told and didn't ask about the translator.

Here, for purpose of comparison, is the same email translated by Google Translate. Google detected automatically that the source language was Spanish. The translation was instant, anyway too fast for me to measure.
Hi Kiko: As I said on the phone, we think you're the best person to review a paper that we will send a magazine. The article we have developed three people and we believe that in some sections, you can tell the difference in wording. In addition to checking, we would like corrigieras what you think appropriate and give us your opinion, please. I will be "traceable" to the 29th, but next Monday and Tuesday I will not be. If you had a problem with the format, let me know and I'll send in the format compatible with Word 97-2003 Thank you very much for agreeing to perform this task, and is that January is not the best time to ask. A big hug for you both.
Not bad! And Google Translate is free. The deficiencies in the English are obvious; nevertheless, the translation is understandable enough to convey the essential information. Note the opening and closing salutations: Hi, more familiar than Dear, and A big hug, much warmer than myGengo's Best wishes, both thereby closer to the Spanish in register and culture – but take your choice. Curious, though, that Google was completely stymied by a simple point of grammar like the conjugation of corregir.

To be continued with the second experiment.

Corrigieras illustrates a major limitation of MT systems like Google Translate, which work by statistical analyses of existing human translations – although statistical MT is very successful in other ways. Corrigieras is in a lesser-used, though by no means unused, subjunctive tense; and presumably there weren’t enough examples of it in the Google database for the statistical method to be applicable.

The myGengo website is here. It's developed considerably since the experiments were conducted earlier this year.


  1. Very interesting read. I don't think people give translation services enough credit or don't do enough research on them. Being that there are often several dialects of a language or words than exist in one language but not in another, can make a translation seem as though it isn't up to par when it is actually quite accurate. I appreciate that at least you took the time to consider these things before blindly posting!

  2. que interesante! your blog has given me yet another idea to make money after I retire to Spain in (hopefully) 8 years. gracias!

  3. An interesting experiment. I look forward to the second part.

    So you think that translating “un abrazo muy fuerte” as “a big hug” is more accurate because it’s closer to the Spanish in register and culture? I would argue that “best wishes“ was a better choice because the English-speaking cultures tend to reserve such warm, intimate closings for correspondents that we are very emotionally close to.

    If we follow the rule that the translation should evoke the same effect on the target-language reader that the original evoked on the source-language reader, it seems to me correct to tone down intimacy of the closing.

  4. Dear tobyo,
    I took a look at YOUR blog at, and recommend it to other internauts. The photos of your hideaway on Crow Wing Lake in the Minnesota hills are breathtaking. Thank you.

  5. Yes, Mercedes, I think there's scope for more research on translation providers. As for languages, yes, they're full of variations that make it more tricky, and often more subjective, to assess translations. The subtle differences between formal and informal styles are just one example. The Natural or Native Translator usually doesn’t worry about such niceties, but the Expert must. Thank you.

  6. Dear Mago,

    I didn’t say that “a big hug” is more “accurate”. I said, “It’s closer... in register and culture;” and then I said “take your choice” – which is what you’ve done. Taken out of context, ‘Best wishes’ is no more ‘accurate’ than ‘A big hug.’ Shorn of their social usages, they both mean ‘goodbye.’ If I were translating the other way, I’d probably render “Best wishes” by the similarly anodyne “Un saludo,” which is very commonly used.

    Please see too my response to Mercedes.

    As for the effect on readers, that depends on the readers as well as on the translation. Personally, I do feel that ‘Best wishes’ lacks warmth even though I’m English – but that’s me and perhaps I‘ve been mellowed by years of expat living in Spain.

    Anyway, an interesting point.

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