Posted by: patenttranslator | December 18, 2014

The Many Faces of Arrogance


I think it was Shakespeare who said that love has so many faces that the whole world is just a carnival. But, be that as it may, so does arrogance. Shakespeare probably said as much too, in another play.

Everyone who has been in business for a while can probably remember a few customers who were very difficult to deal with due to their shameless arrogance and hubris.

The case of one particularly arrogant SOB, owner of a small translation agency, is still vivid in my memory, although the event that I will now describe happened about 25 years ago and this particular person died about 10 years ago – the agency is now run by a relative of his. I am being intentionally vague here … after all, as they used to say in ancient Rome – de mortuis nihil nisi bene [nothing unless good things should be said about the dead]. Since I can’t think of anything good to say about this man, I will instead not disclose his identity in deference to the old and wise rule about how to speak about those who are no longer with us.

I was translating for his agency Japanese patents back then regularly for quite a few months. Every time when I would finish one batch, they would send me another one, by Federal Express, because this was in 1988 or 89, before the Internet. And they would then regularly mail me a check after a month or so. Until at one point, when the agency owed me close to three thousand dollars, no check arrived to my mailbox even after about 6 weeks.

So I called the agency to politely inquire what happened. I normally dealt with a project manager there who was always very pleasant and polite, but since she had no idea what happened, she said she would let me talk to the owner. Within seconds after I explained to him again that I was calling because I had not received payment yet for my work, he said, while raising his voice to an unpleasant pitch:”What are you insinuating? We mailed the check to you two weeks ago!”

Insinuating? I was “insinuating” that I needed the money because I had a bunch of unpaid bills on my desk. But I was trying to be polite, although it was hard for me to control my anger at being treated this way. So he said that he would look into it. Next day he called and said that after checking with his bank, it turned out that the check that was (allegedly) mailed two weeks ago indeed had not cleared yet.

I knew that, of course, and he too must have known that I knew that – otherwise I would not be asking about it, unless it somehow slipped my mind that I already got the money and deposited the three thousand dollars, right?

He then magnanimously offered to send me another check, by Federal Express this time, but only if I agreed to pay the bank cancellation charge for the first, phantom check, and also the FedEx charge. I accepted, of course – what else was I supposed to do? But inside I was seething with anger.

I received the new check, minus the two charges, next day. And lo and behold, a few days later the phantom check did turn up in my mail. The postmark on the envelope was two weeks old, but I didn’t know whether the letter was really in the mail for more than two weeks. It was certainly possible. But it was also quite possible that he only mailed it two days ago because the postage was printed on a mailing machine in his office and he could probably change the date on the machine quite easily, or print an envelope and then sit on it until he himself got paid.

Maybe he found a brilliant technique that he invented to make translators wait for their money one more month while being able to humiliate them to his heart’s content, and yet appearing completely blameless for the delay.

An although I will never know for sure, I think that this was what was really going on.

A few days after that, the pleasant project manager called me again from the office of this unpleasant man. (Incidentally, I found out by Googling her name that she now has her own translation agency). She told me that she was about to send more Japanese patents for translation to me, and seemed genuinely surprised when I told her that I would never work again for her company because I did not appreciate the way I was treated by her boss. “He can be a bit gruff”, she admitted as she was trying to no avail to soften me up to accept a new  job.


Although there would be later quite a few of similar cases when I was treated like a piece of garbage by a dear customer, I am not going to try to list all of those that I remember.

Most of them are not seared permanently in my memory as the first one is anyway, probably because that was the first case when I was treated in such a manner by a customer. A good thing about our memory is that we tend to remember the good things more than the bad things that happened to us, especially from the time when we were much younger.

So I will now fast forward 25 years to another example of the many faces of arrogance. This one is from October, 2014, a little over two months ago. Every week I get a few requests to submit a price quote from people who find my website while looking for a translation of a patent from Japanese, German, French, Russian, or another language. I give them a price, based on the estimated word count in English, and sometime I get the job, and sometime I don’t.

When one of the customers who sent me one of those requests to bid in October told me by e-mail to go ahead with the translation, I started doing a little due diligence to find out who they were.

I have different rules for different customers when it comes to accepting a translation. If it is a private individual, I generally ask for a down payment of 50%, and when the translation is done, I e-mail them that the job is ready for delivery upon payment of the remaining balance to my PayPal account.

But when it is a translation agency, or for example a corporation or a law firm, I simply bill them and hope to get eventually paid after 30 days, because that is how these things are done.

From the look of their website, this customer was a major patent law firm in Holland, with dozens of patent lawyers. I was dealing (by e-mail only) with a “trainee patent attorney” at the firm, but since I had all the requisite contact information, the e-mail, phone and fax number, mailing address and the file case number, and the law firm seemed solid, I did not ask for down payment and I did not use the routine that I reserve for private individuals who are completely unknown to me. A few days later I delivered my translation, which was received with thanks, along with my invoice.

When no payment was received after five weeks, I sent them my first reminder. That is my standard operating procedure. Then a second one a week later. It is not unusual when the first reminder is ignored. But when I send a second one, the customer usually responds with some kind of a face saving excuse, such as “the checks for the last batch were already cut, we will pay you with the next batch”. That is mostly what large companies do, while small companies sometime say things like “my accountant is on vacation, so you will have to wait a little longer”.

But there was no response at all this time. So I tried to fax and e-mail at the same time. But their fax for some reason did not want to “shake hands” with my fax, it just kept on ringing. I did eventually get an automated response to my e-mail from the trainee patent attorney who placed the order which said that she was going to be away until the end of January. Since that e-mail also had the contact phone numbers and e-mails of two other attorneys on “her team for emergencies”, I sent my third, fourth, and fifth past-due invoice reminders (I always number them) to all of them and I tried to call them to find out what was going on.

At first, my telephone calls went straight to voice mail, which had not identifying information whatsoever other than the telephone number. The fifth time when I tried to contact them, the phone numbers just kept ringing, just like the fax, and there was no answer.

So here I thought that I was pretty safe because I had all the contact information that I needed to demand payment from the company, but it seemed that there was nobody to contact. Even the mailing address was just a P.O. Box number. So I e-mailed as well as mailed my fifth past-due invoice reminder to all the three attorneys and adjusted the amount of my receivables downward by reducing it by about a thousand dollars, because that was the amount the law firm owed me and I did not know whether I would ever be reimbursed for my work.

At that point I realized that it was very likely that I would never get paid for this translation. Perhaps the trainee attorney ordered the translation without proper authorization. Or perhaps the company was going bankrupt. Or maybe there was another reason why they were ignoring me, although I could not figure out what that would be.

I decided that I would try to deal with this problem next year, when the trainee attorney who ordered the translation came back to work – if she ever did. In the meantime, I had to concentrate on other translations that I had to be taken care of immediately.


Last week when I was checking my bank account balance, I noticed that the available balance was a little higher than what I thought it would be. At first I thought that maybe a translator who did some work for me did not deposit my check yet. But then I saw that my check was received by the translator, but there was a transfer of about a thousand dollars to my account from Holland.

And that was when I realized that the law firm did get all of my reminders, including my voice mails, and the invoices I mailed by snail mail. But in the absence of the trainee patent attorney, nobody wanted to talk to me as I was not important enough to them to let me know what was going on, namely that this company pays in 60 days, regardless of what is on invoices of their “vendors”.

