Unbabel Review: OK for Occasional Work But Not an Earner for Professional Translators
Unbabel is an online translation company based in San Francisco, California and in Lisbon, Portugal. It was founded in March 2014.
Their official press release says: “Unbabel is a new kind of online translation service that provides human quality translation at 1/5th the going rate. Internationalization is the easiest way to get new customers.”
Their Facebook page says: “Unbabel offers an online translation service that combines Artificial Intelligence with Crowd Post-Editing, to provide seamless translation.” and “Unbabel is a technology startup, part of the YCombinator W2014 class.”
Unbabel received an additional $1.5 million in funding; it is a private company and not much information is available in the public domain (see Techcrunch article).
The site puts emphasis on offering good value for money to clients: in 2015 prices advertised on the site ranged from $0.03 to $0.10 per word.
Prices are the same for all languages. This can be an issue, as some languages like German require more editing time, and this in turns affects the earnings for editors.
How Unbabel Works
Unbabel's unique selling point for attracting new clients is that, besides being cost-effective, translations can be ready within 10 minutes (depending on the languages chosen) and with an average turnover of 24 hours.
Each piece of text is broken down into micro-tasks and allocated to workers and is processed three times: first, it is translated by a translation robot, then it is edited by a human, and finally a senior editor reviews it and makes any necessary changes before sending the text to the client.
Translators are defined as "editors" (more on that later), as technically their role is to improve a completed machine translation.
How Many Languages Are Featured in Unbabel?
As of 2015, Unbabel had 15 languages and more than 40,000 editors. Again, if you join Unbabel to translate text, you are called an editor and not a translator. Your role is to edit and improve machine-rendered translations to make them sound more natural.
This is the list of available languages (as of 2015):
- Chinese (Traditional)
- Chinese (simplified)
- Portuguese (BR)
- Spanish (Latam)
Creating a Profile on Unbabel
I decided to create a profile on Unbabel because I am a native Italian speaker and a fluent English speaker, having lived in the UK for twenty years. I thought the website looked interesting.
I have always enjoyed translating text and I thought it would be a good idea to earn something using my language skills.
Unbabel's Recruiting and Evaluation Process
Earning money translating (or rather, editing translated text) on Unbabel can take two weeks from your initial sign up. You get paid by PayPal once you reach a minimum earning of $5. Remember that you must wait 5-7 working days (at least a whole calendar week) before your money appears in your PayPal account, and of course PayPal will deduct a fee.
Step 1: Create a Profile
This is very straightforward and only takes a couple of minutes to set up.
You can only choose one language as your mother tongue. You can then add more languages that you are fluent in.
Step 2: Pass a Translation Exam
You will need to pass a translation exam and you should receive an email with the exam results after 24 hours.
Step 3: Complete Some Training Tasks
You will be given some unpaid tasks that you need to complete and receive feedback on before you are allowed to start working on paid tasks. You need to reach 500 points to become an editor.
Step 4: Receive Feedback
While Unbabel bases your pay on speed rather than accuracy, fellow editors who are reviewing and scoring your work will rate your tasks on the basis of accuracy and how much the end result sounds like the native language.
It might take a week or longer to receive feedback: during that time you are not allowed to take on paid tasks, which is rather frustrating.
In my case, I received the first feedback one week after signing up, and became a paid editor two days after my first feedback.
Step 5: Work on Paid Tasks
As and when paid tasks become available—it is suggested that you download the Chrome plugin that notifies you when tasks go live, otherwise you will be forever refreshing the "paid tasks" page—try to turn around translations as quickly and accurately as possible.
Step 6: Become a Senior Editor
Only editors who regularly engage with the Unbabel community and deliver high-quality tasks consistently are hand-picked to become senior editors (no guidelines are available about this process).
Senior editors handle the relationship with clients and get to review the completed tasks from other editors before sending the translations to the clients. Senior editors must reply to any questions the clients may have and are responsible for the collective work completed by editors. A translation project is broken down into paid tasks and more than one editor will be working on a number of tasks. The final project must be cohesive and have the same look and feel throughout, regardless of how many people have been working on it.
Senior editors are paid to review other people's work (this is different from the feedback given to free/training tasks). In internet forums, however, senior editors have complained that the rate of pay is too low and does not justify the time they spend reviewing.
Update: New Feedback System
From March 2016 Unbabel introduced a new evaluation system designed to be more impartial. A team of professional evaluators select editors at random and score their translations. If their score is high enough they can continue to work at Unbabel. The score is final and cannot be disputed.
