_TL: TransPerfect Translations - Not Quite Perfect After All

It'd be tough to find a mass-distributed publication in America that's more right-wing or capitalism-friendly than Reader's Digest, but Margaret Heffernan's chirpy little article on Liz Elting and TransPerfect Translations ("The Leader in Global Language and Business Services") is even more fawning than usual.

I'm sure it's just because I'm evil, but it strikes me that RD's TransPerfect-love-fest-and-Liz-Elting-beatification-project article bears all the earmarks of a plant, the sort of corporate shill-work-for-pay for which the publication has already earned itself a certain reputation.

But let's assume I'm wrong. Let's assume TransPerfect's publicist didn't write the article and pay Reader's Digest to publish it. Let's assume Margaret Heffernan really did interview Liz Elting and that RD really did send celebrity photographer Melanie Dunea to capture Elting in her "Sex & the City" drag, all so the magazine could name her an "inspiring person" and wax sycophantic about how "Her Company Spells Success in More Than 100 Languages."

None of that's really the problem.

The problem is what Liz Elting doesn't tell you in her amazing "we invented it in our dorm room at college" rags-to-riches story. What she doesn't tell you is that one of the main reasons that Liz Elting and Phil Shawe raked in $221 million in 2009 is that their corporate policy is (1) to pay translators as little as possible and to maintain constant downward pressure on fees and (2) to work hard to create new and inventive ways to pay translators less, including forcing them to use proprietary CAT software and translation memories (which, in turn, become the justification for imposing additional discounts on their work).

TransPerfect may be "the" leader in global language and blah blah, but it's also a leader in perverting the client/translator relationship through its practice of imposing take-it-or-leave it fees on translators, who have little or no bargaining power in the transaction.

I'm not a big fan of the ProZ Blue Board, which deserves to be renamed the Brown (Nose) Board, but it's worth noting the number of 1s and 2s (on a "likelihood of working again" scale of 5) that TransPerfect earned from its translators between January 2009 and the present: 24%.

In other words, while Liz Elting was doing all she could to keep her clients happy in her busy, busy days as wife, baseball mom, and capitalist paragon, one-fourth of her employees were pretty disgruntled.

And that's hardly a shock. TransPerfect is the Wal*Mart of translation: huge, omnivorous, aggressive, and worker-unfriendly. (And isn't it always the case that workers wind up being the wrench in the wheel of corporate greed?)

Don't think it matters? Think again. Wal*Mart has taught the entire retail industry just how much you could abuse people who needed jobs and get away with it. What do you think TransPerfect is teaching translation outsourcers about how to work with translation professionals?

Sure, Liz Elting and Phil Shawe haven't gone quite so far as to take out "dead peasant insurance" on their "linguists" in the finest traditions of Wal*Mart. At least, I assume they haven't. Perhaps someone should check.

But here's a verifiable fact that I find both chilling and significant: In Heffernan's entire 850-word grovel, including her Q&A with Elting, one important word never appears: "translator."

Not even once.


  1. Bravo! As a former disgruntled TPT employee, I applaud you.

  2. I guess my nose served me well once again - I received an application from TPT a couple of years ago and threw it in the garbage just because of the way it was written.

  3. From a July 2010 posting to an American translators listserv:

    "Transperfect, a leading world translation agency, with offices in London, New York and elsewhere, has boasted of record profits in 2009. This has not prevented it from offering increasingly insulting rates. Below is an offer I received today for a "short" text of 696 words, at $25, which works out at less than $0.04 per word.

    Transperfect was recently the subject of strong criticism on this forum, particularly due to its low rates. The above offer shows not only its thick-skinned attitude and policy but that it has reached new depths.

    I urge each of you to write to this Project Coordinator, as well as to any other representatives of Transperfect whose e-mail addresses you may have, and to protest at this attempt to obtain translating services for almost no payment."

    Contact: Anne-Claire Lord, Project Coordinator, TransPerfect Translations," London,

  4. Some additional Transperfect "repeat offenders":

    Jennifer Adie
    Sara Hutchison
    Hyojin Park
    Jennifer Bucci
    Michael Petrigliano
    Zachary Eldridge
    Amy DiTrani
    Anne Fang
    Cristina Farelo
    Sung Ha Lee
    Pearl Leo

  5. Thanks very much for your very enlightening revelations. Maybe the following will be of interest:

    A few days ago I received the following mail via a colleague from a certain Alan Leber from TransPerfect (his name isn't included in the above list, so maybe he's new):

    "Hello, I hope this email finds you well.

    I am writing as TransPerfect is beginning an extremely large DE>EN translation project. The scope of this project is in the millions of words, so we will certainly need to involve a great many linguists in this endeavor.

    We expect this project to begin as soon as Monday, August 9th, and will continue until October of this year. For the duration of this project, we would love to give you as much work as you can successfully handle. If you find the thought of having a consistent flow of work for several months appealing, this could be an interesting project to be involved with.

    We also want to take this opportunity for you to recommend any colleagues who are also DE>EN translators. Please have all interested linguists contact us at the email listed below. There will certainly be no shortage of work for anyone due to the size of this engagement.

    **EXTREMELY IMPORTANT: Due to specific restrictions, linguists MUST be located within the European Union while working on this project and everyone must sign a project-specific Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). This agreement will ensure our client's privacy, and authorize your involvement in the project.**

    Currently, we cannot release further details on the project, but wanted to take a moment to let you know the general scope and to gauge your interest.

    If you are interested in being on our contact list for this project, please send an email containing the following information to DE@TRANSPERFECT.COM.

    - Full Name
    - CV
    - Current Email address(es)
    - Current Phone number(s)

    Additionally, please have all qualified colleagues also email the same information to the email address listed above. We will certainly be in contact with everyone once further information is available, and as files begin rolling in for translation.

    Thank you very much for your time--we look forward to working with you over the coming months.



    Alan Leber
    Project Manager

    Three Park Avenue
    New York, NY 10016

    Skype: tpt_aleber

    t +1 212.689.5555 x1132

    TransPerfect is ISO 9001:2008 and EN 15038:2006 certified.

    Please do not begin work on a project without a purchase order.

    Please upload all invoices to

    For payment support, visit

    IMPORTANT: Please note that all projects will be paid in USD only."

    Quite apart from anything else, this so-called "project" was supposed to be getting under way on August 9th. I received the message just a few days earlier - as one can see, there's absolutely no information given as to what the whole thing is supposed to be about.

    Nuff said about this outfit, methinks ....

  6. Yes, I agree that sometimes the rates they offer are ridiculous, and the only way out is just not to take the job. I still work for them and I have learned (still on it) to take only jobs I know will bring benefit in.
    Beware of "small", "little" and "interesting" jobs.
    It works for me that way, only it is a pain you never know what to do when a PM does not send you the right PO, other than pestering them. The fact that translators do not have any support, no one to complain to. Of course, PM get the complaints but they are like a shield for the really responsible ones.

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