Sunday, February 27, 2011

myGengo: Towards a bi-level market?

Followers of this blog will be aware that crowdsourcing is making an impact in the translation world (for the previous posts about it, enter crowdsourcing in the Search box on the right). It also gets a mention in the current Wikipedia article on Translation. In case it's not already clear to you, the term, which is a portmanteau word put together from crowd and outsourcing, means:
"taking tasks traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, and outsourcing them to a group of people or community, through an 'open call' to a large group of people (the crowd) asking for contributions."
Until recently, translation crowdsourcing was organised on a voluntary, unpaid basis: NGOs appealing for help, for example. Now here comes myGengo, which aims to turn it commercial for the profit of translators and the benefit of consumers. "Join the revolution!" it proclaims. So let’s take a closer look before we‘re swept away.

1. All bilinguals are invited to join in, irrespective of prior qualifications. “If you're bilingual and you're online, you could qualify as a myGengo translator. It's free, simple and quick to take our tests.” Well yes, there’s a test. “Your test will be reviewed within 30 days by a Senior Translator who is native in the language.” 30 days? That’s something they need to improve. But myGengo isn’t without standards.

2. Here’s the most interesting part. Successful applicants are divided into two categories:

(A) “Our Pro level for professional [and presumably Expert] translators” – a traditional category.

(B) “Our Standard level for bilinguals” – a non-traditional category. “It's perfect work for you, if you are bilingual, with a good written style in your native language and fluency in your second language.”

3. The workload is also divided according to the two categories:

(A) Pro level: “These jobs are more complex and important; usually translations for public use where accuracy is key.”

(B) Standard level: “These jobs are translations of simple or non-critical texts, like blog posts, articles to read, simple menus and internal business documents.” Clearly this level is intended for Native Translators.

4. There’s another interesting wrinkle to the Standard level: “It's also great if you are training to be a translator.” This is a clear and open invitation to the hundreds of translation school students who would like nothing better than to find a work placement that pays while they study. Bear in mind that there are about 500 undergraduate and postgraduate translation programmes around the globe.

5. The rates of pay are likewise differentiated: Pro level US$ 0.08 per word, Standard level US$ 0.03 per word. myGengo loads a couple of cents per word on top of that in its prices to consumers, which is reasonable for what is, in effect, a commercial translation agency. The Pro rate of pay will attract professionals in some countries and under some circumstances; the Standard rate is in uncharted territory.

A bi-level translation market – bi-level in respect of qualifications and of remuneration – isn't entirely novel. There's long been such a market in conference interpreting (CI). However, the lower level of the CI market was talked about disparagingly and in hushed voices as the so-called grey market – I'll write more about it in another post. This is the first time I've encountered an openly promoted and advertised bi-level market. It'll be very interesting to watch whether myGengo succeeds.

myGengo. Website, 2011.

Crowdsourcing. Wikipedia.

Translation. Wikipedia.


  1. As a non professional, it is sometimes hard for me to distinguish between a company like myGengo and a real professional translator. There are other companies that offer similar functions and rates as myGengo. They have thousands of translators and offer low rates. Yet they call themselves professional translators. How does one know the difference between a native speaker and a true professional?

  2. The thing about myGengo is that they tell you openly they have the two types of translator, and they charge differential rates for their work. So they claim to do the sorting for you. That's better than offering low rates indiscriminately.

    To answer you more generally, for a Professional Translator you're entitled to get an Expert Translator provided you're prepared to pay the price (see my post of last November 12.) An Expert Translator should have formal qualifications such as a translation degree or membership of a professional association, or a substantial track record. You're entitled to ask suppliers for their translators' qualifications or for references. Alternatively, ask for a short sample of the translator's work together with its original, and ask someone who knows the two languages well for an opinion.

    What are the criteria? Every time I certify my translations for legal purposes I have to swear that it's (a) accurate and (b) complete. What I don't sign off for, though it's also important, is that it's in correct and easily readable language. If the translation is into English, you can probably judge this last criterion yourself. And as a frill, you can require from Professional Translators that the presentation be in a certain format.

    Hope this helps.

  3. I see no point in this web project apart from Mygengo owners making their money with this. Mygengo does not make the translation industry a better place, if not to say a thougher 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.

    Low rates must naturally frustrate professional translators in times with low project volume, which can have many different reason not in the responsibility of the freelancer. Can such a framework improve motivation and quality? Is not everybody who has been offered an insultingly low payment less motivated than a respectfully paid professional?

    As a professional translator I would never be willing to work via Mygengo under such conditions and translation customers should know that any self-respecting competent translator will also never be available through this low-brow discounter.

  4. I am a professional translator with 9 years Korean<>English translation experience. I have translated a number of books, a musical, participated in numerous technical translation projects, government, corporate projects and so forth.

    Last month, I wanted to see what the hype was with Mygengo and took their first test for "standard" level, which at USD 0.03 is a hustle. One must pass the "standard" level test in order to try the "pro." I got their response on my "standard" application today and had failed. Reasons were, "many minor errors, including capitalization, punctuation, unclear phrasing and grammar," and was suggested to, "Please try again soon, and take your time."

    First of all, I had "taken my time" aplenty with the first test. I have an MFA in creative writing and frankly Mygengo's standards of what constitutes "many minor errors" are unconvincing.

    I've seen in another blog that a translator's first test got a rejection and afterwards he got past "standard", "pro", and "proofreader" levels the second time. It seems anyone who has actually passed the tests go through this same routine - passing on their second try that is.