Still, I realized that I got lucky this time. They could for example have gone bankrupt on me, because that is one way how any company can get out of its obligations. In fact I did think that this was most likely what was happening.

They could have saved me a lot of anguish and time with a few words in an e-mail, but why bother. They just let me stew in my own juices instead.

Arrogance has so many faces that the whole world is just a carnival. But maybe arrogance of others is just another test of who we really are. If we can deal with it without losing our cool, and without heaping our own arrogance and hubris onto others, we are on a winning streak in the game of life.

And since money is a good way to keep score and it so happens that I did get my money in both cases described in my silly post today, both entertaining and highly educational encounters with arrogance and hubris described above, the one from 25 years ago and the one from 2 months ago, were just 2 of countless life lessons which are no doubt meant and designed by a higher power to educate and enlighten us.

Posted by: patenttranslator | December 14, 2014

This Weird Trick Will Solve All Of Your Problems


I have a small, private museum in my humble house, with hundreds of exhibits in it arranged in this little museum on the shelves of six or seven bookcases standing guard around the walls in my office and also spilling out to bookcases in the hallway leading to the office.

These exhibits are called dictionaries. They are silent witnesses to an age that was much more innocent and much more honest than our mendacious and deceitful modern age.

Our modern age is based on a pervasive belief in the efficacy of something called “a weird trick”, a simple and instantaneous solution that is sufficient and adequate for every problem. The smartest and most successful people of our modern age are those who figured out how to make people buy the notion of such a weird trick, which is something that can be sold to as many people as possible under the false promise that it will solve a problem that they may or may not have.

Just look at your own spam folder. It is full of e-mails that say:”this weird trick will erase your wrinkles, make you look 20 years younger, make you learn a language in 10 days or your money back (I wrote about that particular lie in a post two years ago), stop the progress of your diabetes, reverse your hearing loss, give your partner (if you have one) incredibly powerful and long-lasting orgasms, stimulate your brain (if you have one) and bestow perfect health upon you, cure your tinnitus (ringing in your ears), make you lose 30 pounds by eating food high in calories, give you a perfect 20/20 vision without surgery or corrective lenses …. the list goes on and on.

The only thing that does not seem to be promised in this list of instant cures for everything, dumped unread many times daily into the trash folder, is life eternal.

That’s because that particular line of business has already been taken over by powerful competition in the form of an extremely lucrative line of products and services generically referred to as Religion. This line of products and services is not taxed in some countries (Iran, United States) as they are too important for proper functioning of national economy.

But let’s get back to my private museum of exhibits called dictionaries. Unlike purveyors of weird tricks that can solve any problem, most dictionaries, the good ones, anyway, do not make promises that cannot be kept.

You have to pay good money for them, they are often bulky and heavy, and after a while they may become hopelessly out of date, especially when we are talking about technical dictionaries.

To my chagrin, I don’t get to use them much, although I love them dearly, most of them, anyway, from the bottom of my heard. I am a tactile, contemplative kind of person. I’ve always loved to touch things that I am interested in and look at them carefully and with concentration, and dictionaries are, or were, designed for just that kind of person.

To a translator, a dictionary is, or used to be, a repository of an important, albeit much too transitory value, a value that can be generally accessed only by those who already possess a certain kind of knowledge. To other people, dictionaries are completely useless. I used to know a translator who turned three bedrooms on the second floor of his house into his office. One continuous wall of what used to be three bedrooms was turned into a single office space adorned with bookshelves stuffed with books, mostly dictionaries. When he died 20 years ago, nobody wanted the precious knowledge stored in those dictionaries because in order to access it, you would have to know what this translator knew while he was still alive.

When I die, my sons will probably offer my dictionaries to Goodwill, and Goodwill will probably refuse to accept them. I often go there to buy cheap books for my reading pleasure – hardbacks are 3 dollars plus tax – but I never saw a foreign language dictionary there.


Now, lest I be misunderstood, I do know that it is definitely a good thing that we no longer have to buy expensive dictionaries on paper because we can now access definitions and translations much faster in online dictionaries free of charge.

I use GoogleTranslate just about every day the way I was using dictionaries on paper even before “Internet” was a word. And I love it. What I love about it probably the most is the fact that I can switch to GoogleTranslate to type in just about any language I want to by using only the English alphabet. The software anticipates what I want to say in another language and suggests the proper spelling, most of the time the correct one, along with suggested words for translation to English. Last week I was typing a lot of text in Russian, some in Polish, because I was translating from these two languages.

Next week it will be Japanese, since I already have a Japanese job on my desk, and hopefully another language too. I prefer variety.

Since I learned touch typing 32 years ago only after I moved to United States, it seems impossible for me to learn how to type using the German or the Czech keyboard, let alone the Russian keyboard. How do you make your brain remember what keyboard you are using? It can be probably done only if you frequently use only two keyboards.

The Czech keyboard, for example, is basically the same as the English QWERTY keyboard, except that it is the QWERTZ keyboard, just like in German. This means that I would have to remember that Z is in the place of Y and vice versa, plus that the funny little orthographic signs above letters are arranged above numbers as “š, č, ě, ř, ž, ý, á, é,” etc., instead of signs like $,%, &, etc., which is an invention of Jan Hus, a Czech priest who tried to reform the Church which was charging a lot of money for vouchers for eternal life called “odpustky” in Czech, “indulgences” in English. The Church simply burnt him at the stake at the Council of Constance in 1415, although it guaranteed safe passage to him first to get him to come to plead his case to the honorable members of the Council of Constance.

It was not really personal for the Church – such a radical solution was unfortunately required because loudmouth heretics like Jan Hus were definitely bad for business. But although the Church did not reform itself five hundred years ago, the Czech language did accept the orthographic reform proposed by Jan Hus five centuries ago and is still using it.

Even if you don’t know any Slavic language, you can easily tell Polish from Czech based on the spelling of words, since what used to be spelled as “sz”, “cz”, and “rz”, in Czech and still is spelled in this manner in Polish is now spelled “š”, “č”, “ř”, in Czech. It is much easier for me to simply type in English and let GoogleTranslate figure out the proper spelling.

GoogleTranslate works fine for me when I type words in Polish, German, or French or Russian …. but not in Japanese. For Japanese words I do have to use one of the Japanese input systems, which works fine under Windows, because there are too many options for different Japanese characters and the options suggested by GoogleTranslate are usually wrong and much too limited for Japanese.

The Japanese language is simply too complicated for simple solutions like GoogleTranslate.

The problem with GoogleTranslate, wonderful as it is, is that so many people may think that it is the ultimate “weird trick” that is going to solve a tiny problem of machine translation, namely that while it sometime makes perfect sense, other times it only kind of makes sense, and often it makes no sense whatsoever.

A whole new branch of industry in the “translation industry”, namely localization coupled with machine translation, sometime (for the more expensive version) edited by inexpensive human hamsters who used to be called translators, is based on this particular weird trick.

This new trick is going to work about as well as all of the other weird tricks that end up in our spam folder, (the weird trick for erasing your wrinkles, making you look 20 years younger, making you learn a language in 10 days, stopping the progress of diabetes, reversing hearing loss, giving your partner powerful and long-lasting orgasms, stimulating your brain and bestowing perfect health upon you, and all the other ones).

