Reporting from Brussels – Translation Studies Days, part 3

Today I offer you Part 3 of my report on the Translation Studies Days held in Brussels on 20 & 21 September 2012, looking at the three remaining studies that have been published. You can find Part 1 here, and Part 2 here. The fourth and final part, concerning the very interesting Masters and PhD projects presented,  can be found here.

Quantifying quality costs and the cost of poor quality in translation

Actually I posted about this report in June here (also see the interesting reader comments), so I will just add some remarks made by Harro Glastra of DG Translation. In particular Mr Glastra talked about the cost of clarifying originals – does this sound familiar to readers who are translators? 😉 He estimated this at a minimum to cost EUR 315,000 a year, if each translator had to spend just 5 minutes a day on clarification. Of course non-financial costs, such as image loss, reputation loss, legal uncertainty, corrigenda and court cases, have to be added to the above.

Here are a few quotes from Mr Glastra’s talk:

  • “Quality in translation is often taken for granted.”
  • “Let’s not forget the poor originals.”
  • “Translators need to be allowed enough time and training to do a good job.”


This study is described as an exploration of its “usefulness for the DGT, the Commission and the EU”. So what is ‘Intercomprehension’ I hear you ask? (Well I hope you ask, because I hadn’t heard of it before, and I don’t want to be the only one!)

A definition taken from page 1 of the report:

Intercomprehension refers to a relationship between languages in which speakers of different but related languages can readily understand each other without intentional study or extraordinary effort. It is a form of communication in which each person uses his/her own language and understands that of the other(s). 

Simple really. 😉

So how does this apply in practice? Mr Johan Häggman, from DG Translation’s Unit for Multilingualism and Translation Studies, explained that it was not only aimed at saving translation costs, but also for use in horizontal Units, in editing and communication departments.  He explained that this ability may be inherent, but can also be acquired. He also suggested that it might be more cost-effective for translators to learn related languages – e.g. an Italian translator learning Spanish or Portuguese.  Mr Häggman emphasized the need for a positive attitude and awareness.

The report covers the background of intercomprehension, its applications in language teaching & learning and in daily life, and gives examples from Scandinavia, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, from the Dutch-German border area, and from Switzerland as well as outlining its role in the private sector (case studies of airlines) in addition to within the Commission.


Ouch. A sensitive subject! Flavia Frangini, also from the DG Translation’s Unit for Multilingualism and Translation Studies, enthusiastically presented us with some main concepts from this report.

They included: crowdsourcing as a means to improve machine translation, use in social media and in the information/non-profit sectors, and in audiovisual work (ouch again). Ms Frangini also referred to other applications such as dictionary forums (e.g., and Wikipedia, as well as emphasizing its role in making consumers more active, raising commitment, coping with demand, and fostering multilingualism.

The report examines the theoretical impact of crowdsourcing, as well as its impact on the translation profession. As far as I can see, the authors take a very favourable stance on the issue – for example:

[…] once we realise and accept that crowdsourcing, like other innovations, is here to stay and is set to expand further in the future, the issue is no longer whether we want it or not, but rather how to best manage it and how to exploit it to the advantage of the profession and of the users. Indeed, the new opportunities it opens up should not be underestimated either and the great potential of the collaborative way of working should be further explored with a view to applying and adapting it to professional and not merely amateur translation. 

What do you think about crowdsourcing?


Here is a selection of comments from the round table discussing the above three issues:

  • “OECD meetings are no longer interpreted, everyone speaks indifferently English or French and it is assumed that attendees all understand and can express themselves.”
  • “Different levels of quality to meet different needs”
  • “the more you outsource the more you draw from lower levels of quality.”
  • “At a certain point of low quality, it’s better to redo the translation from scratch.”
  • “Originals are getting better as a result of translation.”
  • “Legal counsel could improve their texts.”
  • “Translators will produce good work if they know what the skopos is.”
  • “Behind crowdsourcing may be other agendas.”
  • “What is acceptable quality depends on the price point.”
  • “Intercomprehension avoids imperialism of languages.”
  • “Poor quality of originals – there is a need to press this point – people who produce texts should be held accountable.”

Other conference reports can be found by selecting “Conferences” from the list of Categories in the sidebar on the left-hand side of the blog.

5 thoughts on “Reporting from Brussels – Translation Studies Days, part 3

  1. Pingback: Reporting from Brussels – Translation Studies Days, part 1 « From Words to Deeds: translation & the law

  2. Pingback: Reporting from Brussels – Translation Studies Days, part 2 « From Words to Deeds: translation & the law

  3. Pingback: Reporting from Brussels – Translation Studies Days, part 4 « From Words to Deeds: translation & the law

  4. Pingback: Weekly favorites (Nov 19-25) | Adventures in Freelance Translation

  5. Pingback: Translating Europe Days 2013, Brussels | From Words to Deeds: translation & the law

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