Every now and then somebody or some institution sends me a paper on trends in translation by what is now unquestioningly called the “translation industry”, as if it were perfectly natural to call cognitive and intellectual processes occurring in the brain of persons a translation industry, a writing industry, or a thinking industry, etc.

I usually scan a few lines and then discard what is mostly another example of transparently propagandistic public-relation propaganda designed for yet another “LSP” (“language services provider”), which is the name translation agencies nowadays prefer.

One reason why I actually read the paper sent to me, called “Changes in the Field of Translation Project Manager: Findings of a Longitudinal Ethnographic Study,” was that its authors, Hanna Risku, Jelena Milosevic and Regina Rogl, called in their paper translation agencies what they in fact are, namely ‘translation agencies’, instead of using the politically correct term – in the translation industry, that is – the term “LSPs”, meaning ‘Language Service Providers’, which they are not.

The translation service is provided by actual translators, not by the agency managers, let alone by the translation agency owners, who in the present form of the ‘translation industry’ are almost always monolingual, and thus know nothing about translation – except for how to buy and sell them.

Because the paper was about management of translation projects, as expected, it did not say anything about translation as such, or much about translators, except to mention requirements on the translators, discussed briefly below, which make no sense to me.

The emphasis was on translation production networks organized by an unnamed translation agency in Austria, probably based in Vienna, which was originally involved predominantly in projects involving technical texts for business, something that I have been involved in too for more than 30 years now, both as a translator and as a project manager.

The paper mentioned changes in two historical stages of the ‘translation industry’: changes between 20001 and 2007 in the first stage, and then changes between 2007 and 2014, by asking translation agency project managers interesting questions. This is also a topic that I know something about as I have been writing about these changes frequently in my critique of the ‘translation industry’ on this blog since about 2010.

Some of the changes between 2007 and 2014 were outlined in the paper as follows:

1. Growth and diversification: Company management staff told us that at a certain point in this period (2007-2014) they had decided that they did not want to company to grow any further. However, they noticed that growth was unavoidable, and the timing of the 3rd observation period was a conscious and established strategy.

• The number of PMs [Project Managers] had increased to 13 and the language of the company meetings had changed to English – at least whenever there was a non-German speaking information and communication technology [ICT] expert present.

• The ICT expert was one of the new specialized jobs. Similarly, the management of contractors (i.e. the recruitment and evaluation of external translators and translation agencies had been made the sole responsibility of one specific employee. For the first time, the company also now had an employee focused specifically on sales and purchasing who made contact with potential industry.

In many interviews the participants mentioned an external recruiter who, for a number of years now, had been responsible for the recruitment and evaluation of new employees.

• The scope of the services offered by the company had also expanded. Previously, they could be seen working in specialized fields of translation, but in 2014 they were offering a variety of services, covering various different forms of translation and interpreting. Specific examples include localization of software and advertisements, audiovisual translation (subtitles, voice-overs), translation of legal documents and offering training in intercultural communication.

…..

3. Fragmentation of the use of tools: a remarkable number of individual software packages wee now used at different stages of a single translation project (depending on the client, language, text, PM). There were various specialized software possibilities for different tasks, such as terminology management, translator quality management and quality check …. The different tasks, both of administrative and project management nature, and the single sub-processes required the use of various software. To give an example, quality management and control – the measures a PM takes to check a text after receiving it from a translation and before they send it to a proofreader – required a combination of various different programs, which each check only one part of the text, e.g. the terminology. There are various proofreading methods too, ranging from tracked changes in a MS Word file to a web-based platform where the changes are made according to a specific automated workflow procedure.

…..

6. There were also changes in the translators’ roles. Much – even more than before – was expected of the translators before the were given a test translation. The translators had to provide references from their customers, they had to be native speakers of the target language, live in the target country, have knowledge of certain CAT tools and have an academic degree in languages. In addition, the translator had to have work experience and be able to secure an external revision of their translation complete [sic] by a colleague. All this information, as well as feedback on the translator’s work, was stored in a contractor database. [Emphasis mine].

Much is indeed expected from the translator, but most of the requirements make no sense to me.

  1. The translators have to provide references from their customers.

Personally, I never do that and I have never been asked by a direct client for references. Most of my customers are patent lawyers who understand that by providing references in this manner I would be infringing upon the confidentiality of the projects that I handle for my clients. And I know that if I identified my direct customers to a translation agency,  many agencies would see it as an invitation to poach my clients.

When I work with a new translator, which does not happen very often, I never ask for a test, which the agencies expect to be completed free of charge, presumable because the translators’ time is of no value as far as they are concerned. I simply ask for a sample of previous work, which unlike a typical translation agency, I am perfectly able to evaluate on my own. If the qualifications of the translator seem impressive enough,  I usually send at first a short actual translation to a new translator, for which I obviously pay.

However, since the PMs working in the current version of translation agencies in the ‘translation industry’ do not understand the languages or the subjects that they are handling for the agencies, they do need to have a sample test for this purpose. If the result matches closely existing translation, the PM will assume that they have a good translation. If not, it is a bad translation. Unfortunately, the PM usually has no way to determine whether the translation supplied previously for the test was passable, good, excellent, or riddled with mistakes, which often happens when monolingual managers attempt to control multilingual projects.

