Lowest Price Technically Acceptable (“LPTA”) and Language Interpretation Services

language interpreter skillsIn the past LPTA was used mostly to purchase services, where the risk of unsuccessful contract performance is minimal (for example, janitorial services). Now it is used more and more to identify suppliers for “white collar” professional services.

“You only get what you pay for” was, is, and will be a true statement. On the other hand, a more or less objective way needs to be found by a client to draw the conclusion that he is buying the best value.Can LPTA be used for language interpretation services?

The “lowest price” should not be interpreted by potential clients of translation services as the lowest number in dollars (or other currency a translation agency is using in an estimate or a response to RFQ). We need other qualifications to take into consideration.

Yes, you do not choose your surgeon, for example,  based on the lowest cost after all. Interpreter’s work may be as critical. We may propose an assumption that some markets are segmented by definition and that clients need to be aware of that segmentation. If you want a Q-tip to wipe a keyboard, you will probably not need a medical grade, sterilized organic cotton biodegradable nontoxic hypoallergenic fair trade Q-tip. A box of cheap stuff will be enough. And it is normal.

With professional language interpretation services, “quick and dirty” is not really an option, however. Well, it is, but do you really want to bet the future of your project and maybe your own job on this? Moreover, if you have spent so much time and effort preparing for a conference, it will all be wasted if interpretation is poor.

Comparisons, therefore, should be made based on quality of interpreters, proposed by the translation agency. The main question that you as a client should ask yourself is: “What are the levels or tiers of quality of the interpreters I am being offered, and what is the acceptable level?” Or to restate it: “How bad do I want excellent quality?”

Clearly there will be a difference between a recent student, a court interpreter, a medical interpreter, and an experienced conference interpreter. So, first of all, you need a correct “kind” of interpreter, because using a court interpreter or a medical interpreter for a technical conference (unless it is legal or medical in nature, and even that may not always be true, because the interpreter may not have other required skills) would be counterproductive.

There are several specializations among professional interpreters any client should be aware of. Then, you should review pricing offered by potential contractors based on the level of quality and experience within the same group of interpreters with the same specialization (e.g. all professional conference interpreters with 10+ years of experience and Master’s degree in interpretation, who are members of a particular professional interpreters association), and after that the decision is really easy.

You just need to find the lowest price in the quality bracket you need, instead of trying to compare apples and oranges. A few practical considerations for potential clients:

–          you must request and collect resumes of potential interpreters for your project from the translation agency for your specific project or conference. –   you should review the resumes carefully for a number of criteria: experience, particular skills you need, membership in professional interpreter associations that have strict admission requirements (not just “pay and join”), previous clients, references, etc.

–          remember that you cannot buy a Space Shuttle for the price of a car, not even for the price of a Boeing. If you need a car, or can only afford a car – buy a car. But do not expect it to fly.

–          75201112_languagesbeware of “bait and switch”, when an unscrupulous agency may send you resumes of very experienced interpreters, but later, after contract award, will say they are “no longer available” and send much less suitable or less experienced interpreters to work with you.

It is not what you bargained for, because you wanted a certain level of quality and that level is to be maintained. It may be the agency’s way to “cut corners” or maximize its own profit. To avoid it, collect as many interpreter resumes as reasonably possible and stay with these interpreters.  Specify interpreter qualifications in your contract or book specific interpreters by name.

If there is a substitution (things happen), the new interpreter must be equally experienced, have a similar resume and belong to the same professional organizations.  

“Technically acceptable” is a very tricky language. Do you want to drive a “technically acceptable car”, or a car that you actually enjoy driving?  Do you want to eat “technically acceptable” lunch, or enjoy what you are eating and remember the experience?  

yay-1662014Same with interpretation services: on some level, you are buying an experience, not just a service of someone who speaks a foreign language. You are buying a professional service not dissimilar to that of an experienced surgeon or a lawyer.

You will be working with top notch professionals, who know what they are doing and devoted their lives to the profession. It will not be ‘err..well.. just above acceptable.” Getting that experience – in our understanding – constitutes “technically acceptable”, and not just the lowest price tag.

Awarding contracts to the bidder with the lowest number will turn professional interpretation services into a commodity, devalue the profession, and – most importantly – will cut you off from the supply of truly experienced and gifted professionals, who would, otherwise, be readily available.                 

And, most importantly, build a relationship with your language provider. They are here to help you in the best possible way, and the most important thing for a professional translation and interpretation agency is its reputation. 

They say in our business that best interpreters are not noticed, but when you need them they are always there to help. Only poor quality attracts attention.

Same is true for interpretation agencies:  a truly reliable high quality language services provider will fit into your project seamlessly.