It is not going to work very well for people who will try to use this new weird trick to solve an old problem requiring a slightly more complicated solution, including the problem of how to translate something without having to pay a lot of money for a good translation.

But it should work quite well for merchants selling advanced and highly-sophisticated, automated translation solutions systems to thousands of customers who are convinced that there must be a simple an inexpensive solution to just about every problem, namely a weird trick that they did not know about.

Posted by: patenttranslator | December 10, 2014

It’s Not Just About the Money That You Can Make Right Now


November was a slow month for me. I was not nearly as busy as in October, so instead of spending most of the day translating and proofreading, I was reading several novels and watching movie series on TV, including about 6 episodes of “The Affair” on HBO and 12 episodes of the French police series “Engrenages” (“Spiral”) on Netflix (it’s good for my French).

I was reduced to reading my trashy books, walking my son’s ugly/beautiful pit bull Lucy and watching movies if I found something worth watching, an increasingly more and more difficult task these days as mostly really stupid Hollywood movies seem to be offered on all of my 12 movie channels.

A translator’s life is full of suffering and tribulations.

But after the lazy month of November ended, I started turning work down again in December. I had to turn down a translation of a German contract and a long translation of a Japanese patent (27 pages) since I was already translating 2 long Russian contracts (a total of 50 pages).

All of these translations that I would have loved to be working on in November were from translation agencies. I never have to turn down offers of work from direct customers because usually, when I offer a discount for “non-rush” turnaround time to direct customers, they (or in fact their customers) almost always go for the deadline that his twice as long to save money, which gives me the time to do everything by myself.

And when I have to translate on a rush deadline, my greedy alter ego kicks in enough additional energy so that I still finish all translations on time, although an almost superhuman effort is often required.

But I sometime I have to turn down work from a translation agency.

The long Japanese patent that I could not accept last week was called “Data Processing Device and Data Processing System”. I must have translated at least a dozen Japanese patents with exactly the same title, and quite a few from German and French. From the viewpoint of this mad patent translator, patents about data processing devices and systems are a gold mine. After the first few pages I don’t have to look up anything and the style is usually concise and highly repetitive, just the way I like it. I remember that with one such patent, I think it was 120 pages with about 20 figures at the end, it was in fact the longest patent I translated so far – it took me about 2 weeks to make what I would normally make during a whole busy month.

Every translator has his or her special field that is for this translator very easy and lucrative. But it is really not a good idea these days to specialize in a few, highly lucrative fields. As far as I can tell, it is not even a good idea to specialize in only one or two languages these days.

A few months ago I was asked to give a price quote to a law firm for a number of Japanese patents. I always include both a regular turnaround quote, which is based on the assumption that I will be translating it all by my lonesome, as well as a quote for expedited turnaround, for which would have been needed at least one additional translator to help me due to a much shorter deadline.

So I called several translators who are known to me as highly experienced translators of Japanese patents, although in fact I never met any one of them in person. Everybody seemed to be too busy at the moment.

One of these translators told me that he had absolutely no time at all because he was working basically full time only for one customer – a patent law firm that kept him very busy … and then some. He said that he was doing very well, although the rate that he was charging this particular customer was in my opinion too low – 3 cents lower than what I normally charge translation agencies.

So I asked him:”But isn’t it too dangerous to work for only one customer?”

“Yeah, it probably is”, he said. “But what can you do? And I am so busy that I am doing really well even at that rate. They always send me new work before I finish what I am working on.”


The same translator who was so busy a few months ago sent me an e-mail yesterday. He probably did not realize that he sent it to the same guy what talked to him on the phone a few months ago. The short e-mail said:”I am writing to you to inquire whether your firm might be in need of my services as an experienced Japanese-to-English patent translator” …. “My reason for seeking to expand my client base at this time is that my largest client, with whom I have worked for over ten years, has recently experienced a decrease in its volume of J-E patent work.”

It is more than just dangerous to work only for one client. In my line of work it may be ultimately a kiss of death.

It may be good work if you can get it, while it lasts, especially if it is well paid. And it may last for a long time, more than ten years, but you must have to have a plan for what to do when it’s over. And the only plan that makes sense to me is to have more than one client, to specialize in more than just one field, and in my case (and in the case of many other translators), preferably in more than just one language.

That is why I in fact preferred to work on the Russian legal contract this week instead of a Japanese patent about a data processing system, which would have been more lucrative for me.

Unlike with Japanese patents when I can comfortably put my translator’s data processing device and data processing system (called brain) on autopilot, I have to look up a lot of Russian legal terms because I have only translated a few contracts from Russian, and most of them only recently.

But truth be told, I enjoy Russian contracts as much as Japanese patents, although I would be twice as fast if I were translating a patent, especially from Japanese. Every language results in new amazing discoveries for me. For example, isn’t it interesting that the word “brak” means both “defect” and “marriage” in Russian? The genius of the Russian language led to such a happy confluence of two seemingly disparate meanings in the same Russian word. I wonder how that happened. Also, if I am not careful how to pronounce “departure” (ubytiye), it will sound like “murder” (ubitiye). Russian is full of happy moments like this for me.

It’s not just about the money that I can make right now. It’s about the proper balance of other things too. I enjoyed being lazy for a while last month. The books that I read were pretty interesting, and I finally went to the beach for the first time in several months (although the wind was really cold).

People generally don’t realize that being able to pay attention to the world around them and to enjoy all those little and seemingly unimportant things in life is in fact much more important than the money.

The money will still be here … when we no longer are.


Advances of artificial intelligence have completely transformed the world right in front of our eyes within a mere couple of decades, an equivalent of a blink of an eye in the context of the entire duration of human civilization.

It is common knowledge that just like computers connected to ATM machines replaced most human bank tellers, Google Translate and other machine translation programs will within the next few years completely obliterate the profession of most if not all human translators. At this point it may still be sometime difficult to figure out what a machine translated text in fact means, and sometime it may make no sense at all. But these minor software glitches, often referred to as “relatively minor kinks” by machine translation apostles and evangelists who are selling packages of trainable machine translation programs at very reasonable prices, will soon be history.

Let’s face it, since unlike human intelligence, artificial intelligence is virtually unlimited, we are living in the twilight of human translation. Soon, everything will be translated by an affordable software package equipped with the best algorithm in its silicon entrails.

After all, translation is only a fairly straightforward transposition of words and numbers arranged in human speech or written on paper or on another medium from one language into another. What could be so complicated about that when small but extremely powerful computers are so inexpensive now?

Everybody knows by now that human translators are on the way out. It is inevitable that just like dinosaurs suddenly vanished from the surface of the earth as a result of dramatic changes in weather patterns, human translators too will soon die out as a result of revolutionary changes in the processing speed and memory capacity of highly capable computers.

What some people may not realize is that the occupation of a human translator is not the only one that is facing extinction as a result of incredible advances of technology due to the unstoppable progress in the area of computing technology. Many other occupations will be swept away forever by the tide of advanced information processing, not only the lowly human translator.

Here are only a few of them that first come to mind.

1. Politicians

If we replace the 435 politicians in the US House of Representative and 100 politicians in the US Senate with a few powerful computers that will be making decisions based on existing laws stored with preprogrammed decision alternatives fed into in a few high-performance computers, the only people who will notice that something has changed in the US of A will be thousands of lobbyists who will all of a sudden be out of a job.

