We translators love to constantly complain on social media about how we are treated by translation agencies, or by what is now called the “translation industry” (always in quotation marks on my silly blog, to distinguish this particular industry from translation as a profession, because these are two very different things.)

But when the shoe is on the other foot, when one translator works for another translator, who would then in this case be the equivalent of the “translation industry”, how do we treat the translators who work for us? Is there a difference between us and the industry in what we do unto others?

I think so. In most cases, I have noticed that most translators in fact do unto other translators as they would have them do unto them.

Just like some translators are not really of this world although they do live in it, there is a part of what is called the “translation industry” that is not really a part of the industry, and that part is made mostly of translators or former translators who also run what is a de facto small translation agency.

I myself have been working for other translators for many years and although that part of my life seems to be mostly in the past now, there are quite a few translators who are still working for me or for my small enterprise that is based mostly on translation of patents.

Because I mostly translate patents, the translators that I myself have been working for in the past two decades and who no longer send me work, because they are retired or no longer with us in this world, were also patent translators. In fact, they were mostly German translators, who just like me were translating German patents directly for patent law firms and occasionally needed help with translations of Japanese patents.

As I have said, they no longer send me work, probably because there is less demand for Japanese. But just last week I talked to one of them who translates German patents and who used to send me Japanese patents for translation, on and off for quite a few years. She is in her early eighties now but she still works, and there is plenty of work for her, she said, although she tries to find enough time for traveling as well.

There are generally a few important differences between how the translation agencies run their business in the toxic environment of new “translation industry” and how individual translators and some small translation agencies work with translators. Here are some of these differences:

  1. Paying Good Rates Is the Best Way to Ensure Excellent Quality of the Translation

Based on the new “translation industry” model, most translation agencies try to find the cheapest translator who should still be able to do a given job. The results are often not very good, especially since most translation agencies are unable to evaluate the quality of translations (that’s why they need to send a translation test to every new translator for their kind of evaluation that can be done by somebody who understands only one language and generally knows nothing about the subject either.)

But individual translators can tell good quality from poor quality and they are also often able to pay higher rates to other translators because they make most of their money from their own work.

I don’t pay “stellar” rates as one cheeky translator (who just like me may be a bit spoiled when it comes to rates because he mostly works for direct customers) once complained to me, but the rates that I pay are quite a bit higher than what the big players in the “translation industry” typically pay, generally twice as much as what a typical mega agency would pay.

(Please don’t send me your résumés. I need only a few people for only a few languages and there is so much fraud in the fake résumé business that I am only willing to consider translators who have been recommended by other translators that I know already.)

  1. Paying Quickly Is Almost as Good as Paying Twice

Another distinguishing features of translators and small to tiny agencies that used to and sometime still do send me patents for translation is that they pay within a few days, which is to say that they usually mail me a check as soon as they have received my translation.

This is very different from the model of the “translation industry”, which generally pays in two to three months to take advantage of a long “float time” during which the industry can let us wait for our money while we are forced to extend credit to the industry, often for a very long time. Who cares how are the translators going to be able to pay their bills before the payment finally arrives?

That’s their damn problem, right?

Well, not really, at least I don’t think so. And because the projects that I handle as an agency are not that many, they are usually relatively small and I have some money in the bank set aside specifically for this purpose, I pay translators who work for me on the first and on the fifteenth of each month, which means that nobody has to wait to get paid for more than two weeks, sometimes only a day or two.

  1. A Non-Disclosure Agreement Is Generally Only an Unenforceable Piece of Paper

Unlike the new “translation industry”, I don’t believe much in long, demeaning and sometime illegal NDAs that all translators are forced to sign in exchange for promises of future work, which often turns out to be nonexistent.

If a translation agency treats a translator in this manner, it clearly demonstrates a lack of respect for a translator, and the translator will have no respect for the translation either. Unfortunately for the clients, this means that any NDA could be violated by a translator without a second thought, especially since it is difficult or impossible to prove a violation, in particular if the translation agency is located in another country.

The best way for a translation agency to show that it respects the people who are working for it and whose work is indispensable for the agency’s profitability or survival is: 1. when it pays translators good rates, 2. when invoices are paid quickly (or at least within the promised time period), and 3. when the agency maintains basic norms of polite conduct in the communications with the translators.

I still know a few translation agencies that check all of the boxes for the simple categories mentioned above and those are the only agencies that I still work for.

And when I am the agency, I try to fit into them my little enterprise as well, which among other things means that I basically only ask translators to sign an NDA if it is required by the client. This happens once in a while, but not very often and when it does, the translators only need to sign a short statement about confidentiality.

Instead of relying on a piece of signed paper with thousands of words of tricky and scary legalese on it that for the most part has nothing to do with confidentiality of documents anyway, I try to establish a relationship of trust between myself and the translators who work for me. I believe that this is by far is the best way to ensure the confidentiality of documents.

I believe in the principles outlined in my silly post today because this is how the old “translation industry” used to work, before mammoth agencies ruined it, especially as smaller agencies started to imitate the ruthless corporate methods of their larger and particularly arrogant and greedy brethren.

I try to imitate the old translation agency model because I think that the old model is much better not only for translators, but also for their clients.

Painful experience has taught me that few things in life are as stupid as trying to find very good wine in a very cheap wine bottle. You have to pay a decent price for a decent wine. Don’t be surprised if a cheap wine turns out to be poison that will give you a major headache.

Despite the propaganda of the “translation industry” extolling the advantages of “new and innovative techniques”, referring in fact mostly to dangerous and counter-productive techniques for post-processing of the machine translation detritus, translations are in this respect no different from wine.

 

 

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As I wrote in my previous post, it was about 15 years ago when I realized for the first time that major and possibly irreversible changes were taking place in the translation business environment. My solution was to stop working for what is now called the “translation industry”, and I was able to do that mostly thanks to my stubborn perseverance combined with a few lucky circumstances that I described in that post.

I believe that many translators should still be able to use the same method that I was and still am using, while others may be able to use very different methods to protect themselves and their profession from the clutches of the rapacious “translation industry”, although all of the different potential methods will be based on staying independent of the industry and being able to work mostly or only for direct clients, perhaps with a few small translation agencies included in the mix.

But since the larger question asked in the title of my silly post today has not been answered in that post, I will try to do so, from my perspective, today.

I think that the short answer is “probably not.” At least not in the short run, the damage cannot be reversed for the thousands of far-flung translators working on the translation industry’s plantation without any representation.

For one thing, we translators have nobody to speak for us, let alone work on our behalf to actively promote our interests. The government obviously does not give a damn about translators. Since unlike for example the drug industry, or the gun industry, we have no lobbyists paying millions of dollars to politicians to maintain our earnings even at a level enabling economic survival, the government becomes aware that we exist only when it comes to paying taxes, regardless of in which country we happen to live in. This is true not only about translators, but about many other professions and we should not be surprised by that.

What should be surprising, although some translators may not be realizing it, is that our so-called professional associations are actively working for the “translation industry” and thus against our interests, although nominally they are supposed to be working for us, as they are financed mostly by financial contributions from individual translators.

But the problem is, the “translators’ associations” are also funded by the “translation industry” if they and other industries, as well as the governmental organizations, are allowed to be members of the same association as translators working in the trenches of the modern translation business. And compared to the power wielded by these non-translating members who are also members of same presumably happy family, poor individual translators obviously have no power at all.

Translators have no friends, only enemies, or at best only frenemies who only pretend to be our friends.

One piece of evidence of the fact that for example the American Translators Association is working for the “translation industry” and against translators, is the current content of the ATA Chronicle, the association’s almost-monthly magazine.