To insist that the translator work into his or her native language does make sense, although there are numerous exceptions to this rule.

But many native speakers of for instance of German or English live in countries such as Mexico, France, or Japan. I know that because the best translators that I work with often do not live in the country where they were born. To insist on speakers living in their native countries makes no sense. For example, the best translators from Japanese into English, who are native English speakers, in my experience live in Japan. I work with two excellent German translators, one of whom lives in Mexico, the other one in Turkey, etc.

  1. The translator has to have knowledge of certain CAT tools.

Now why would that be? It is none of my damn business what kind of CAT tools translators who work for me use. I only care about the quality of their translations, not their tools. This is partly because I am not interested in stealing money from them by insisting on what the ‘translation industry’ calls full matches and partial matches, i.e. words for which the translator is not paid because they are repeated in the text, which is a dirty and illegal practice and a subject I deal with in several posts on this blog.

  1. The translator must have an academic degree in languages.

No, he or she doesn’t need to have a degree in languages. All other things being equal, it is best if the translator in fact does have a degree in languages. I have a degree in Japanese and English studies and I am very proud of it. But there are many excellent translators who have a degree in something else than languages, for instance in chemistry or sciences, and many of them are thus much more suited for certain types of technical translations than translators who only have a linguistic background. This is just common sense.

Insisting on academic background in linguistics is a misguided policy, at best. A law degree, for example, is obviously more useful to a translator translating obscure legal texts than a degree in languages. I think that all of the translators who work for me have a university degree, but only a relatively small minority among them have a degree in in languages.

  1. The translator has to be able to secure an external revision of their translation complete(d) by a colleague.

This is unfair and completely ridiculous. First of all, who will pay for it? The agency, I would hope, although I can’t be sure about it. Many agencies will probably try to force the translator to include the cost of an external proofreader in the rate of the translator, which would be morally indefensible.

Let’s think about this strange requirement. Should the agency not be able to at least proofread a translation, or secure and pay for an external, independent proofreader if the agency is unable to do so? But if the agency can’t do even that,  what is the agency’s actual job? To my mind, such an agency is a thoroughly incompetent parasite.

In the modern version of the ‘translation industry’, everything is compartmentalized in translation agencies to such an extent that no person in an agency is really able to assume responsibility for the entire transaction.

Here is another revealing quote from the paper:

Previously, every PM was responsible for all communication with the translators and translation agencies within a project, including problem solving and giving feedback. Only in special cases were problems referred to the managing director. Now if the problems come up, the PM contacts a specific colleague who was responsible for managing the contractors (translators and agencies). Thus, crisis communication with the translators was the responsibility of one specific employee and no longer part of the PMs’ work.

Wonderful! So if the translator has a specific problem with the job, for example related to terminology, he or she can no longer ask any questions the PM who handles the job who might therefore know something about it because communication with a translator is “no longer part of the PMs’ work”.

The translator has to ask another person who is presumably not only monolingual, but on top of that knows nothing about the project. In such astructure it’s definitely better not to ask anybody anything at all since nobody is likely to be able to have any answers.

I could go on and on for at least another ten pages analyzing what I see as problems in how the ‘translation industry’ is nowadays handling translation projects, but I don’t want to make this post too long.

Suffice it to say that although robotization of the way project managers and translators who are now forced to handle complicated translation projects may be cost-effective, the many problems that I only touched upon in my post today will in my opinion inevitably lead to poor quality of translation, which will not be detected or even suspected by project managers who must handle everything and anything for the agency, without understanding the languages or subjects that they are handling, and without being able to talk to the translators about potential or real problems.

That is so efficient, isn’t it?

But although the forced robotization of the work of translators and project managers, de riguer in the ‘translation industry’, is one possible and popular model because it is so ‘effective and cost efficient”, another model is also possible.

It is the model of a small, highly specialized translation agency or an individual translator who works only or mostly with direct clients and avoids the ‘translation industry’ like a plague that it is. That is the translation and translation management model that I have been using in my own work since 1987, and with considerable success, I should add.

I think that the fact that I am still here after more than 30 years, able to compete with the ‘translation industry’, speaks for itself.

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Posted by: patenttranslator | June 14, 2019

Home Is Where They Have To Take You In

“Home is where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

From Robert Frost’s poem “The Death of a Hired Man.”

Now that our house, or our former house in Virginia, has finally sold and new buyers are living in in it, most likely a young family with children and at least one dog because who else would need such a big house, I sometime find myself pondering the question of what is really this thing that we call home and how we define it to ourselves.

When we think about what our home is, most of us will probably think back to the place or the house we grew up in as children. I know I do. Although I came to America as a penniless refugee in 1982, it did not take me that long to buy our first house in California. America was good to penniless refugees who came here with nothing but a good plan back in the early eighties, and I hope that this old tradition will continue for a few more centuries. We sold my first house 7 years after we bought it to trade it for a much bigger house in Virginia in which our children grew up and where I lived with my wife, now ex-wife, for the next 17 years, until the October of last year when I decided to return to my native Southern Bohemia soil.