Since the speeches that these politicians make are mostly based on falsehoods anyway, we could program a few computers to make essentially identical speeches, as well as voting decisions for formal approval of laws and the like. It would be in fact much easier to design a computer program for these operations than using computers for machine translation. Although the same processing of words by machines would be required, everything would stay in just one language.

Of course, for the new politician-less system to work, in the absence of politicians we would still have to figure out how to let Wall Street and big corporations transfer huge amounts of money to a new type of decision makers to make sure that they get their way every single time. I am not quite sure how to go about that. But I believe that this is only a minor kink that can be easily taken care of.

We could still maintain some of the jobs for some of the politicians, for instance the job of a president and vice president. You need a few people like that around in case one of them is needed for important presidential acts such as to start another war, to keep justifying existing ones, or to be sent to a funeral of another president, pardon the Thanksgiving turkey and other important functions.

2. Teachers

Many human teachers have already been replaced by courses that you and I can take for a moderate fee online without the unwarranted intervention of a necessarily biased human educator. Some of these online courses are already being offered by famous and trusted universities and they already seem to be very popular among the general populace, as well as a very healthy source of revenue for universities, especially since unlike when running a real school with human teachers, the investments required for the infrastructure of online courses are minimal.

As most education is these days in any case based on standardized tests, the results of these tests, already mostly prepared with the help of computer programs, can be easily processed and evaluated by computer programs to minimize the need for human teachers. The money that will be saved in this manner on teacher salaries can then be reinvested in even more powerful educational hardware and software technology.

Some human teachers will probably retain their positions because a certain degree of human control over the computer-processed data corpus may still be required for a period of time. However, just like with human post-processing of machine-translated data, post-processing of data stored in a fully computerized system by humans should be required only for a relatively short period while transitioning to a fully automated educational system.

3. Judges

While different procedures are used in different countries, in my country of residence (USA), judges already make decisions largely based on mandatory procedures which must be without fail applied to each individual case since otherwise the judge will be fired. The programs for these mandatory procedures could be easily accessed by a few human judges who would be in charge of post-processing of the corpus of data in a fully computerized system made available for court decisions, sentencing, and the like.

What is the point of asking “a jury of one’s peers” to determine the guilt or innocence of an individual accused of crime or a misdemeanor when the same result can be achieved at a much lower cost if the corpus of data describing in detail each case can be easily processed by a computer operator (a post-processing judge or court clerk) since all the data is already stored somewhere in a computer.

Naturally, to retain a certain measure of human control over the judicial and penal system, all sentences, pardons, amnesties and the like would still need to be approved by a few remaining human judges who would be in charge of final post-processing of the entire corpus of the data available in the simplified and much more efficient judicial system.

4. Private Equity and Investment Managers

Since high-speed transactions of traders on Wall Street are already almost fully computerized, all that is needed now is to take the word “almost” out of the sentence. Nobody will even notice that something has changed. Sophisticated software developed for financial transactions is already monitoring and tracking each and every transaction based on algorithms that are used by traders similarly to the manner in which machine translation algorithms are used for processing of texts that are translated between different languages.

It goes without saying that a few people whose existence and presence is vital for proper functioning of the system, such as bank presidents and vice presidents, would keep their jobs. They would be made the ultimate post-processors of the corpus of financial data and since more profit would thus be left for them once all redundant banking personnel has been fired, full computerization of the banking system is more than likely to meet with enthusiastic approval of the CEOs among the giants of the banking industry.

5. Fiction Writers

What is fiction writing based on? Well, it is based on fiction, of course, rather than on facts. We all have experienced really interesting but usually pretty crazy dreams that would make excellent material for a plot of a mystery novel that could be written by a master storyteller like Dean Koontz, or a romance novel that could be written by Daniel Steel, or an erotic novel that could be written by Anaïs Nin or Anonymous.

The crazy parts of our dreams are due to the fact that while our rational, coldly calculating brain is asleep, or shut off, if you will, when we sleep, the unpredictably irrational part of our brain is put in charge of our thinking when we dream during the REM (rapid eye movements) sleep.

Since all of the data of fiction novels is already stored on computers as more and more books are being sold online in the form of digital files for electronic book readers rather than as books on paper, replacing human writers by computers processing and combining plots and data from different models – and different genres – is only a logical and in fact inevitable next step in the development of book publishing in the near future.

Just like machine translation is already sold at different price points today, so that it is free or almost free for documents that are translated only with a machine, or available at a reasonable cost if the machine-translated material is further post-processed by a human translator, several levels of literature that will soon be based on dedicated computerized systems that can be applied to writing of novels in a much more effective and much less expensive manner than when human writers were used in the publishing industry for this purpose, and this literature can then be made available in the same manner on Amazon and other mass-consumption outlets.

Although most human writers of mystery and suspense novels, romance novels, etc., would find themselves out of job, some of them could still be taught new, useful skills, retrained and turned into post-processors and aggregators of the corpus of literary data that these post-processors and aggregators could then be combining with plots written by human writers and computer robots in each of the different genres.

The results should be very interesting to say the least, at least as interesting as the results of machine translated texts that are in the final stage edited by human post-processors in a certain segment of the modern form of translation industry.

The above list of professions that can be easily modernized and restructured on a computerized platform in this manner, similarly to the translating profession, is meant to indicate only the most obvious examples of professions that are likely to be made partially or fully redundant by advances in artificial intelligence in the next few years.

Many other professions will ultimately also disappear as a result of inevitable technological progress, although some positions will fortunately still be available in each of these dying professions for human post-processors of fully computerized data.


Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering – and it’s all over much too soon.
Woody Allen, American movie actor, comedian, & director.

Translators may be completely unimportant or very important depending on what kind of role is offered to them, or rather what kind of role they can get.

When I was a poor student four decades ago, I used to work as an extra in movies every now and then to make some money that would be then invariably spent with friends on beer in pubs. The most memorable role that I remember playing back then was when I was in Nazi uniform saluting Adolph Hitler who was played by a Swedish actor. I forgot his name, but he was pretty good, although not nearly as good as Bruno Ganz in Der Untergang (Downfall, check out the parodies of Bruno Ganz as Hitler on Youtube, for instance when Hitler is getting mad that his pizza is late). In a surreal moment at the end, we were all signing “Die Fahne hoch! Die Reihen fest geschlossen!

After that we got our money and quickly changed into our own clothes.

When you are a movie extra, you don’t have to be able to play. You are just an unimportant peon among dozens, hundreds or thousands of other unimportant and interchangeable peons who just like you are happy to make a little bit of money in exchange for their time, although they don’t have any talent either.

Mutatis mutandis, this is also a fitting description of translators who work for the modern type of corporate translation agency. One major translation agency sent last week corporate mugs to translators on its “network of thousands of highly qualified specialist-translators” which said:

We have launched our mug selfie competition! All of you, our TMS trained linguists will receive or have already received one of our exclusive thebigword Translation Management System mugs. Once you have received your mug get involved and take a selfie with the mug showing the logo and join in with the competition fun. Just post it to our Facebook page for a chance of winning a £100 Amazon voucher.”

