American Translators Association calls for fair localization

The American Translators Association (ATA) called Tuesday for the entertainment industry to fairly compensate translators, heating up an ongoing debate about the localization workforce. 

The largest professional organization for translators and interpreters in the U.S., the ATA posted an open letter in response to a perceived shortage of translators and subtitlers. According to the ATA, the real problem is a lack of willingness to pay translators what they’re worth. 

“There is no shortage, but instead a disconnect between the value of this skilled work and the pay offered, leading to a perceived lack of qualified professionals available for these jobs and subpar subtitles in the world’s most popular titles in film and TV,” ATA President Madalena Sánchez Zampaulo stated in the letter.

It’s the latest in an ongoing debate about fairness and work conditions within the entertainment localization industry, prompted in part by the explosive popularity of Netflix’s Squid Game. According to press coverage from Another World and elsewhere, Netflix paid $13 per minute for translation from Korean audio to English subtitles, with only a fraction of that going to the translators themselves. 

“The veritable explosion of international entertainment options is a positive development and producing high-quality subtitles is in the best interest of studios, streaming platforms, and viewers,” the open letter reads. “The professionals who work painstakingly to craft the multilingual versions of our favorite movies and shows should be able to share in the revenue generated thanks to their work.”

And if streaming services are slow to equitably share that revenue, the ATA believes they could see roadblocks in their plans for global expansion.

“If this continues, I would not be surprised if qualified and experienced subtitlers and translators decide to look to other areas of specialization in industries that do value their knowledge and expertise,” Sánchez Zampaulo told MultiLingual. “Then, yes, there will most definitely be a decrease in the number of professionals who see this as a sustainable career path. This, in turn, will affect studios’ and streaming platforms’ bottom lines because viewers in international audiences will not stand for poor subtitles.”

Data suggests the ATA’s predictions might already be coming true. For instance, the Entertainment Globalization Association has already released an initial study regarding user satisfaction with localized content in France, Italy, Germany, and Spain. A majority of respondents reported quitting a show at least once due to poor localization. 

“On behalf of the American Translators Association, I urge film and television production studios and the language service providers they contract with to refocus on a quality subtitling process, which starts with hiring professional subtitlers at professional rates rather than unskilled multilingual labor at pay that can work out to well below minimum wage,” Sánchez Zampaulo said. 

Note: This article has been update with additional comments directly from the ATA. 

Cameron Rasmusson
Cameron Rasmusson is a writer and journalist. His first job out of the University of Montana School of Journalism took him to Sandpoint, Idaho as a staff writer for the Bonner County Daily Bee. Since 2010 he's honed his skills as a writer and reporter, joining the MultiLingual staff as Editor-in-Chief in 2021.

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