But during all those years when I lived in California and later in Virginia, and there were 35 of them, there was only one place that I saw in my dream when I was sleeping, and it was not our sunlight-filled first house in Santa Rosa, California, which I loved so much, with the green grass in the backyard, the swing set for the kids and San Francisco only 40 minutes away over the Golden Gate Bridge, nor the second house, which I bought mostly to make my wife happy when the patent translation business was booming, where it took me less than 10 minutes to walk to a fishing pier to be completely surrounded by water during high tide, watching crabs scampering in the mud and big white birds with a nasty shriek catching small fish in the briny water.

It did make her happy for quite a few years, but not forever. In my experience, there is nothing in this world that will make a woman, any woman, happy forever …. except maybe lots and lots of money, but even that is probably doubtful.

What I saw in my recurring dream was a fairly small apartment in Český Krumlov in which I lived from about the age of 8 until I graduated at 18 from high school and moved to Prague to study languages, first French and Latin, and then Japanese and English.

The apartment in in Český Krumlov was not big, just a hallway, a kitchen and two rooms, but it was located in the corner of the central square where everything was just a few steps away. A store where we could buy groceries was just in the next building, the butcher’s shop was across the square and the restaurant was about fifty meters away. These shops are gone now, replaced by expensive hotels and shops selling souvenirs for tourists. Most locals had to move out from the center of the medieval town, rendered virtually unlivable by tourists for most regular people who used to live there for some eight centuries.

During evenings after a hot summer day, my father used to send me to the restaurant on the square to bring him his favorite beer on tap (Budweiser), which is still my favorite beer now. The restaurant used to be called Měšták back then and the prices were very reasonable. Now it has the pretentious name The Old Inn and it is so expensive that only tourists go there. I used to have a sip or two from the big glass pitcher of beer on my way back and my father pretended not to notice, because I knew enough not to piss him off by drinking too much of it, and he knew that a sip of beer never hurt a kid.

Most apartments in Europe are very small by voracious American standards. You can’t put a big, American house, with the garage and the lawn in its front yard and in the backyard on the square of a medieval town, it would not fit there.

But in any case, as my recurring dream seems to prove, it’s not the size or the luxurious layout and amenities of your apartment or house that makes your home. It’s the people who live in it with you. And the people who used to live there with me there are gone now. Those who were much older than me, called parents, died many years ago, my children have moved out and now live thousands of miles away from each other in opposite corners of United States, my ex-wife moved back to Japan, and I moved back to my native Bohemia.

They had to take her back in Japan, I suppose, when she had to go there. The house where she grew up in Tokyo and where we used to live for a while after we got married, sleeping like any Japanese couple on the floor on tatami (mats) in a room without any furniture except for a kotatsu, is still standing, and her mother, who lives alone in a pretty big house for suburban Tokyo and who is almost ninety now, must badly need her help.

They had to take me in back here in Bohemia too and this is my home now again, although as of yet, there are no other people living in my apartment besides me to make it a real home … and probably never will be, not even a dog.

Still, I am looking for a slightly bigger place here to move into it once my lease expires on my current apartment in three months. I saw one that I really liked in another part of Ceske Budejovice last Sunday.

It was actually a friend, a fairly recent one, who sent me a link to an advertisement for that apartment. It’s not big and not very expensive either, but it does have a bedroom, a living room, a kitchen and a balcony.

The most important thing was, as always, location, location, location. It is located in a renovated old house that is located in an area not far from public transport (I don’t have a car now and don’t want to buy one), with several restaurants and cafés nearby where I could have my breakfast, lunch or dinner, since I don’t like (or know how to) cook.

But even more importantly, it sits just across the street from a quiet café overlooking a walking path by the river were families can go for a short hike with their doggies and babies, enjoying the tranquility and the view. There is even a boat that you can take for a minitour on the river to a nearby Hluboká Castle and back. Last Sunday, when I was sitting there sipping a fruit cocktail on the veranda with my new friend, it seemed like paradise to me.

But on Tuesday, I got an email from the real estate agent informing me that somebody else snagged the apartment before me.

Oh, well, it’s OK. I have plenty of time and I’ve always enjoyed the hunt for a new place anyway. Always have, and always will, I guess.

There is no question that we are living in an era of unprecedented destruction of existing occupations that is driven to a large extent by new, innovative technology and internet. For example, many US large big-box retailers have been biting the dust, to borrow a turn of phrase from Freddy Mercury, for decades now, starting with Sears in the eighties, and more recently followed by other brick-and-mortar retailers such as JC Penny, Radio Shack or Circuit City.

Since the nineties, sales have been slowly shifting away from actual stores where people can go to look at and touch stuff, to shopping on internet, often to Amazon, which does not really have brick-and-mortar stores and yet is in everybody’s house.

Some chain stores have been able to survive the trend away from real stores toward online sales only, such as Best Buy, thanks to smart managerial policies and mutually beneficial cooperation with large customers, such as Apple, Microsoft, Google and even Amazon.