Although I was able to publish two or three articles that were somewhat critical of the practices of translation agencies in the ATA Chronicle at the beginning of this century, before the term “translation industry” came into common use, times have changed since then.

I offered relatively recently several articles for publication in the “Voice of Translators and Interpreters”, partly because several readers of my blog suggested (despite my skepticism) that it was a good idea and naively thought that the ATA Chronicle would mostly likely have a positive response.

Frosty silence was the only answer. Who am I to dare to ask something like that?

The American Translators Association, and probably also other associations nominally of, for and by translators, are not interested in a dialogue between the translators and the “translation industry.” They prefer to pretend that we are all a big happy family.

Well, if it is a family, it is one in which the weaker members are abused by much more powerful members and ultimately slated for extinction.

That is not my kind of family … except perhaps as a fictional family featured in a Netflix series in which one weak member is gruesomely murdered every now and then, preferably no less than every other episode or so.

One reason why I stubbornly keep posting on my blog articles that are very critical of the propaganda and practices of the “translation industry” is that to my knowledge, the ATA Chronicle has never published anything even slightly critical of the “translation industry”, at least not in the last two decades, as it has been successfully co-opted by the industry into its machinery as simply another tool for disseminating the propaganda of an industry whose ultimate goal is basically to eliminate our profession by turning as many of us as possible into grossly underpaid, slave-like “machine translation post-processors”, a vulgar caricature of what our profession used to be and should be.

While there have been many articles in the ATA Chronicle (which calls itself “the Voice of Translators and Interpreters”) written by representatives of the industry, celebrating the advances of what is called language technology, not a single article has been published in it questioning the elephant in the room – the proposition that the present kind of mechanization and industrialization of translation is a healthy and desirable way forward for what is now called the “translation industry”.

The translation industry is blindly and furiously destroying the previous ecosystem of an ancient profession, a profession that in the case of written translation is as old as the invention of writing.

The industry does not realize that we translators are the creators of all of the industry’s profits and that if you eliminate us and replace us by algorithms, newbies and people who are being paid a fraction of what would be required to pay the bills and taxes in Western countries in order to maximize the profits of the industry, the best educated and the most experienced translators will be eliminated from the ranks of people who will still be able and willing to work for the industry.

It is only logical that one inevitable result of the current approach of the “translation industry” to what translation is all about is inferior quality of translations that are produced by the industry, especially when we include under the term translation also the new kind of pseudo-translations that are originally produced by algorithms and then picked over by rushed, underpaid and unqualified human “post-processors” to remove the most glaring and most obvious mistakes and make them look like real translations.

While I am pessimistic about our prospects in the short run, I don’t know what is going to happen to us and to the industry in the long run.

Nobody really knows that. But there may be a silver lining on these dark, gathering clouds.

Although it may take a very long time before some clients of the industry realize that they are paying good money for inferior translations that may turn out to be useless or even counterproductive, at some point they may realize that one solution would be to ditch ignorant and arrogant large translation agencies and try to replace them by small, highly specialized and highly knowledgeable translation agencies that actually understand what translation is, and by individual translators who, unlike those of us who feel that they have no choice but to work for the big and hungry dinosaurs, are able to proudly stand by their work.

But to be able to take advantage of the opportunities inherent in the mostly unfortunate development over the last two decades, translators would need to stop endlessly complaining about the bad, bad agencies who pay low, low rates (if they pay at all), and they would need to figure out how to identify direct clients that would be a good match for what it is that they do for a living and offer their experience and skills directly to the actual clients, instead of being dependent on the middleman.

Some will hopefully be able to do just that. But if past experience is an indicator of things to come, probably not too many.

Posted by: patenttranslator | May 4, 2018

A Cure for the Post-Translation Industry Syndrome (PTIS)

The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.

Alice Walker

It was about 15 years ago when I realized for the first time that major and possibly irreversible changes were taking place in the translation business environment, demonstrated in the way translation agencies started interacting with me.

I even remember what prompted this realization:it was yet another Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) sent to me by a large translation agency that must have had already at least three previous NDAs signed by yours truly on file.

I can’t sign this disgusting and humiliating garbage, I was thinking to myself. It was not an NDA, it was so demeaning and constricting, nothing less than a declaration of my acceptance of very specific conditions of virtual slavery. I know that many translators believe that it’s OK to sign basically any agreement because most of the clauses in these things, especially the illegal ones, are unenforceable, especially if the agency is located in another country.

But for a number of reasons, I disagree. For one thing, if I sign an agreement without intending to comply with it, am I not a dishonest liar and a fraud, even if the agreement contains unenforceable and fraudulent clauses as do most NDA’s in the current form of the “translation industry?”

Prior to about the year 2000, there was no “translation industry,” judging from the fact that this term was not used. Well, the translators were there, of course, somebody has to do the work, and so were translation agencies. But the agencies did not refer to themselves as “LSPs” (Language Services Providers),” another dishonest and intentionally misleading term, because the agencies do not provide the language services, only actual translators and interpreters can do that.

So, very early into the 21st century I realized that I had basically two choices if I wanted to continue receiving work from translation agencies: either to sign anything and everything the new “translation industry” throws at me, or stop working for the “translation industry.”

Technically, there is also a third choice, since we translators can also delete the most offensive parts of the NDAs and sign them only once we’ve made our changes. But if you delete for example the part of the NDA that specifies how big a discount you agree to give for “fuzzy matches and full matches” and add a clause that stipulates that the payment will be provided in one month instead of agreeing with a fuzzy formulation of a time period that basically means three long months of waiting for your money, you are not likely to get much work from the agency that sent you the NDA anyway. So what would be the point of signing anything at all?

So instead of trying to modify these agreements and arguing with a PM (who has no power to do anything anyway) about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, I started eliminating every agency that sent me an NDA that stank to high heaven (and most them did) from my roster of agencies that I would work for every time I received a new or updated NDA that I just could not stomach.

But since up until about the year 2003, approximately 40 percent of my income came from translation agencies and about 60% of it came from direct clients, mostly patent law firms, this meant that I was suddenly facing the prospect of losing about 40% of my clients (providing that translation agencies can be put in the category of clients, which many translators would dispute.)

It was a scary realization because 40% of my income was of course a lot of money to me, especially since at that point I was the sole wage earner in a family of four.

Fortunately for my translation business, in 2001 I did something that made it possible for me to basically ignore the new predatory actors in the “translation industry” and more than replace the income from my work for agencies by income obtained for my work directly from direct customers.

Feeling inspired and pressed to do something about my dilemma, one fine day I decided to call my local Internet Service Provider, a tiny outfit in the Silicon Valley that seemingly consisted of 2 young guys who usually answered the phone whenever I called them with another stupid question. It’s not really that I did the right thing because I was smarter than other people, I mostly just got lucky because the guy I happened to call that fine, blessed day had a good answer for me. The question I had was “What kind of things can I try to do to make it possible for new customers to find my business on the internet?”

The guy who answered my phone, his name was Tracy and he sounded very young and talked like a teenager, listened patiently to my description of what it was that I was doing for a living and then told me that since I already had a descriptive website, what I needed now most of all in addition was to link the site to a good domain name.

I’m pretty sure that at that point I already knew what a domain name was, but I had absolutely no idea how to go about looking for a good domain for my services.

Up until that point, my domain name was JTRLS.com, which stood for Japanese Translation Services. In my naïveté I thought that it was a good name because it was short and it had the cool .com ending. But I realize now that it was a pretty stupid name:Sure, it was short and easy to remember …. for me! But unless a person knows already what the abbreviation stands for, who is going to remember it and find my expert patent services in this manner on the internet?

