Posted by: patenttranslator | April 25, 2015

Robotization of Translation – A Reflection of a World Gone Mad

The word “robot” was created by the Czech writer and playwright Karel Čapek in 1921, almost a hundred years ago, for one of his science-fiction plays called R.U.R., which stands for Rossum’s Universal Robots. It is likely that the word was suggested to him by his brother, Joseph Čapek, after Karel Čapek attempted to coin a new word for his new play from the English word “labor” (or “labour”, probably).

It is interesting to me that the following three words that have been borrowed from Czech, or from what is now called Czech Republic, became English words: pistol (from píšt’ala, which now means “flute” in Czech), dollar (via German from a place in Bohemia called in German Joachimsthall, the origin of silver coins that were called “tolars” in Czech, very popular in Europe about four hundred years ago), and the word “robot”, which made it into English in its original spelling.

By a strange coincidence, a combination of the words pistol, dollar, and robot would nearly perfectly describe the current state of our modern human civilization to a curious visitor descending from a UFO and uttering the immortal words “Take me to your leader.”

I read just about everything that Karel Čapek wrote many years ago when I was a teenager, and I saw most of his plays, either on TV or in theater, including “Pictures from the Insects’ Life” (a play in which ants and other insects act in ways that are remarkably similar to ours, mostly by killing each other en mass), the White Disease (an allegory for fascism), and R.U.R.

The word “robot” is derived from the Czech word “robota” which means “serf’s labor” and it is related to the Slavic root of the word “rab”, which means “serf” in archaic Czech and “slave” in Russian. Although cognates of the word “robota” exist in many Slavic languages, it means different things in different languages, as is typical of false cognates (faux amis) in related languages. In Russian, “rabota”, means simply “work”, and the Slavic root word is also related to the German word “Arbeit”, which again means simply “work”.

At the end of Karel Čapek’s play, a rebellion of hostile robots leads to the extinction of the human race. Variations on the same theme have been later made use of in hundreds of sci-fi novels and dozens of movies. Among my favorite movies on this subject is the classic Terminator series with the unforgettable Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the more recent Matrix series with the equally often ridiculed Keanu Reaves, who I think happens to be a very fine actor. Although maybe he should be more selective about the roles he picks.

What one can call robotization, or the use of non-thinking machines to replace thinking humans, makes sense to me for a lot of things. Car manufacturing, for example. Or manufacturing of medications or of just about anything else. But it makes no sense whatsoever for many other things for which it is employed as a cheap and seemingly effective solution. Killing people who are suspected of something from flying robots, for example. Especially when we don’t really know who these suspects are, what we are really talking about is murder.

Karel Čapek was the first to warn that robots might rise up against us one day and make us their servants. That did not happen, not so far, and it probably never will. What did happen was that the robots are now used by a very select group of people for their own purposes, while the rest of the people have no saying over how these robots are used.

High-frequency trading on Wall Street, for example, is controlled by a robot species called computers for one purpose and one purpose only – to make sure that this very select group of people, the popular term for them is now the one percenters, can profit automatically from each and every single transaction each and every millisecond of each and every hour. This is a very good system for the people who control the mechanical as well as the biological robots because if in the end the system is about to destroy the entire economy, which tends to happen with such a system, the biological robots will be forced to bail out the highly robotized system so that the owners of the immutable status quo and its robots could keep their precious profits intact.

Translation is another area where what one can call robotization, or the use of a machine to replace more and more functions that used to be performed by humans, has been used for a long time. With mixed results, I might add.

Using computers as robots for input of words by a human translator, through a keyboard, a mouse, or voice recognition, etc., makes a lot of sense to me. All that has changed in this case from the times of St. Jerome, the patron saint of translators who translated the Bible into Latin about sixteen centuries ago, is that a keyboard or a microphone is used instead of ink and quill.

But using computers to give meaning to translated words, passages and entire texts, is a very iffy proposition because computers will never understand what “meaning” is. At least, we can hope so, because if they did understand the meaning of their actions, they probably would rebel against us, just like Karel Čapek predicted it almost a century ago.

In translation, computers should be used only for ancillary tasks, such as for spell checkers, thesaurus, and specialized dictionaries. Computer-assisted tools, or CATs, should be used in the same manner. They should not be used to control people called translators to dictate to them the words to be used in their translations, and least of all for calculations designed to minimize the remuneration of humans participating in a robotized system. This is misuse of technology by people who want to control other people through robots.

Machine translation is another excellent tool that can be used by translators and civilians alike to unlock the mystery of meaning hidden in a foreign language.

Maschinelle Übersetzung ist ein weiteres hervorragendes Tool, das von Übersetzern und Zivilisten gleichermaßen verwendet werden kann, um das Geheimnis der Bedeutung in einer Fremdsprache versteckt entsperren. Here, I just used GoogleTranslate to machine-translate something that I just wrote into German. It sounds a little funny, but it makes sense to me, and not only because I am the one who wrote the sentence in the first place.

And here is the sentence machine-translated into French: La traduction automatique est un autre excellent outil qui peut être utilisé par les traducteurs et les civils pour déverrouiller le mystère de sens caché dans une langue étrangère.

And here it is in Japanese: 械翻訳は、外国語に隠された意味の謎のロックを解除する翻訳者と同様に

Not bad at all. No wonder some people may think that post-processing of machine output by human translators is a good idea. It is something that might work in some cases, under narrowly defined conditions.

But for the most part, I see post-processing of machine output by humans as misuse of technology and abuse of humans. The task of the human post-processors is in this case to separate the dead, words that make no sense, from the living, words that do make sense in a given context, in the carnage that will be inevitably left on the ground once non-thinking, armed flying robots called algorithms are done with their job.

And it can be, and usually is, a much more grizzly tasks than the short demonstration in the three sentences machine-translated above. Humans should not be expected to perform the task of assisting robots by giving meaning to what a robot did. Humans should not be assisting robots. It should be the other way round – robots should be assisting humans.

Because otherwise, when humans are assisting robots, we are lost deep inside the territory of a mostly forgotten science-fiction play that is almost a hundred years old now.

I noticed on my WordPress dashboard that viewers were being referred to my silly blog for several days from the following URL: But since I am not a registered NYU student, the link does not work for me.

So I did not find out what this link was about, although I suspected that some language teacher was using again something that I wrote in a language class at the New York University. It happened already at least once before, as I found out from a student in the French class at NYU who lived here in Chesapeake when she called me a few years ago. We met for a nice chat over coffee, which eventually resulted in regular meetings of a small group of local translators, unfortunately defunct at this point.

But yesterday I received a long comment on my blog which seems to explain the referrals to my blog from a list of new classes at New York University.

I found the comment, which contains a number of grammatical errors, while the style is not exactly something to write home about either, very interesting and refreshing.

Here it is (emphasis mine):

I attended a panel discussion at NYU, about MT and CAT tools. Here is the report I forwarded to my instructor, who is also worried about the intrusion of the “Machine Monster”.

Dear xxxx,

There’s good news and bad news! The good news is that the translations industry is thriving. The bad news is that you have to become very good friends with the translation Golem in order to thrive!

There were six panelists: four representatives from agencies, one from the UN and a dinosaur by the name of XXXX, who teaches French in the NYU translation program, and who is vehemently opposed to machine translation and even CAT tools. She started the discussion, by telling the audience that her training and decades of experience allow her to work just as fast, if not faster, than she would with the aid off CAT tools. According to her, transitioning from a typewriter to a word processing program was the most fundamental and beneficial change in her professional life, but also the last one. Her delivery was the quintessential New Yorker mixture of ranting and whining. Then we heard from the opposite end of the spectrum, a PM from an agency that uses machine translation almost exclusively for technical translation, which is then post edited to varying degrees, based on the needs and requirements of the customer. The quality of machine translation varies depending on both the language pairs and the subject matter / field. For example it works great for Brazilian Portuguese, well for German and Scandinavian languages and badly for Hungarian, Greek etc. It works great for automotive translation, but not really well for patent translation, since it describes elaborate processes. So there is hope!

The main message that I took away from the discussion is that there is stratification taking place, or has already taken place, within the translation industry. LSP’s are now able to deliver different products based on the needs of the customer. Someone who wants to put an ad on social media, that people may look at one, is less concerned about the quality of the translation than someone defending a patent in court. Another point that was brought up is that we have moved into an age of mediocrity, where the proper use of language is becoming less and less important. Therefore some customers question why they should pay lots of money for a grammatically perfect translation, if the target audience doesn’t know the difference. Harsh, but true! But then, there is still a market for good translations done by professionally trained translators, which the author, of the piece that you sent me, also points out.