These unprecedented changes that were often, although not always and not only, driven by technology, affected also my own translation business. Sometime I look with nostalgia at how much money I was able to make as a small translation business owner who was doing most of the translating work by himself ten or twenty years ago. Now that I am thirty-two years into running my specialized translation business, I make much less than I used to in what I could call the glory days of patent translation.

It’s fine with me, I wouldn’t even want to be as busy as I used to be. The main thing is that I am still here, translating patents and having fun doing that. Fortunately, I am now or consider myself semi-retired and unlike many people my age (66), I don’t really need to supplement my retirement income, which is quite sufficient for me now that I don’t have to feed a family of four plus three dogs and a pensive bearded dragon lizard as I used to for a very long time.

But even though I don’t need to work, I really enjoy working, both translating myself and organizing and proofreading translation projects when I work as an agency and I would like to continue doing so for as long as possible.

The flip side of the general destruction of traditional ways of delivering products and services is that a small operation, such as my own tiny business, can offer to my customers advantages that for example large translation agencies are unable to provide, simple because they are so large and by definition they can only provide impersonal service through project managers who often know very little or nothing about the languages and subjects that they are handling.

Although of course large translation agencies try to pretend that everybody they use is an expert translator, I think that they mostly use beginners and people who are very cheap … but not necessarily good translators.

Why do I think so? Well, years ago I used to work for quite a few large translation agencies, but I would no longer touch work from them with a ten-foot pole as the saying goes because the rates they pay are ridiculously low and the deadlines are often brutal. I think the last time I worked for one of these agencies was about 15 years ago. They kept underbidding each other for such a long time that at this point, they are probably using post-edited machine translations, if you want to call them that, and a lot of would-be translators whose work is not very good, but who are very cheap.

Twenty or thirty years ago, most agencies were looking for talented, highly educated and highly experienced translators because their good name depended on the quality of the work that translators working for them could deliver. At this point, translation quality is mostly just an afterthought in so-called translation industry as most agencies are usually looking for warm bodies willing to accept the lowest rate for translating, “post-editing”, and other types of carnages inflicted by “technology” upon what used to be reliable human translation.

There are a few exceptions to this rule. Some agencies are able to buck the trends of the so-called translation industry, and I still work for such agencies. All of them are small or very small, and most of them are run by old timers.

They don’t force translators, newbies especially, to use CAT tools so that they could cheat them on the word count, they pay good rates, and they pay on time. Somehow, they managed to survive the cutthroat competition that is based solely on who can offer the lowest rate.

They are survivors from an older, gentler version of translation agencies, outliers who haven’t been destroyed by the new, predatory business model. It still makes sense to me to work for them, and when I work as an agency, I too apply the old agency business model to my own business model.

For example, I never haggle about the rate that I am paying to translators who work for me. I never say, “I can only pay x cents per word for this job” to try to force them to accept less. If I can make a good profit, I accept the rate that is offered to me, if not, well, then it’s not be and I move on.

Even though now I generally get paid in 45 to 60 days by many direct clients instead of 30 days as used to be the case, I pay every received invoice on the fifteenth and on the first of each month. Unlike most translation agencies, I have money that I keep in the bank precisely for this purpose, and I don’t need to make extra profit from the “float”, i.e. from the extra time that I could make the translators wait for their money. Unlike the “translation industry”, I care about whether translators can pay their bills on time.

I think that just like many large-box retailers, many large agencies will disappear in a few years, either because they will go bankrupt, or because they will be swallowed by brutal competition from other shark-like businesses.

The interesting thing to me is that despite all of the changes and all of the carnage that I have seen with my own eyes in the translation business over the last three decades, the old business model of a caring translation agency is still here, surviving the challenges of the brave new world quite well, just like mom-and-pop stores and restaurants that care about their customers and the people who work in them survived the demise of big stores like Sears, Radio Shack, JC Penny and Circuit City and are still there, doing pretty well, thank you very much, right next to a large shopping mall whose days are already numbered.

Posted by: patenttranslator | May 26, 2019

Who Controls the Distribution Network for Translations?

One of the things that changed in modern world is the pattern for acquisition of resources, or of material wealth, if you will. Unlike in the past centuries, powerful countries no longer simply invade and occupy with military force countries that are not able to defend themselves to acquire their resources. They may still attack and invade largely defenseless countries based on some pretext from time to time, but not in order to turn these countries into colonies. Instead, all that is needed now is to gain control over the network for distribution of resources, or the network for distribution of the labor force in those countries, a labor force that is hungry and ready to work for very low wages, which is where the real wealth of China lies.

Apple, for example, does not manufacture anything. But the company is extremely profitable because it controls the distribution network for iPhones, very smart gadgets that are assembled from parts manufactured in a whole number of countries. China only provides the labor force to assemble the phones and ships them to United States and other countries requiring a constant supply of smart gadgets. It says “Manufactured in China” on the iPhone in my pocket, in very small font that I can barely read. But this is not true because the phone was only assembled in China from components, such as the touch screen displays, memory chips and microprocessors that were manufactured in Korea, Taiwan, Japan and United States.

The statement ” Give me a fixed point and I will move the whole world, attributed to Archimedes (287 – 212 BC), is sometime rendered in several different versions, such as “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world”, or “Give me a lever and a place to stand on and I will move the earth”.

