Badly translated EU documents 2/Schlecht übersetzte EU-Dokumente 2

A note about outsourcing – see also the comments to the last entry.

Here, under Closed calls for tender, the DG-T gives information of some past tenders. I’m looking at the PDF file for Translation — Legal and judicial documents of the EU for 2008 translations into English. They look like agencies on the whole, although Viesel Legal Translations in Trier are three members of the same family who do all their translations in-house. I haven’t checked further though.

At the top of that file you can see that the price range was from 14 to 55 EUR/page. A page means 1500 characters without spaces. I just checked a judgment I was translating, and in the English translation 1500 characters without spaces equalled 1808 with (in the German original 1723 – words are longer, especially in legal texts). That’s nearly 33 lines (55 characters including spaces) by normal German reckoning, so line prices ranged from 42 cents to 1.66 euros.

The question then arises to how much an agency’s translator gets, and how you price yourself – if you are at the 1.66 end, will you get offered no work? (I regard 1.66 as rather low for a demanding legal translation). A person might be happy to get 1.66 if regular work could be expected, but I don’t think that’s the case.

If I understand it right, the translation department creates a list ranking the translators who have been accepted. This is based on expected cost-effectiveness (price-performance ratio). But every translation returned is evaluated and the ranks change. For example, you might make a fairly low offer and be ranked at the top of the list, but if your translation is rated B+ rather than A (or whatever scale they use) you could slide down the list, and finish getting scarcely any work at all, especially if you ask for normal rather than low payment.

Here are Lists of contractors. This PDF shows all the translators and agencies used in 2011, how many contracts each was awarded and how much they earned during the year.

On another point: there are two grounds of complaint by the Bundestag: one, where documents are not available in German at all – here’s a German article on that from 2008 – and the other, where they are badly translated. It’s the latter we are discussing.


I don’t work for the EU and never have (I had a short experience of the CJEU, but that was different at that time and is another story). Hence what I am writing here is based on what I’ve heard. I did once bid on a tender (hope I’m getting the vocabulary right), but I missed the posting date because I was waiting for some document or other.

I should have mentioned that in order to bid for a lot, you have to put a lot of paperwork together. If you are accepted and are found useful in the course of the year or two or whatever period the contract runs, this has no effect on you having to put all the paperwork together for the next bid. So you have this effort to make again and you can never be sure of the work in the long term (if you could be sure of it even in the short term).

It’s been written elsewhere that the lowest price wins out. That is not actually true, because there’s a ranking system, as I wrote above. I gather that the ranking system is weighted in favour of price, but it isn’t completely about price. Translators complain a lot about agencies which give work to the lowest bidder irrespective of quality and then try to get more experienced translators to correct that work. Clearly the EU ranking system is an attempt to improve on this price-only system, but I don’t know that it works very well.

It should also be noted that the range of prices from 14 to 55 euros mentioned above includes people or language combinations for low-wage countries, so one shouldn’t conclude that translators living in Germany get the 14 euro figure.

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