This got many translators mad because up to that point, these translators were naively thinking of themselves as independent professionals rather than obedient mascots of a translation agency who would obviously be willing and happy to monkey around with a stupid mug next to their own mug for the amazing chance to win a £100 Amazon voucher and maybe even get into good graces of their master in this manner. Apparently it never occurred to the geniuses who designed this marketing campaign that there could be a blowback from translators who do not want to be used as props, or as well trained, housebroken pets who will gladly do amazing tricks for their master on demand.

One of them said:“I can’t say I’m surprised by these marketing tactics, but this just takes things to a new low. Last year they cut rates without any consultation or negotiation whatsoever, now they want to rope us into marketing their company? Why on earth would I want to put a selfie of myself with one of their mugs on Facebook? Wouldn’t they do better to spend their money on giving translators better rates than wasting it on tacky marketing campaigns? It doesn’t really send a good message about translation being a serious profession either. What do you think?”

There were many responses from translators that differed only in the level of indignation at this novel approach to exploitation of translators expressed in the comments in the range from high to sky-high. Responses like this:

“I had to wait 5 months to get paid. Last year, they wanted to “persuade” us to go down with our rates. Why should I take part in any marketing campaign in favour of such a company?”

“The whole idea is appalling. How about all of you who have dealings with them put every one of your pictures on a poster with a big red STOP sign (like for cars) overprinted on it and then send it to them.
“We ain’t mugs, we don’t like mug shots and we are not in the business of promoting others’ businesses.”

“Cries out for some creative ‘reverse’ marketing – how about doing something with that mug and posting it on FB? Invent your on slogan and tape it on the mug and then take a picture and put that on FB that ? For example “Some Mug sent me a mug but with their rates I couldn’t afford to put tea in it.”

To some translation agencies, especially the big ones, translators are as unimportant as movie extras in a film with a lot of mob scenes.

To a few of them, translators are as important as movie stars, because their talents and skills, if these talents and skills are present, will bring the customer back to the company with new orders for new translations. In the absence of such a talent and skill, the customer is likely to go someplace else.

This is the only kind of translation agency that I am still working for. From the way an agency is treating me, I can tell quite easily whether they see me as an easily replaceable movie extra, or as a star in a movie. The movie may be seen by only one person, the person who needs my translation, but if he or she truly appreciates my work, I have done my job as well as Meryl Streep, Dustin Hoffman, or Robert Redford.

And sometime, when I am the translation agency and I pick a translator for a role that I myself cannot play, usually because I don’t know the language, I am the film producer and film director who is responsible for the logistics, which is just a fancy word for putting it all together.

It is an important role and I like that role too. The only role that I am no longer willing to play is that of a movie extra. I did not mind being an extra four decades ago, but at this point I am much too old for something like that.

Posted by: patenttranslator | November 26, 2014

Be Aware of the Target Audience for Your Blog


A few days ago I had a long phone discussion with another translator. As we were talking, for over an hour, I think, one of the things that we were discussing was how we write our respective blogs and how many people see our blog posts. When I asked him how many views he had per month, he said “about a hundred”. I said:“A hundred? You mean a hundred a day?” And then I proudly stated that I have at this point about fifteen thousand views a month and the view count keeps going up, although when I started writing my silly posts in 2009, it was only a couple of hundred and then a mere few hundred views a month up until the end of the first year.

He explained to me that he writes his posts mostly with his (direct) customers in mind and that most of the people who read them are in fact his customers. His blog is how he communicates with them, he said. He e-mails links to his posts to his customers, which is how he grows and maintains his readership and base of clients. He was surprised that during a period when he felt uninspired and did not post anything for a while, he got e-mails from his customers wondering what was going on and why was he not saying anything to them anymore.

So he started writing again because as Paul Simon put it in the sixties, you’ve got to keep the customer satisfied. And it’s working for him, even though his blog has relatively few views on a daily, monthly, or yearly basis.

My own blog is not aimed at my customers as it is written mostly for other translators or people who have something to do with translation, such as people working in small agencies. I don’t write my posts for the PigTurds or Plusquamperfects and the like, although I do sometime write about them. I guess I am not really a savvy marketer at heart. Although I doubt that any of my customers reads the atrocities that I am committing on my blog generally twice a week, I do sometime try to tone down what I write not to unnecessarily offend people that I do not want to offend, and sometime I reject a music video even if I like it, for instance if it is too racy. (For instance, the music video of the song “Criminal” with Fiona Apple).

Maybe I should try a little bit harder to stay away from highly suggestive scenes in the music videos I use, some people would probably say. Sex does not really have anything to do with translation, does it?

I also try to write mostly about translation and stay out of politics, although my political views are probably pretty clear to most people who read my blog. For instance, I try not to keep repeating that it no longer makes sense to bother voting if you can only choose between a Democrat and a Republican because the differences between them are at this point mostly cosmetic and largely rhetorical. It is as useless as holding elections in Hong Kong if only candidates who are approved by the Communist Party of China can participate in an electoral spoof. CPC over there, Wall Street over here, same difference.

Most people in my country of residence seem to agree with me as less than a third of voters bothered to show up at the voting booth in the electoral spoof at the beginning of this month.

Maybe I should try a little bit harder not to write about politics in my blog about translation, some people would no doubt say. Or maybe I should try writing a new blog, about politics this time.

Just because a post has a lot of views does not necessarily mean that it was a really good post, and when nobody seems to read it, it does not mean that it was about nothing or poorly written because many other factors are in play.

Such as who is really your target audience.

Blogs about translation will necessarily have a very limited audience – translators. A few years ago I came upon a blog written by Margaret and Helen, two grandmas riding around in a wheelchair who hate Republicans. One lives in Texas and one in Maine, so naturally, they communicate via a blog that has over six million views now. If you go to that blog, which is designed as an exchange of letters between two grandmas, don’t forget to check out the post “Jesus Loves the Legal Little Children” – it has examples of new Bible translations. How can I compete with a really funny grandma who writes about her family members and politics when I write about …. translation.

Just because a post has relatively few views does not mean that it is no good, and just because it is popular does not necessarily means that it is really swell.

If a post does have a lot of views, it does mean that you hit a target, but it is not necessarily the target that you meant to hit.

One of the most popular post on my blog so far this year, although it has only 2 Facebook likes (and I once had over “2k” Facebook likes” on a post called “Translator’s Dementia”),  is a post that I wrote last Thanksgiving about how difficult it is to calculate the number of calories in one section of Toblerone chocolate. The reason why it is so popular is pretty clear – it has nothing to do with translation. Most people don’t give a damn about translation, and who can blame them. But just about everybody is counting calories these days, especially around Thanksgiving and Christmas.

So they go on Google and write “how many calories are there in one section of Toblerone chocolate?” and since it happens to be the title of a post I wrote, they end up on my blog.

Not exactly my target audience, but as I said already, I am not a very good marketer.


It would make it the 28th year – man, that is such a long time!!! The fact is, this is the first time that I am seriously wondering whether it still makes sense paying them about 200 dollars a year …. for what?

I did pay them a lot of money over the years mostly because I used to believe in the ATA.

In any case, I believed that it was better to have the ATA than nothing. I wrote several article for the ATA Chronicle about 10 years ago, and I was mildly surprised when they published them in spite of my anti-corporate-agency streak (only a mild one, I tried to control myself back then).