We will most likely never find out what were the exact words the Archimedes used and what precisely he meant by them … before he was killed by a Roman soldier when he asked him, rather impolitely in the opinion of the soldier, not to disturb the funny circles that he was concentrated on drawing in the sand.

But what is apparent is that we are all surrounded by many fluid fixed points that move and change every few decades or centuries, although their essence remains essentially the same. Whoever is aware of these invisible fixed points and finds a way to acquire and turn them into a fixed point with a long lever will find a way to control everything, or everything that matters these days, which is to say money.

In the 21st century, one such fixed point that can move the whole world (with a lever that is long enough), is control over the distribution network for stuff. The banks figured out how to create and control a distribution network for money, and that’s all they need to control the whole damn world.

And what a fine job they are doing, aren’t they?

I could go with my rant on and on, but since this blog is supposed to be about translation, the question that I am finally getting to here is what is the distribution network for delivery of translations, including your translations, and who controls it?

To a certain extent, it is currently controlled by translation agencies rather than by translators themselves.

If the “professional” associations for translators such as the ATA (American Translators Association) really cared about translators instead of trying to make as much money as possible from laughable baloney such as “continued education points” or whatever term is used for this nonsensical charade now, they would try to wrestle the control over the network for distribution of translations back from translation agencies, or Language Services Providers, or Language Providers or whatever absurdly propagandistic term they prefer to adorn themselves with now.

What is professional about an association of “professional translators” that anybody and their grandmother and her dog can join for a fee, no questions asked, and rather a modest one at that? Nothing, of course, absolutely nothing. Unlike for instance in some European and Latin American countries, translators in United States are among professions that are not regulated by the US government. If you call yourself a singer, writer or a journalist, that is what you are. If you call yourself a translator, you are a translator. You can be “accredited” by a court or by an association or another organization, but that does not make you per se a translator, at least not in the United States, because anybody can hang out a shingle with the TRANSLATOR sign and start translating.

It is both a good and a bad thing, of course, because a lot of people who try to translate for a living should probably be doing something else where they can do less damage, for example becoming dog walkers, or psychics who talk to the dead, like Whoopi Goldberg in the film Ghost.

That makes control over the network for distribution and delivery of translations even more important. Although as I have noted, this network is to some extent controlled by translation agencies, none of the big agencies is able to control a significant portion of the entire system, for example the way Microsoft still controls the network for word processors with a greedy scheme forcing most customers to pay for software by the second in perpetuity, the same software that they used to be able to own in perpetuity once they paid for it. Fortunately, not even all of the translation agencies, big and small, are able to control most of the system for distribution and delivery of translations.

About three decades ago, when it became possible for each of us to express our opinion via comments on a newspaper’s web page, a blog, or (God forbid!) later also on the Facebook, internet made it possible for any individual translator to create his or her own distribution network for delivery of translations.

So I created my own network for distribution of my own translations with a website and a handy domain name that fits the kind of translation that can be easily found with relevant keywords on Google, a website that has been working with minimal investment for me for two decades and is still working for me now.

The main difference between my job two or three decades ago and now is that thirty years ago, I was delivering only my own translation, while now I deliver through my own distribution network along with my translations also translations done by talented and reliable translators who agree to work for me.

I still deliver my work through the distribution network of a few agencies, but since most of the “translation industry” has been turned in an ignorant, deeply immoral and incredibly greedy monster, I am able to work only for about three or four very small agencies that for the most part do not operate based on the principles of the distribution network of the “translation industry”.

Isn’t it up to us whether we control our own translation distribution network and who we will allow to control our network for distribution and delivery of our own work? Are you in control of most of the network for distribution of all or most of your translations, or is somebody else in control?

And if it is somebody else, why is that the case?

There was a time in my life when I was an employee and thought that being an employee was a logical consequence of needing to pay bills while being alive without being independently rich. Therefore, I believed that it was a perfectly natural condition, or state of being if you will, for most humans.

I was an employee for a relatively short time, about 7 years, in Europe, Japan, and the United States. After I returned from Japan to United States in 1986, I went through four stupid jobs in San Francisco within about a year, each lasting just a few months before I quit, or was fired, as was the case in my last job. I thought that the problem was that I could not find employment with the “perfect” job for me, or at least one that would be good enough for me as the previous ones were. I was very unhappy during that time period between 1986 and 1987.

I was a ronin (drifter), an aimless, masterless samurai without a sword and without a lord. I needed a job that would be creative, useful and kind of mysterious, which is to say a job that only a few chosen ones could do well, myself among them.

But all that I could find during that stressful time were stupid jobs that I had to take to pay the rent. Fortunately, eventually it dawned on me that a boring and useless nine-to-five job that pays the rent is not what the universe wants me to do for the next few decades.

No, that was not my purpose in the Divine Order of the Universe. Some people don’t care about esoteric nonsense like wondering about what our purpose in life is. They just do what they think needs to be done for the money. And I don’t judge them. As Woody Allen put it, “Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons”. But money without understanding my purpose in the Divine Order of the Universe is not enough for me.

