Posted by: patenttranslator | October 27, 2014

Translation in a corporate era of productivity at all cost

 

Although the essay below by Kenneth Kronenberg, a veteran translator from German, is already a few years old, I decided to publish it (with his permission), sort of as a long guest post.

It is definitely worth reading in its entirety although it is about 6,000 words long, and I hope that it will provide much needed food for thought especially for young and beginning translators.

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What is translation? What is a translator?
Translation in a corporate era of productivity at all cost

Question: Is there anything about MT that would enable translators to develop the higher skills needed to translate more demanding material?
Alon Lavie: I don’t think there’s anything; but I’m not sure there’s anything in TM either.

Good afternoon, I’m glad to see you all. Before I start, I want to congratulate the organizers of this conference for a job very well done. As former chair of the Conference Committee, from 1997 to 2003, I understand that what looks like a seamless production is the result of a group of dedicated volunteers endlessly sweating the details. I also know about the esprit that develops among members and about the glow of satisfaction after the event is done. I hope that some of you in the audience will consider joining the effort next year. I encourage you to give your name to one of the members of the Conference Committee.

I want to talk today about some profound changes in our field and the effects that they may end up having on us. And in us, too. I’ll introduce my concerns briefly here, and then I hope you’ll all join me in exploring these issues.

Over the last ten years there’s been an increasing emphasis on so-called “productivity” in translation. As translators are bombarded with calls to “get it in yesterday,” we are advised – sometimes essentially forced – to use technologies, particularly translation memory tools, that streamline and standardize translation “output.” My concern is that if we adopt these “productivity” values thoughtlessly, we risk adopting along with them a drastically narrowed view of ourselves, our work, and our potential. These tools take control of the translation process out of our hands and place it in the hands of others. They are the face of corporatism in translation. They encourage us to make the demands and pressures of the corporate marketplace our first concern, and to place them ahead of our own satisfaction, creativity, and development. This kind of tunnel vision threatens to turn translation into a sterile technical exercise – a personally meaningless task that affords less and less emotional or intellectual pleasure.

Furthermore, to identify too closely with the needs of our corporate clients ultimately sets us up for lower pay. Corporations are really good at centralizing control of work processes to reduce costs. This is the value of translation memory tools for agencies and their corporate clients. They speed up and standardize output in the interest of reducing costs.

Not that there is anything inherently wrong with reducing costs, but I find it hard to imagine that these savings will come out of anyone’s pockets but ours. Especially as more and more translators trained in TM come out of the translation programs that have been set up throughout the country. A bit more on that later.

I am not saying that there is no good in these new technologies. I do think, however, that we shouldn’t adopt them, or the values they embody, thoughtlessly. If we want to be sure that we use them to our advantage, not someone else’s, that we are their masters and not the other way around, we have to make ourselves aware of the risks they pose.

Let me take a moment to remind you of exactly how un-narrow a phenomenon translation really is. In fact, translation is one of those fundamental processes without which life is impossible. Every stimulus from the “real world” that comes in on us is filtered through countless translational processes within our sensory organs and eventually in the brain. It is only through translation that patterns of sound and light can be comprehended as speech or writing or painting or movement. The processes are so seamless that we mostly take them for granted, but without them, there is no meaning.

We are constantly translating and being translated, internally, too. We are the result of countless acts of transcription, coding, and decoding carried out at the nuclear level – translational processes that are fundamental to life itself. And comparative studies of identical twins, fraternal twins, and unrelated children raised together and separately have demonstrated just how formative they are of our physical, emotional, and intellectual makeup.

This awareness that we are always translating, that translation is universal, has lately become something of a commonplace. But it is less commonly recognized, although equally true, that translational processes are not only the result, but also a primary cause of who we are. They define us. They shape who we may become.

Now, most of us here today are engaged in one particular form of translation: the rendering of communications from one human language into another. And as hard as it may be to convince our clients of this, we all know very well that this entails a good deal more than taking a dictionary and swapping out words. I think it is no overstatement to say that good translators bring their entire persons to the task. Our innate genetic predispositions, our experiences, the work habits we develop over a lifetime – everything in us goes into our interpretations, as does the sensitivity to language that we train and refine by practice and study. This is the vision that I think translators need to keep in mind, but that I fear is threatened.

Here’s an example. I will be using my own stories throughout this talk, because I’m the only translator I know from the inside out. But you probably all have similar stories of the ways your lives and experiences have impacted upon your work (and vice versa), and I hope you’ll offer some of them to enrich our discussion later. In the meantime, here’s one of mine. For many years, I made my living translating medical papers, patents, and other documents, and whatever else came my way. As a sideline, I developed a fair amount of skill in reading 19th- and 20th-century German handwritings, which enabled me to translate correspondences and diaries for private clients.

It was in that context that I first became aware of the interaction between the translator and the person “being translated.” About 15 years ago I was translating the letters of two brothers who emigrated from Germany to Missouri in the 1840s, and wrote copious and fascinating reports of their lives for family and friends back home. I became aware of a feeling that I was seated in the writers; that I was channeling them, giving them voice. The result was a translation that was widely reckoned to be lively and engaging.

Several years later, however, this method was put to the test. I undertook to translate 400- plus letters written in the 1880s to a mother in Germany by her 19-year-old daughter, who was working as a governess in Constantinople. Identifying with adventurous young men was one thing, but what on earth did I have in common with a teenage nanny? As I embarked on the huge task I wondered where it would take me. But as my relationship with the writer developed, I found myself accompanying the young woman on her errands, consoling her when she worried about being a 21-year-old “old maid,” and even reading the romantic potboilers with which she entertained herself after work, like Eugene Sue’s The Mysteries of Paris. She commented several times that those letters home were her diary, that she was confiding in her mother. But I, too, became a recipient of her confidences, and I responded to them. Returning some of the letters to the owner one day, I asked for a color Xerox of the young woman’s portrait. Wagging her finger at me, my client said, “Now Ken, don’t you go falling in love with Marie. She’s been dead for more than 60 years!”

I’m not sure about the falling in love part, but my discerning client was absolutely right that I was intensely engaged with my subject. The question of where her voice stopped and mine began is a very interesting one that bears on a lot of translation issues, but I’m not going to touch it today. I will, however, say that this identification with the voice of the writer has always felt right to me. I became increasingly comfortable with it over many experiences like these, and if I can be said to use a particular translation method, that’s what it is. It’s that depth of engagement that makes translation so rewarding for me. (Incidentally, that’s Marie looking over my shoulder in the photo in NETA News.)

And it applies to less dramatic tasks, too, which I’ll illustrate in a moment. There is something profoundly transformative about translation. The process changes us. Every act of translation, if we are lucky, leaves behind it a “residue” of experience and comprehension that fuels the desire and the capacity for more. This is why translation is a creative pursuit, and why what we do can be “our work” instead of just “a job.”

This is true of any skill that a person pursues seriously and in which experience is exercised and compounded over many years. And this transformative quality in good translation work is why I’ve never been able to convince myself of a hard and fast line between what is called “literary” translation and the translation of the technical and other workaday documents that most of us engage in. Clearly a Toyota manual makes different demands on a translator than does a novel or a poem. But every document is produced by a person who, to one degree or another, brought his life experience to the production of it. At least until recently. As such, every document is an entrée into a world of human experience. The deep engagement and linguistic finesse that characterize literature can be found in surprising places, and – as anyone who has ever been disappointed in a book can attest – it can be missing in surprising places, too. The voice and substance of the author, and therefore of the translator who conveys them, are not relevant only in so-called “literary” works. Optimum translation of any document requires that the translator be able to recognize the different kinds of engagement that different documents demand. Even a laboratory SOP that sets out the procedure for moving from a dirty room to a clean room can be clearly written and psychologically perceptive. Or it can be junk. And our appreciation of the difference is literary.

To give a more specific example, I once translated an expert testimony in a patent infringement case. I never fully understood the particulars of the case, although I had a grasp of the technical vocabulary, which was not all that extensive. But the testimony was written in such a way that I could follow a complex argument from thought to thought over fifteen pages. I felt as if I were on a tightrope. If the author abandoned me, I’d fall into the abyss and might have to admit that I was translating over my head. But he didn’t abandon me. By the time I reached the end, I knew that I had nailed that translation. And as I thought about the experience afterward, it occurred to me that perhaps this was one way of recognizing first-rate expository prose of a certain sort – that it could be followed and translated even before it was fully understood. The writing was so crisp, the grammar so precise, the transitions so logical, that all I had to do was go willingly along.

A translator who does not appreciate the difference between good writing and bad, between solid writing and sleazy, will not produce an ideal translation of either – and, again, that appreciation is essentially literary. Refining our capacity for appreciation makes us better translators; it’s one aspect of the residue that I’ve been talking about. That attorney was a terrific writer. And he, too, added to the creative residue at my disposal.

A few days ago, I finished translating for Stanford University Press No Justice. Nowhere., the diaries of Willy Cohn, a German-Jewish teacher and historian who chronicled the progressive constriction of Jewish life in Breslau from 1933 until just days before his murder in 1941. A far cry from patent translation, it would seem, and indeed these writings involve looser – though not less demanding – modes of translation and a very different sensibility. Still, when Cohn explained a theoretical idea, I felt myself shifting into something akin to patent gear. I know where I learned that voice – from dozens of patents, and from that lawyer. That’s what I mean by residue. Translation muscle gets built up when something stretches us; once we have access to that residue, it can be used for purposes for which it was not strictly intended.