    I would much rather go through a "professional translating agency" to find work. Submit a CV, wait till they review it, take a sample test if required and get hired. I do not want to take a sample test only to be rejected and asked to take another one and two more, simply to get mediocre rates. Mind you, even if you pass the first test, you would only get $0.03 per word and who would work for that? This means you'll have to take 1 more test and pass to qualify as "pro" for their $0.08 rate, and another for their "proofreader" rate of $0.04. Three sample translations are at least 3 working hours and by no means are the samples short or easy as they seem to imply. Also, it took a few weeks for them to respond with my first test results, which means you'll have quite a wait in between each test.

    Btw, Edward is right. It is very difficult to tell from their site whether they are hiring professional translators or students who want a part time job. Don't waste your time taking their tests. Also, there was a "pre-test" which consisted of multiple choice questions. I'm quite positive I got 100% on the "pre-test." You can go ahead and take either "standard" or "pro" test if you score 100% on their "pre-test." However, their automated scoring system said I got 1 wrong. Seems like they just want a lot of "standard" level translators so they can lower their rates and lure more customers. Sorry, I do not recommend.

    1. Well, the fact that "by no means are the samples short or easy as they seem to imply" could actually be considered a pro instead of a con... If the test consisted in translating "The pen is on the table", then maybe even dogs (real dogs) could qualify...
      Additionally, ANY unpaid translation test you take requires time you could've spent doing something else, so I don't see your point there.
      IMO, this platform can only be an option if you want to make a little extra money from time to time (at 0.08$ psw, that is). I hardly doubt you can make a living out of it alone, and I also think these 'things' are actually just hurting the industry (and translators in particular). 0.03$ is really ridicolous, but I see many listings with similar rates even on (THE) sites like P**Z and TranslatorsC**é, for instance, with people actually bidding on them, so, maybe these are all signs that the translation industry is already terminally ill? (And I didn't even mention MT and 'post-editing'...)

  5. You missed an even bigger 'target': OHT (and who knows how many others...).

  6. Thank you for the suggestion, Anonymous. I could have picked on OHT (One Hour Translation at, for readers who don‘t know it), except that it has one significant difference from myGengo that makes it less relevant for this blog: it doesn’t take on inexperienced or unqualified bilinguals as translators. You have to supply them with a professional CV. However, OHT likewise aims to cater for two distinct markets and offers work at two levels. It pays for what it calls Expert translations at $0.09 a word, almost twice the $0.05 minimum, low for many countries but as much as the traditional agencies pay here in Spain except for legal translations. I don’t think it’s that the translation industry is “terminally ill” world wide but it varies greatly from place to place – here it’s always been underpaid – and changes with the economy. At least there’s one way OHT actually SUPPORTS the traditional translators: it strictly forbids the use of MT.

    1. Thanks for your reply.

      Well, I don't think that Gengo (they since changed their name) makes use of MT or allows its users to... and I actually believe that a user who's caught doing that would be kicked out pronto (as they should). So I don't see a difference with OHT in this respect (and besides, there are many traditional agencies who already make use of MT combined with post-editing in order to have translators work for scraps, so in this case I feel it's more a case of traditional agencies exploiting traditional translators, tbh...).

      As for the "[OHT] doesn’t take on inexperienced or unqualified bilinguals as translators. You have to supply them with a professional CV." argument, well, that may be what they claim... but is it really so? It doesn't take an evil genius to claim they have x years of experience translating this and that, especially if nobody actually verifies such claims (and when you have n-thousand applications and CVs...)

      At any rate, let's just assume that each and every person translating on OHT is in fact a full-fledged professional, I think that makes things even worse, actually... since the 0.05$ psw they pay is really low, and is comparatively much worse than the 0.03$ paid by Gengo to casual translators in my eyes... now, I'd say it's that that does not "SUPPORT the traditional translators", as it is actively contributing to dragging translation rates down in the ever bustling realm of hunger... and what's worse, it's doing that at a global level, since we're talking about worldwide crowdsourcing...

      Oh, and the regular vs. expert thing (or standard vs. pro, or whatever) is kind of a big joke in my opinion. I may be dead wrong, but I think that a biomedical/legal/engineering firm that wants their super technical copy translated will never resort to OHT (Gengo at least clearly states it will only provide a "gist" translation in such cases)... or at least I never would. And besides, if you're serious about your work, you're going to refuse a job that does not match your expertise and do your best in every other case, no matter what (random) label may be attached to that assignment: 'pro', 'standard', 'regular', 'expert', 'cake with icing on top', or whatever... so that kind of difference in the 'price tag' is pretty random to me, especially in the case of OHT, as I believe it's the customer who decides what is regular and what is expert, not OHT based on the ACTUAL contents of the text. Of course, if I were to see a contract offered for translation at 0.05$ psw, I wouldn't touch it even with a 10 feet pole, but that's just me... and at this rate, 0.05$ COULD in fact become the 'standard' rate for any kind of translation/localization (or maybe even 0.03$, lol...).

  7. Thank you Anonymous for tipping me off about myGengo's change of name. By the time you read this, it may have been bought up by some conglomerate as ALS was. Meanwhile OHT seems to have money behind it; their ad pops up on, of all places, The Guardian's home web page.

    It's hard to guard against fraud. There are stories of US military interpreter applicants getting friends to take the phone test for them.

    My initial question was whether low-cost agencies using untrained Native Translators would lead to a two-tier market. I hope to write more about this soon.

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