My real purpose was to eventually become an independent contractor, which was what I did already in the nineteen eighties, back when just about everybody was earning a living as an employee, often working interminable hours in a boring, mind-numbing job.

One of the worst jobs that I ever had, even worse than several other stupid jobs I had in several countries, was when I was working for about 8 months for the US Army in West Germany, from January until August of 1982. This was shortly after I “illegally” left Czechoslovakia and became a refugee in Germany in the summer of 1981 at a time when the Solidarity movement in Poland was testing the response of the communist government to its demands and most people, including myself, expected that Russian tanks would soon invade Poland to enforce a strict, Stalinist order in that country as they did 14 years earlier in Czechoslovakia, ending a short-lived period of liberalization there for the next 21 years.

So when a Polish friend asked me whether I would be interested in joining him and a bunch of other young Polish dudes who also left their country and were waiting for approval for immigrant visas to United States, Canada and Australia to get a civilian job with the US Army in Germany while “sitting on the luggage” as he put it in Polish, I did not hesitate and joined the group of young Polish émigrés (and one Slovak) and applied for a job whose intriguing title in English was “splicer”.

Except that I did not do much splicing, of cables or of anything else, during the 8 months that I was a civilian employee working for US Army in Germany while waiting for my visa to America to be approved. The approval process took many months, more than a year, because the organization that was my sponsor, which was called American Fund for Czechoslovak Refugees and was funded by old Czech and Slovak émigrés in United States, had to first find me a place to live and I had to go through an interview at the US consulate in Frankfurt, as well as pass a medical exam, to make sure that that people like me would not become a burden to US taxpayers.

The main problem for me with the job in Germany was that once we were accepted as civilian employees, we had very little to do. Most of the time, we were just sitting in a wooden shed in the motor pool of US Army barracks, waiting from 9 AM until 5 PM for instructions to travel to other US Army bases in Frankfurt, Worms, or somewhere else where they actually had a little work for us to do. And since I am not very good at manual work, most of the time I was just standing around even when I was working, holding a ladder or something like that, again waiting for 5 PM to call it a day.

I was bored out of my mind. I hated having nothing to do. This is so stupid, I thought. Why is America wasting all this money on us when they have nothing to do for us?

It was only many years later, when I was much older and maybe a tiny bit wiser that I did realize that what the army was doing with us was in fact pretty smart. Although we were not soldiers, we were issued military uniforms and we had to work in those uniforms. We slept in the military barracks and ate in the military canteen. We did not have to do that, but it was free, a part of our benefits, like free healthcare and vacation days, so most of us went for it to save money for the next destination overseas, including myself.

We were also given some training for things like how to assemble and dissassemble a gun and basic information about chemical weapons. It was very similar to what I went through only a few years ago in the Czechoslovak Army.

What I did not understand then, and what I think I understand now, is that in addition to rather inexpertly splicing a few cables now and then, our real job was to be a ready pool of manpower for the military in case of a military conflict should the Soviet Union invade Poland back in 1981 or 1982.

We all had several years of military training back in our original countries, and we all hated the communist regimes imposed on the countries in Central Europe by Soviet Union so much that we decided to leave our home country for good rather than to put up with the idiotic regime.

Had we been offered enlistment in US army in exchange for a promise of an immigrant visa, green card and citizenship after the required waiting period (1 year for the green card and 7 years for citizenship), most of us would have gone for it.

I certainly would have. I wanted to do something, anything to speed up the collapse of the totalitarian system in my country, if only by a minute or two.

And in case of a conflict, the US Army could have used people like me, young people who had the proper motivation, military training, and spoke Russian and Polish.

Fortunately, after the Solidarity movement was crushed by the Polish government led by General Jaruzelski who declared martial law in December of 1981, the Soviet Politburo decided that unlike in Hungary or Czechoslovakia years ago, a military invasion was not necessary and instead let their Polish comrades to deal with the rebellious Poles on their own.

So although I did not understand it then, the months of having nothing to do and waiting around dressed in military uniform in a motor pool were not really a complete waste of time as I thought, and in fact, what I considered a total waste of time was perfectly aligned with my purpose in the Divine Order of the Universe.

Fortunately, my personal contribution to what was happening in Poland in 1981 and 1982 was not required by the Divine Order of the Universe. My immigration visa came through in August, and just like that, I found myself as a new immigrant in San Francisco, as I described in several posts in this blog.

A few years later, the totalitarian communist system in Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe collapsed of its own wait, without a single shot, and I was able to visit my old country as an American tourist. And a few years after that, my old country joined NATO and the European Union.

Although nothing seems to work very well in political developments in Europe or the United States right now, things worked extremely well, at least from my perspective, back at the end of ninteen-eighties.

Posted by: patenttranslator | May 11, 2019

Beware of Fake Marshmallow Tests

The marshmallow test is a name that was given to a famous experiment conducted originally by psychologists at the Stanford University in the nineteen sixties on little children. During the test, the sly psychologists put a marshmallow in front of children and told them that they could have another marshmallow for a grand total of two marshmallows if they could wait for 15 minutes before starting to stuff their faces with the candy in front of them.