I was also one of the authors of the Patent Translators Handbook which was published by the ATA in 2007. I did all of that in my free time without any compensation, of course, because I thought that I was doing something useful, although some of it was obviously crass self-promotion. But every time when I receive a new copy of the ATA Chronicle, as I did today, the only real benefit of ATA membership for me, I just keep turning the pages looking for something worth reading and I consider myself lucky if I find a single article in it that I am interested in reading.

Lots of ads from SDL Trados, every translator’s favorite computer memory tool. Lots of offers of job openings for translators with the National Security Agency, every translator’s dream job. Lots of cute graphics taking up half a page. Not a lot of interesting articles.

That thing is definitely not worth two hundred dollars a year.

Maybe the problem is that after almost three decades, I finally outgrew this organization as it seems to be more and more geared only toward people who those of us who already are translators, or at least who have been translating for a while, refer to as “newbies”.

Just look at the promotional video from the last ATA Conference. Newbies, newbies, newbies …. and buddies. Tool bar with vendors of tools – here’s your chance to buy SDL Trados if you don’t have it yet – and we’ll give you a great discount if you buy it right now!

Or I could do yoga right there at the conference, or something that looks like yoga. They seem to be calling it “chikan” (probably Chi Kung in Chinese) in the video, which incidentally means “groper” in Japanese. I remember “chikans” groping petrified Japanese “office ladies” in crowded metro trains from the time when I used to ride the metro to work in Tokyo in mid eighties, one and half hour each way.

The fact is, I hate yoga or anything that even remotely looks like yoga. I tried it once in Prague, I think it was in 1979, to please my then-girlfriend who was crazy about yoga. She used to stand on her head for 15 minutes to get the right amount of blood circulating through her brain. Her face was flushed and looked so lovely after the exercise! But when she saw the expression on my face after my first session where there were only two men among something like 30 women (I found the environment quite stressful and intimidating), she wisely never mentioned yoga to me again. Standing on her head like that must have been really good for her brain.

Or I could do a Latin dance called Zumba at the same conference for translators. How exciting! Maybe that’s what I need to break the tedium of my unfulfilled life of a lonesome translator. They even showed a couple of guys with a moderate beer punch in the video not to discourage male translators from attending the next conference, I suppose. A guy with SDL Trados sign around his neck describes “Zumba” experience thusly:”I zig when I am supposed to zag, and I zag when I am supposed to zig”.

Lot of invaluable information for translators, both about Trados and zigging and zagging.

Towards the end there is a “brainstorm networking session” about a fictional guy called Ernesto, (wasn’t there an Ernesto in Sesame Street too? Maybe they should go with Cookie Monster at the next conference, he was by far my favorite), who has a big problem because he can’t finish a translation on time? OMG, that sounds so interesting!

And they end the highly educational video with this joke “What do you call a fish without an eye?” (It’s fsh – OMG, that’s so funny)!

No mention of a single issue that translators who are not necessarily newbies might be interested in throughout the entire video. Judging from that fact that things like corporatization of the so called translation business, predatory agencies, commodification of translation, pressure on rates from machine translation, “fuzzy matches” and “repeat words”, competition of near-slave labor from third world countries …. none of that was even hinted at in the video, these subjects probably did not exactly feature prominently in the discussions.

After watching the video, I am glad that I did not go.

The only other benefit of ATA membership is that you get listed in the ATA database of translators. Most years I used to get a few small translation jobs from that listing, but I cannot remember a single job coming from the ATA database this year. I did get some offers, but only from agencies that wanted me to take a test or some such nonsense. So I did not bother replying. In any case, since only translation agencies know about this database, it is really only useful for translators who aspire no higher than to work only on the translation agency plantation until they die of old age or starvation, whichever comes first.

I have noticed that many if not most old timers that I met over the years in this country were not ATA members. Being an ATA member does not seem to be a very cool designation if you are an experienced translator, with some exceptions. Some hate the organization for reasons that I can understand, some for reasons that I don’t quite understand, and some just gradually gave up on it.

Maybe it’s finally time for me as well to say goodbye to the ATA after 27 years, especially since being listed in their database is unlikely to have any effect on my income. But I am not sure yet what I will do, that is why I wrote this post. Old habits die hard and inertia is the most powerful force in the universe. I think I have until the end of January of next year to send or not to send in my 200 dollars. It’s like Social Security, if you miss a year, you can just reenroll next year if you want to.

What do you think I should do? Is the ATA still relevant to translators who are no longer newbies and/or who don’t necessary want to be buddies to translator newbies?

If you let me know what you think, I promise that I will consider your advice very carefully, provided that it is offered sincerely, with good intentions, and with no malice in heart and mind, either towards me, or towards the American Translators Association.

Posted by: patenttranslator | November 22, 2014

If Necessity Is Mother Of Invention, Simplicity Is Father of Common Sense

As I keep reading about nifty and inexpensive accounting software and translation management software packages, perfectly integrating the workflow of tasks and invoices in a small translation business, which are developed with small translation enterprises in mind and cost only a few hundred dollars for a yearly subscription, I thought I would the let the world know about my secret weapon in the daily battle for management of incoming and outgoing invoices of my translation business.

For about 20 years now I have been recording incoming and outgoing jobs in a slim, yet quite spacious daily diary called THE ORIGINAL DIARY (since 1812) from Letts of London, product code 11Y, the cost under 30 dollars. They come in three colors, black, brown, or if you are feelings frisky, you can also order burgundy. Last year I went with burgundy, this year I think I will go with brown. I never order black, although they did send me a black diary once by mistake and I hated them for it a whole year.

I note checks that I am sending to translators at the bottom of the page in my Letts of London diary, and of course I also print out invoices and keep them in file folders, plus I have copies of all invoices on my hard drive on several computers.
So that’s the classic triple-entry bookkeeping method that has been used by the greatest minds in the accounting profession for several centuries right there.

I generally have to correct customers who use expensive accounting software when they send me the wrong amount several times a year. Last month, for example, one customer who paid me 1,074 dollars for a whole bunch of small translations, although according to my Letts of London daily diary, product code 11Y, they should have paid me 1,247 dollars. Oh well, somebody entered the wrong amount into the software package, hence the error. I charge 3 cents more per word for Japanese, and they entered my rate for European languages. They will reimburse me next month, as they generally have quite a bit of work for me most months.

Due mostly to accounting software errors, some customers sometime miss an invoice, sometime they pay me less, and sometime they pay me twice. And sometime they pay me in Euros instead of dollars … and sometime I let them know about it – if I like them. Hey, it’s not my fault if they use some stupid software that can’t tell Euros from dollars!
It has been my experience that people who use sophisticated accounting software are prone to making mistakes like this … mais moi, jamais!

I realize that my accounting system is not ideal for the corporate type of translation agency, but then again, Gott sei Dank, I am not a corporate translation agency.

I am certainly aware that a simple system such as mine has its limitations. A few months ago I was working on a project involving translations of dozens of sets of patent claims from 4 languages into English. I was translating the German and French claims while working with translators who were translating Chinese and Korean claims that I was then carefully proofreading.

The problem was, the client wanted to have a separate invoice for each family of documents, and as I said there were dozens of families – some with only 1 document, some with as many as 5 documents in 1 family. At first, I messed up the numbers of the families of documents on my invoices and also in the file names.