So Tracy got to work, although it was not really his job, went to a domain registrar’s website and then started throwing at me a few short and descriptive domain names that I was unable to find on my own. But once he explained it to me, I saw immediately how stupid my original domain name was, I registered several domain names that I thought might be much better, got rid of the dumb JTRLS domain and linked my website to about half a dozen newly registered domain at the cost of 35 dollars per domain per year.

Since at that point I was translating mostly Japanese patents to English, two of these new domains proved to be especially effective in motivating new clients to click on them: www.PatentTranslators.com (I got the domain both for singular and plural) and www.JapaneseTranslators.com. In retrospect, it seems obvious to me now that what Tracy suggested to me was exactly what I should have done to begin with.

But I don’t think that I would have figured it on my own had I not called him because like most people at that time, I knew very little about the internet 17 years ago, and understood even less.

So thank you so much for doing that for me, Tracy, wherever you are now!

At first I saw no change in anything for about a year or two. But from about 2003 I started receiving occasional emails from patent law firms with requests for a cost and turnaround time quote for translations of Japanese patents and a good portion of my quotes was accepted.

These translation price quotes then grew into a regular flow of new customers who kept me busy, along with existing direct customers, so that eventually the new direct customers became my old direct customers, while the percentage of work that I was still doing for translation agencies – and a few good ones are still left out there in the wasteland of the “translation industry” – over time shrank to about 10 to 15 percent.

From 2005 until the present, I have been keeping track of how many new customers found me through my website, and the results are pretty amazing, especially considering that the website is old and plain, I don’t use any search engine optimization (SEO) tricks, and I have never paid for internet advertising.

I see in my records that in 2005, there were 25 new customers who contacted me and sent me at least one job and the total of the new work represented close to 50% of my income for that year, in 2006 there 20 new customers representing about 30% of my income for that year, and so on and so forth.

The numbers were pretty constant up until 2010: Between 10 to 30 new customers who sent me at least one job a year, representing between about 20 to about 50 percent of my yearly income. After 2011, the numbers of new customers started dropping to single digits as translation agencies finally started figuring out how to compete more effectively with my tiny business, presumably by using “advanced search engine optimization (SEO) techniques”, so that by 2015, my formerly magic domain names resulted in only 4 new customers and brought in only a few thousand dollars of additional income.

So there you go, the post-translation industry syndrome (PTIS) was finally catching up with me, I was thinking to myself. Nothing can last forever, especially if it is a good thing.

What changed, I think, was that the “translation industry” perfected the so-called search engine optimization (SEO) techniques and combined them with putting a lot of money into internet advertising, while I never did anything that, as I was simply relying on the high ranking of my website in organic search results.

But it turned out that I was wrong again: although only 3 new direct clients found my antiquated website by the end of 2016, two of them then sent me so much work the next year that I had to work basically every weekend throughout 2017 to keep up with the demand and my income hit again the higher levels that I was accustomed to during the first decade of the millennium that ushered in the new form of the “translation industry,” toxic both to its customers and to translators.

My advice to my fellow translators would be: Do not despair if the post-translation industry  syndrome (PTIS) hits you like a ton of bricks, as it is likely to do so at some point.

It is understandable if the post-translation industry syndrome (PTIS) hits you and makes you so depressed that you start believing that your only choice at this point is to prostitute yourself to the “translation industry” instead of competing with it by attacking its weak points, because the industry seemingly has all of the power and you have none.

But remember, there are always other choices, because there simply must be. For me, 17 years ago, it was using the internet in combination with a good domain name to find new direct clients and thus to become independent of the miserable conditions that the “translation industry” was trying to impose on me.

For you it may be something else instead of a good domain name, especially considering that a good domain name is much harder to find now. Maybe you just need to explain to a smart guy like Tracy, who may not know anything about your business, but who knows things that you don’t know, what it is that you want to do and listen carefully to his suggestions.

Or maybe you know already what it is that you need to do. Even though you may not realize it, the knowledge may be already buried deep inside you and the advice will come to you after a good night’s sleep.

Just remember one thing: you do have power … unless you give it away by thinking that you don’t have any.

Posted by: patenttranslator | April 24, 2018

A Big and Joyous Roadkill Party in the “Translation Industry”

Revolutionary, disruptive innovation is the best kind of innovation. That is what we are told over and over again by prophets of disruptive innovation, who are usually well paid by people who already have or intend to become filthy rich from another miracle of innovative disruption.

What the prophets never mention is that just like revolutions, the disruptions that are caused by these innovations come at a great cost.

Some kinds of innovation are not only disruptive, but so destructive that they can kill not only jobs (Uber, Airbnb), but also people (Uber’s self-driving cars) and even most of the life on this planet (the ‘clean diesel’ cars of Volkswagen and other car manufacturers), or at least our way of life.

Much celebrated current examples of disruptive innovation include quasi-magically turning amateur drivers into experienced and safe taxi drivers, or turning regular people who own an apartment in a popular city or a beach town into part-time hoteliers.

Well, into a certain kind of taxi drivers, anyway. Not the kind of taxi drivers that I remember from Japan in the eighties where super-polite taxi drivers wore white gloves and the passengers rested their tired heads on headrests that were thoughtfully enveloped in a perfectly white cover adorned with lace.

I don’t like Uber for a number reasons and I would prefer if taxi drivers and people working in actual hotels could still make a good living. But seeing as I am a cheap guy, I now take Lyft from my house to the airport and vice versa. It’s hard to resist: the taxi ride to the airport in Norfolk used to cost me about 50 dollars plus a tip, the same as from my hotel in Vienna to the airport there, if I remember it correctly. The same ride with Lyft from my house to the airport costs 23 dollars plus a tip.

There is no lace cover on the headrest in Lyft cars, but I usually have a nice conversation with the driver. The last one did not even have time to shave, possibly because he got his driving gig just after he woke up. He had a tiny bit of a foreign accent and when I asked him about it, he eagerly told me his life’s story.

He was in his mid thirties, born in Colombia, and he told me that he just recently married an Asian woman from Laos who was 17 years older than him and had two teenage daughters with her previous husband. He seemed appreciative of my advice on what one can expect from Asian women and from teenage children, two subjects that I know a little bit about, although even after decades of experience, still not much more than what I know about the dark side of the moon.

We had a very nice chat. But let’s get back to the subjects of destructive innovations and roadkill.

Because many innovative innovations can be not only disruptive, but also very destructive, I see similarities between what the destruction that is caused by what machines do to nature and animals, and the kind of havoc that so-called disruptive innovation in the so-called translation industry wreaks upon our world.

Neither the car nor the algorithms are designed to kill animals or written communication, it’s just something that unavoidably happens millions of times a year everywhere where there are roads, or where machine translations are used.

Most of the time nobody profits from the mass slaughter of animals on our roads. In fact, the opposite is often true, because many people die in accidents caused by animals and the animals sometime survive.

Although from the viewpoint of the murdered animals, these accidents are clearly caused by our roads, not by the innocent animals themselves, and this may be how they are paying us back for our treachery.

But since people always try to profit from anything, including the numerous instances of roadkill, a type of cuisine has been developed by us that over time called roadkill cuisine.

According to Wikipedia, “Roadkill cuisine is preparing and eating roadkill, animals hit by vehicles and found along roads. It is a practice engaged in by a small subculture in the United States, southern Canada, the United Kingdom and other Western countries as well as in other parts of the world. It is also a subject of humor and urban legend. Large animals including deer, elk, moose, and bear are frequently struck in some parts of the United States, as well as smaller animals such as squirrels, opossum, armadillos, raccoons, skunks and birds. Fresh kill is preferred and worms are a concern, so the kill is typically well cooked.”

And once you get rid of the worms and maggots, meat is meat and it is ready to be cooked, whether it is fresh meat from a slaughterhouse, or mystery meat from roadkill. The main difference here is that roadkill meat is much cheaper or free. Some restaurants proudly advertise the fact that they serve roadkill meat, such as this one in Seligman, Arizona (You Kill It, We Grill It,) although most probably don’t mention this particular detail.

Just like roadkill, machine translation, the latest disruptive innovation of the “translation industry,” much celebrated in dozens of industry press releases, called “post-editing of machine translations,” is also very cheap.

The industry anticipates that it will be able to generate enormous profits from the roadkill created by well trained algorithms of machine translation. Especially large translation agencies are salivating at the prospect of the additional hundreds of millions of dollars that will end up in their pockets if they are able to put cheap or free algorithms to work instead of expensive to very expensive human translators.

Are these profits going to be realized, or are they already being realized? If we are to believe press releases and propagandistic statistics that are mostly based on “expected” data, there is no question that the profits are in many cases already here and that they will grow exponentially, although only for the smartest among the captains of the “translation industry”, namely those who are clever enough to identify the “sweet spot” in pricing of the roadkill for translations created by computers and algorithms.

But I doubt very much that the roadkill of machine translations will in fact result in a big, joyous, boisterous party for the industry. I think that smaller translation agencies that put all or most of their eggs into the basket of machine translations will in due course go bust, and the big ones, those that are able to put a lot of money into advertising the roadkill of machine translation and selling it to their clients as Angus beef of prime quality, will make some money in the short term, but lose much more money in the long term when their clients realize what kind of meat they are being served.

You can tell pretty easily whether the roadkill meat is good to eat by the way it looks, smells, and whether and how many worms and maggots are in it already.

But for many reasons, which unlike an industry captain, every translator will understand both intuitively and based on experience, it is very difficult to tell where all of the worms and maggots are hidden in roadkill translations created by algorithms.

I believe that these things should not be even called translations, because they are not that. But it is probably too late to try to change the terminology of the “translation industry” at this point, although some people have tried to explain why this terminology is misleading, see for example this blog post analyzing the “evils” of what is called “post-edited machine translations”, or PEMT.

Unlike spoiled meat, the roadkill of machine translations does not have an awful smell, and no amount of post-editing is likely to identify and remove the worms and maggots hidden in it.

The only way to get rid of them is in fact to have the machine translations, or pseudo translation, completely redone by a human translator. But that would then beat the purpose because it would be more expensive as well as slower than not bothering with a machine translation in the first place.

One way for clients to avoid post-edited machine translations, which may be reasonably priced and may look like really good translation, (except that the poorly-paid post-editor  may have created the exact opposite of the meaning of the original text to save time), is to enter into a working relationship with an individual translator or a small, specialized agency.

Because we need both the animals and the roads for our survival, some people, whether they are vegetarians or carnivores, are creating underpasses for animals enabling them to safely cross major roads.

Translators must learn how to avoid the traps of translation industry, which is now salivating at the prospect of a joyous roadkill party in the industry, and create their own bridges, overpasses and underpasses to direct clients who simply can’t use the roadkill that so many translation agencies are trying to sell to their clients, out of ignorance, incompetence and greed.

Nobody will do this for us – we simply need to figure out how to do it on our own.

The other option we have is to specialize in identifying worms and maggots in the roadkill created by machine translation as quickly as possible …. and hope against hope that we will be able to earn enough money in this manner not to become roadkill ourselves.

 

Posted by: patenttranslator | April 8, 2018

SCAM LIKELY

Telephone Call Scams

“Scam likely” is a message that is often displayed on my iPhone’s screen when I am receiving a telephone call these days. I find it a little scary that even before I have a chance to check the number to make a determination on my own, the phone knows already what is going on.

At the beginning of the internet age, we  could still trust the area codes of the telephone numbers displayed on our low-tech call ID: 212 was somebody calling from Manhattan, 213 was somebody calling from downtown LA, and 312 was definitely somebody calling us from Chicago.

This is no longer true because scammers can now buy a telephone area code tailored to the type of scam they are running on the internet, whether they are calling you from the house next to yours, or from a scam operation located on the other side of the country or on a different continent.

Because most of the calls that I receive on the number of my virtual landline that has been displayed on my website for some two decades are from telephone scam boiler rooms, I only occasionally monitor on my cell phone the calls on that compromised line, just in case the caller is not a marketing operation or a scammer.

The more you answer calls like that, even just to hang up immediately, the more calls you will receive. So it’s best not to answer at all.

The telemarketing industry is probably only a few years away from killing off the use of real landlines by the people who still have them. Just like the “translation industry” is killing itself by competing solely on price while selling to its customers translations of appalling quality at lower and lower prices, the telemarketing industry is also killing itself by incessantly calling people who want to be left alone.

Neither of these two industries seems to be aware of its tenuous future. Or maybe they simply don’t care because the people running it and working for it simply don’t know how to make money in a safer and more honest manner.

It seems that the telemarketing industry still lacks access to our cell phone numbers because I don’t receive any marketing or scam calls on my cell phone, possibly because politicians need to be able to use the cell phones of potential voters to run their own scams called electoral campaigns.

So a few years ago, I solved the sad situation by creating a new virtual landline number, which I only give to actual customers. When that phone line rings, I always answer because it’s either a customer or a friend.  My new virtual landline number is now a closely guarded secret that may be disclosed only to a limited number of people.

Spammy Emails

“This message may be a scam” is what my email program sometime displays about emails when I receive new emails. Some of these emails are just lame attempts at marketing rather than outright malicious scams, but almost all of them are spam, not something that I would be even remotely interested in reading. I read somewhere that ninety five percent of emails messages are spam. The constant, never ending current of spam messages from a myriad of marketing operations into our mail boxes is also one reason why marketing of translators’ résumés to translation agencies or direct customers is extremely ineffective.

But it is not the only reason, and probably not even the most important reason.

Stolen Translators’ Résumés and Identities

I found out about this practice, which is now rampant, for the first time from an excellent presentation by Joao Roque Dias at the IAPTI Conference in Bordeaux in 2015.

The practice of stealing identities of qualified and experienced translators is very damaging to all translators because it makes it very difficult to determine whether the translator’s résumé that was just received is a genuine one, or whether it is a stolen résumé in which the contact details have been changed and which is circulated on the internet to underbid qualified translators.

The epidemic of fake résumés that look promising, credible and authentic means for me that I no longer pay much attention to résumés that I receive. I receive a lot of them every day, even though I mostly translate myself and the agency part of my work is relatively small. But I automatically consider all unsolicited résumés that I receive to be a likely scam and don’t pay much attention to them.

A particularly active operation generating fake résumés is located in Gaza. I have been a target of this operation for quite some time and I still am receiving a lot of résumés from this operation every week.

I hate to admit it, but I actually fall for this trick at one point a few years ago when I sent a very short translation to a seemingly promising new translator in response to a newly received résumé. I always send a very short translation at first to make sure that the potential damage will not cost me too much.

The translation that I received was quite good in some respects, but it also contained incredibly stupid mistakes, probably because it was “perfected” by editing and modifying Google Translate or another machine translation program.

It took me a long time and I was cursing myself for my own stupidity, but because I knew the language and the subject of the translation, I was able to eventually fix the translation so that it would make sense, before sending it to a client.

It was only at the point when I was sending the payment to the translator by PayPal for this horrible translation, (I always pay the translator, even if the job was botched and I will never contact the translator again), that I discovered that the recipient had an Arabic name and that I fell victim to a scam that is based on stolen identities of actual translators.

But would a typical project manager who does not understand the language, let alone the specific subject, even notice that something is wrong with a translation because it contains a number of inexplicable errors?

I doubt it.

A typical project manager working in the modern version of the “translation industry”, who does not understand the languages he manages and does not know anything about the specific subjects either because he has to deal with “every language and every subject” would probably not notice anything, and continue to supply substandard translations to the agency’s client, as long as the client does not protest and pays the bill.

There are signs that we can look for in order to distinguish genuine résumés from stolen ones and to protect our identity and , some of which are listed in this blog post by Marta Stelmaszak.

But since we are surrounded by likely scams everywhere we look, including in the field of translation, I believe that at this point there is only one safe method to look for qualified translators:  using only a translator who has been recommended to me by another translator I already know.

All unsolicited résumés now go straight into the spam folder because I see them as a likely scam.

Posted by: patenttranslator | April 5, 2018

To Retire or Not to Retire – That Is Not the Question

For many people who work for a living in blue collar and white collar occupations, most of whom not so long ago had a fairly generous pension guaranteed by their employer, retiring or not retiring in their mid sixties as their parents used to is no longer an option.

As the pensions evaporated courtesy of Wall Street and corporate greed, a higher percentage of Americans than ever now neither has a defined pension plan, nor significant retirement savings. The unfortunate result is that the new retirement model for too many people is today … no retirement.

I see it around me all the time. At the grocery stores where I do my shopping, there are mostly just two types of cashiers scanning in the bar codes, taking money from customers and handing out change from the cash register, for which they are paid a minimum or sub-minimum wage – youngsters who appear to be in their teens or early twenties, or much older folks like myself who must be in their sixties or seventies.

Fortunately for us, translators, or at least those of us who have been able to find relatively well paying direct customers during our most productive years when we were in our thirties, forties and fifties, are in better position than most other workers who retire when they reach retirement age, only to then have to compete with teenagers working cash registers in supermarkets for minimum wage if their retirement income is not sufficient to pay the bills as is often the case.

We are better off because as long as our brain is still able to process information in at least two languages and we can still type with our fingers, we don’t have to retire. We can simply continue working, for our existing customers and for new customers, because generally speaking, nobody gives a damn how old we are as long as we still have a pulse.

The decision whether we want to continue working, until the moment when we keel over and our head hits the keyboard so that for the first time in our life, we miss a deadline (because we are dead!) will depend on what we want and what we still can do with the years that we have left.

There is a world of difference between having to work because we have to pay our bills, and working because we would otherwise get bored, and also because we can use the extra income.

I have known and still know several translators and owners of small translation agencies who have been working and are still working well into their sixties, seventies and even eighties; I have worked for some of them, and some of them have worked for me.

I think that most translators continue working when they are already past the age of retirement, even if they have some savings and their income would be sufficient to cover their expenses – which is true in some cases, although probably fewer and fewer cases now – because they need to do something and because they enjoy the intellectual challenge of their work.

A big financial burden falls from our shoulders as we get older when we no longer need to support our children financially. And as we no longer need the big house for the whole family with the complementary menagerie of dogs, cats, hamsters and other pets for our offsprings (in my case it was also an Australian bearded dragon lizard), we can sell our house and move to a smaller house, or a condo or an apartment.

Because we work through the internet for far-flung clients, we can move from an expensive area to a cheaper area, or even to another country with a lower cost of living. We translators are better positioned for something like that than most people because we have a keen interest in other countries and cultures, speak several languages, and we know how to learn another language faster than most people.

It is not clear how many American “expats” have chosen to live abroad, mostly in the countries of Central and Southern America, especially Mexico, Panama and Belize, although the most frequently cited number on various websites is “at least two million people.”

According to the Social Security Administration, about 400,000 of these American expats living in different countries are senior citizens, many of whom are able to live quite comfortably solely off their Social Security or pension income, not only in a number of Latin American countries, but also in other countries in Asia and even in Europe.

Of course, moving is a big hassle and most people, including seniors, will probably decide to live where they are, especially if it means living close to their family. But it’s good to know that translators generally have options when they reach retirement, options that people working in other professions may not have.

So to come back to where I started with my post today, I don’t think that “to retire or not to retire” is the right question for translators who are close to or who have already reached retirement age.

Most of us will probably continue working for quite a few years (and some of us will do that until we drop dead!) But we will be usually working less than we used to because the financial burden on us is diminished if we play our cards right, especially if have a retirement income that in some cases may be sufficient to pay all the bills.

And if the income is not sufficient, there are things freelance translators can do as small business owners to make sure that it will be sufficient, some of which I outlined in my post today.

Our ability to continue working while saying no ridiculous rates and demeaning and untenable conditions that the “translation industry” likes to offer to hard working and highly experienced people who do the actual translating work,  will of course depend mostly on what kind of customers we have been and are working for.

If we treat our small enterprise as an actual business and are very careful about the kind of customers that we will work for, we do have quite a few options when it comes to retiring, not retiring, or partially retiring once we reach retirement age.

But if we mostly work for the Leviathan called for lack of a better term the “translation industry”, we may be in the same situation as the senior citizens cheerfully working for low wages cash registers next to teenagers at supermarkets, because they have no other way to make ends meet.

Posted by: patenttranslator | March 29, 2018

One of the Biggest Problems with the “Translation Industry”

One of the biggest problems with the “translation industry” is the astonishing ignorance of the people who run the “industry” and work in it.

A few years ago, I was contacted by a project manager of a translation agency I had never worked for before about my availability for a major potential project involving translations of many emails and other documents from Russian to English.

Just for the heck of it, I asked the project manager in my response to her email whether the project was really in Russian. Well, not just for the heck of it, because it did happen to me many times that a project that was offered to me by an agency’s project manager as a Japanese document for translation was in Chinese or Korean.

In fact, when a translator receives an email about something called by the project manager simply a “document”, it’s clear that the poor PM has absolutely no idea what’s in the “document,” because otherwise the title or the subject of the document could be mentioned and it could be described as an unexamined patent application, examined patent application, published patent, office action, company profile, medical autopsy report, computer game manual, etc.

I mostly translate myself, but when I work as a translation agency, I never send a “document” to a translator. I always identify the potential translation project because I actually know what’s in the “document.”

But when I deal with a translation agency, something like that happens only if the “document” is already provided with a summary in English.

The content and the nature of “documents” that are in languages such as French or Spanish can be often guessed by monolingual PMs who only know English, but this is not the case with documents that are for example in Japanese or in Russian.

The answer to my cheeky question about the upcoming project was “Well, it must be in Russian because the documents are written in Cyrillic.”

The poor PM not only could not read Russian, but on top of that, she was also completely ignorant of general basic facts about an important group of languages that were foreign and completely opaque to her: such as the fact that although the documents for translation that appeared to her to be in Russian because they were written in the Cyrillic alphabet might have been in Russians, they could also have been written in several other languages including Ukrainian, Belorussian, Serbian, Bulgarian, or Macedonian, and as a result of Russification during a long era of Soviet rule, also in languages spoken in Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, or even Mongolian.

I did not make myself available for the project because I know from experience that ignorant PMs often create problems that will be eventually blamed on the translator, even when the crux of the problem may have been beyond the powers of a mere translator.

For example, in my example of a PM who is unable to even read the files that she is assigning to different translators because they are in the Cyrillic alphabet, a big problem can be created when the PM sends documents written by the same person on the same subject to several different translators who will be using different terminology, instead of making sure that they are sent to the same translator.

And the PM in my example, an example from real life of a real translator, was clearly unable to do so.

If there is a problem with a translation: “Shoot the translator!” is generally the typical response from the “translation industry.” And given the depths of ignorance on the part of the people running the “industry” and working in it, this is really the only kind of response that the “industry” is capable of, isn’t it?

For example, should a customer have a legitimate complaint about a problem in a translation, how was the PM that I mentioned in the introduction to my silly blog post today supposed to find out what the actual problem was?

Of course, it is not humanly possible for a translation agency’s project manager to understand every language or every subject that he or she is asked to manage. But therein lies one of the biggest predicaments of the “translation industry.” The “industry” is eager to advertise itself as being imminently qualified to translate every subject from and into every language, which is of course an impossibility.

It is obviously not possible for a translation agency’s project manager to know all of the thousands of languages spoken on this planet. It is possible for a translation agency to hire project managers who can at least read several languages and who are thus much more likely to prevent problems before they occur, for instance when the wrong document is sent to the wrong translator (because the PM not only has no idea what is in the document, but also is unable to ascertain the quality of the work that is done by the translator.)

Based on my experience and based on my interactions with the “industry” for more than three decades, relatively few translation agencies hire PMs who are multilingual or at least knowledgeable about translation issues and other languages than English, mostly because people like that are generally more expensive than fresh college graduates who don’t really know anything about anything, at least not in the vast field that is referred to as “translation.”

The single-minded emphasis on short-term profits in the “translation industry” logically results in hiring of project managers and translators who are willing to work for the least amount of money, and who are often located in countries where human labor is much less expensive than for example in the United States or Western Europe.

This is combined with efforts to incorporate machine translation and other aspects of what is called “language technology”, such as creative efforts at disqualifying some words from being reimbursable at the same rate as other words in the translation process as much as possible, which in reality are crude and patently illegitimate efforts at wage theft.

This emphasis on short-term profits means that most, although not all, translation agencies are bravely willing to tackle translations from and into every language and in every subject.

Their mission is clear: find in their databases, presumably containing thousands of profiles of highly qualified “linguists”, or on the internet, a translator who claims to be able to do the job at hand, and to do it at the lowest rate in order to maximize the profit of the translation agency.

And since they can generally always find warm bodies willing to do the work, the result of the recent version of the “translation industry” is predictable: translations that range in their quality from not very good to really awful and unusable.

Generally speaking, because the largest translation agencies have higher expenses than smaller operations, they usually pay their translators less than smaller translation agencies, although some small translation outfits are just as greedy as the big ones, if not more.

So what is the solution for clients who need translations that will be actually useful to the clients who pay for them?

Well, I think that the solution for these clients is to stay away from the “translation industry” as much as possible and instead to establish a working relationship with a small and highly specialized translation agency, or with an individual translator specializing only in the languages and subjects that these clients need.

Because no single translation agency can translate every language and every subject under the sun, a translation agency that specializes in every language and every subject does not really specialize in anything and most likely does not know anything about anything.

But there are many translators and translation agencies specializing in subjects such as financial translation, translation of computer games, medical translations, or translations of patents from and into a given range of languages, which happens to be what Mad Patent Translator has been specializing in for some three decades.

False modesty aside, I think the main reason why I have been able to do what I am doing, which is to say translating patents for a living for such a long time and making a pretty good living doing so, is that unlike in the example of the ignorant translation agency project manager mentioned in the introduction to my silly post today, I actually know what I am doing.

Posted by: patenttranslator | March 4, 2018

Making Sense of the Gig Economy So That It Works for Us

There are many good reasons why so-called gig economy has a bad reputation.

Unlike in the old system in which employees were treated as valuable members of the company – that is why they are called “Mitarbeiter” in German, which literary means “coworkers”, and “社員” [sha-in] in Japanese, which literally means “company members” – the gig workers in the new gig economy are hired only for gig jobs of indefinite duration, usually of very short duration, only to be discarded like used coffee filters once the job is done.

The check is (maybe) in the mail …. you have a nice life now!

While we were not looking or noticing much, the gig economy has been slowly replacing the traditional employer-employee economy model for several decades. In the traditional employer-employee model, loyal employees were rewarded with an employment contract including a slew of different perks, generous to different degrees depending on the company and the country, such as vacation time, health insurance, life insurance, and up until recently not only regular increases in salary for  loyal employees who stayed with the same employer for many years, but also a defined, company-funded pension for employees who stayed with the same employer until it was time to retire.

I myself have been an employee for approximately 7 years between 1980 and 1987 in several countries. In all of the countries where I worked as an employee, the fact that I had all of the benefits of being an employee was very important to me.

But the most important benefit of being an employee was the stability and security that came with “having a job.”

The Stability that Used to Come with Being an Employee Is Mostly a Thing of the Past

I knew, or thought I knew, that once I found a good job, or at least a job that is for the most part enjoyable and that pays enough to cover all of my bills, I would not have any major existential worries. And because I was young, single and willing to work for a relatively low salary, I was always able to find a job within a few weeks.

But although the gig economy was just getting started more than 30 years ago, it suddenly caught up with me when I got fired from my last job as an employee in San Francisco after only 3 months, basically as a result of internal company politics over which I had no control.

What nobody told me when I signed my employment contract back in 1987 was that the woman who hired me and then fired me at the end of the probation period mostly needed somebody like me because her company was sending her for training to Europe for several weeks, during which period she absolutely had to have a replacement. That was the main reason why I was hired.

I would not have put it this way more than 30 years ago, but I while back then I was looking for a gig of a relatively long duration, the company that hired me was looking for a gig employee for a very short time period.

So that was how I eventually became a self-employed gig worker determined never to get fired again more than 30 years ago, long before the term ‘gig economy’ came into existence.

Does It Still Make Sense to Try to Be a ‘Loyal Employee?’

Most people would probable agree that the economy has changed quite a bit in the last three decades, and most of these changes eroded or simply got rid of the benefits that used to come more or less automatically with the status of a ‘valued employee’, so much so that even the term ‘a valued employee’ may be at this point not much more that an anachronism.

While defined pensions for loyal employees still exist for employees in the public sphere, they are mostly non-existent in the private sphere because once the money that was in private pensions started being traded on the stock exchange, the money was gambled away, or to put it in even more precise terms, stolen by the unreachable criminals on Wall Street, with the full knowledge and approval of corporations who are now only too happy to get rid of their former employees just before they reach their retirement age. If the former employees can no longer work – why should the corporations give a damn about them?

The relationship between employer and employee has changed dramatically compared to the situation three or four decades ago when I felt that I was a ‘valued employee’.

It changed so much that it may make more sense for young people to forget about the traditional concept of job security and a relative financial safety that used to be understood under the term an ’employee’.

It is probably not an exaggeration to say that an ’employee’ who does not have a defined pension to be paid by the employer, who only has a skimpy health insurance package with co-payments and deductibles as is the case for most employees now here in the US, or no insurance at all, and maybe a few vacation days, is often in a worse situation than an independent contractor these days.

Employees too are now for the most part thought of by their employees in the  gig economy basically as gig workers who will work for the company for a somewhat longer gig during an undetermined period of time, rather than as valuable ‘co-workers’ or ‘company members’ who should be naturally rewarded for their loyalty with higher salaries based on their seniority with all kinds of benefits, which are now available only to the top honchos who run the company and who make sure that senior employees in the lower ranks are fired as soon as possible and replaced by younger and cheaper workers.

In contrast to that, being a gig worker does have some advantages in the 21st century for independent contractors, but only for those of us who are able to find the best gig jobs that are out there if we know where to look for them.

The Bottom and the Top of the Gig Economy

One good thing about the gig economy, at least from my point of view, is that it is truly big and there are many opportunities in it for translators.

Many of these opportunities are relatively short or very short translations, most of which are offered by a translation agency in the role of an intermediary. But this is only one part of the many gigs available in the gig economy.

Some translators got used to the idea that working for intermediaries is basically all there is, and they have learned to to find ways to make ends meet by only working for translation agencies.

The problem is, the pickings in the “translation industry” are getting slimmer by the month if not by the day, as one can see from numerous complaints on social media about translation agencies who offer ridiculously low rates and sometime simply don’t pay at all based on some BS excuse.

One possible solution to this problem, and in my opinion the best one, is to get your gigs from the top rather than from the bottom of the gig economy, or to provide highly specialized translations to direct clients without having to share the compensation from the direct clients with the intermediaries.

I know how to find my own direct clients in my field and in my line of work, which is translation of patents from several languages.

But although I have been able to find my beloved direct gigs for many years, the translation universe is so vast and complex that I would not know how to do that in your field and in your line of work.

Beginning and relatively new translators can probably learn a few useful things by going to conferences of translators and listening to prophets du jour who have figured it all out for them and who claim to have a perfect recipe for becoming successful and affluent in the translation business.

But since nobody really knows you and your specialty, (hopefully, you have a good one), or your specific situation, nobody has a turnkey solution that can be used by any translator, regardless of his or her location, language direction, subject and specialty, and personal strength and weaknesses.

My last new job from the top of the gig economy lasted for about 14 or 15 months. During that gig of intermediate duration, I translated about a hundred patents, I paid off all of my debts during about the first three months of that particular gig, and I was able to put some money in the bank.

I had to work really hard because at the same time I had to make sure that I don’t lose my old clients, some of whom who were also sending me work on occasion. Every week – every damn week! – I had to work also on Saturdays and Sundays for about a year.

It looks like that particular gig is now over because I have not heard from this particular client in about a month. But I am actually relieved because I don’t want to work so hard all the time.

Last month I had plenty of work from other clients, this month has been quiet so far, but who knows what the unpredictable gig economy will bring next? Living in the gig economy is like hunting in an endless, primeval forest: some hunters mostly just find berries and maybe they will occasionally kill a jackrabbit to have some meat too.

And some hunters mostly just hunt for big moose because the payoff is much better and the food is tastier and lasts much longer. I’d like to think of myself as a crafty moose hunter rather than a hungry berry picker.

I suppose one could say that just like Winston at the end of George Orwell’s 1984 learned to love Big Brother, at the end of my professional career, I have finally learned to love Gig Economy.

It’s not such a bad economy after all, especially considering that the old, paternalistic employer-employee model has been for the most part done away with at the present stage of corporate capitalism.

Posted by: patenttranslator | February 18, 2018

Czech Is German Translated from German to Czech

“Kommt ein Tscheche zum Augenarzt. Beim Sehtest wird ihm eine Tafel, auf der V I N C Z W Q S I C Z steht vorgehalten und der Arzt fragt ihn: ,,Können Sie das lesen?” – ,,Lesen?” ruft der Tscheche erstaunt aus. ,,Ich kenne den Kerl sogar!”

Translation: A Czech comes to an ophthalmologist. During the eye test, he is asked to read the text on a blackboard that says V I N C Z WW Q S I” and the doctor asks him: “Can you read it?”

“Can I read it? I even know the guy!” exclaims the Czech in astonishment.

(A German joke about Czechs and their funny language. I am pretty sure I saw the same German joke about Polish, which would be more accurate because these letters would be much more at home in a Polish word than in a Czech word).

More than 20 years ago I used to occasionally work for an older German gentleman who at that point had been running his small translation agency in Northern California for more than 30 years. He died about 10 years ago.

Although he never worked for agencies, only for direct customers, his business was not really an agency.

He called his translation business “[His name] & Associates” because he did most of the translating work by himself and only hired other translators, such as myself, for translations in languages that he did not know (and he did know quite a few), or did not like, even though he knew them.

For example, although he was German, after living in California for several decades, he only translated into English and did not like to translate from German, let alone into German.

He mostly translated Romance languages to English and he told me once that he did not translate German because “it was too difficult” for him. He was a weird guy, as many translators are. He also told me that his brother, who lived in Germany, once told him on the phone “Du sprichst Deutsch wie ein Tscheche” (You speak German like a Czech).

I am not trying to imitate his business model, at least not consciously, but the funny thing is, I run my business basically in the same way. I don’t like to translate from Czech, let alone into Czech, and I mostly translate German and Japanese. I do most of the translating work myself and I hire other translators only for languages that I don’t know or don’t like to translate.

To translate Czech is difficult for me too at the point because I have not been translating it for almost four decades. So what is my native language now? Clearly, I don’t have one. I simply replaced it by a few non-native languages. Personally, I don’t think it’s necessary to keep one’s originally native language, although it is probably a good thing to have one and keep it, just like it’s not necessary to have and keep one’s original spouse, although that may be a good thing too in some cases.

The fact that Czech is structurally very similar to German in its grammar and idioms, although it is a Slavic language and not a Germanic language, comes as a big surprise to most Germans. At least I have never met a German yet who was not surprised by my statement in this regard. But it is not surprising if you know something about the history of Bohemia and Moravia, or the Czech and Moravian regions of what is now called the Czech Republic.

The Czechs had to live under a heavy influence of the German language for a very long time.

For example, higher education was mostly available only in the German language for several centuries, and German was used for official dealings with the authorities in Austria-Hungary, the geographical heart of which was actually in Bohemia, or what is now the Czech Republic.

So the Czech speakers who knew some German had no choice but to translate everything from Czech to German and then to translate it back to Czech for those who did not know any German. If you do that to a language for a few hundred years, it’s going to change your language more than just a little.

In fact, because the Czech language was considered in Austria-Hungary only to be a language or a dialect of uneducated Bohemian peasants, the language at the beginning of the nineteenth century was at the point of becoming extinct, until children of Bohemian peasants who were educated in the German language rebelled against the notion that their children should not have the right to be educated in their own language either.

And since unlike modern empires, Austria-Hungary was a relatively tolerant empire, the Czechs were eventually given their own language back when it also became the language of higher education in the mid nineteenth century, after many centuries when instruction in higher education in Bohemia was available only in Latin, and later in German.

After World War II, there were some relatively minor attempts to replace the Czech language by the Russian language when Czechoslovakia became a part of the Soviet empire after the Communist putsch in 1948.

The German word “Putsch” is an interesting word. Although it is an eminently useful word in modern world, and it has an equivalent in French (coup d’état) and in other languages, it has no direct English equivalent, which is why either the German or the French term is used in English. I wonder why that is. Is it because it might be too dangerous to have an English word for such a well known phenomenon?

Because after World War II, German was considered to be the language of the enemy, it was not taught much in schools at that time, and the government tried to teach children Russian instead of German.

All Czech kids had to start learning Russian from the third grade, which meant that Russian was taught from the age of about 9 until graduation from high schools at the age of about 18, although a high school was still called a “gymnazium”, originally a Latin word, which was adopted from German and which means something completely different in modern English.

However, the attempts to replace words in the Czech language by Russian words or words directly translated from Russian into Czech were not successful. Although some words were adopted into the Czech language: for example the word “druzhba”, which means friendship in Russian, started being used in the Czech language from nineteen fifties, the word “druzhba” was used only for the fake kind of official, obligatory “friendship” that Czechs were supposed to feel towards their big Russian brother.

So everybody knew that the word “druzhba” had in fact nothing to do with actual friendship.

But the main reason why the Russian language had almost no influence on the Czech language, although it was taught to all Czech kids as well as to other kids in the Soviet Empire for many decades, was that unlike the German language in the past centuries, the Russian language was almost completely useless.

Ever since the third grade when I received my first Russian textbook, I was eager to learn the Russian language because although eventually I too started thinking of it as the language of the occupiers, I thought it was a beautiful, melodic and very interesting language, and I even went to Soviet Union three times in the nineteen seventies, partly to become more fluent in the language.

But people like me were generally an oddity in pre-1989 Czechoslovakia, where most kids felt that a good way to resist the “stupid bolsheviks” was to ignore the Russian language and forget all about it as soon as the exams were passed.

As times change, empires come and go and different languages become important, influential and useful, until they start losing their importance and usefulness and eventually lose their dominant position to another language. Nobody knows what language will be important a hundred or two hundred years from now, provided that human civilization survives the culture of greed that has been unleashed upon this world and us in the 21st century, which looks kind of iffy to me at this point

The most useful language in the world at this point is of course not German, and it is not Russian either; it is the English language, in particular one special form of it called: BAD ENGLISH.

As an Indian man put it to a friend of mine when he was traveling in India a few years ago: Bad English is the most useful language in the world – everybody speaks it!

Posted by: patenttranslator | February 12, 2018

So Many Gates and No Qualified Gatekeepers

We live in capitalism. Its power is inescapable. …. So was the divine right of the kings.

Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.

Ursula Le Guin

According to popular imagination, when we die, we are going to be stopped on our way to Heaven at the Entrance to Heaven by St. Peter, who will do a short but rather crucial entrance interview with us before deciding, based on some pretty detailed paperwork that he keeps there for each and every one of us just for this occasion, whether we will be allowed to enter a vibrant, heavenly city, kind of like San Francisco when I lived there thirty some years ago, before it was ruined by the likes of Google and Facebook.

If the paperwork has too many negative comments from St. Peter’s HR (Human Resources) Department, instead of hanging out forever with other nice, fun and interesting people in a lovely city surrounded by high walls made of precious stone, we will be denied entrance and then we will have no choice but to spend eternity in Club Inferno, a suffocatingly hot and horribly boring place that is supposedly even worse than most such horrible places on Earth.

It is highly likely that in Club Inferno, translators will be forced to work for eternity performing post-processing of the worst kind of machine translation detritus, as this is the worst punishment imaginable for persons who used to be translators while they were still alive.

I definitely do see the usefulness of the concept of a gate that is guarded by a qualified and well informed gatekeeper.

Such gates are often used for the purposes of various professions and occupations. To be admitted by a qualified gatekeeper to a profession is mandatory for instance for lawyers, doctors, accountants, dentists and many other professions. Only persons who graduated from an accredited university or college in a specialized subject can work as lawyers, doctors, accountants or dentists, because it would be too dangerous to allow somebody who lacks specialized education and experience to work for instance on a root canal.

Although a very similar gatekeeper function has been created in some countries also for the profession of a specialized translator, this function seems to be almost completely missing in other countries, including the United States.

In some European countries and in Latin America, one can become a qualified and registered translator only upon graduating from a college or university in a specific language combination, and only this kind of a properly educated translator can produce officially accepted and certified translations.

This makes eminent sense to me, and not only because I myself can proudly claim that I do have a degree in translation.

Unlike in other countries, however, in the United States the profession of a translator is unregulated, which basically means that if you say you are a translator …. well, then, that’s what you are.

You still have to officially register your business, but upon the payment of a small fee, you will be automatically issued a generic business license from the City Hall every year, provided that you pay the yearly taxes required in your local jurisdiction. So the City Hall is not a gatekeeper that would be qualified to allow real translators to pass through it; it is only a gatekeeper making sure that everybody pays some kind of tax also for translating.

This kind of also makes sense to me too on one level, although from another perspective, it does not seem to make a whole lot of sense.

If you want to become a hairdresser, for example, you have to satisfy a number of pretty strict rules and requirements, including working hundreds or thousands of hours as a trainee under supervision before you can obtain a professional license.

But if you want to translate patents from German, Japanese, French and other languages to English, which is what I have been doing for a living for more than 30 years, all you have to do is say that you can do it and the “translation industry” will trust you on that, provided that your rate is low enough to guarantee a healthy profit margin for the middlemen.

To deal with the lack of qualified gatekeepers in the translation business, the “translation industry” decided to appoint itself as the ultimate gatekeeper endowed among other powers with the power to decide who is and who is not a legitimate translator.

About 30 years ago, Berlitz Translations certified me as an immigration interpreter qualified for the language combination of Czech and English after I passed a test administered by Berlitz Translations.

This is how the test was conducted: I was told to come to the Berlitz offices on Market Street in San Francisco where I was given a piece of paper with a short excerpt from immigration court proceedings and instructed to “translate” the short excerpt from English to Czech into a tape recorder.

So I mumbled something in Czech into the tape recorder, while deftly making up equivalents of English legal terms relating to immigration, which I did understand, but had no idea how to say them in Czech. But I did not worry too much about this minor detail because I had a pretty good idea that nobody would ever listen to that tape anyway. A monolingual Berlitz employee then ejected with evident professionalism the tape from the tape recorder, labeled it and put it away in the bottom drawer.

And voilà, I thus became a newly minted, Berlitz-certified court interpreter. Incidentally,  the court proceedings were  in Slovak rather than in Czech (close enough, right?), but the Slovak client of Berlitz did get his permanent visa status approved anyway based on my somewhat halting but good-enough interpreting performance. It was quite a memorable experience for me.

I should add that when I received the check from Berlitz, the amount was so ridiculously small that I decided never to interpret again, not for Berlitz and not for any other agency either, which is how I became a patent translator instead.

Because the profession of a translator or interpreter is unregulated in the United States, many translation agencies are using their own systems for “certification” of their own translators. As far as I can figure it out, all of these system are basically a kind of scam that is similar to the one I experienced myself.

I understand that some courts created their own systems for testing court-accredited interpreters in some states in the United States, which is probably the only accreditation that is in fact a real accreditation rather than the scams of the “translation industry”, which are designed mostly for advertising purposes and otherwise have no real value.

About a decade after my interpreting debut at the immigration court in San Francisco, which is to say about 20 years ago, the “translation industry” started conferring the powers of a qualified gatekeeper on itself in a different way: by jumping on the bandwagon of  so-called “ISO certified translations” or “EN certification”, etc.

This ISO scam is also a very interesting racket. It is again only an advertising and propagandistic tool, because the ISO (International Standards Organization) method only sets rules, which are probably not followed every time anyway, about how paperwork should be shuffled around the desk of a translation agency, while these rules have absolutely nothing to do with the education, experience and suitability of a translator for a given task.

As I wrote in another post several years ago, the ISO or EN certification models is a set of rules originally designed for manufacturing industrial products.

“It is possible to design a set of techniques and rules for manufacturing products, such as cars, or even of meals such as hamburgers … but the product called translation is created in the brain of a human being. An educated and highly experienced translator will most of the time produce a good translation. An inexperienced and poorly paid one, who is much more likely to be used by a large translation agency due to the low cost, is likely to produce a poor translation, possibly containing many mistranslation that can never be detected with methods that were designed for mass production of industrial products.

Certification for thinking processes taking place in the heads of people called translators, who may or may not know what they are doing, is obviously nonsense. However, since so many clients don’t know much about translation, it is a popular and useful advertising gimmick, although it is a gimmick that is in my opinion dishonest in the extreme.”

Most customers who ask me for a “certified translation” don’t really know what the term “certified translation” means in the United States, because nobody seems to know that unlike other professions, translators do not have legitimate gatekeepers in this country.

Or, to put it another way, although we have a lot would-be gatekeepers here, unfortunately for customers, none of them is legit.

The capitalist system is not a very good system, except that it still seems to be mostly better than all alternatives known to man so far. And one of the things that it is very good at is supplying fake products, fake quality, and fake gatekeepers. So we have a lot of ways for potential certifications of translations in this country, and almost none of them means anything.

I think that trying to change the system would probably be a futile effort and a total waste of time on my part.

I wonder whether Ursula le Guin, who recently passed away, would agree with me on this.

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