Is It Worth Rating Other People on Unbabel? The Answer is No
Unless you are a senior editor, you don't get paid to rate other people's tasks.
Whether it is a training task or a paid task, you as a reviewer will simply spend time assessing the quality of other editors' work. On top of this, some editors may disagree with your score and you waste more time explaining your motivations.
The most active members of the community get rewarded by points, but points are not linked to remuneration. However, if you look at the leaderboard of "Top Unbabelers", the editors at the top spend very little time giving feedback and focus mostly on paid tasks and on reducing their average time spent translating, because faster work means more money.
In a nutshell: save yourself the trouble.
How many languages do you speak?
Pros, Cons and Insights: Working on Unbabel
Insights from online forums
Opportunity to learn some money as a freelance translator (or as a multilingual individual)
Unbabel is still a young site, as it was founded in 2014.
In internet forums, editors have complained that they have been scored low on purpose by other editors in order to reduce competition on specific languages.
Opportunity to connect with other editors in the Unbabel community
Paid tasks can be few and far between, depending on languages chosen.
The site pays too little according to professional translators.
Access projects in real time without having to submit proposals
When paid tasks become available, there is a scramble to grab them so if you are not online when tasks are released you won't get the chance to complete paid work.
Senior editors earn very little to review other people's work.
A Familiar Message...
And Another Familiar Message: Training Tasks
How Often Are Paid Tasks Available on Unbabel?
Depending on the language pair (Portuguese/English is very popular for example, and Russian/English too) and how many clients Unbabel can attract, you may expect to find between 1 and 10 paid tasks per day if you check the website quite regularly. Sometimes there are peaks of hundreds of paid tasks in one day if Unbabel receives multiple projects from clients in one day. However, there is no guarantee that when you log in you will find a paid task waiting for you.
With each tasks being paid a few cents each, you do the maths...
How Much Can I Earn on Unbabel?
Unfortunately there is no way you can predict how much you will earn on Unbabel because it all depends on how successful the site is at attracting paying clients.
Also, earnings depend on whether you are online at the right time when tasks become available, and how popular a language is.
You can check the leaderboard of editors on the site: the most active and popular editors are ranked in terms of points and how many tasks they completed. This information is available to registered editors. If you click on an individual profile you will see:
the number of completed tasks
the number of words translated
the average time per word
the number of feedbacks given
Remember that you are not paid for feedbacks and that your hourly rate will go up if you are faster than others in completing paid tasks.
For example, at the top of the weekly leaderboard one editor had completed 400 tasks, while the all-time top of the leaderboard editor had completed more than 15,000 tasks.
High-scoring editors tend to process tasks in less than 2 seconds per word.
I asked the Unbabel support team for an explanation of why giving feedback only gives you points and does not earn you money; their reply was “points are not converted into payment - they are just a measure of your activity on the platform.”
Bonus Feature: Tips from Experienced Editors
When talking to other editors in the Unbabel community, I learned so much about how to make the most of your experience on the site.
These are the most useful tips I have gathered:
- Start by making your translations as accurate as possible and then start working on your speed as your earnings will increase the faster you get
- If a task seems too time-consuming, skip it and move on to the next so that you don't affect your editing time
- Avoid using the Unbabel mobile app as it's more cumbersome to use and that affects your editing time. use the website instead
- Be very careful when using accents, as you can get penalised for not using them or using the wrong ones in their respective languages
The onus of having a team of high-quality editors sits firmly on the editor's shoulders. This is a nice low-risk business model for Unbabel, as they don't have to pay someone to assess the quality of work of their freelance collaborators on joining.
If you are looking for a website to earn some money, Unbabel does not quite fit the bill. However, if you want to keep your language skills up to date, this website is like playing sudoku or a crosswords puzzle: the gamification element of translation is rather attractive.
My Suggestions to Unbabel
I have some suggestions to Unbabel is to improve the user experience for workers, which in turn will result in better staff retention, a higher quality of completed paid tasks and, most importantly, happier paying translation clients.
1. To achieve that, Unbabel should make the feedback process a paid task to incentivise editors to check the quality of other editors' work.
2. A useful feature would be an up-to-date status report on the homepage showing which languages are in most demand that day.
3. Feedback on training tasks should bear a label: high priority for editors that need to achieve 500 points and enough ratings to start accessing paid tasks, and low priority for editors who simply want to improve their ratings after being accepted for paid work.