The client was really mad at me, and justifiably so. When he called me on the phone after the first batch of translations was delivered, he was practically livid! Listening to his complaints, I felt like a retarded child who almost set a house on fire, although in my defense it is only fair to say that every of the documents that was sent to me was delivered simply as an e-mail attachment (the law firm evidently never heard of zipped folders), so that there were many such e-mails that I had to fish out one by one from the rest of the stuff in my mailbox and then save while making sure that I don’t delete accidentally a precious file along with numerous junk e-mails.

I felt pretty bad …. until he ended his almost completely uninterrupted complaint with these words (and I am quoting him word by word):”The good news is, the translations were very, very good” (he used the word “very” twice).

Fortunately for me, I got the hang of it and found the right procedure for proper identification of documents from the second batch of the documents.

As long as I printed everything out, copied all the relevant information on top of the page, and then put physically each family of the documents in a separate vanilla folder where all the relevant information was correctly recorded on the jacket of each file, I was no longer making any mistakes because everything was triple checked. A second batch of documents came and went to the client without an angry customer’s phone call, and then a third and a fourth. And then another lawyer from the same firm called to inquire about my rates saying that I was recommended to him by this client who was at one point very, very angry at me (but apparently only at first).

Simple, inexpensive solutions are often more effective and always less expensive than flashy, complicated ones.

My cell phone is another case in point. I have been using iPhone for 2 years until my contract with the phone company expired in January of this year. I really liked the phone, but I stopped the phone services because I realized that I don’t need to pay over a hundred dollars for a phone that I use only occasionally outside of my office since most of the time I am stuck working in my office. The phone was promptly confiscated by my son whose own iPhone had a cracked screen.

Instead of an expensive monthly plan phone iPhone, I now keep my old Blackberry in my car so that I would never be stuck without a cell phone. It came in very handy for example when I needed to call my insurance company when I got a flat tire a few months ago. But my current phone plan only costs a few dollars a month as I add dollars to it every three months when I need to add more calling minutes.

If I need data, mostly to check my e-mail out of the office, I use my iPad with the first 200 MB of data that is offered free of charge by T-Mobile to customers on its network. So far I had to purchase additional data for my iPad only once because things like e-mail and car navigation do not eat up a lot of data provided that you download the map of where you want to go while you are still connected to WiFi before you leave.

I believe that is important be a discriminating customer when it comes to extremely sophisticated and very cool technical solutions that are offered to us by people who are so good at selling stuff to other people that they could sell refrigerators to Eskimos and sand-making machines to Bedouins in Sahara.

The simplest solution often works the best and it is always cheaper once we realize what it is that we actually need.

Posted by: patenttranslator | November 18, 2014

Advantages and Disadvantages of the Corporate Translation Agency Model


In an exchange of messages on LinkedIn in which several translators and owners of small agencies were expressing their opinions about why is it that low rates for translation seem to be more prevalent these days than just a few years ago, people mentioned factors including low barriers to entry both for translators and agencies, the fact that translators in Third World countries are happy to work for what would be considered starvation rates in countries with a high cost of living and high taxes in the Western world, negative influence of fraudulent concepts called “full matches” and “fuzzy matches” brought to us courtesy of greedy agencies wielding “indispensable tools” like Trados, etc.

Disadvantages of the Corporate Translation Agency Model

One owner of a small translation agency, who had many interesting contributions, said the following:

Steve – I’m guessing if you’re paying just over 10, let’s say 11, you’re then proofreading those translations yourself, right? I’m only asking, because proofreading usually costs at least an additional 3 euro cents per translated word, or is charged at a rate of at least 30 euros an hour (for German), so then you’re onto at least 14 as your variable cost. Now, I assume you don’t have a team of project managers to pay, plus rent, plus upkeep on dozens of machines, and software systems, plus electricity, telephone bills and – very significant – cost of sales (i.e. marketing-agency costs, website maintenance plus a business development manager’s salary to pay), not to mention a management team, because if you do, you will then need to charge the end client at least 25 euro cents per word (and more like 30 if you want to make a decent profit) – and, if you can charge that, and still get plenty of business, all I can say is “congrats”.

I believe that this particular participant in the discussion identified in her short contribution, (168 words if I don’t count my name), several of the main disadvantages of the large, corporate translation agency model, when we compare it to the traditionally small translation agency or to an individual translator who also frequently functions as an agency, which would be my case.

Of course I proofread myself translations that were done by other people for me. I don’t need to hire a proofreader because unlike most translation agencies, I only deal with languages and subjects that I understand, at least to some extent.

I mostly subcontract to other translators translations of patents in languages that I don’t translate myself. But even when a customer sends me a patent in a language that I don’t know myself, for example in Dutch, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, or Chinese, I believe that I am a much more competent proofreader of translations of patents from these languages than a proofreader who would be paid 3 or 4 cents by a typical translation agency.

For one thing, I know a lot about patents because I translated my first Japanese patent more than 27 years ago, and in addition to thousands of Japanese patents, I translated over the years also many patents in different fields from other languages, including German, French, Russian, etc.

Anybody who knows several languages can understand to some extent text in a related language, which means that if you know French, you can follow a translation from Spanish or Italian if you already have an English translation, if you know German, you can do the same with Dutch, etc.

I can also read to some extent Chinese because I studied it, as well as classical Chinese, which is really how classical Japanese was written, when I was very young and thought in my youthful naïveté arrogance that I would be able to learn both Japanese and Chinese at the same (it took me a few months before I realized that I’d better concentrate on Japanese only if I really want to learn it), etc.

One of the advantages that multilingual translators who handle project in multiple languages have over non-multilingual translation agency owners and project managers is that they don’t have to rely on other people because they know exactly what they are doing. And when they do rely on other translators, they know ho to pick them.

It might be perceived as an unfair advantage from the viewpoint of a corporate translation agency that handles every language and every subject, as well as interpreting, subtitling, transcreation, sign language (maybe even exotic escorts if the price is right?) …. but, hey, nobody said that life was supposed to be fair!

As far as the other expensive items mentioned by this commenter in the discussion are concerned (a team of project managers to pay, plus rent, plus upkeep on dozens of machines, and software systems, plus electricity, telephone bills and – very significant – cost of sales (i.e. marketing-agency costs, website maintenance plus a business development manager’s salary to pay), not to mention a management team) – small agencies and translators such as myself are not burdened with a team of people who need to be paid, usually a pretty penny. They generally do not have a team of sales reps, management consultants, accountants, lawyers, business plan developers, marketing propaganda specialists and other necessary ingredients of what the corporate translation agency model is based on these days, as it is a business model that is based on everything else but knowledge of languages. People who run a small and highly specialized translation business only have to pay translators, albeit often before they get paid themselves, and sometime even if I they don’t get pay at all, for instance if a company goes bankrupt on them.

Careful as I try to be, it did happen to me a couple of times already.

I think that the biggest disadvantage of the corporate translation agency model, if we compare it to the traditionally small translation agency model, is that most of the money that clients pay for a translation project goes to completely monolingual people who do not in fact participate at all in the translating or proofreading work. It was also mentioned in the same online discussion that in the typical corporate translation agency model only about 25 percent of the cost of the translation in fact represents the remuneration of the translator, the rest of the cost is due to all of the extraneous expenses mentioned above. Extraneous, but very necessary in a translation agency model in which the actual translator is considered less important than the other constituents of the business model, which is why the translator is paid so little.