These are my stories. But I imagine that most of us have had experiences of being taken beyond the translation at hand to a place where we had to step back and appraise the voice of the writer or the quality of the writing. Perhaps some of us have even found ourselves now and then forming in our minds some piece of a personal theory of translation. These experiences should not be discounted; appreciation and theory-making are among the hidden pleasures of translation, whatever we are translating, and they enable us to grow into our craft. When we lose that expansiveness, we lose our creativity and our freshness.

So. What does it mean that translators are increasingly being urged to be more “productive?” …and that TMs promise to increase productivity by reducing “redundant” effort in the translation process? As I’ve said, that promise is very attractive to agencies and the corporations who engage them, and TMs have won great acceptance as a result. It’s an attractive promise to us, too. Certainly we want to work efficiently. We have a vested interest in making the most of work we have already done, and it’s very helpful to be able to organize our specialized knowledge and vocabularies into an easily accessible form. But when these tools achieve their efficiencies by weakening our grip on the translation process, it behooves us to be careful. One obvious example is the fact that when agencies mandate the use of these tools, it is often they, not us, who end up owning the translation memories that our work produces. But there are other kinds of control too. As soon as someone or something other than the translator can interject translation solutions – even if the translator is entirely at liberty to reject them, the translator’s own process has been interrupted or even hijacked. The question does not revolve, as some would have it, around which texts are suitable for TMs and which not, the real question has to do with the effects that these tools have on the mental habits of translators themselves over time.

Skilled translators, like all other skilled workers, evolve highly personal and sophisticated work and thought processes. These are interrupted when disembodied translation segments are introduced from who knows where. It’s one thing to build our own translation memories, freely following our own trains of thought and the voice and logic of the text.

But it undermines our process when we are constantly distracted by other people’s solutions. These may be good or they may be bad, but before we can make that determination we have to stop what we are doing to judge them. The very fact of stopping, though, undermines the efficiency that is the whole point of translation memory. So there is always pressure on us – more or less subtle – to accept what the TM gives us, especially if we are only being paid a percentage of our full rate. We also know very well that if we look at it long enough, even bad text starts to make sense. Eventually it becomes “good enough.” One of my correspondents, a teacher in a well-respected translation program, wrote to me recently, “It is like shoveling sand against the tide as translators (students, but professionals as well) simply get lulled into adopting the solutions proposed by the TM.”

This problem is now being acknowledged occasionally on professional forums. Even some proponents of translation memory tools have noted something of a deterioration in texts translated using TMs. I have heard this chalked up disparagingly to a lack of translator “professionalism.” But I think that this is a red herring, an elegant way of blaming the failings of the tools on the translators who are increasingly pressured to use them. We need to be wary of such self-serving explanations. In this case, there are far more cogent ones.

One has to do with morale. People are most engaged in their work when they feel that they matter. But translation memory tools are designed explicitly to keep the translator from mattering – to liberate translation from dependence on any one translator’s individual process and even on any one individual translator. To translation memory tools and those who mandate them, I do not matter. If my words and those of other people are interchangeable, how can I not conclude that I am interchangeable too?

And it’s worse than that. TMs tell us not only that we are interchangeable, but also that we ought to be. If translation output is increasingly going to be a patchwork of translation memories – that is, of many translators’ contributions – a distinctive individual voice is more of a liability than an asset. The technology itself works to homogenize diverse contributions. It suppresses the individual realities of the participating translators. In this way it undermines optimum translation, and it is not hard to see why it can never achieve the richness of individually crafted work. But it is disingenuous for proponents to call that the translator’s fault – it is the inevitable result of a depersonalizing technology.

This confronts translators with a personal dilemma: If speed of output is everything, if words are commodities to be swapped and sold, there is no point at all in developing our own translation voice. But if we don’t develop that voice, then what? Do we spend the four or more decades of our working lives filling in other people’s blanks with little opportunity to develop and exercise our full, and most fulfilling, potential? Chasing one project after another, rushing to meet deadlines? Is that all there is? What – a – trap.

If I sound as though this really matters to me, it’s because it does. I spent my adolescence at a school in Switzerland called the Ecole d’Humanité. The Ecole was founded by the progressive educators Paul Geheeb and his wife Edith, in 1934, after the Nazis forcibly took over his first school, the renowned Odenwaldschule, in Germany. Rather than fire Jewish and socialist teachers, or compromise the school’s egalitarian and coeducational principles, the Geheebs left Germany and started over. The name of their new school was itself a direct challenge to the Nazis. The word humanité (in all its forms and in all languages that use it) encompasses all peoples, not just so-called Aryans.

If the school’s philosophy could be summed up in a single maxim, it would be “Werde der du bist” – Become who you are. We were constantly reminded of these words of the Greek poet Pindar, because they were woven into all aspects of the school. We received no grades; we wrote elaborate assessments of our own accomplishments in little green books, and our teachers did likewise. We had three hours of classes each morning; the afternoons were given over to theater, sports, and the arts. Each morning we peeled the day’s potatoes and vegetables, and we did most of the cleaning and maintenance ourselves. The school did not want to educate one-sided people, and a great deal of attention was paid to the particular needs of each student. When I arrived, at the age of 11, for example, I had no apparent knowledge of German. But the school knew that I had lived in Germany for a year when I was five. Their solution, and this was very typical, was to place me in a Latin class – in German.

My years at the Ecole had plenty to do with my becoming a translator. When I look back over my life, I can see just how firmly anchored that phrase from Pindar became, and how it guided my choices and thinking. And I know that many of you have had equally intense formative experiences with other languages and other cultures, and that those are what have brought us all together here today as translators.

TMs present another practical problem. Their characteristic segmentation of text interrupts flow. It discourages the translator from keeping the flow of the whole text in mind, and forces concentration on individual parts. This problem, too, is showing up on the forums, where some translators note that transitions tend to get lost, with an adverse affect on smoothness and sometimes even on meaning. Of course, such problems can, theoretically, be remedied in the editorial phase, but what is the point of building this feature in and then having to undo the results afterwards? And what is the cost of being endlessly jarred out of our own process and the flow of the text? What happens to our ability to appreciate the text?

Remember the expert opinion I mentioned before? The crisp and careful transitions in that piece were among the chief guideposts that allowed me to translate this unfamiliar material successfully. They were also what alerted me to the quality of the writing, which I then strove to emulate in my translation. I doubt that I would have picked up on those cues if I had been using Trados or Wordfast (the particular TM that I own). Instead of an expanding experience and a real pleasure, this assignment would have been just another job. Ka- ching! Next! That’s the commodification of translation in a nutshell.

Yes, it’s good to know that we can use these tools to develop our own translation memories and our own specialized vocabularies. And I would be the last to deny that help in avoiding dropped passages is a good thing. We translators with years of whole-text experience can probably find ways around some of the pitfalls I’ve been talking about.

Still, how do we inoculate ourselves against the dulling effects of broken-up material and the constant intrusion of outside solutions? Even skilled and sharp-eyed translators are not necessarily immune to that – or to the siren call of “productivity at all cost.”

But the rising generations of translators are the most vulnerable of all. Most of them have limited experience negotiating the linguistic oddities of different languages. They’ve had little or no chance to develop their own perspectives and their own voices. For translators growing up in the era of translation memory tools, this technology, and its outputs, will be the norm, especially now that translation programs across the country are under pressure to accept that norm as the new standard. I recently spoke with a friend, a translator and translation teacher who is helping to set up a new university translation program. I asked him whether they taught TMs. “The university really wants this program,” he said, “but it has to be self-sustaining.” This was a cryptic response, and I had to think about it. Then the light dawned. “Wait a second,” I said. “Do you mean that XYZ is paying you to use their tool?” “Something like that,” he said, suddenly reticent. We should all be concerned about this.

I don’t have much to say about machine translation. At the moment, even its most enthusiastic proponents claim that it is suitable only for certain easily controllable sorts of texts, and for gisting and some of the other things that Alon mentioned. But I don’t think that this is how it will work out in the real world. MT output may or may not ever meet the Turing test – that is, be indistinguishable from human translation. But it won’t have to. All that has to happen is for it to become just good enough to be profitable after post-editing. That “just good enough” may well become a de facto definition of acceptable translation. The pressure on us to do machine-driven work will be stronger than ever – and low post- editing rates will probably depress overall rates. Reassurances from the industry that this won’t happen are little more than anesthesia.

My own feeling is that translators should refuse to post-edit machine translation if at all possible. Not that I think we will stall the inexorable “March of Progress, ” but there is really nothing in it for us. How can it be in our developmental or financial interest to tidy up linguistic rubbish produced without benefit of a functioning human brain, mind, or spirit? We gain nothing from it intellectually or emotionally. There is nothing in it that develops our skills so that we can take on more demanding material. (This is what I was getting at with the question I asked Alon during his session. His candid response actually gave me more than I anticipated.) It will not encourage us to get under the text or gain an appreciation of an author – because there is no author. But that is exactly what will give us a decent living and a rewarding life’s work.

Because we do have to make a living, and this is getting harder. These are difficult times, and I don’t know a single freelancer of any persuasion who doesn’t live with constant insecurity. The pressure to “buckle down” and make a “decent living” feels overwhelming, and it’s hard to resist the temptation to do whatever it takes to make ourselves more attractive to the market and to get the work “done and out” as fast as possible. And there wouldn’t be anything wrong with that – except that TM and MT don’t offer us security, and they never will. Translation rates as a whole haven’t risen in years; by anecdotal account they are actually dropping. If I am right about the trends I’ve been talking about, they will not be rising any time soon. Productivity tools will have played some part in that. And the interchangeability that I talked about will increase, making for even more psychological insecurity.

I have been fortunate in some ways. I grew to maturity as a translator when there was no serious pressure to adopt productivity tools, and I never had to worry about being a so- called “professional.” I have no children, and children are the weightiest of all financial responsibilities. Even so, I worry about money in a way that I didn’t before. I have declined to do TM work, and that has cut into my agency work. But I did this at a time when I was ready with alternatives. I was willing to make this leap because my work for academic publishers is so much more compelling, even though with all the revisions and extra work that such translation requires, the pay works out to about a third of my usual fee. But I have a few private clients who pay my full rate. And work on privately held letters and diaries – my preference when I can get it – pays very well too, although material like that is not always available. So I’m working toward an economic balance, a “business model” in which letters and regular clients subsidize my book translations. So far it’s working more or less well, if somewhat nerve-wrackingly. But it’s impossible to see around the next corner. The net I’ve cast is a somewhat narrow one, in part because I’m older and over time my interests have become focused. There are certainly much broader – and potentially more lucrative – waters for other translators to fish in. But we have to be willing to set out on our own and find them – no one else is going to look for them for us. Don’t settle for what falls easily to hand.

Most of us are going to have to engage to some degree with these productivity tools. Their use will probably become a necessary skill, a useful one to fall back on when more engaging and rewarding work isn’t available. But finding really good work in the usual places is not going to get easier. There are still agencies that remain uncomfortable with the implications of these tools and refuse to use them, but they will probably become fewer in coming years. For our own protection, at a minimum, we have to be realistic about the limitations and dangers of these new technologies and about their seductions. And we should not identify with the narrow vision of translation that emanates from corporations and translation-brokers. We have to find ways to reframe what we do to encompass all of what translation means. We have to seek out clients – private, academic, corporate, whatever – who know how to value what we do, and who give us work that we can turn into “my work.” Even when we do work with these tools, we mustn’t let them persuade us that a depersonalized involvement (which reflects the capacities of computers and the priorities of corporations) is the best we can hope for.

How do we break out of the trap? I can’t answer that question concretely, because that has to come from within each of us. But when in doubt I fall back on the principle of my school – Become who you are. Not an easy answer, but it does offer us a lodestar by which to set our course. Let me give one last example of the ways that a translator’s life and work can become creatively intertwined, and why it’s so important to keep a broader vision of translation alive against the corporate forces that would narrow it.

About 10 years ago at a book fair I found a slim volume titled Selbsterziehung zum Tod fürs Vaterland, Self-Education for Death for the Fatherland. The author was Udo Kraft, an “ordinary” German. The book was published in 1915, after Udo’s death, by his brother, Friedrich. These excerpts from Udo’s diaries and letters made my hair stand on end. They chronicle his unwavering obsession with dying in defense of the German Fatherland against its arch-enemy, France – and his bitter regret at having been born too late. In 1914, at the age of 44, he finally had his chance. He enlisted in the Kaiser’s army – and took a bullet to the head in the first action he saw. I decided to translate the book as a way of understanding Udo. But more than that, I thought that the close reading that translation makes possible might let me feel my way into the mindset that made World War I – and what came later – possible.

I translated the book. I also hunted for more information – any kind of information – about Udo. For several years I came up dry. After all, he was not a “notable” in any way. But, being who I am, I don’t give up easily, and eventually I happened upon a 12-page article about him in the journal of a small German town’s historical society. And in it I learned that his brother had taught at the Odenwaldschule, the original school established by Paul Geheeb, the founder of my own Ecole. Utterly astounded, I plugged “Friedrich Kraft” and “Odenwaldschule” into Google, and it was true. Up popped the Geheeb archives page on the Ecole d’Humanité website! Udo and Geheeb, it turns out, were cousins. They were both born in 1870. They attended the same university. For a time they were even members of the same dueling fraternity. They were close when they were young, and there was a fairly large correspondence between them in the archives. I had stumbled upon a dramatic, and very close-to-home, example of something that had fascinated me much of my adult life: the notorious split in the German character of that period. Here it was, embodied within a single family, in two boys who had grown up together, and one of them was a man I had actually known! In Udo could be seen the authoritarian, militaristic, and doctrinaire side of the culture; his cousin Paul Geheeb, who died at the Ecole in 1961, while I was there, was a German humanist and pacifist whose highest ideals were the poet Goethe and “Werde der du bist.”

In 2004 I flew back to my old school, to the one archive in the world where I, uncredentialed and unaffiliated, would not only be welcomed, but also fed and housed. I read the correspondence, which added immeasurably to my sense of the man. Then, in a wish to share something of the excitement that this chase and its results had engendered in me, and to encourage other such exploits in independent scholarship, I put my translation and the results of my research up on my website, under a Creative Commons license. I returned Udo to the public domain.

When Stanford University Press contacted me last year about translating the diaries of Willy Cohn, they told me that my listing on PEN had led them to my website. I cannot say with certainty that it was my translation of Selbsterziehung that made them choose me. But it was the website that told them what they needed to know about me and my work, including a translation done years earlier for my own purposes alone. That is what was there for them to see, and to judge. And what will happen once No Justice. Nowhere. is published? I have no idea, but I look forward to the next chapter of this unscrolling adventure.

As I said before, we are translating animals. What and how we translate defines who we are, and vice versa. In that sense, every translator brings his or her whole person to the task of translation. The task for each of us is to discover who we are, and to find work that engages us – every bit of us. We need to have and develop our own work – work about which we are so passionate that we are even willing to do it – at times – without compensation. Not because it’s a moral issue, but because that passion is what attracts others to us, and opens their eyes to what we can do.

I’ve told you something about the development of my own work and where it has led me. You’ve got your own stories, and they will be different. But I think we all know how much it matters to be able to say, “This is my work,” and feel on solid ground. Translators are individuals first, or they are not fully translators. To reassert the fundamental association of language, translation, and humanity is the only way to keep us from being sucked into a corporate vortex where our skills are little more than an instrument for someone else’s profit, and our unique voices are suppressed. It is those unique voices, and what we say with them, that connect us to other people and give life to what we do.

I have tried to place before you today a vision of ever deeper engagement, a translation model diametrically opposed to the depersonalized and ever more superficial corporate model of “productivity,” which can only separate us from ourselves. Even when we have to deal with that model out of necessity, we should never let it define us. We need to be looking all the time for new opportunities to use our skills, and to show the world exactly what they are – and who we are. That is how we can place ourselves in the way of work that is both rewarding and fulfilling.

To paraphrase Pindar, “Become the translator that you are.” – (And don’t get trapped in Trados!)

By Kenneth Kronenberg
Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution

-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0

United States License, 2011

Posted by: patenttranslator | October 25, 2014

What Do You Do When a Customer Suddenly Vanishes from Your Radar Screen?

 

It may seem very strange, improbable, and even incomprehensible, but sometime even an old and trusted customer may simply vanish into thin air like a plane that vanished from the radar screen of the control tower for reasons unknown and perhaps unknowable.

It happened to me this month, and it was not some fly-by-night operation that disappeared because the crooks did not want to pay. That, of course, happened to me a couple of times too, but that would be a different post. This time it was the patent department of a subsidiary of a large corporation that had been sending me long, juicy patents, my “meat and potatoes” kind of work, usually several times a month since they discovered my website in 2007.

I normally communicated with a secretary at the company who was in charge of translations only by e-mail. I would confirm receipt of new patents for translation and she would then confirm receipt of our translations, either the same day or the next day. I talked to her only a few times during the period of seven years. I had her telephone number and it was her direct line, but we only used the phone when something went wrong – once when the cost estimate for translating a number of patents was too high and the company decided to translate only claims instead, once when she did not receive my translation (their server must have rejected my file because its size was over the limit due to many scanned-in graphics – so I sent it as a PDF file instead of in MS Word).

Last month I translated three patents for them, one from French and one from German, and another one was translated by a patent translator who I generally work with from Chinese and I just proofread it.

So the company owed me about three thousand dollars for the month, out of which I owed about 500 dollars to the Chinese translator.

The secretary confirmed receipt of the first two patent translations – the Chinese and the French one, but not the third one which I translated from German. Oh, well, I thought, it’s Thursday today, maybe she is not coming to work until Monday. But when radio silence continued also on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday … and then the whole week, although I sent her three more e-mails and left two messages on her voice mail, I knew that something was wrong.

But what? My three e-mails asking for confirmation of safe receipt, not counting the original e-mail with the translation and invoice attached, should have been delivered since they were not returned. And every time when I called the secretary’s number, the recorded message asked me to leave a message, so the number was still valid, wasn’t it?

I try to have a backup plan for everything that can go wrong on my side. For example, because we sometime lose power here in Eastern Virginia when rains and storms topple trees and power lines, I have two corded phones in my house, one downstairs and one upstairs so that I would still be accessible by phone even if there is no power, and I can use my iPad as a personal hotspot for Internet if I lose power. I have of course several computers and printers and scanners so that if for some reason something goes wrong with one machine and there is no time to figure out the problem, I can just move the job to another machine to finish a rush translation on time.

But I had no backup plan prepared for something as unexpected as this. I went to the website of the company and called its main number, which gave me another recording. Option number 7 was to talk to an operator “in case of a real emergency”, but when I tried to talk to a live person in this manner, my call was disconnected after a few rings.

This happened three times.

Now I knew for sure that there was something wrong, not only with my contact person, but probably with the whole company.

************

About fifteen years ago an electronics company that owed me money for translation of a phone manual from German to English was bought out by another company. That was how I discovered that it is perfectly legal to buy only assets of a company without assuming any obligations for its liabilities. At least that was what a lawyer’s letter that I received instead of a check said.

And about seven years ago I lost about three thousand dollars for two long Japanese patents I translated for a translation agency in Belgium. What was their name …. can’t remember now, except that it was such a cute name. I did several translations for them on several previous occasions and they did pay me on time. But instead of receiving a transfer to my bank account for those two long Japanese patents, I received a letter in French from a bankruptcy lawyer instructing me on how to register my claim.

After I did so, the lawyer started sending me letters in Flemish to make sure that I would not be able to understand them. In a way I did understand – there was no way I would receive a penny from that lawyer.

So I know how these things go: when you least expect it, somebody hits you under the belt with a mighty punch that may knock you out, at least for a while.

I tried to assume a Zen stance to this seemingly intractable problem. It’s just money, I kept telling myself, and I really would only be losing the 500 dollars that I have to pay the Chinese translator out of my own pocket, the rest is basically the time that I spent working on two translations – for free.

Truth be told, I did not feel very Zen about it at all. But I could not think of anything else to do. Let’s wait and see, I told myself.

A week passed and nothing happened. Then another week passed, and still nothing. Then finally, at the end of the second week, there was a message on my old-fashioned answering machine (I use answering machines because I believe that they are more private than voice mail) from the elusive secretary who left her home number and her cell phone number for me to call her back at any of these numbers.

Man, was I glad to hear her voice after two weeks of waiting!

When I called her back, she told me that she did not get my third translation, or any of my phone messages and that the last translation probably disappeared into Internet’s black hole because the subsidiary was no more, her job was eliminated by the company and she lost access to her company phone line and company e-mail address.

She was basically forced to retire, she said, although she did not want to do it yet, because she loved her work and could not imagine what she would be doing without her job. But she was more or less OK with it, she said, and financially she was going to be OK. We chatted for a while, and she said that she had five grown children, so she would be probably visiting them a lot.

She did not sound very enthusiastic about it, I thought.

And then she said that her boss, or former boss, took her to a dinner before she was “eliminated” and one of the things he told her was to make sure to tell the translator who was translating all those patents for them all those years to contact him directly because more translation would be needed again. And she gave me the phone numbers and e-mails of two people in the company who were in fact the recipients of the translations.

“They really like your translations, so make sure to call or e-mail”.

After I did that and resent my translation of the German patent, the next day I finally had a confirmation that the third translation was received along with the words:”I too am sorry that [insert name] is gone, but I am pleased with your work and will send all future translations directly to you.”

It turns out that no matter what we do, we cannot have a backup plan for every eventuality because too many things are beyond our control.

I know now that in addition to trying to have a backup plan for every eventuality anyway, it is a good idea to have more than just one contact person for every customer. But in the end, the best backup plan is to do good work. There will always be a need in this world for people who do good work.

 

There are many ways to commit suicide, but all of them (shooting or hanging yourself, cutting your veins with a razor, or even taking a lot of pills) are pretty painful. That is why assisted suicide is now available for a price to ease the pain for those would prefer to check out from this valley of tears in some countries, (for example in Switzerland, or here in US in Oregon), because sometime living with an excruciating pain or a disease that robs us of our memory or cognitive abilities may be worse than death.

Suicide also exists in nature as a part of life under certain circumstances: salmon must return from the ocean, which is rich in nutrients, and swim upstream in a river to the spawning grounds only to die there in an environment that is poor in nutrients.

Perhaps this is how nature prevents overabundance of certain species of fish.

Societies also sometime commit suicide at a certain point in history. The suicide of democratic society is happening right in front of our eyes: when everybody is being secretly watched 24/7 in violation of existing laws, most importantly the Constitution, democracy is committing suicide and nobody seems to give it much thought, least of all the politicians who took a solemn oath to protect the Constitution.

Perhaps this is how human societies eventually die so that they could be regenerated and replaced by something that works better for most humans, rather than just for a few kings or billionaires.

It is also possible for an entire occupation to commit suicide.

In the classic American movie from 1946 “It’s a Wonderful Life”, a complicated, troubled but basically honest and likeable banker played by Jimmy Stewart is thinking of committing suicide and in one version of his life on the screen he actually does it by jumping into a freezing, cold river … only to be saved by an elderly, chubby guardian angel for another version of his on-screen life in black and white. Because this suitably uplifting and honesty celebrating movie is played every year around Thanksgiving and Christmas here on TV, I saw parts of it maybe four or five times already. I never finish it because I know how it ends, but some scenes I watch over and over again.

Unfortunately, honest bankers in this and many other countries have committed suicide en masse when they were bailed out by the taxpayers after their dishonest schemes unraveled in 2008 as a result of the mortgage crisis, a crisis that was caused by the greed and rampant illegality of rich bankers.

Although the great majority of the voters were very strongly against the bailout of the financial industry, that was irrelevant and the voters were as usual completely impotent. The big banks were given money at interest rates close to zero, money that was taken from the taxpayers, and the banks then turned around and lent the same money to cash-hungry people who were trying to survive in an economy that was ruined by the same bankers at rates that were at least 20 times higher.

Not a bad business model when it comes to profitability. But when it comes to morality …. one can see why Jesus decided to overturn moneychangers’ tables in the temple (Mathew, 21:12).

And that is how our great, capitalist financial system was saved. While socialism is a dirty word in this country, the bailout of the Western financial system in 2008 is a textbook example of how socialism was practiced for decades in East block countries – before the economies of these countries collapsed as a result of too many bailouts.

So as far as Joe the citizen is concerned, an honest banker of the type played by Jimmy Stewart in the film from 1946 no longer exists, it is only a distant memory of a dream from a bygone era, a dream that is revived on the TV screens in an old movie once or twice a year. In real life, if the bankers create another crisis by stealing too much money again, they know that the politicians will bail them out again.

*******************

Another profession that may be about to commit suicide is the translating profession. Not because translators are as dishonest and powerful as the bankers – quite the opposite.

Most translators generally do not make a lot of money, and they have very little power over anything. But if they fall for the latest scheme of some of our “translation industry leaders”, they will have no power whatsoever, not even the power to determine how much they should be paid for their work, and they will make even less money, probably much less money, than they are making now because they will no longer even exist as translators.

Translators already fell for the first hoax that was perpetrated on the translating community by “the translation industry” in the last decade. Many translators, although by no means all of them, believed the promises that Computer Assisted Translation (CAT) tools would make it possible for them to increase their productivity by a factor of 2, or 3, or more, and spent hundreds of dollars and Euros (I am told that Trados costs 800 dollars) for these tools. Once they started using them, they were told by many (although by no means all) translation agencies that from now on, they would only be paid a fraction of their usual rate, or nothing in some cases, for what in the industry parlance is referred to as “repeat words”, “fuzzy matches” and “full matches” determined by the CAT tools.

When I wrote a post in July of 2009 titled “Friends Don’t Let Friends Use Trados or Any Other Memory Tools”, only 103 people saw it, and by the end of 2009 it still had only 347 views. But after 2012, this became one of my more popular posts, several thousand people read it now every year and the total number of views of this old but not forgotten post will probably go well over 10,000 this year.

So maybe, just maybe, people are finally beginning to understand that all of this talk about higher productivity levels that would lead to higher incomes for translators was really just a smoke screen for an ingenious attempt by the “translation industry” to achieve greater profitability by slashing the fees paid to translators – without necessarily passing to the clients of translation agencies any of the savings achieved at the expense of the reimbursement for the work of human workers called translators.

But when some translators agreed to be controlled by the CAT tools instead of just using these tools (that they themselves have to buy!) for legitimate purposes, and only if they felt like it, this was not really a suicide for these translators – only the equivalent of shooting yourself in the foot. When you shoot yourself in the foot, out of carelessness and stupidity, you may be limping around for a while, but you will probably live if you learn that it is not a good idea to play with a loaded gun.

The second scheme, called “post-processing of machine translations”, is likely to be much more deadly to the translating community, because this tool was designed by our beloved “translation industry leaders” to simply kill off the translating profession and replace it by a new type of workers called post-processors of machine translations.

The word “post-processor” evokes in me the image of a processing line in cold halls of meat processing plants where workers in dirty white coats and nets on their hair, usually illegal immigrants, slash and cut to smaller pieces carcasses of slaughtered animals.

The nature of the work of post-processors who work on the detritus created by algorithms stored in machines that is generally referred to as machine translation would not require the use of sharp knives, nor would it require the use of a sharp brain, based on the design of this new profession.

Anybody who has or claims to have some knowledge of a foreign language would qualify as a post-processor because as far as the designers of this new profession are concerned, most of the work has already been done by the machine. The compensation for this activity, which is comparable to basic computer data entry, would thus be commensurate with the low skill set level required, and much of this post processing work would be done in third world countries to maximize the profitability of the economic model for the owners of these enterprises.

Should real translators agree to cooperate en masse with this interpretation of what their profession is or should be in the future, an entire occupation would be wiped out and replaced by new, post-processing human robots.

What a horrible way to go.

The post-processing design of human-assisted post-translation of what machines armed with software regurgitate when they are done analyzing communication between humans will inevitably generate very poor quality of translation, if we can still call it that. But “translation industry leaders” know that, and they are ready to attack this problem by offering lower prices for this product, significantly lower than what customers have to pay for human translations. There will still be plenty of profit left for them given how little the post-processing human robots will be paid.

Can this scheme work?

Yes, I believe so. In some translation fields, where “the translation industry” is already using or trying to use “cloud workers” (also called “clown workers”), a similar concept is already being implemented. The clown workers are not really translators, they don’t need to have attained a certain level of education and specialization, as long as they say that they “know a foreign language”, and as long as they are ready and willing to work for peanuts.

There should be plenty of clown workers like that on this planet! There are over seven billion people living on planet Earth and about half of them are starving. Let’s send in the clowns and get rid of translators!

But I do not believe that the post-processing design can possibly work in specialized translation fields, such as my field of patent translation.

Trying to apply this simplified model of what used to be called human translation to patent translation would result in a lot of garbage that can no longer be called translation.

When I translate a patent application, which is something that I have been doing for more than 27 years now, I generally always print out a machine translation if it is available. But I basically use it only as a dictionary, not a translation. A real translation must take into account a number of things that machines don’t understand.

For example, since most patents already have an English summary prepared by humans who sometime knew what they were doing, and sometime did not, I have to try to use the terms already existing in these summaries because these are the terms that my clients use to communicate with patent lawyers who may live in different countries and speak different languages.

But the most important thing to understand is that machine translation is not really a translation; just a suggestion made by a dumb machine. Google Translate sometime makes very good suggestions because it picks a similar translation, originally produced by a human translator, if it is available in its huge database. But because even Google Translate has absolutely no understanding of the meaning of the text, it will often generate hilarious mistranslation. These are easy to spot, but more subtle mistranslations can be very difficult to detect.

The concept of post-processing of machine translation is thus based on a faulty premise because it is almost always faster to translate anything, or at least complicated and highly specialized texts, by human translators from scratch. Post-processing is a just a scheme designed to get around the problem of high cost of human translation.

The scheme may work, to a limited extent, on very simple, repetitive, relatively unimportant texts that still need to be translated, regardless of how “unimportant” they are.

But it is not going to work for example in the field of patent translation where companies may be fighting out awesome battles in court for years to come, battles that may be in the end determined by a slightly different nuance of a technical term used in a patent application.

The key to surviving the coming wave of professional suicides, figuratively speaking, among translators who will decide to switch professions, ditch their old profession and become “post-processors” of output that was generated by machines is thus clear – specialization in highly complex texts, which even our “translation industry leaders” are likely to leave to highly educated, highly experienced and highly qualified human translators – unless they are much dumber than I thought.

Posted by: patenttranslator | October 18, 2014

Please Don’t Shoot The Translator, She Is Doing Her Best

 

“Please don’t shoot the piano player, he is doing his best” was a sign that was frequently encountered in western saloons and later made famous by Oscar Wilde when he saw the sign somewhere on a saloon in Colorado in the late 19th century.

This is how people were expressing their displeasure with piano players back then, and maybe that was why piano players were eventually replaced by music-playing machines. People will generally not shoot at machines, not even when they are playing pretty awful honky-tonk music, and not even in the Wild West, because people are much more fun to shoot at.

Shooting the translator, figuratively speaking, has been a popular sport in the “translation industry” for quite some time now. If something goes wrong with a translation, or even if nothing is wrong with it but the client does not like it for one reason or another, it is always the translator’s and nobody else’s fault.

The fact is that a translation, and thus also a translator, even a really good one, can be shot down for a number of reasons that may or may not be related to the quality of the translation. This danger is inherent in the method that generic translation agencies who specialize in every subject known to man, (which would be a great majority of them), use to “ensure” what the in agency lingo is called QC (quality control).

Because most of the time the people handling translation project at translation agencies cannot even read the documents in foreign languages that they are assigning to translators who may not be very well known to them, they often use a proofreader who in theory, or at least according to what the agencies are advertising on their websites, is an equally qualified translator.

I already blogged about the unreliability of this method, also referred to as “The Four-Eyes Principle”, in this post.

In practice, however, the second translator is often not much of a translator because payment for proofreading of this kind is usually based on a low hourly fee (and the number of hours allotted for proofreading are fixed ahead of time), or no more than 3 cents per word, which means that the “second translator” cannot afford to waste a lot of time on the proofreading job.

Due mostly to the low rates, I have not accepted a proofreading job of this kind in something like a quarter century, although I used to do that as a beginner if there was nothing else to do.

Translation agencies like to boast that their method ensures a high quality of translations, but nothing could be further from the truth. Knowing who the best translators are in a given field and paying them good rates and on time is the best method to ensure good quality, but this method is probably used by relatively few agencies. Most of them try to spend as little as possible on translators and proofreaders because they can then spend more money on much, much more important things such as online advertising, money for sales people, owner’s salary, etc.

So if there really is a problem with a translation, an inexperienced proofer (“2nd translator”) may or may not even notice what the problem is, and when the client finally notices that something is wrong with the translation – it will be obviously the translator’s fault.

It is the translation agency’s coordinator who hired the wrong translator for the job, for example because the project manager (PM) assigned a highly technical translation to a translator who mostly translates non-technical texts and who really needed money to pay the bills that month. But if a client complains that the translation makes no sense, everything will be blamed on the translator – the PM, who may not even be able to read the original document, let alone understand the technical concepts involved, is completely blameless.

The translator will simply not be paid for her work, which to me is the equivalent of being shot on the spot. Because these situations occur frequently, some translation agencies even put in their contracts a clause stipulating that the translator will be paid only if the agency finds in its infinite wisdom that the translation was of good quality, and some translators do sign such a contract, ensuring that they will not be paid if somebody does not like their translation.

However, translators can be also shot on the spot when a very good translation is proofread by a dishonest proofreader who happens to be a translator who at the moment does not have enough work.

It is very easy for a proofreader to spill a lot of red ink on a good translation in order to pronounce the first translator incompetent. The temptation is always there because if you do that, the chances are that the translation agency will start sending new translations to you instead, especially since the PM is in no position to evaluate independently whether the changes recommended by the proofreader are warranted, as she does not understand the source document and/or the field in question.

A very good translation, and thus also the translator, can be also shot on the spot when it is reviewed by an ambitious and somewhat vicious bilingual specialist who know the company’s preferred terms for words used in the translation because he works at the end client’s company.

The translator is supposed to know all the preferred terms in advance without being told by the client what the company’s preferences are. If she does not know that, it is her fault and thus deserves to be shot on the spot.

Some translation agencies understand that every translation involves a relatively long learning process during which every translator, who always starts from zero with a new client, gets better and better with every new job, but many don’t even understand this simple fact.

A good translation agency will try to mediate between the client in order to let the translator simply replace the terms that the client does not like by terms preferred by the client. But many will instead use the old method that was so popular in the saloons of the Wild West when somebody did not like the piano player’s music – they will shoot the translator who may not be paid for many days of hard work because “she used the wrong terms” (i.e. she was not a mind reader).

The poor translator will be simply shot the way a poor piano player was shot by drunk cowboys in the Wild West if he was playing the wrong tune as far as they were concerned.

It is unlikely that the translator will complain in such a situation. And if she does, for example in a discussion online, all you have to do is call the translation unsatisfactory, poor, shoddy, pedestrian, whatever comes to mind, and the translator incompetent and shoot her down a second time.

It works like magic.

 

There is no shortage of advice being given to translators on how to run a translator’s business, mostly beginning ones, on blogs and in newsletters and magazines published by organizations of translators.

Marta Stelmaszak’s new book “A Business Guide To Translators” is unusual in that … well, it is a book. But it is also unusual in that it is available as well as a digital file that is full of links so that readers who may be interested in finding out more about a certain subject or footnote can click on it for further information. You can also quickly quick on a picture of a little bird, ubiquitous in Marta’s book, to tweet to your 10,000 followers another pearl of wisdom du jour about the translation business. Oh, and at the end of the digital version of the book is a clickable list of helpful blog posts written by a number of intrepid translation bloggers, including several posts from my silly blog.

So, it is a book, but at the same time, it is not a book, or not just a book.

Martha’s basic idea for the book is simple: application of general principles of economics specifically to the business of freelance translation, and that is why the book starts with a rather long definition of terms as an introduction to the topics that will be dealt with later.

I have to admit, since I mostly quickly scrolled through the 30 or so pages defining terms, I will probably never learn what the term “Bounded Rationality” means, while I believe that other terms that are also thrown around with abandon in economics, such as “The Law of Diminishing Returns” or “Opportunity Cost”, I understand all too well already (especially “Cost of Lost Opportunity”).

You don’t really need an economic interpretation of certain facts of life when you have been around for a while.

Economics, Shmeconomics. Every time I see on the news that another professor at another university was awarded another Nobel prize for economics (this year it was a French professor; a shy and modest looking guy, he actually looks muy simpatico to me, especially compared to Paul Krugman), I am reminded of the old joke that God invented economists to make astrologists look good.

While I have not read the entire book yet, (41 thousand words on 169 pages with lots of graphs, flowcharts and clickable gizmos if you read it as a digital file), I did pay very close attention to some chapters and some subjects, for instance to the insightful approach with application of simple economic principles to the subject of COST LEADERSHIP below (I would have called it LOW COST LEADERSHIP if it were my book).

Allow me now to give you a taste of the book with a rather extensive quote from the book:

“COST LEADERSHIP

For a freelancer, pursuing the cost leadership strategy is a bad idea. If you decide to offer translation services on a low-cost basis, you will need to have high production levels. In other words, you will have to translate a large amount for very little pay. Your business might stay afloat, but you would only just be keeping your head above water. This is because, as a sole trader (or even as a small company), you cannot benefit from economies of scale: you can only work a limited number of hours and the services are provided by you alone. It is also virtually impossible to lower your operating costs even further as these are not high to begin with (for example, neither renting an office nor having high overheads). Within this strategy, you would always have to offer the lowest rates, and whenever somebody else tried to offer less you would have to go even lower. In any case, it would be very difficult for you to take control of the whole value chain (how value is added to the product or service before it reaches the customer).

Moreover, as we saw above, your customers would be cost-conscious and not loyal to you at all, simply switching to a cheaper translator at the first opportunity.

While cost leadership is not a viable strategy for a freelance translator if they want to survive and have a chance at business success, for translation agencies, cost leadership seems to be a cheap and easy option. There are many agencies in the industry following the low-margin, high-volume approach, and every now and then, they try to push this strategy onto translators with volume discounts. A typical cost leader in the translation industry would advertise their services as ‘affordable’ or claim a ‘lowest price guarantee’. This is how they go after end customers who want to spend as little as possible on their translation projects.

What is unfortunate for these agencies – and you could say the flaw with this strategy – is that whenever any new competitor pursuing the same approach appears, their customers will simply walk away. Cost leaders need high volumes to survive, and this is why they often consolidate and merge, forming bigger and bigger Language Service Providers (LSPs). Also, they often try to minimise their own costs by opening offices in cheaper locations or outsourcing parts of operations. Taking control of the whole value chain is something that a number of agencies excel at.

Some translation agencies are successful in this approach and do generate enough profit to keep their owners happy. This is how the market works and there will be cost leaders in any given industry, just as there will always be price-sensitive clients. However, it does not mean that this bulk market will expand, dominate or overshadow other segments.”

Of course, we can only hope that the conclusion in the last sentence is correct. It is also possible that unholy alliances between mega-translation agencies in the West and their obedient minions in Chindia and elsewhere will in the end conquer most of the commercial translation market, in which case the world will be saturated with even more garbage than it is now, and the debris labeled “Translation” will be almost completely incomprehensible.

Personally, I think that it is almost impossible to give advice to beginning translators on how to run a translation business. It is such an infinite subject, a subject that depends on so many variables, starting with your language combination and where you live, and ending with your blood type.

Every translator is like yet another, completely different island, an island that is unlike hundreds of thousands of other islands in an infinite ocean, as each and every one of us lives and works under very different conditions, translating very different languages in fields that are limited only by limits imposed on human thinking by the yet unmapped capacity of human brain.

But then again, impossible is a good description of what translators do for a living. We specialize in doing the impossible daily, five or more days a week when we are busy – that’s just what translators are here for!

And given the exacting requirements that come with the territory for those of us who work as freelance, independent translators, it is a good thing to have a thorough checklist of things that we as translators may want to take into consideration before we act.

Posted by: patenttranslator | October 13, 2014

The Merit of an Action Lies in Finishing It to the End

 

What do you say when people you have just met finally get around to asking the unavoidable question:”So what do you do?”, usually within the first few minutes of talking to them.

I used to answer for many years quite truthfully by saying “I am a translator”, but the problem with this answer was that it often elicited a confused expression on the faces of most people and sometime it was accompanied by really dumb suggestions, such as “You should move to New York, there’s a lot of work for translators there at the United Nations”.

I swear that several people told me exactly that.

When you say that you are a translator, it also usually tends to lower your status in the eyes of the inquisitive person talking to you because they will automatically assume that you probably don’t make a lot of money, which tends to be the case.

So I now have a different answer, equally truthful, though perhaps a little bit more opaque and seemingly somewhat more expansive, although in fact it is a more restrictive description. Instead of admitting to the crime of being a mere translator, I now say “I own a translation business specializing mostly in patents and technical translation.”

When people hear this version of my occupation, they no longer give me helpful advice such as that I should move to New York and start working for United Nations, nor do they automatically assume that I am a penniless loser. While they have no idea how much money an owner of a translation business makes, they generally assume that it is probably more than what a mere translator would make, which also tends to be the case.

If they do have a follow-up question, it is usually this one:”Do you translate yourself, or do you use other people?”, which I answer, laconically, with a single syllable: “both”. English can be a very economical communication medium: in German I would need two syllables, in Czech three, and in Japanese four.

This tends to confuse them and I have to admit that I enjoy it when I can confuse people like this – without making them mad at me, of course!

I think that the way translators answer this question shows how they see themselves, the role they think that they themselves play in the great scheme of things.

A translator is somebody who sits in front of a computer, looks alternately at a piece of paper or the monitor, and pounds the keyboard. When there is no work, he sends résumés to translation agencies.

That is not a business owner’s job description. That is the job description of a subcontractor. The Latin prefix “sub-” means “under”, and when you are working under somebody who owns the actual contract, you don’t really own much, if anything. It would be more accurate to say that you are being owned, or at least that your labor is owned, perhaps temporarily, perhaps permanently, by resellers of the labor of translators who like to call themselves Language Services Providers (LSPs) rather than translation agencies.

There is nothing wrong with being a subcontractor, of course …. except for one thing. Because subcontractors’ wages are calculated by resellers of products or services as a business expense, they naturally tend to be low, because the lower their wages, the higher the profit of the reseller.

A Mongolian warrior, whose name was originally Temujin and who later became known as Genghis Khan after he built an immense empire stretching from China to Hungary, (larger than the Persian Empire and Alexander’s Empire, twice as big as the Roman Empire), once said:”The merit of an action lies in finishing it to the end”. Napoleon put it differently, although it is basically the same idea:”If you start to take Vienna, take Vienna”.

The people who immediately make the connection between the translating profession and a low income are not stupid and uninformed, they do so based on experience.

I think that when you are a translator, finishing the action to the end means thinking and acting as a business owner rather than thinking and working as a translator.

A translator’s equivalent of a conquered empire would be an impressive list of direct clients who keep said translator very busy while paying very handsome rates. This is a very valuable asset, an asset that can be sold at some point by business owners who decide to retire. Unlike most business owners, many translators do not own this asset, all they have is their own labor, and once they no longer work, they no longer own anything.

Temujin might have said about them that they did not finish the action to the end.

It makes a lot of sense to at least try to create the asset of your own little empire when you are a translator, an empire that can be built without spilling a single drop of blood, an empire that a translator who thinks only as a translator, and acts and works only as a translator, will never build.

Posted by: patenttranslator | October 9, 2014

The Proper Way for Doing Everything, Including Translating

 

When we were children, we were told that there was a proper way to do everything and anything. We then tried to teach our own children the skills that they would need to survive and proper ways for doing everything, from tying their shoe laces and riding their bike to driving a car …. until they learned what they needed to know …. and started telling us what terrible drivers we are.

Is there a proper way to translate? According to Horace, there should be a proper way for everything (“Est modus in rebus, sunt certi denique fines” – which loosely translated means “There is a right way for everything, but nothing should be overdone”).

So if there is a proper way for everything, is there a proper way to translate?

The proper ways of various methods for certification of translation (ISO and EN methods that were designed for manufacturing of industrial products) are in my opinion nothing but a mendacious advertising gimmick as I have written in several posts already. There is a proper way to type, for example, this is something that can be learned in a typing course, and if you respect the rules of our physical world and the processes occurring in your mind and associate in your head letters with their positions on the keyboard, you will eventually touch type relatively quickly.

But it so happens that one of the best translators I met simply discarded the notion that touch typing is something worth knowing and instead typed very quickly with only two fingers. I am a pretty fast touch typist after decades of typing just about every day, but the truth is, he was just as fast.

And of course, there are people who use voice input and then only edit the text. Naturally, they claim that this is the best input method, much better than typing. Just because most people do something certain way does not mean that this is the best way for everybody.

To an uninitiated outsider it might seem that translating is mostly about typing, or really simply retyping something in another language. But nothing could be further from the truth. Translating has basically nothing to do with typing, or speaking into a microphone, and everything to do with thought processes occurring in our heads.

I can’t say what would be the best method to translate for everyone and anyone, but I can say what is the best way to translate for me and perhaps also for people like me.

The first rule for translating properly is that you have to be madly in love with the languages that you translate.

This is not a difficult test to pass and I suspect that most translators are just as obsessed with languages as I am, which is probably a healthier obsession than most. I have been obsessed with quite a few languages, starting with Russian when I was nine and ending with Japanese which I started learning in my early twenties. I said ending with Japanese because at this point I understand that this is not a language that can be really learned by a foreigner. It is so different from every other language that you basically have to be born into it to become truly fluent. But a little detail like this is not going to stop me from continuing my futile obsession.

Although I am madly in love with all the languages that I am translating, there are different degrees of love depending on the language, and of course, it is sometime a love-hate relationship because it is indeed true that there is a thin line between love and hate.

French to me is a language that got away from me, like a girl that you were supposed to marry when you were a teenager, except that for some reason, it was not supposed to be. But unlike love relationships with people in your life, your relationship with languages does not need to be exclusive and monogamous. After French was lost to me for about 30 years because everybody wanted me to translate mostly either Japanese or German, I am happy to say that French, the girlfriend that got away from me when I was still very young, is back in my life again, and she is as beautiful and radiant as ever. In fact, I have a French translation that I must finish before noon today after I publish this post.

I could go on describing all of the seven meaningful languages in my life, but it would be a very long post, and it could get really graphic and personal, so I think I’d better stop here with that particular aspect of the proper method for translating.

The second rule for translating properly is that you have to respect yourself.

The way you translate should correspond to the way you are: including that what you are translating should be something that you are interested in, at least to some extent. This should not be a very difficult test to pass either. The world is full of interesting things, and although I translate mostly patents and technical subjects, I can translate non-technical subjects as well, with the exception of accounting and financial reports which I simply detest.

Because the proper way to translate should be in harmony with the way you are, you must also respect the way your body and mind work when you are translating, including your circadian rhythm, or the biological clock that regulates your biological and mental processes.

My most productive time for translating, or writing, is just after I wake up, while I am drinking my first and second cup of coffee. The renewal of energy that comes after a good night’s sleep somehow makes me understand all those traps in a difficult text in a foreign language that I just could not understand the day before.

That is why I usually plan my day so that about 50 percent of heavy duty translating that I need to do for the day is finished before noon, and afternoons are left mostly for minor or simple and repetitive translating tasks and for proofreading.

I still have to make sure that I pay good attention to everything when I proofread, which is why I need frequent breaks that tend to become longer and longer as the afternoon is progressing, and usually also a nap, sometime two.

I read somewhere that a nap should not last more than an hour because you would then not be able to sleep at night. Not a problem for me. Jack Reacher, a fictional character from Lee Child’s novels always knows the exact time of the day to the minute in his head without needing a watch. I have an even better skill than Jack Reacher – whenever I take a nap when I feel tired during the day, I know that I will wake up exactly in 45 minutes.

My third rule for proper translating has to do with the second part of the famous quote from Horace – “… sunt certi denique fines“, which could be also translated literally as “and finally, there are certain boundaries”.

I know that if I try to force myself when the quota of creative energy available to me on a daily basis has been exhausted for the day, I will make too many errors in my translation. Even if I try to fit in a few more productive hours into my day, these are the hours that I will lose next day because I will probably not be able to work as many hours tomorrow if I try to cheat today.

So when it is time to call it a day, it is time to call it a day. This is very much contrary to what the world expects from translators who are always dealing with rush jobs because translators are thought of mostly as people who are simply retyping something in a different language, and as everybody knows, creativity is not needed for a simple task like typing.

But fortunately, I found a way to deal with this problem. I simply charge 40% more for rush work and when you dare to do that, it turns out that most of the rush jobs can in fact wait another day, or even a few days, or even two weeks.

 

It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.
Gore Vidal, American writer (1925 – 2012).

Every translation agency receives daily dozens if not hundreds of e-mails from translators who are hungry for work. Unfortunately, the world has always been and always will be full of hungry people, including translators.

Most translators who have been plying their noble although mostly unappreciated trade for a long time, including this translator, also frequently receive e-mails from translation agencies who are hungry for translators. But as I wrote in this post, not every customer is worth having and keeping. And since I already wrote a post about the characteristics of a good translation agency, I thought it would be useful to put together a list of things that I look for (and often find) on the website of a translation agency that is offering me work before I decide to bite or to ignore the e-mail.

1. The address comes first, of course, because it usually tells the whole story.

It is obviously important where the agency is located. If it is located in Chindia or in a country where most people have to survive on the equivalent of a few dollars a day, it is best to ignore it because the agency will be offering a very low rate. Not that I have anything against Chindians, but I simply cannot survive on a few dollars a day.

To fool prospective customers and translators, some translation agencies located in countries where the cost of labor is very low have a fake address in a western country, for example in New York or in Paris, but that is not where they are really located. A part of due diligence is paying attention to little details like this.

2. A half truth is a whole lie.

The second thing that I look for on the website of translation agencies is how many lies and half truths the agency has on its homepage. Many of them have at least half a dozen lies and half truths right there within the first few paragraphs. If the marketing propaganda on the website of a translation agency is too gimmicky for my taste, I generally ignore offers of work from such a source. Here is a list of three most popular advertising gimmicks often found in the propaganda on the websites of translation agencies:

Advertising Gimmick A: If we don’t specialize in it, it doesn’t exit!

When people say that they are specializing in something and the list of things that they allegedly specialize in covers everything from A to Z (as in “If we don’t specialize in it, it doesn’t exist”), they obviously don’t specialize in anything, and thus the chances are that they don’t really know anything about anything, including translation.

It is dangerous to work for people who don’t seem to know anything about translation because if they screw up something, guess who will be left holding the bag?

You, the translator, of course.

Advertising Gimmick B: Our translations are double and triple checked by a number of highly qualified translators.

This bombastically nonsensical statement is also frequently used as an advertising gimmick in the propaganda on the websites of many translation agencies. Many customers apparently fall for it and never ask themselves obvious questions, such as whether it would even make sense for multiple persons to be translating, checking, double checking and triple checking the same translation, and how much would such a translation have to cost.

I would never consider working for a company that is trying to feed such obvious tripe to prospective customers.

Advertising Gimmick C: Accuracy of our translations is guaranteed because we are ISO-this or DIN-EN-that certified!

ISO certification is a set of rules that has been originally designed for manufacturing of industrial products. It is possible to design a set of techniques and rules for manufacturing of products, but the problem is, translation is manufactured, if you will, in the head of a human being. If you pick the right translator, you will get a good translation. You pick the wrong one, and you will get garbage. That is the only technique that makes sense when it comes to ensuring quality of translation.

Certification for thinking processes taking place in the heads of people called translators who may or may not know what they are doing is obviously nonsense. However, since most clients don’t know much about translation, it is a popular and apparently useful advertising gimmick.

To say that the accuracy of translations is guaranteed because a translation agency is using a certain method, a method designed for manufacturing of industrial products that has nothing to do with the actual translating process, is to be dishonest in order to fool prospective customers. I may still decide to work for an agency that is using this gimmick, but this is definitely a negative sign as far as the trustworthiness of the agency is concerned.

3. A large translation agency is generally not a desirable client.

An inexperienced translator may think that it would be a good thing to have a large translation agency as a client because a large business entity should have a lot work, right? Maybe, but the problem is, all of the large translation agencies, however one would define the term “large”, are based on the corporate method for “mass production” of translations in which translators are relatively unimportant cogs in a huge profit making apparatus who are invariably paid very low rates to keep the profits high for the people at the top of the food chain.

The corporate method for producing large quantities of low-quality translations to generate high profits for people on the top, sometime referred to as “hamsterization of translators”, has already been described in blog posts of translators, so I will not go into details here.

As an independent small business owner, I am interested only in working for people who will not treat me as a hamster whose main job is to keep pushing the wheel of profit at higher and higher speeds in perpetuity, which is why I stay away from large translation agencies.

4. If a translation agency promises on its website to cut the cost of translation for its clients with new technology – how do you think the cost cutting will be done?

By paying the translators as little as possible, of course.

One method that can be used for this purpose is by ordering translators to use a certain CAT (Computer Assisted Translation) tool. For about the last decade or so, many translation agencies have been forcing translators to accept the notion that since word count is a common method for determining the cost of a translation, certain “repeated words” should not be counted because “it would not be fair to the client”. This fuzzy concept is referred to as discounts for “fuzzy matches” and “full matches”.

Based on this fuzzy logic, the actual word count is just a starting point for obligatory discounts that naturally must be exacted from translators for certain words because all words have not been created equal.

Since the discounts are almost never passed on to the end clients, obedient translating hamsters are thus compelled to push the profit wheel at higher and higher speeds.

If a translation agency promises on its website to save its customers money with wonderful new technologies, tools and techniques, the e-mail will be ignored.

5. A website full of photoshopped images of sexy, smiling young people who never translated anything is a bad sign.

A really good sign is when the website explains the background of the people who work in the agency because this means that they are accountable for good or poor quality of the service, and one can usually see from their background why they are willing to take on this responsibility. When nothing is said on the site about the people working in the translation agency or its translators, that means to me that this is a generic intermediary who most like does not know anything about translating, which is why they would prefer to remain anonymous.

It is best to stay away from generic outfits also functioning as a temporary employment agency, or some kind of another intermediary. Translation may seem like an easy field for expansion to people who know nothing about it, but people like that are likely to make one mistake after another, and in the end they will blame the translator for all of the problems that they themselves created.

When something goes wrong with a translation, it is always the translator’s fault, and shooting the translator has always been a very popular sport. It is best to ignore e-mails from these outfits to stay out of trouble.

As Gore Vidal put it, for some people to succeed, others must fail, and I don’t want to be associated with outfits that are destined to fail.

After all, the world is full of hungry translators, or people who say that they can translate, so even the most ignorant fly-by-night operation should be able to find a hungry but still somewhat warm body for its expansion into the fabulous translation business.

I hope my short list of warning signs frequently found on websites of translation agencies was helpful, and please let me know if you can think of other warning signs that should be included in my short list.

Posted by: patenttranslator | September 27, 2014

Thank You for Your Help and Please Call If You Have Any Questions

 

There are many meaningless words and phrases that we often use although they don’t really make a whole lot of sense.

Although we mostly don’t notice it anymore, we are surrounded by many ritualistic constructions that clearly do not really mean anything. When a cashier at the supermarket tells you: “Hi, how are you?”, she does not really expect you to say anything beyond “Fine, and you?”, so that she could say, “Fine, thanks”, get the dumb ritual over with and start scanning bar codes. If you started complaining to the cashier loudly what a horrible day you are having today, she would probably call security. You can say a few words about weather, but that’s about the limit of what is tolerated in the supermarket line.

Time is money. Cashiers are not really interested in chitchatting with customers.

Or take the example election campaigns and the ritualistic, at this point largely meaningless event called elections. The current president, 2009 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who was ushered into the White House on a wave of antiwar sentiment (which was one reason why John McCain did so poorly), is currently bombing seven foreign countries while proudly claiming that he does not need Congress’s permission for any of that magnificent war making. When he feels like bombing a foreign country, he can just go ahead and do it, he says.