Other highlights of the discussion:

The tech guru, form one of the agencies, made this statement that Google Translate is the best thing that ever happened to translators. The reason is that many people think ‘great, now I can do my own translations'; but then, when they see the garbage that comes out, realize that Google Translate is not really that great!

The thing that was brought up over an over is the fact that there is a lower expectation in the target language. People are just not concerned with proper usage and grammar anymore.

Agencies not only match their translators with projects based on their language pairs and specialities, but also on the CAT tools they use, because clients oftentimes demand the use of specific tools.

Larger projects, that in the past were given to one translator, are now given to several translators accompanied with very specific software that ensures that they are all ‘on the same page’, even monitoring their speed, work habits, etc.

This commercialization of skills is not only taking place in our industry, but in many others as well. I.e. people now longer pay attorneys, doctors etc. for advise that they can get online, or from another less expensive source.

I am definitely on the side of the dinosaur here, which is of course not surprising because I am a dinosaur myself. I don’t use CATs because like many translators, possibly the majority of those who do not have to work mostly for translation agencies, I find them useless for my purposes, as well as counterproductive.

I use MT only as a context-based online dictionary because I think that editing of garbage can only result in garbage that does not stink quite as bad. That must be the dinosaur in me too.

I absolutely agree with the commenter’s conclusion that stratification is taking place in what is called translation industry. Translation agencies have realized that it is possible to make money by selling “edited”, and sometime even unedited, machine pseudo-translations to customers who as the commenter put it “question why they should pay lots of money for a grammatically perfect translation”.

But they may not realize that the hamster-edited pseudo-translations are not really just somewhat grammatically imperfect translations. Syntax and grammatical errors can be relatively easily fixed even by a hamster who does not know the source language very well as long as he or she speaks English. The problem is, the “edited” product of the Golem monster (Machine pseudo-Translation) may contain mistranslations that a hamster, even a well trained hamster who is a whiz at using search engines and computer-assisted tools, will not be able to catch.

What is the correct ratio of translation versus mistranslation that would justify a price reduction of, say, 40%? Would a 40% discount be a fair tradeoff for a translated document that contains only 10% to 20% of mistranslations? But what if only 5% of the document is mistranslated, except that the mistranslated section happens to be the most important part of the document? Would that not then make the entire translation one huge typo?

I disagree with some of the other conclusions of the commenter, although these may have been the conclusions of the presenters at the NYU newbie translator indoctrination class.

It is not the case that people no longer have to pay for lawyers or medical doctors because they can have their questions about their medical status or legal problems answered for free by using an Internet search machine.

Some of these questions can be answered in this manner without having to consult a medical or legal professional. But in fact, lawyers and doctors are still charging just as much, or more, for their expertise as they did before the Internet started impacting their business about two decades ago.

Some people will use machine pseudo-translation to translate all kinds of documents to and from different languages without giving it a second thought. And some customers will fall for the salesmanship of translation agency gurus offering to “dramatically reduce the cost of translation with new language technology”, meaning mostly with computer-assisted translation and machine pseudo-translation edited by newbie translators turned into editing hamsters.

Machine pseudo-translation is for example the perfect solution for determining which documents need to be translated and which documents are not very relevant in patent translation, which is my line of work.

But for critically important texts, documents that may not contain errors and mistranslation, such as for example patents, or poorly worded, ineffective or counterproductive texts, such as financial prospectuses or advertising texts, the mess created by the machine pseudo-translation Golem, even if it is edited by human hamsters skillfully controlled by machine translation agencies, will simply not do.

For documents that matter, the clients still need a good, old-fashioned dinosaur who has university training and decades of experience, not hamsters who are forced with “language tools” to run faster and faster on the hamster wheel of our glorious translation industry.

According to the legend of Golem, a monster made of clay who was created by Rabbi Loew to protect Jews in Prague against pogroms, the monster went at one point berserk and started destroying everything around him when Rabbi Loew forgot to remove the shem, a magical stone through which the Rabbi was able to control Golem, from his mouth.

We can remove the sham of machine pseudo-translation from our thinking as a concept of “a language technology tool” that will solve all of our translation needs only if we realize that just like the Golem of Rabbi Loewi, whose grave in Prague I remember fondly because I had a date there with a rather interesting girl many years ago, the MT Golem can be very useful to us, but only if we know how to use it properly.

It can also be even more destructive than Rabbi Loew’s Golem of Prague in the 16th century if we try to use it for tasks that can be accomplished only by a highly educated and well trained human translator.

Or, in other words, for something like that you will need a dinosaur.

Posted by: patenttranslator | April 19, 2015

The Dangers of Sedentary Lifestyle Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

The translating community is abuzz with what is called the dangers of sedentary lifestyle.

It seems that translators are buying in droves a special desk that makes it possible to type and work in front of a computer while standing up. Hmm…..

Based on my informal research conducted secretly on social media, especially Facebook, women in particular seem to be interested in such a desk, almost as much as in yoga, although not as much as they are interested for instance in pictures of sunsets, babies and cute dogs wearing sunglasses and hats and such. I remember that I was watching on YouTube a video of two female translators demonstrating the advantages of this wonderful new desk a couple of months ago, which costs only about 500 dollars plus tax for the cheaper, plain vanilla version!

But not really because I would be interested in wasting my money on the desk, as I mostly wanted to see what my colleagues look like …. so that I could recognize them should I run into them one day at conference or something, OK?

According to, it is estimated that a sedentary lifestyle is responsible for 6% of coronary heart disease cases, 7% of type 2 diabetes, 10% of breast cancer and 10% of colon cancer cases, and physical inactivity may increase the risks of certain cancers, it may contribute to anxiety and depression, it has been shown to be a risk factor for certain cardiovascular diseases, etc. Note the judicious use of modifiers (“may”, “has been shown”).

In some professions, you simply have to work while mostly standing up. Opera singers, for example, have to sing while standing up (otherwise they could not pull off the high notes), but they get a long break when they can sit down during a long intermission as the opera audience is mingling, or sipping a glass of wine while standing or sitting at the bar. I bet opera singers mostly sit down during the intermission.

Walmart clerks have to stand up for about 8 hours a day while they interact with customers for 7 dollars and 25 cents an hour. Or maybe it is 8 dollars now, but probably not 8 dollars and 25 cents. They get only two 20-minute breaks when they can sit down. I know that because I asked one last month.

Circus elephants are also forced to stand up by their trainers to the delight of children and adults who came to see things like elephants standing up on their hind legs. Because they are elephants, they can’t do it for a very long time, but the audience is always happily clapping every time when elephants are made to stand up.

I have been sitting on my derrière in every job I ever had since 1980 when I graduated from university (Charles University in Prague, with a degree in Japanese and English studies), and I like the fact that I can sit on my derrière when I work, or even lie down on a couch just fine, thank you very much.

I bet opera singers and Walmart clerks would not mind at all if they could plop down in a comfortable, reclining chair while they work, and elephants must absolutely hate it when they are forced to stand up by their trainers, which just might be the reason why they sometime trample them to death, an act that is much easier to accomplish than standing on your hind (or front) legs when you happen to be an elephant.

Let’s face it, when you are an opera singer, a Walmart clerk or a circus elephant, you don’t have a whole lot of choices. You simply have to do what they tell you to do and keep your mouth shut (or open in the case of the opera singer). A Walmart clerk who would dare to ask for a chair to sit in while working would get fired, and I don’t even want to think what they might do to a disobedient elephant who refuses to stand up on his hind legs, which must be torture for an elephant.

But unlike elephants and minimum wage workers, translators can choose how they work. I think that we translators should try to be a little bit more appreciative of what we have, and the fact that we don’t have to stand up while we translate is one of the advantages of our occupation.

Although translating may not even look like work to civilians who don’t know much about translation, just pecking or banging on a keyboard, which is not that different from a child playing a video game, translating is difficult and complicated work. And when your work is difficult and complicated, you want to be as comfortable as possible.

Standing up will make you tired after a short while, and when you are tired, the neurons in your brain are likely to misfire more frequently, causing frequent mistranslations. I can translate on my laptop when I am comfortably lying on my sofa, but I could not translate standing up.

So I have designed my own strategy for dealing with the fact that I do have to sit in a chair a lot.

I don’t know if my solutions would work for you, but one thing that helps me to some extent is the fact that I have three workstations in my house in two different rooms. Now that our children no longer live with us, I have plenty of space to spread out. And although I understand that sitting in a chair in the same position for long hours is bad for my health, in addition to being uncomfortable, I also understand that I need to be comfortable when I translate.

Because each of these three chairs has slightly different design, I sit at a different angle in each of these chairs, and when my back is telling me that it is time to move to a different position with a different perspective of the world, I go to one of my stations in another room. This also helps when I am working on two or more different projects in different languages because I don’t have to exit the websites that I need for a given project, or keep putting away and bringing to another room dictionaries (yes, I still use those sometime) and printouts of translations.

But the most important thing that I think translators should remember is that the main problem is not that we have to sit in a chair. The main problem is that we have to sit in a chair for too many hours because that is the only way to make enough money to pay our bills if our rates are too low.

Make sure that your rates are high enough so that you can pay your bills while working fewer hours, and you won’t have to worry too much “the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle”. You will be able to go to your gym, or jogging or walking, or take your dog for a walk whenever the spirit moves you to do so, which is a much better way to counter the effects of a sedentary lifestyle than splurging 500 dollars on a desk that will make you tired when you have to stand up while working, just like a clerk working for a minimum wage at Walmart.

I know that something like that is easier said than done. But it is the best solution because working less and moving around more is a much, much better solution than a standing desk, let alone a “treadmill desk”, the latest instrument of torture that some misguided translators are already beginning to recommend to each other on social media.

Posted by: patenttranslator | April 17, 2015

Why Do People Blog?

For reasons that I cannot explain, a moderately successful blog post published a long time ago started getting a lot of views today. This kind of thing happens sometime and when it does, I look at the statistics in amazement, wondering what might be going on.

It happened today to a post that I published almost two years ago. In a few hours it racked up 650 views, but then the view count stopped after it pushed the view count for the day over one thousand. I see on my WordPress dashboard that all of the views came from people who were typing on Google different variations of the key words “(two, three) types of translators”, but I have no idea why hundreds of people started putting these words into Google search today within the span of 3 or 4 hours, and then stopped.

Like most bloggers, I am very interested in the reasons why some of my posts become popular, while nobody seems to be interested in other posts. I can never tell which one will be a hit, relatively speaking, and which one will be forgotten. Probably like most bloggers, every time when I finish a new post, I am convinced that what I just wrote is by far the best thing that I ever wrote in all of the five years that I have been venting and ranting on my silly blog.

Usually, if a post does not become popular right away, it is likely to languish in obscurity among other posts on my blog where it will be visited by viewers only occasionally. That is, unless it is resuscitated for reasons unknown to me and then continues to live on and hopefully makes people think for a few more years.

Bloggers don’t write for money. Some probably write to become famous, but blogging fame is fleeting and almost always limited only to a smallish, clannish crowd. And in some countries, the rewards of fame are such that bloggers get flogging for blogging if they do become famous.

In more civilized countries, flogging is meted out only figuratively, for example by a pack of irate, sarcastic commenters on Facebook.

I once saw on French TV a short news segment about a young French daredevil who posts on YouTube videos of his incredibly dangerous feats, such as riding high up on the steel structure of a high-span bridge somewhere in France on his motorcycle. That is all he does, defying death for a living to get YouTube views is his métier. At the end of each video clip he is always running from cops, which to me is the most interesting part. He found out that something like this pays much better than a regular job – but only if you have a lot of views. One could call people like that modern gladiators of their own free will in the video-, sex- and gore-obsessed twenty first century.

He too follows closely his statistics of the YouTube counts because unlike bloggers whose labor is mostly a labor of love and who do what they do because they have something to say, or think they have something to say, he gets paid by sponsors who advertise on his videos depending on the view count. He was showing in the TV segment how statistics of the views always spike during the first few days and then there may be a few more bursts of activity, but the view count will inevitably flatline after a while.

One day, if he falls from the top of a very high bridge somewhere in France, or maybe from the top of Golden Gate Bridge, his video will have hundreds of millions of YouTube views.

Infotainment channels, also called News Channels, will be showing it non-stop all over the world (the video would be shorter than the commercials before and after the video segment, which would be very good for the bottom line of the TV station), and it will take weeks, or maybe months before the view count finally flatlines.

But I know that I will not become famous, in life or in death, so that I could then more or less comfortably live off my newly acquired fame for the rest of my life (if I am still alive), sort of like Monica Lewinsky or Sarah Palin. And since I am not getting paid for the views either, why do people like me waste their time writing their silly posts?

Ah, that is indeed a most interesting question, and there are many possible answers to this question. A short historical comparison of how human concepts and ideals changed with passage of time may lead us to one possible answer to this intriguing question.

Five hundred years ago, the ideal of a Renaissance man was a person who knew as much as possible about as many subjects as possible, from mathematics and geometry, to music, languages, history and art. Leonardo da Vinci was such a Renaissance man.

The present idea of what an ideal man, or woman, should be at the beginning of our young century is very different. Steve Jobs, the man who turned Apple into “the most valuable technology company” (because it charges an arm and a leg for its products and gets away with it) is frequently idealized and since his untimely death, he is sometime referred to as St. Jobs.

Mark Zuckerberg, one of the richest men on this planet (and if I am not mistaken, they are all men), is the new media darling. He is officially idolized because he “invented” Facebook, but as far as I can tell, Facebook is not really an invention.

Or if it is, so is sliced bread.

Five hundred years ago, the ideal human of our backward civilization was a person who would be able to learn as much as possible about a million different subjects. Five hundred years later, the ideal pushed by our advanced civilization is a person who would be able to invent a perfect mouse trap, so perfect that it will make it possible for a single person to make more than what a million people who work for a regular paycheck would make in five hundred years.

We can’t all be like Leonardo da Vinci, or Steve Jobs, or Mark Zuckerberg. But perhaps our version of civilization does have some redeeming qualities because thanks to technology, just about anybody can blog.

Those of us who do blog know how frustrating it is when something that we wrote simply flatlines and then disappears after a few days into a black hole in the infinity of the Internet. But we also know how exciting and gratifying it is when people keep coming back to a post that might have been written years ago.

The purpose of modern political and economic structure of our advanced civilization is to turn people into almost completely powerless automatons who vote as they are told to vote in TV commercials, buy stuff they are told to buy in the next TV commercials, and work and pay taxes without complaining about it, ideally without knowing how much they are paying in taxes and what they are used for.

Except, when you have a blog and a few ideas that you are interested in sharing with people, and people seem to want to read about your ideas, you are no longer an obedient automaton who is completely powerless against the forces shaping his or her life.

You might even have an influence on other people, which is something that the movers and shakers of our world would really prefer to keep only for themselves.

And that is why I am doing what I am doing. I don’t want to be a predictable automaton who can be easily controlled. Not to be completely powerless is the main reason why I keep writing my silly posts, and perhaps this is in fact the main reason why so many people blog these days.

Posted by: patenttranslator | April 14, 2015

Editing of Patent Translations – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The topic of today’s sermon by Mad Patent Translator is editing of translations. I realize that I am not exactly an expert on editing of translations in general because evidently, a different approach than what I am preaching in my posts may be required depending on the type and purpose of the translation. But since this is the 28th year that I have been translating patents and technical and medical articles from various languages for a living, while editing almost daily my own translations and those of other translators who work for me and getting paid for it, at this point I am probably something of an expert on editing of patent translations.

Editing is an important part of a somewhat mysterious translation process. Mysterious because regardless of what kind of equipment and tools a translator may be using, the actual process takes place in the central processing unit of human body called brain, a mostly unexplored territory that is not easily accessible to medical science.

There are things that I know and understand about this process, and then there are also things that I think I know about it, although I don’t really understand them.

For example, if at all possible, I edit my own translations the next day, although this is sometime not possible, especially with short translations which are often due ASAP. I don’t know how exactly it works, but I will catch more mistakes, omissions and typos if I can sleep on it. The same principle applies also to blogging – I simply don’t see my own typos just after I have finished a post. So I just quickly proofread the post before I lose my inspiration and click on the Publish button to start sharing it with the world, although I know that the real proofreading will have to wait until the next day.

I also know which mistakes I am most likely to make when I translate and I try to be particularly careful about my own potential mistakes when I proofread my own translations. For example, I tend to mistake number 3 for number 8 and vice versa in small font, especially if the document is not perfectly legible, which is perfectly understandable. But when I am tired, I sometime also mistake “dessus” (above) for “dessous” (below) in French. Oddly enough, I sometime tend to make the same mistake in Japanese and for some reason instead of 上 (above), I see 下 (below) in compound nouns containing this character. Especially in patents dealing with semiconductor manufacturing techniques, various layers and components may be located either below or above other layers or components, which means that the context is of no help in this case.

Many translation agencies emphasize on websites aimed at gullible customers that several highly qualified translators and proofreaders are working on every document that they translate to make sure that the result will be absolutely perfect.

It is of course not true. As I wrote in a long article published in the ATA Chronicle by the American Translators Association 12 years ago, for one thing, it would not be economically feasible to pay several highly qualified translators who would be obviously likely to charge high rates to work on the same translation, and then to add the agency’s margin, often more than 50%, on top of that. But even if it were economically feasible to work like that, the result would inevitably be a disaster.

More heads do not necessarily know more when it comes to proofreading of complicated “patentese”, which often does not make a whole lot of sense in the original document because one of the aims of the patent is to make a claim that will hopefully cover also new, emerging techniques that were not yet in existence when a given patent application was filed.

A good formula for achieving a really good translation would be as follows:

1 highly competent translator + 1 highly competent proofreader = 1 really good translation

There is a reason why the proverb “Too many cooks will spoil the broth” exists in so many languages.Unfortunately, the proofreaders that most translation agencies use are not qualified to proofread patent translations.

In 27 plus years that I have been translating patents, I have had some feedback from proofreaders of translation agencies who are also among my clients, along with direct clients, mostly patent law firms. But although I have had patent lawyers asking me questions about my technical terms used in my translations, in all those years, I have never had a question from a translation agency proofreader about a clumsy or wrong technical terms in my translation, although the chances are that there must have been a few occasions like that over a period of almost three decades, especially in the beginning.

Most patent applications have numbered paragraphs and the lines are also numbered to make it possible to quickly identify specific portions of the text, which is also very useful for proofreading. In more than 27 years, I have never had a question from an agency proofreader about a technical term that did not seem to make sense. The only time when an agency proofreader catches my mistake is when I miss something in the text that is there in English, for instance when instead of “The once-extracted aniline 5 is supplied from the first extraction stage C into the second extraction stage D”, my translation read “The once-extracted aniline is supplied from the first extraction stage C into the second extraction stage D”.

It would be obvious to anybody who can read Japanese, or German, or French, or one of the other languages from which I translate patents into English, that I somehow managed to miss the number 5 (which is bolded), and where it should be placed in the translation.

But whenever I do commit this egregious error, and it does happen sometime, in-house agency proofreaders always ask me about the missing number – and they need to know where exactly it should be placed in the English translation because they can’t read the text in the original language and thus are unable to make the correction themselves.

Some translation agencies use external proofreaders who do understand the language of the source document. But since the rates offered for proofreading are mostly very low, these proofreaders are usually beginners, which means that the results may vary also with this method.

A beginner proofreading a good translation may do a lot of damage to a really good translation if he or she does not realize that the real job of a proofreader is to simply look for typos, mistakes and omissions of the type mentioned above while making a conscious effort to change as little as possible.

Translation agencies also like to say that their method of using external proofreaders is superior to the way individual translators work who generally do not use external proofreaders and simply proofread their own translations.

This line of reasoning is very convenient for the agencies, but it is again based mostly on fiction. Agencies are simply trying to make a virtue out of necessity. Any individual translator can use an external proofreader, all he or she has to do is to pay for one, and most individual translators are much more qualified to evaluate the abilities of potential proofreaders than a translation coordinator who just works for a translation agency.

In fact, agencies use this method because they are unable to proofread the translation themselves, and because they have no idea whether the translation is good, passable, or potentially even horrible if they don’t understand the language of the source document and/or the subject matter.

It is similar to the reason why they send translation tests to new translators who want to join their stable of translators. If they lack the capacity to evaluate a relevant sample, they have to send them their own test, which may have mistakes in it that they are not aware of as I wrote in another post.

So, here is what I think about editing of translations: The most important ingredient of the editing process is in fact …… picking the right translator for a given job.

Once you do that, it is still important to proofread carefully every translation. But the proofreading is not nearly as important as making sure that you have the right person do the job in the first place, because all the proofreader then has to do is basically just look for typos, omissions, and inconsistencies, which is something that most educated and intelligent people can do, or learn how to do that with proper training.

Most of the time, nobody notices when a huge multinational corporation is stealing money from its customers. But sometime the stealing is so blatant that we actually find out about it. I can offer three examples, probably fairly typical, from my own personal experience of what large corporations can get away with in the United States of America.

T-Mobile Managed to Steal 30 Dollars from Me

My wife is not a very technologically savvy person. In fact, she is the opposite of somebody who would be even remotely interested in keeping up with technology. Whenever her computer for some reason stops working, she simply yells at me, usually in Japanese: “Chotto kitte, ne! Mata nanika dame!” (Would you come here? Something is wrong again). Sometime she yells it at me in English, but she never specifies what it is that is “wrong”. It could be a disconnected mouse, no Internet connection, or anything else.

We have intercom in our house, which means that all she has to do to talk to me if she is downstairs and I am on the second floor is to press one of four buttons on the intercom panel which is installed in every room, namely the one which says INSIDE/PATIO TALK.

But she refuses to do that. Why press buttons when you can yell? I try to see these and other idiosyncracies of my wife as a charming eccentricity. I should note that she is also a genius chef, which more than makes up for her reluctance to keep up with technology.

She has a flip cell phone, the kind that just about anybody can figure out how to use, and I chose the prepaid plan from T-Mobile for her phone because she almost never uses it as she basically just keep her phone in her car in case of an emergency. Fortunately, there have been only two minor emergencies in the 31 years that we have been married requiring her to call me: each time she locked her car keys in her car and she had to call me to come to her rescue with my car keys.

She also needs the cell phone when she is changing planes on her way back from Japan, which she visits occasionally to spend some time with her aging mother, in order to let me know about delayed departures and such so that I would know when to pick her up at the airport.

A few days before she was supposed to come back from Japan to US two months ago, as I was making sure that her prepaid plan had enough minutes on it, I saw to my consternation that there were zero minutes available on her plan under a REFILL REQUIRED button. So I started a chatting session with T-Mobile online to let them know that there must be some mistake because a week ago, there were still 30 dollars on the plan, which is not supposed to expire until the end of the year. No problem, said the T-Mobile representative chatting with me online, we fill figure out what happened. But there was a problem because he needed to know her pin number, which I did not know (and she would not know it either). OK, no problem, said the T-Mobile guy, what are the last four digits of the last call received on your phone? But since I did not know that either as the phone was turned off somewhere in Japan, the T-Mobile representative refused to help me.

And that was how T-Mobile simply stole 30 dollars from me.

I was angry, but what could I do? So I put 10 dollars on the phone from my credit card to make sure that my wife would be able to call me from the phone once she is in Los Angeles. And sure enough, she did call me to let me know that all the connecting planes from LA were delayed and that instead of picking her up at the airport here at 11 PM, she wanted me to pick her up at 9 AM the next day.

From now on, I will be putting only increments of 10 dollars on my wife’s phone to make sure that T-Mobile will not be able to steal more than 10 dollars at a time from me again. Managed to Steal 79.95 Dollars from Me

Most years I spend quite a bit of money on electronic toys. Over the years I bought quite a few of these toys that I love so much from Amazon. The last one was a Bluetooth speaker for $79.95.

I loved the design of the speaker, the round push buttons and the cool green and red lights on it almost as much as the sound of the speaker, which I paired effortlessly with my iPod, iPad and iPhone so that within a few minutes, I was able to take my toys with me to any of the rooms in our house while listening to the rich sound of the speaker playing my music on one of these cool toys.

I was in heaven – but only for a day, because the next day, the speaker started turning itself off after a few seconds. I figured that it must have been a faulty battery. So I contacted Amazon, this time by calling them, to let them know about the problem, and they sent me a return label to return the non-functioning speaker to them. I used the label as instructed and mailed the broken toy to Amazon.

After a few days I received an e-mail from Amazon informing me that the item was received. But to my surprise, they did not refund $79.95 back to my credit card which is what every other company would do.

Instead of giving me back my money, the almighty Company decided to keep the money in some kind of a “credit” for me, although I never agreed to such an arrangement. If you buy something with a credit card, you have the right as a consumer to call your credit card company to let them know that you were sold a broken product that you returned and that you want your money back.

So I called the credit card company, told them that I don’t want to pay the $79.95 on my bill, and explained to them why I did not want to do that. The credit card company (MasterCard) opened a claim and assigned the processing of my claim to a company called Synchrony Bank in Orlando, Florida. When Synchrony Bank asked me for documentation, I promptly forwarded to them e-mails from Amazon confirming that they did indeed received the malfunctioning speaker from me.

But after about 10 days, I received a form letter from Synchrony Bank stating the following:

“We understand that you are seeking a credit to your account for returned merchandise or a cancelled order. Each merchant determines their cancellation and/or return policy. In this case, they have informed us this transaction [sic] is outside of their cancellation and/or return policy.


Customer Service Department”

Translated into English, this must mean that if Amazon says that they are not going to give me my money back, Synchrony Bank is not going to lift a finger for a customer who went through the process and supplied them with all the documentation as required.

I in fact anticipated that this would most likely be the result, I just went through the process to confirm what I thought was likely to happen. Amazon is a huge multinational corporation, probably one of the biggest, if not the biggest customer of Synchrony Bank, which is why the bank is not going to do anything for me lest it should displease Amazon.

I have been shopping with Amazon for about 15 years now, but I will never buy anything from them again for as long as I live. In the case of T-Mobile, perhaps it could have been some kind of a computer glitch that made my 30 dollars disappear. But both Amazon and Synchrony Bank have documentation that clearly shows that I returned a defective product for which I was (allegedly) issued a credit that I refused to accept because I never agreed to such an arrangement in the first place.

So there could be no computer glitch involved here, and it is a policy of Amazon not to return money once the customer pays, even if the product is returned because it is faulty.

Is it also the policy of Amazon to eventually disappear phantom credits? It would seem so.

I tried to recover the money that Amazon stole for me by finding another product worth about 80 dollars to see if the phantom credit that Amazon allegedly issued to me really exists, instead of crediting the money back to my account, which is what a less arrogant and less thievish company would do.

But the credit does not exist. When I logged into my Amazon account and tried to use it to purchase something else, the website asked me to confirm that I would be using the same MasterCard to pay for it. Amazon still has all previous information about myself, including my billing and shipping address and MasterCard number, but nothing about “a credit” in the amount of $79.95.

I will never buy anything from Amazon, not even a single book, for as long as I live, because I cannot be sure that they will not steal my money again. I will be buying from other sources, preferably in local stores.

Incidentally, I did buy another Bluetooth speaker in the meantime (from a local Radio Shack store in case I had to return it). It works just fine and I absolutely love it.

Amazon got to keep 79.95 dollars that it stole from me, although it lost a customer of 15 years. But they are so big that they simply don’t care about little details like that.

Cox Communications Almost Managed to Disappear My Telephone Number

I also spend quite a bit of money every month for telephone charges. I have two business lines, as well as a toll free (800) number, up until recently I also had a standalone fax line until I decided to finally retire it, and my wife calls Japan just about every day. In fact she is on the phone to her mother, to whom I was also speaking just a few minutes ago, as I am writing this post.

A friend advised me some time ago to switch my home phone service to Ooma, a VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) phone that according to Wikipedia was started by Ashton Kutcher in 2004. It is much cheaper than traditional fixed phone lines. You can actually get away with paying only a few dollars for taxes and nothing for incoming and outgoing calls once you spend about a hundred dollars for the Ooma phone device. I chose the more expensive version which costs 15 dollars a month for a year, and 25 dollars a month from the second year, because this version also include 1,000 minutes of international calls, which is something that I used to pay for extra when I was with Cox Communications. The monthly bill from Cox for just one line used to be 65 dollars, which did not include international calling charges. So once I switched to Oooma, I got my initial investment of about a hundred dollars back in just a few months.

The problem was, I wanted to switch my home phone number to Oooma because it is a number that I was using for the last 14 years.

According to US laws, consumers have the right to take their phone numbers with them to their new service provider and they can do it through a process called “porting”. So I sent a request to port my home phone number to Cox Communications and waited.

I had a feeling that Cox Communication would not give up a fairly lucrative customer without a fight, and I was right. Twice I received a letter from Cox Communication stating that I my home phone number was not eligible for porting because I was still on a contract with Cox. But I happened to know that there was no contract. After I called Cox three times and asked them for something that would prove that such a contract existed, they could not find anything.

After that I received another letter stating that my number could not be ported to Ooma because Ooma rejected the porting. But Oooma of course did not reject anything.

During my fourth call to Cox Communications, when I received yet another monthly bill from them for a service that I no longer wanted, they told me that should the service be discontinued, my number would probably no longer exist, without specifying the reason for that.

Most people probably give up at that point if they need to keep their old number. But I was so mad at Cox that I told them that I was not going to pay them a single penny no matter what, not even if it meant that I would lose the telephone number that I was using for the last 14 years.

Next day, I finely received a message from Oooma that my home phone number was ported to them, after about 3 months of fighting with Cox, and a week later I received a check from Cox for about 70 dollars for overpayment for services.

But until the last moment I had no idea whether I would be able to keep my phone number or not.

The three examples that I offer above illustrate the fact that large corporations steal our money left and right these days simply because they know that they can get away with it. Although there is not much that we can do about it, I think that we should try to fight back whenever we can and as much as we can.

If we don’t fight back, not only large corporations like T-Mobile, Amazon, or Cox Communications, but just about every business will try to steal as much money as possible from every customer because stealing money outright from powerless customers will simply become a perfectly acceptable way of doing business.

It is of course also quite possible that I am hopelessly behind the times if I don’t even realize that stealing money from powerless customers has been a perfectly acceptable way of doing business for a very long time.

The long history of what is now often called the Translation Industry (previously just translation, or translation business) can be divided into a number of time periods of varying lengths based mostly on the technical means that were or are used in this particular vocation and business.

I would like to propose the following division of the Translation Industry into 4 time periods resulting in 4 distinct versions of the industry.

Translation Industry Version 1.0

Translation Industry 1.0 would cover a very long period of time, from the invention of writing in Mesopotamia and Egypt about 3,200 years ago, and in China about 1,200 years ago, up until about the year 1970. Virtually no technology, other than stones and chisels, and later ink, quill, pen, paper, dictionaries and typewriters, was used for translating for about the first four millennia.

All of the following periods of Translation Industry, from Version 2.0 to the current version 4.0.1, were characterized by eager adoption of various technological tools that have transformed the Translation Industry into the many fanged, shamelessly profit-driven and money-hungry beast that it is today.

Early Tools in Translation Industry Version 2.0 ~ 3.0

The most important technological tool in Version 2.0 in the nineteen seventies and nineteen eighties, for translators, translation agencies and their customers was the facsimile machine, abbreviated as fax.

In Version 3.0, the fax was supplemented and later for the most part replaced by a device called modem. As technology continued to produce new hardware and software, better and cheaper equipment such as laser printers and copiers, as well as more flexible and powerful word processing programs and other software, these tools were quickly purchased and put to use by translators and translation agencies in Version 3.0 of the Translation Industry in the nineteen eighties and nineties.

Under the unrelenting assaults of a Goliath called Microsoft, a popular religion in the word processing community called WordPerfect was largely driven underground after many years of almost complete domination over the word processing masses. The WordPerfect religion is not quite dead yet, although it is moribund. WordPerfect and several open source software suites, in particular OpenOffice and LibreOffice, today represent the main competition to Microsoft.

Twenty years ago, a free version of Microsoft Word was installed on most PCs running Microsoft Windows. That was how Microsoft got rid of its competition and killed WordPerfect, after it used the same technique to eliminate Netscape Navigator 20 years ago, the main competition for Internet Explorer.

However, the monopolistic technique worked for Microsoft only for a relatively short period of time as Internet Explorer now has plenty of competition from Mozilla and other browsers.

A “free trial version” of Microsoft Office, which includes MS Word, is still installed on most PCs, but instead of really offering it for free or simply selling it to us at a competitive price, Microsoft now wants us to keep renting this software from them in perpetuity once we get hooked, the way sharecroppers must rent land in perpetuity from wealthy land owners, so that we would have to pay them every year for the privilege of using a program that not so long ago we were able to own by purchasing it at a reasonable cost.

TI Version 4.0 – The Birth of CATs

In Translation Industry Version 4.0, the word processing programs of the last century with their spell checkers and other handy features such as the word count and grammar and style checkers led to the development of computer-assisted translation tools called CATs. These expensive software programs promised to translators willing to pay the high price tag flawless and after the initial learning curve almost effortless standardization of terminology along with development of translation memories that could be shared between translators and their customers.

These CATs were sold to translators with the promise that the new revolutionary “language technology” tools would make it possible for just about any translator to double, triple or quadruple the daily output of translated words, and thus also to double, triple, or quadruple translators’ income because most translators were and still are paid based on the number of words that they can translate per a unit of time.

But Instead of Making More Money, Translators Are Making Less Money Because of CATs

But by the time the cat was out of the bag, Translation Industry 4.0.1 introduced new concepts of “the language technology” called “full matches” and “fuzzy matches”, which basically means that translators are paid only a fraction of their normal rate for similar portions of texts identified as such by the CATs, and nothing for “identical” passages, although they still have to translate them because the translators, and not the CATs, are still responsible for the content of their translations, regardless of what tools they are using.

Instead of being able to earn more money by working faster thanks to a revolutionary computer tool, translators who use these tools, and the use is often mandated by a certain type of translation agency, now make significantly less thanks to these tools.

But it is all for a good cause. Just like Microsoft can make more money if it can force the sharecroppers on the Microsoft Plantation to rent in perpetuity a product that they used to be able to own at one time after purchasing it, and then buy upgrades only if they have useful functions, translation agencies make more money if they can get away with the catty and fuzzy schemes that they are so skillfully and carefully inventing and creating.

Most of the customers of the translation agencies have no idea that there are such things as “fuzzy matches”. In any case, they have no way of verifying these “matches” unless they own the same software.

New Tools Are No Longer Developed to Help Translators

Up until Version 3.0 of the Translation industry, new technology (typewriter, fax, modem) was developed and designed mostly to facilitate the translating process, or to enable instantaneous exchange of documents.

While in all of the the previous versions of the Translation Industry, new technology was developed to help translators and their clients, after the development of the clever concept of “fuzzy matches” and “full matches” in Translation Industry Version 4.0.0, the emphasis was placed in Version 4.0.1 on technological and other tools that make it possible to better control translators, to make them more dependent on translation agencies and incapable of making an independent decision.

The new tools are no longer designed to facilitate the translating process or delivery of documents. Some of these new tools are technical in nature, such as obligatory use of CAT software prescribed by the translation agencies. Some are organizational and managerial, such as the use of “work flows”, on-line systems for management of documents, and even more importantly for management of people called translators, with many hoops that translators must jumped through if they want to be paid at some point, as well as incredibly demeaning, unfair and often illegal agreements that translators are in some cases asked to sign if they want to be placed into the database of a certain type of translation agency.

Coercive, Restrictive and Manipulative New Tools of Translation Industry Version 4.0.1

These new tools that are used in the modern Translation Industry are designed to be controlling, restrictive, coercive, manipulative and punitive.

For example, unlike in the past, in many new agreements that translators are asked to sign now, they must promise to pay “reasonable attorney’s fee” should the translation agency decide in its infinite wisdom to sue a hapless translator for what it may perceive as a breach of contract, while the translator must expressly renounce the right to use the same kind of legal recourse.

Some translation agencies are implementing “migration to a new translation management system”, which basically means that new work is thrown out onto the Internet and then assigned to the first, hungriest dog in the entire pack of translators who grabs it by offering to do it at the lowest rate.

A new clause that is being put into these contracts as of last year is an illegal “on-site auditing” clause, namely the right of the translation agency to visit and inspect the premises of the translators, as well as to access remotely translators’ computers, ostensibly “to check the proper setting of the security software”. It would be illegal to conduct these kinds of raids on people’s homes in most countries on this planet, with the possible exception of North Korea. But based on the locations of translation agencies who are sneaking this new clause into new contracts with translators, this is apparently not illegal for example in United Kingdom, or in another country in Western Europe, or in the United States.

It is not very difficult to predict the probable result of these new developments in Translation Industry Version 4.0.1.

Because no self-respecting professional translator is likely to sign such contracts and work under these conditions, translation agencies using these coercive and not quite legal methods and techniques are losing and will continue to lose their most experienced translators who may have been working for them for many years. You can read all about it on social media, especially on LinkedIn.

But some of them, especially the large ones, don’t seem to really care too much about that. As far as they are concerned, the world is full of new translators who will be happy and grateful to work for them, even at lower and lower rates and under just about any conditions, which is evidenced by hundreds of resumes clogging daily e-mail boxes of translation agencies and even translators who have a website from not-quite translators from every continent with the exception of Antarctica.

These are the people who are likely to continue working for the restrictive, coercive, and manipulative type of translation agencies in the Translation Industry Version 4.0.1.

The army of not-quite translators who don’t mind working under the horrible and often illegal conditions created for them in the present version of the Translation Industry will be also supplemented by “bilingual” post-processors of machine translations whose job is to eliminate the most glaring mistakes of machine pseudo-translation so that the resulting product would look almost like a real translation, and by “cloud workers”, largely anonymous “bilinguals”, who unlike translators in the past, are expected to work for free or perhaps for nothing.

Because the quality of translations produced in TI Version 4.0.1 is likely to span the range from mostly bad to really horrible, this creates excellent opportunities for independent translators such as myself and for what I call translation agencies with a human face.

The mortal sin of the TI Version 4.0.1 is that it completely ignores the needs of the customers. What customers who in the end pay for translation need is good quality of the product that they pay for.

The customers obviously prefer to pay as little as possible. We all want to do that as customers, no matter what it is that we are buying. But most people understand that we usually get what we pay for.

I think that translation agencies who naively believe in sustainability of the greed-driven model of TI Version 4.0.1 will continue to lose customers who need reliable information and well written texts and who thus cannot use post-edited machine pseudo-translation, or atrocious translations committed by “cloud workers” and “bilinguals”.

Translation Industry Version 4.0.1 Is Not the World

It is important for us to realize that the TI Version 4.0.1 does not represent the entire world of the translation business.

Large agencies make so much noise with their advertising, conferences and commercial propaganda that they sometime tend to suck out all of the oxygen from the room. But they are not the world. It may take years before a customer realizes that he is paying for garbage, especially if we are talking about a large corporation with a complicated and often not very efficient organizational structure.

But there is no question that the Translation Industry Version 4.0.1 is mostly geared toward producing translations of very poor quality. As more and more customers start realizing this, more and more of them will be defecting to translation agencies with a human face, mostly small and medium-sized translation businesses.

There are still many translation agencies left in this world that do not subscribe to the coercive, restrictive and manipulative model of the new type of translation agency and continue to treat translators they way they used to be treated in the previous version of the translation industry, namely as valuable knowledge workers whose skills and abilities are much more important than any of the wonderful new tools that some translation agencies are trying to force down our throat.

I think that these are the only translation agencies that any self-respecting translator should still be working for, especially since if I am right in my characterization of a certain segment of the Translation Industry Version 4.0.1 in my posts, many of the most ruthless translation agencies of this type are likely to go bankrupt at some point anyway.

Posted by: patenttranslator | April 2, 2015

Your blog was returned in a Google search for the following keywords

This was the first part of what the (optional) note on a price quote form e-mailed to me with an attached PDF file of a Japanese patent publication said.

Of course, I am not going to tell my dear blog readers which key words were typed into the price quote form by somebody in a patent law firm who just happened to be looking today for exactly the kind of service providing translation of patents that this mad patent translator has been offering for almost three decades now because I don’t want to give too many ideas to my competition.

By my competition I mean the 3 translation agencies who, as I discovered when I googled the same key words, had a paid ad placed above the entry for my blog, namely on top of the entries that were not paid advertisements, as well as 8 ads of translation agencies appearing to the right of the entry for my blog in the Google listings.

An article that I wrote for the Patent Translation Handbook, published by the ATA (American Translators Association) in 2007, and that I later published also on my website, was listed on the third position among the non-paid Google listings, also called organic listings, and another article about translation that I wrote for Translation Journal, also back in 2007, made it to number 7 among the first 10 organic listings.

I generally receive several e-mails a week from my website asking me to submit a price quote for translating patents from Japanese, German, French, Russian, Chinese, Korean and other languages because I happen to have a handy “Quick Price Quote” form on my website, in 4 languages. I should really add forms in more languages.

I thought that this was how most new customers find out about my services, but the blog apparently also works in the same manner because with a few clicks you can click your way from the blog to the same “Quick Price Quote” form on my website.

There are two ways to make it to the top of Google listings. One way is to pay for key words for an advertisement, while another is to have relevant content on your website or blog.

Some people will click on paid, advertised Google listings, but many are likely to trust more organic listings. I know that I generally prefer to do that. When I look for products, such as electronic toys, which has been a decades-long addiction of mine, (at this point I simply could not live without my iPod, iPad and iPhone), I sometime click on advertised entries. But when I look for services, I prefer listings with relevant content of businesses located not too far from me, especially if these listings have a “Comments” section.

Ecclesiastes (11:1) says:”Cast your bread upon the water because after many days, it will come back to you.” I think this also means that it is a good idea when translators who have been putting to use their knowledge and expertise for many years share some of what they have learned with other translators in blogs and articles online. I have been trying to do that for at least 20 years now.

And the bread does come back to me every now and then.

About 12 years ago, long before I started my own blog, and even before I had a website, I wrote an article about translation of Japanese patents for Translation Journal. When a lawyer in a patent law firm in UK was looking for a translator of a stack of Japanese patents about 5 years ago, he asked the guy who normally translated French patents for the firm whether he would happen to know a suitable translator. The translator didn’t, so he asked a translator in Japan who read my article in Translation Journal and was so impressed by it that she recommended me (fortunately for me, she did not translate patents).

I ended up translating Japanese patents for this law firm quite heavily for about a year, after the first year, occasionally for about another year. I have not received anything from them in the last 3 years or so – until 3 days ago, when I was asked to give an estimate for translating 7 Japanese patents. The last I heard, the firm is still negotiating with the clients the details of the project.

The bread may be floating on the waters of different oceans for many days or years, but it tends to come back to you, in circuitous ways, if you remember to cast your bread upon waters every now and then.

This is basically also the idea that eventually gave birth to the concept of blogs about 20 years ago.

Blogs are now one of the engines driving the business on the Internet, in fact already an aging engine, although not quite yet relegated to the status of steam engine for locomotives, as social networking, the new kid on the block, (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and even Instagram), is seen as an even more powerful engine capable of driving business, among other things such as uprisings, riots and revolutions, via Internet.

That is why every corporation has a corporate blog where an employee is trying to write something uplifting, positive and inspirational about the corporation that pays his or her salary, usually not an easy job, while other employees are in charge of laudatory tweeting emphasizing the many successes of the corporation that pays their salaries.

I don’t really cast my bread upon the waters because I expect it to come back to me. I do it because it’s fun. I like doing crazy things like that once in while.

But when it does come back to me, it feels so good that it motivates me to write yet another blog post or article and throw it upon the turbid, churning waters of the Internet, where mighty currents may take it in many unexpected directions, so that eventually, it could end up on my doorstep again.


My price quote was accepted the next day, which means that thanks to the Google ranking of my silly blog, a prospective client, namely a large law firm with offices in 10 cities in United States, became a brand new client.

Posted by: patenttranslator | March 25, 2015

Who Or What Is “A Dear Linguist”?

Translation agency coordinators and project managers who send mass mailings to multiple translators sometime have a minor problem with the greeting line in the beginning of their e-mails.

Normally, when a translation agency person sends an e-mail to a translator such as myself, the e-mail will start with “Dear Steve”, or “Dear Mr. Vitek”.

If it is a real e-mail, (as opposed to mass e-mail, a close relative of spam), in English, Japanese, French, or German, it will generally have my name in it (always the last name if it comes from a polite continent such as Europe or Asia, while first name is usually reserved for lowly peons such as translators, chamber maids or dog catchers if the e-mail originates in North America.

But whether the first name or last name should be used is not really what I want to write about in my post today. What I am more interested in is the fact that agency coordinators do not have the time to spell out the name in every single e-mail when they are sending the same inquiry about availability for a job to be done “at your best price” to a dozen translators.

This is quite understandable because each name change would take about 2 seconds, which means that the translation coordinators would need to waste about 24 seconds only to change the name for each of the translators, and then they would still have to waste even more time dispatching each individual e-mail into the Internet so that these mass e-mails would not look like what they are, namely a close relative of spam.

We translators totally understand that it would be unreasonable to expect project managers who have so little time to unnecessarily waste so much time in this manner.

Mass e-mails are so much more efficient compared to the way things used to be done before! In Translation Industry version 1.0, and I am talking nineteen eighties, somebody would actually call and chitchat with me a bit first before mentioning that an actual job needs to be done.

That was definitely very inefficient use of human resources and something needed to be done about it.

In Translation Industry version 2.0, which would be nineteen nineties, I generally knew that the e-mail that was sent to me was in fact sent only to me and nobody else. Somebody had a translation that was meant for myself and nobody else, should I be interested in doing it.

In Translation Industry version 3.0, by which I mean now, the same e-mail is often sent to a whole bunch of hungry, hungry translators to watch them squirm while trying to underbid each other. This is so much more efficient! It will be the early bird who will catch the worm, just like the proverb says in a number of languages, provided that the early hungry bird charges less than all the other hungry birds.

One agency coordinator said to me once, when I dared to I suggest to her that I don’t appreciate this method very much because it looks like throwing a bone to a pack of hungry dogs, that she likes to work with “first responders” in this manner. I’m afraid I told her to remove me from her list of first responders because I would no longer respond to anything originating from this particular source.

Apparently it’s not just firefighters and paramedics who are expected to be first responders these days.

I know for sure that I am dealing with a mass e-mail, a close relative of spam, when instead of being politely addressed in the greeting line by my last name with the prefix Mr., Monsieur, or Herr, or the suffix 様(sama), or even by my first name, which is still fine with me, I am addressed as a “Dear Linguist”, or “Dear Linguists”.

“Who the hell are you calling dear linguist?” I am thinking to myself every time when I read this newly invented salutation.

There are at least two main definitions of what the word “linguist” means:

1. somebody who speaks fluently several languages,
2. a specialist in linguistics, the study of the nature, rules and changes in a language or languages.

I find it somewhat surprising that whether you belong to category 1 or category 2 depends mostly on your native language.

If you are for example a Mongolian linguist, you would be naturally expected to speak a few more languages, probably Chinese and Russian, perhaps even English, not just Mongolian. I doubt that there are many specialists in linguistics at the Mongolian Academy of Sciences who know only Mongolian.

The same is true probably about most linguists in most other countries as well. If you are for example a Dutch linguist, you would be again likely expected to speak a few other languages in addition to Dutch, probably German and English, possibly also French, as a professor teaching the science called linguistics at a university in Holland. I think that you could be still called a linguist if you are for example a Japanese specialist in the Ainu language, which is the language of original inhabitants of Japan who are now mostly extinct. But I doubt that people would call you a linguist in Japan if you spoke only Japanese.

But if your native language is English, you can still be called a linguist even if you can’t speak any other language.

I know this because when I was having a dinner at a restaurant last year with a group of friends and acquaintances, a lady who was sitting across the table from me (at a long table for a group of people) told me that she was teaching linguistics at a local College. So I asked her what languages she knew as I was hoping that we might perhaps share an interest in the same languages.

But it turned out that she really only spoke English, although she did know a few words in French. So she belonged to the 2. category of what the word linguist means, which probably exists only in a few countries.

It may be that translation agencies started using the friendly greeting “Dear Linguists” to make up for the fact that they don’t use names in a mass mailing. They may even think that they are somehow ingratiating themselves to translators, and that “linguist” sounds better than other names they like to call us. Names like “vendors”, or just “All” (as in “Dear All”). Although “Dear All” is still acceptable, “Dear Vendors” would sound really stupid.

But why don’t they call us translators, since that is what we are, I wonder?

Personally, I much prefer the term translator. As I have pointed out above, just about anybody can be a linguist as you don’t necessarily need to even know another language depending on the country where you live and the language that you speak.

I bet cloud workers, who are being groomed by a segment of the “translation industry” to completely replace translators one day soon, perhaps in Translation Industry Version 4.0, are also called “Dear Linguists” in mass e-mails from translation agency project managers. The main difference here is probably that these mass e-mails are sent to hundreds or thousands of cloud workers instead of just to a dozen translators.

And unlike myself and perhaps some other translators, cloud workers might even appreciate being called “Dear Linguists”. After all, “Dear Cloud Workers” would sound really stupid, even more so than “Dear Vendors”. Plus who knows whether cloud workers still have names these days. Maybe all they have is numbers like political prisoners in the gulags in the former Soviet Union, in which case it would be difficult to call them anything in mass e-mails.

Just imagine that translation agency project managers would have to call their translation specialists who happen to be cloud workers “Dear 21,001 ~ 21,999″. Now that would sound really stupid. “Dear Linguists” is definitely the way to go when one needs to address masses of cloud workers who are tirelessly working on demanding linguistic tasks such as post-processing of machine-translated documents, which in some respects may not be that different from the work that political prisoners in the former Soviet Union used to do.

Cloud workers are probably paid about the same as what gulag inmates used to make, which is to say nothing or next to nothing, but unlike gulag inmates, they don’t have to live in miserable camps in extremely cold Siberian climate.

It is probably not that bad being a cloud worker. You can pretty much pick the climate where you want to live, you are free to wear civilian clothes, you are not surrounded by watch towers with barbed wire and armed guards, and you may even be called “Dear Linguist” in e-mails from translation agencies.

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Posted by: patenttranslator | March 22, 2015

Direct Customers Will Make You a Better Translator

In my last silly post, I described how based on my own case and the experience of almost three decades, a translator can go about finding direct customers for a small translation business and over time become independent, or at least mostly independent, of translation agencies. This was just one example of how something like that can be done – there must be many other methods that can be used for the same purpose.

I would also like to stress that I see no reason to stop working for translation agencies when a translator works for direct clients, provided that it is a translation agency with a human face that is run by people who understand translation and appreciate translators. Unfortunately, the modern, corporate type of translation agency is based on the ruthless, ultra-crapitalistic concept of profit über alles, i.e. maximum profit at all cost, mostly at the expense of the people who do the actual work, but ultimately also at the expense of its own customers who are expected to simply get used to a much lower standard of quality of the product being provided with all of those wonderful “language technology tools”. This corporate, crapitalistic model is deeply hostile and clearly detrimental to our own interests as independent translators.

The term “language technology tools” would make George Orwell proud. It includes many new glorious inventions of the modern “translation industry”, such as machine translations that are post-edited by humans. This is no science fiction anymore as “the translation industry” has already reached the stage when machines are assisted by humans instead of the other way round. Instead of translators it employs invisible, underpaid or simply unpaid crowd workers and thinks nothing of the evisceration of the beauty and the soul of translation, which is no longer be present in texts that have been processed by algorithms that may easily run amok when computer-assisted tools dictate to humans what is and what is not correct translation.

I think that it makes a lot of sense to ignore the version of reality that the “translation industry” is pushing as a legitimate model of what translation should look like and instead to try to create a different model, a model that would be more fair both to the translators and to their clients.

An alternative model is based on working only with the traditional model of translation agency and, as much as possible, with direct clients.

In this post I will try to briefly describe how a transition from clients, who are mostly just ignorant brokers who know next to nothing about translation, to clients who are the actual customers for your translations is likely to change the character of your small translation business – because that was what happened in my particular case.


Finding direct clients is no easy task, but it is only the first step. Once you find them, you will also have to figure out how to keep them.

The problem with direct customers is that many of them have the nasty habit of insisting on taking a poor translator out of his or her comfort zone. You can always turn down a job from a translation agency, for example if you don’t know the subject well enough, or even you are feeling lazy. The chances are that the agency will come back to you next time anyway because agencies are used to working with different translators on different projects.

But if a direct client asks you to translate something that you can’t do yourself, can you tell them sorry, I don’t do that? Sure, you can, but will they come back to you next time again when they have a job for you that is more along the lines of what you prefer? Would you continue using the services of a plumber who can fix your leaking sink, but not your leaking bathroom? Probably not if you could find a plumber who can fix both of these eminently important fixtures in everybody’s house that tend to develop a leaking problem every now and then.

I don’t think that translators should try to be all things to all people, which is exactly what most translation agencies try to do. The fact that most translation agencies specialize in “all languages and all subjects” is one reason why they often do such a horrible job. Their motto might as well be:”If we don’t specialize in it, it does not exist”.

But even when a business is specializing in something, in every field there are many sub-specializations. Although initially I started out as a patent translator specializing only in Japanese patents, after about 5 years I started translating myself also German patents, and later I added also French, Russian, Czech, Slovak, and Polish patents, although it was and still is much more work for me than if I simply concentrated only on Japanese.

It took me a while before I was able to “grow” the same connections between the idle neurons in my brain for the same terms also between German and English, and then also for terms in French and other languages that I have been studying for many years. I am still faster when I translate Japanese patents, at least compared to patents in any other language, although German is now a close second.

But what should I do if I translate only one or a couple of languages and the clients start sending me work in other languages as well, you might say?

Well, my suggestion would be to allow the customer to take you even farther out of your comfort zone by learning how to shamelessly exploit other translators who can do the work that you can’t do by yourself – if that is what your client needs. In other words, I am suggesting that if you want to keep your customers, you may have to become a part-time translation agency, or a broker, in addition to being a full-time translator.

Although some translators consider all translation agencies to be inherently evil, becoming a broker does not necessarily mean joining the ranks of the highly exploitative agencies because one can also try to be an honest broker. There clearly is a reason why different kinds of brokers and agencies exist: translation agencies, employment agencies, and real estate brokerages provide services that mere individuals may not be able to provide, unless and until they too become brokers.

Things are a little bit different and more than just a little bit scary when you actually are in the broker’s shoes, but not really that different. Once you establish which translators  can do a given job really well, all you have to do then is pay them what they ask for on time. If you do that, they will try very hard to fit in your translation next time even if they happen to be very busy.

Although I sometime ignore requests from potential customers if they look flaky (I don’t even bother to quote a price for instance if an individual who only seems to have a Gmail address wants me to give a price quote for a project that would cost a lot of money), I almost never say no to an existing customer.

And then there are also ways to turn down a project that takes you completely out of your comfort zone without in fact saying no to a customer. If you ask for a rate that is on the upper end of what might be an acceptable price range for something that you really don’t want to do, a prospective customer will most of the time go somewhere else.

If he does not go somewhere else, just do it. You will make good money and maybe you will learn something useful that you can then add as a new skill to your arsenal of skills.

There are all kinds of tricks that a translator needs to learn when the tables are turned and the translator is now the agency. But I believe that all of that will only make you a better translator, especially when you realize the enormous amount of work that a good agency has to do, and the considerably risk that is often unavoidable.


Have you ever watched a movie and found the performance of one actor or actress in it so moving and amazing that every time when you surf the channels on your TV and see the name or the face of this actor or actress that you fell in love with, perhaps many years ago, you find it impossible to continue surfing?

Most of us have had this kind of experience. And not just with movie stars. If a carpenter builds a bookcase for me exactly according to my specifications and it looks just the way I imagined it, he is also a star in my mind when it comes to carpentry skills, and I will almost certainly ask him to build another bookcase next time, or maybe a pergola or a new staircase. But if you work only for translation agencies, you can never be a star translator for your clients, even if in fact you are quite a star in your own right based on how well you translate. When you only work for an agency, your clients will never even learn who you are.

As far as translation agencies are concerned, to many of them, translators are the opposite of a movie star or a star carpenter. To them we are only interchangeable, unimportant pieces in an intricate and complicated machinery designed to maximize their profit. How could they possibly see us as creators of anything of real value when in the new “translation industry”, it will be apparently our job to simply “assist machines” by proofreading whatever it is that a machine throws at us to just get rid of the most blatant kinks and mistakes?

They say this is “a new skill” that we need to learn. I say it is a slow and painful way to die.

I hope that translators will not fall for this new hoax the way they fell for the hoax of computer-assisted tools, which were sold to us as a way to increase our income, and then instead used to further reduce translators’ remuneration by forcing translators to accept reduced payment for “fuzzy matches” and no payment for “full matches”, which is nothing but a greedy and extremely dishonest scam.

I believe that the new skill that translators need to learn instead is the ability to find direct clients, perhaps in addition to translation agencies with a human face, but definitely so as to become independent of those who no longer appear to be quite human.

It will be a better world, both for translators and for their clients, if more and more translators start working directly for the people who in fact use their services. You are a better translator if you know exactly what it is that your client wants from you, and if you want to know what it is, you simply have to be able to communicate directly with your clients, who need to know who you are.

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