When an agency says on its website “We have 3,000 (5,000, 15,000, the numbers keep going up) translators in our database”, they are probably not lying. They really do have that many people captured in their database, although they probably have no idea how good these translators are – how could anybody possibly know that about so many  translators? But they do know which ones are willing to work for half of what other translators would charge because that is what people are willing to pay them in a different model in which the emphasis is on the translator who is perceived as the actual creator of the value.

In other words, in the corporate translation agency model, the ancillary, and in my opinion mostly parasitic occupations, parasitic because they were not needed until the emergency of the large, corporate translation agency model, do very well in this arrangement, while the compensation of translators is cut to a half or less.

Advantages of the Corporate Translation Agency Model

Just like McDonalds, Wendy’s or Ruby Tuesday restaurants have advantages over family restaurants, the corporate translation agency model also has some advantages over smaller enterprises. The main advantage of the corporate model is that it can tackle mammoth projects that must be translated within just a few days or weeks.

I described a project like that in this post a few months ago. This is probably not something that a small agency could do on its own, although many small agencies are often also drawn into these projects as I write in my post linked above. You do need a network of many project managers who can activate dozens of translators to start working immediately on these Kamikaze missions.

On the other hand, the quality of such translations will generally vary in the range from OK to really bad, and quite a few “translators” will just try to run everything through machine translation and then edit it so that it would look like human translation. In fact, one of the clauses in a contract related to the Kamikaze mission linked above, which was sent to me several times although I did not ask for it, prohibited the use of machine translations and stipulated that if such use is detected, no payment will be provided.

Large companies of course have a lot of advantages when it comes to financial resources available for things like advertising on Google, but that does not mean that a small, highly specialized service cannot compete in this area.

If you have a well chosen domain name and the content of your site is clearly relevant to a search on Google, your site will be probably listed among the first few hits on Google and other search engines even if you don’t advertise at all. Even a modern behemoth like Google must serve its customers relevant information instead of just advertising propaganda if it wants to survive.

The example often cited to buttress the alleged superiority of the corporate translation agency model is that of a manual that needs to be translated into 24 languages. This is something that is in fact suitable for the corporate translation model. But if a corporation needs to translate a lot of manuals into many languages, constantly and on an ongoing basis, would it not make more sense to create a specialized in-house translation department for that purpose?

Call me biased, but I can’t think of many advantages of the corporate translation model when it comes to the value that customers get for their money.

Nevertheless, some people working in a large corporation may be more comfortable working with a similar model also when it comes to translation. But not all, because I myself have been over the years and still am working also for several large corporations.

At least when it comes to technical and patent translation, I believe that working directly with translators and ignoring the large corporate translation model is a common occurrence, probably because the customer, usually a patent lawyer in my case, realizes that the success of his mission is quite heavily dependent on the quality of the translated materials.

The quality of translation has everything to do with how competent is the translator in a given language and field, while it has essentially nothing to do with any of the necessary elements of the corporate translation model such as a team of project managers, advertising managers, a team of sales people, marketing-agencies, website maintenance specialists and various other business development managers, which is where most of the budget is spent in the corporate translation model, instead of spending most of it, or at least half of it, on a highly educated, highly competent and highly experienced translator.

Posted by: patenttranslator | November 15, 2014

Translation As Therapy Or Torture


Contrary to the infamous German words Arbeit macht frei (Work Makes [You] Free) that used to welcome new arrivals to concentration camps, work does not exactly have the power to make us free. These words mostly just reflect a certain kind of humor, or even philosophy, one could say, of what was supposed to be the master race.

Work does have the power to make us who we are. Interesting, useful work requiring our best manual and intellectual skills distinguishes what humans can sometime do so well from what animals are usually not capable of, if we discount a few notable exceptions in the animal world, such as how birds can use their tiny beaks to build complicated nests for themselves and their young, or how beavers can combine their sharp teeth with advanced engineering skills to build formidable dams.

Rote and useless work, work that demeans us and turns us into human robots of the kind that Charlie Chaplin poked fun on already almost a century ago in his film “Modern Times”, has the opposite effect. Instead of liberating us, it enslaves us. To this translator, so called post-processing of machine translation (“a useful skill” in brand new concentration camps for translators) comes to mind in this context.

Under the right kind of circumstances, the act of translating can be therapeutic and healing. Under the wrong kind of circumstances, the act of translating can be pure torture.

The problem with any intellectual activity is that it is not necessarily available to us on command. A bricklayers can probably mix mortar and put layers of bricks on top of each other until his muscles ache and the entire body becomes too tired, generally regardless of his mental state. But translating is different. Whether we are doing a good job or not such a good job depends to a significant extent also on our mental state.

I don’t know whether a chef in a famed four star restaurant must be in a creative mood to create culinary masterpieces in his kitchen. I suspect that it is in fact a necessary preconditions for chefs too, although cutting up celery and onions can probably be done while daydreaming about something else, such as getting another raise in pay, or reuniting again with a long-lost love.

It is not a good idea to daydream while translating. Teenagers should not be texting while driving, and translators should not be daydreaming while translating. They must clear their mind of all unnecessary ballast and concentrate on the task at hand, which may be simple at times, but quite often unexpectedly formidable.

We need to be in the right kind of mood to translate, or at least to do it well. When I am ready to work, I love it when I can start hitting the keyboard to transform words written in Japanese characters or in Cyrillic into words that will make sense in another alphabet to people speaking another language.

And I hate it when somebody is telling me that I have to start translating right now to finish the translation as soon as possible.

That is when translation becomes torture. Unfortunately, when so many people want to have our translation yesterday, torture is often a part of life for most translators. Some translation agencies emphasize and praise their own amazing capability to do the seemingly impossible when hundreds or thousands pages are translated “by teams of translators” in record time to the full satisfaction of a grateful client.

It is not that difficult to organize agony en mass by dividing a long document into smaller portions in order to feed them to hungry translators, and then cobble together a linguistic sausage that resembles a real translation from the tortured pieces of texts produced by people who may or may not be very good translators.

The results of this approach to translation or to any kind of other creative work do not vary. The results are always really bad. But in the corporate translation agency model for mass production of units called words, this does not matter very much. It may take years before a client realizes that a translation agency is constantly producing mostly garbage.

Although torture through translation may be the new normal in the bulk translation market of the corporate model for production of translated words, there are things that we as translators can do about this problem.

The best thing is clearly to try stay away from a business model in which translators are thought of as a multitude of interchangeable cogs in machinery designed to maximize profit for the owners of the machine.

The next best thing is to refuse to accept work from clients who are constantly hitting us with unreasonable, inhumanly short deadline.

And if a very short deadline is unavoidable in a true emergency, translators need to charge significantly higher rates.

If we dare to do that, we will be tortured much less frequently, and we will probably also be healthier and may even live longer.

Work does not necessarily makes us free. Nazis pretended that this was the case, and so did the Communists, although it was clear to everyone that it was just a joke. The lack of respect for privacy, dignity and creativity of workers may be one of the reason why the Thousand-Year Reich lasted only a few years and Soviet Union only a few decades. Which makes me wonder how many years are there still left for corporatism. Not too many, I hope.

Some type of work may make us feel free, but everything depends on what kind of work it is and in what kind of environment we are working.

Because work does have the power to make us who we really are: free people who are doing willingly something that they are really good at, or slaves.

Older Posts »



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,409 other followers

%d bloggers like this: