China International Languages Service Conference

David Smith (Director of Constructive Translations) had the great pleasure of attending the 2013 “China International Languages Service Conference” from the 31st of October to the 1st of November 2013. The conference was held at the Grand Mercure Baolong Hotel in Hongkou District, Shanghai. This was the first large-scale official conference for language service providers and their partners in China. The two day event had a full range of talks, meetings and discussions, and allowed the attendees to meet and mingle with other professionals.

David’s first reactions were that “The hotel was “international” which in China means the prices are comparable to western prices. This is fine for people like me but for smaller Chinese companies, they would have been excessive. The cost for breakfast for example was equivalent to around 10 USD, compared with just one or two USD at local breakfast bars. The more affordable the venue, the bigger mix of attendees we can expect to see, and that’s good for everyone.”

Based on what I saw at the conference and prior to that, it seems to me that the Chinese translation industry is still not as developed as that in the UK. For example, there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to determine the quality of a freelance translator. I’m not saying it’s easy to do in the UK at all, but there are relevant academic qualifications and professional memberships which can provide a good baseline. In China, the Translators Association of China (TAC) has little or no testing for its members. There are numerous Universities, offering academic programs in translation which in some cases are equivalent to those in European nations, but there are also many “lower-tier” universities, with lower standards. In China, the freelancers have to “shout loudest” to be heard, rather than being able to rely on their (hopefully) excellent qualifications.

I also noticed that the agencies didn’t seem to differentiate themselves very clearly, with a few important exceptions. Most of the agencies offer similar services and subject areas. At Constructive Translations we believe that the specialization of agencies will lead to reduced costs and increased quality of translations, a win-win for our clients and the broader industry. Without specialization or providing any other value-added services, agencies are only able to compete on prize, creating a race to the bottom for fees, which might be god for customers initially, but which inevitably leads to pay for translators decreasing and highly skilled translators looking elsewhere for work and leaving the industry.

shanghai

Shanghai

On the positive side, there was a huge amount of interest in translation in Shanghai. Large companies realize the importance of multilingual communications as a way to increase their markets and find better suppliers. They also realize that languages are complex and that working with languages is difficult and needs to be given appropriate time and energy. I spoke briefly with some local government officials who were well aware of China’s “pressing” need for improved language services. I look forward to playing my small part in this in the future.

Overall the China International Languages Service Conference was a good place for networking, hearing interesting ideas from colleagues and learning about the translation industry in the East. It is always great to have the opportunity to visit Shanghai too.

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