I should have voted for John McCain. Maybe he would be bombing at this point only four countries, or possibly no more than five or six.

But of course, the more countries we bomb, the better we are protected from terrorists!

**************

The translation business is also full of largely meaningless, ritualistic phrases that are used mostly in e-mails.

Phrases like: “Please Call If You Have Any Questions”, or “Will You Be Available Next Week?”, and also “Thank You for Your Help!

Please Call If You Have Any Questions (Yeah, Right)

Please call if you have any questions?

OK, so let’s say that I call a monolingual paralegal at a law firm or an equally monolingual project manager at a translation agency when I have a question.

“Hi Brittany (Megan, John, or whatever), I have a question about a job I am working on”.

“Ok, go ahead, what’s the question?”

“You see, in that very poorly legible Japanese Utility Model from 1971 that I am translating for your company, there is a black blob on page 7, third paragraph, fifth character from the left. I really need to know whether the poorly legible left (top, bottom) radical of the Japanese character is 刀 “katana” (knife, sword) or whether it is力 “chikara” (power, force), because it completely changes the meaning of a key technical term and it it could be either of these characters in this context.

Translators have to figure out answers to the many questions they may have on their own. If our clients knew the answers to the questions we have, they would not need us, would they?

I often have lots of questions, but I never call because I know that it would be useless.

Will You Be Available Next Week? …. How Am I Supposed to Know That?

The question “Will you be available next week?” is another good example of something that makes no sense. How am I supposed to know the answer? I might be, or I might not.

If you have something that needs to be translated by next week, then yes, I will be available because I know that I will finish what I am translating now in about 3 days. But you have to send the document to me now, with a reference number to put on my invoice. This means that if somebody else asks me to translate something for them next week, I will have to ask them to wait.

If you might have something for me next week, or not, depending on what your client says, even if I tell you that I am available now, that can easily change within the next five minutes.

Thank You for Your Help (Makes No Sense Either)

Let’s say that I just translated a long German document, 8 thousand words, a retranslation of a likely mistranslated German contract. The mistranslation was actually a pretty impressive translation when you read it, it had all the right legal and accounting terms, but the client returned it while saying that the document cannot possibly say what the translator thinks it is saying.

So in order to discover what the problem was, I had to retranslate the whole damn thing from scratch, and only after I finished my translation I found the problem. It turned out that the author of the mistranslation translated the last sentence as “The amount is not payable” because his beloved CAT (Computer Assisted Tool), software that some translators use to speed up the translating process, misread the original text. The sentence really means “The amount is now payable” – a difference of one letter hidden among 40,000 letters that completely changes the meaning of the entire document.

But I did not “help” with the translation, I did everything by myself, and nobody helped me at all. So instead of using the words “Thank you for your help”, “Thank you for your work” would make much more sense.

When for instance a plumber fixes our sink, we generally don’t thank the person who did the work for his “help”. We thank him and pay him for his work. But for some reason, people only thank translators (if they thank us at all) for our “help”, never for our work, as if it were somebody else who really did the work and we just helped a tiny little bit.

Posted by: patenttranslator | September 20, 2014

How Many Translators Does It Take To Translate ….. Anything?

 

There are many variations of the joke “How many cops does it take to screw in a light bulb?” According to a European version which I remember from the seventies, the answer is “Three, one cop standing on a chair and holding a light bulb, and two cops turning the chair around.”

According to a contemporary American version, the answer is “None. They just beat the room for being black and then arrest it for being broke.”

According to claims from advertising propaganda often found on the website of many a translation agency, it takes quite a few translators to translate anything at all.

A typical claim of this kind is formulated as follows:

“We don’t use just one translator for our translations, we use several layers of quality control in which 2, 3, 4 (so far I have not seen the number 5 yet, but maybe you have) highly qualified translators are checking, double-checking, triple checking, and editing and improving the translation before it is approved by our final quality checker.”

This statement flies in the face of common sense. If it were true, it would mean that either the translation agency is paying 2, 3, or 4 highly qualified translators for something that can be done best by 1 (one) person, or that 2, 3, or more people work for free or for next to nothing.

Even though many translation agencies pay very little to translators who do the actual work, they generally have to pay them something. And even if you only pay a few pennies per word to the translator, the pennies would tend to add up quickly if you had to pay twice, or three or four times.

There is an English proverb that says “Too many cooks spoil the broth”, and examples of identical or similar proverbs exist also in other languages: Zu viele Köche verderben den Brei (exactly the same proverb in German), On n’arrive à rien quand tout le monde s’en mêle (“You get nowhere when everybody gets involved” in French), the Russian version says “У семи нянек дитя без глазу” (u semi nyanek ditya bez glazu = a child looked after by seven nannies is completely unsupervised, thank you Alia), and I like especially the Japanese version: 船頭多くして船山に登る [sento oku shite fune yama ni noboru = too many captains will steer the ship up a mountain].

A simple equation that could be used to illustrate the inverse relationship between the number of specialized professionals such as translators working on the same translation and the resulting quality of this translation can be expressed by Equation 1 below:

1 Translator = a translator, 2 translators = half a translator, 3 translators = total disaster                                    (Equation 1)

[i.e. 2 translators would likely to do some damage to what was originally a good translation, 3 or more would simply destroy it every single time].

True, sometime it does make sense to use more than 1 person to perform a certain specific task.

For instance, it would not be a good idea to use only one pallbearer to carry a coffin. Dead people resting in a coffin on their last journey to the cemetery tend to be heavy because most of our body is made up of water and bones. That is why unlike when it comes to translating complicated documents such as patents, several people who are in good physical shape need to be involved in this particular task, usually 6 or more strong men depending on the weight of the body and of the coffin.

A simple equation that could be used to illustrate the relationship between the number of the pallbearers and the ease with which their task is accomplished can be expressed by Equation 2 below:

1 pallbearer + 1 pallbearer + 1 pallbearer + 1 pallbearer + 1 pallbearer + 1 pallbearer = relatively easy task                (Equation 2)

[wherein all 6 pallbearers carry only 1 coffin with 1 dead body in it].

But most other specialized tasks are best carried out by a single person who is well qualified to perform a task and fully in control of the entire process, from the beginning to the end.

This is true not only about translation. Most people would agree that you need a single, really good professional to perform a single professional task really well. To illustrate this truism, let’s consider what would happen if the insane “the more specialized professionals working on the same job, the better” concept is applied to a couple of other professions.

For example, there is always only one 1 burger flipper who is in charge of expertly flipping the same greasy burger over a hot stove. Despite the low pay, comparable to what many translation agencies are paying these days to some translators, it is not an easy job and there is a learning curve to mastering this particular skill. But it is obvious that if 2 burger flippers were flipping the same burger, that would make even such a relatively straightforward task impossible to achieve. There would be burgers falling on the floor and hot oil burning the arms, legs and crotch of the poor burger flippers!

There is also always only one dentist who is drilling a root canal because 2, 3, or more dentists working on the same root canal of the same person would probably torture the poor patient to death and most likely do great bodily harm to themselves as well as every dentist has a slightly different approach to root canals.

To use another comparison, one could also say that using 2, 3, or 4 dentists to perform the same root canal on the same person at the same time would lead to the same result as if an escapee from a mental asylum pretending to be a dentist was using a chain saw on a root canal. The patient would die a horrible death also in this scenario, but at least he would die quickly at the hands of an insane person wielding a chain saw.

It is not a good idea to use several people for any of these tasks, right? So why do translation agency marketing managers use this kind of lunacy for advertising on the websites of their translation agencies? I believe that there are at least three possible reasons for this silly claim which is widespread in the so-called translation industry.

1. Many translation managers in the so-called translation industry themselves don’t really know anything about translating.

While it is probably also true that for example marketing managers of Burger King franchises don’t know that much about the proper way to flip burgers, they seem to be much more sophisticated than advertising managers in the so-called translation industry because I have never seen this kind of really stupid advertising (as in “we use 2, 3, 4, burgers flippers until the burger that is flipped just the right way for you”) at McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, or even at Jack In The Box or Popeys.

Only advertising managers in the so-called translation industry seem to think that if 2, 3, 4 or more translators were translating the same thing, the translations would be getting progressively better. They would be getting progressively worse, of course, but how are they supposed to know that when they have never translated anything themselves and never will since they don’t know any foreign language?

2. Many translation agency managers probably think that their customers are really dumb.

Some customers clearly are not all that smart if this kind of advertising seems to work on them. But is it a majority of them? I don’t know, but I doubt it.

I think that most people see through this nonsensical claim right away. And now they have my blog post to confirm their intuitive suspicions.

3. The claim is true because this is how some translation agencies in fact operate.

Every translation agency, (including myself, and I am not even a translation agency), is swamped daily with résumés from people claiming to be translators able to translate just about anything for next to nothing. So if you can find somebody who can translate for example a Japanese patent to English for let’s say 3 or 4 cents a word (and you can, if this person lives in Thailand or China), or from French to English (and that can be done too if this person lives in Africa), and then have 1 or 2 more persons of the same provenance who also claim to be translators “edit” the cheap translation for 2 cents a word, you got yourself a great deal because a real translator living in a Western country would have to charge several times just to be able to live and pay taxes what was just paid to 2 or 3 “translators”.

The resulting translation will thus be massacred by 3 madmen who are using a chain saw on a root canal because none of them really knows much Japanese, or French, or English, or has any experience in the field of patent translation.

But as long as the client does not complain, who cares?

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