Some children, possibly the future brilliant leaders of America, displayed an iron, incredibly strong will, waited for the promised second marshmallow and then happily got to eat two of them. Some, probably most of them, could not resist the temptation and therefore received only one marshmallow.

We are all subjected to many marshmallow tests throughout our lives, for instance when we make a decision whether to get a job at a young age, or whether to study for years a certain subject in a certain field, which in some countries (but not all of them) implies also taking on a crushing debt to be repaid over many years, for a promise of a more lucrative occupation than what would one be able to earn with a job a blue-collar line of work later in life. Unlike in the case of the children who took the marshmallow test at Stanford University, the promise of a reward in the form a well-paid job in real life of course later sometime turns out to be a damn lie.

The name given to the process occurring during marshmallow test in our brain, whether it is already fully developed or not yet, is called delayed gratification. Sometime it makes a lot of sense to delay the pleasure of eating a marshmallow because then we get to eat two of them. But sometime, if you wait too long or if you deal with a cheater, somebody may steal the single marshmallow that a moment ago was sitting right in front of you if you don’t eat it quickly enough.

Since we are given many marshmallow tests throughout our live, we need to keep in mind that a marshmallow in hand may be better than two promised ones, especially if they were promised by a politician.

For instance, a couple of years ago I had to make a choice when to file for Social Security payments, also known as old age pension. I could have filed early at the age of sixty-two, but had I done that, my old age pension would be reduced by 25%, I think. Many people simply have no choice and file as soon as they become eligible for some money and accept the bitter pill of a big reduction in income for the rest of their life. Fortunately for me, I was not quite in that situation. Or I could have waited until I turn 70, and the pension would then grow by 30% above the 100% promised at the “full” retirement age of 66 (which will soon be raised to 67).

But would I even still be alive by then? Or healthy enough to enjoy my pension after the age of 70? And what about the marshmallows, or the money, that I would be losing every month? I did not want to wait that long. In the end, I sat down, calculated all of the marshmallows that I would be losing if I wait until the age of 70 and decided that the best age for me was to file at the age of 64.5. So that was what I did.

Most of the time, we are not really conscious of the fact that we are given a marshmallow test. Especially people who work as independent contractors are given many marshmallow tests by people who are trying to figure out how to best take advantage of the independent contractors who will work for them by giving them a fake marshmallow test so that they could pay them less.

The way this happens is when during a fake marshmallow test for translators, they are promised by translation agencies that if they accept a certain way of working and for example counting the words a certain way (with tools like Trados, for instance), they will receive 5, 6, 7 or even more marshmallows instead of a lousy singly one.

But as we all known, what happened instead during this particular fake marshmallow test pandemic was that even though translators were able to translate many more words with an obligatory tool, almost always at the expense of quality, their remuneration was reduced so drastically by the word-miscounting tool that instead of receiving 5, 6, or 7 marshmallows for producing many more words, in the  end they received only half a marshmallow.

The general acceptance of magical CATs by so many translators, and in particular of the marshmallow-devouring CAT concepts for counting words, or rather not counting some words, called “fuzzy matches” and “full matches”, by translators in the last two decades or so is a big reason why translators are now making significantly less money than they used to twenty years ago.

When some translators now proudly state in their résumé that they use Trados, they do so to demonstrate to potential translation agency customers, if we can call them that, in the so-called translation industry, by showing how well versed they are in the modern tools of trade of the industry.

All newbies proudly state that they use Trados, without realizing that they are only advertising in this manner their willingness to be cheated by the agencies when they accept an order to use a certain kind of a tool by a translation agency, a tool that is very handy for wage theft that is by now widely practiced in the industry, unlike translators who understand that what kind of tool they use is nobody’s damn business.

As far as I know, nobody ever asked Dostoevsky what kind of ink, pen or paper he was using to write Crime and Punishment with, and I am pretty sure that if he were ordered to use a certain kind of tool for his work by his publishing house, he would send them all to hell and change his publisher.

Of course, unlike in the times of Dostoevsky, we now all have to use a computer with a word-processing program that is compatible with what everybody else is using, we have to be able to use internet and I hear that even CATs like Trados may be useful for some kind of translations, although I kind of doubt it.

But our professionalism, if there is such a thing in the translating profession, if that is even a profession, is not measured by what kind tool we use for our work, but by what we have in our head, what we are able to do with it, and how clever we are in finding, choosing and keeping or dumping our customers.

Especially if yet another marshmallow test is being unleashed on unsuspecting translators by the so-called translation industry, it’s best to keep in mind that instead of giving us more marshmallows, the industry is most likely conducting another fake marshmallow test aimed at preventing us from keeping even the few marshmallows that they used to give us … so that more marshmallows would be left for translation agencies.

Posted by: patenttranslator | May 4, 2019

Is This a Rebellion?

It is an undeniable fact that globalization and continued development of information technology and artificial intelligence have been taking a huge bite (byte) out of the income of many professions for several decades now.

We translators are hardly the only ones who have been affected by these developments. It kind of started already some four decades ago when ATMs began replacing bank tellers. At this point, no profession seems to be bulletproof to the threat of cheap and nasty robots.

According to Andrew Yang, Democratic Presidential Candidate for 2020, one third of all Americans will lose their jobs to AI and automation in the next 12 years. Some economists estimate that as much as 50% of all jobs may become eliminated by automation and artificial intelligence. (Good thing I’m retired)!

To stave off massive unemployment, Andrew Yang is proposing a guaranteed universal income of 1,000 US dollars for all American adults, whether they are working or not. He calls the UBI, which stands for Universal Basic Income, a “Peace Dividend”. A test of this concept has been already tried on a small scale in Finland, which is also being referred to as the happiest country on the planet. Switzerland rejected the idea to give a UBI to every citizen in a referendum in 2016, with almost 77 per cent of the voters saying ‘no’, while 23 per cent were in favor, and other countries are reportedly also considering it.

Obviously, a thousand bucks is not enough to pay the bills, not in the United States, anyway, so most people would still need to work. But it would be a godsend to tens of millions of people who are presently in America living paycheck to paycheck or scraping by on low incomes. The question is, what kind of unintended consequences would there be if UBI were to be accepted? Wouldn’t greedy landlords raise their rents, perhaps by as much as a thousand dollars, if they knew that their tenants now had some money for a change? Wouldn’t ruthless translation agencies lower the already low rates they pay to translators in Western countries, perhaps all the way to a cent or two cents per word, if they thought they could get away with it? They probably would.

But something has to be done because the robots are coming to steal the work from a large segment of the population which, nevertheless, still needs to eat. Even the rich seem now to start realizing that a very explosive situation will be created if the present trend continues and that it might be hard for them to keep hiding in walled-off, secluded mansions. When a CEOs salary corresponds to 300 to 400 times the average salary of an average worker as it does now in the United States (but not in Western Europe or Japan, at least not yet), although a couple of decades ago the difference was at least ten times smaller, while a large segment of the population cannot find even poorly paid work, it’s easy to see that this is a recipe for a coup to be led either by proto-communist or proto-fascist factions. 

“Mais c’est une révolte”? (Is this a rebellion?) asked King Louis XVI, the last king of France, the Duke de La Rochefoucould at the court in Versailles in 1792. “Non, Sire, c’est une révolution”, (No, Sire, it’s a revolution), responded the Duke, who was a little bit better informed than the king about what was going on in the country, because just about everybody was. By January of next year, the king found out what kind of rebellion it was when he lowered his head on the scaffold to be beheaded by a guillotine at the Place de la Revolution in Paris.

A few weeks before the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, of 1989, none of the functionaries who ruled a country that was walled off from the world behind watch towers and barbed wire that was so inappropriately called German Democratic Republic, had any idea that their reign was about to end, that the country would soon be no more, and that they would be facing accusations of crimes against the people they have been teorrorizing for four decades in court.

The same thing happened in communist Czechoslovakia during a so-called Velvet Revolution between November 17 and December 29, 1989, once the formerly obedient police finally refused to shoot into protesting students in Prague. Within a few weeks, the government fell and the new one was then led by a former dissident who spent years in communist prisons for daring to speak his mind.

Once things start changing, they often change unpredictably and very quickly.

Once a seemingly impenetrable wall is breached, power structures that have been built diligently for decades or centuries melt like ice cream in hot sun.

Because replacing various components of complicated welfare systems that have been created and are being governed by the ruling classes in so many countries by a Universal Basic Income system would take too much power away from omnipotent bureaucrats, I don’t think that it will happen by 2020.

It will probably happen at some point, but not without a revolution that at first might start as a mere rebellion.

Posted by: patenttranslator | April 28, 2019

Is It Even Possible to Retire Voluntarily When You Are a Translator?

If one defines “retirement” as the period towards the end of life when you no longer have to work because you receive every month a fixed income on which it is possible to live quite well without working, I have been retired for quite some time as I have been fortunate to reach this kind of situation about a year ago.

For the last few months I have been following heart-breaking stories in several languages on Youtube, for instance about poor seniors in Germany who find it impossible to make the ends meet with a pitifully low state pension. If you speak German, go to Youtube and type in the search field for instance “Arme Rentner in Deutschland” (poor pensioners in Germany). You will discover titles such as [my translations]: ‘Waiting in Lines for Old Bread’, ‘Old, Poor, Criminal, Old Pensioners Working Their Whole Lives for Nothing’, ‘Scandal: Rich Germany – Poor Pensioners, Old-Age Poverty – Liselotte (71) has only 3.50 Euros a Day for Eating‘.

It appears that the German politicians dropped the ball when it comes to creating a well-functioning pension system for most people in Germany where many seniors are forced to live in dire poverty, unlike for example the seniors in Austria or Switzerland. What happened to Germany? When I lived there in the early eighties, it was to me a perfect example of a well-designed socialist system, that to say a social democracy that is based on a capitalist economy and democratic principles. And how is it possible that in other German-speaking countries, most seniors are quite affluent compared to their German counterparts?

The situation of pensioners in France may not be much better, or even worse, which is why the Yellow Vests have been in the streets of Paris and other French cities for many months now.

Because I moved from pricey Virginia to Southern Bohemia where the cost of living is quite a bit lower, and because after paying US taxes for 37 years, I have a generous US Social Security income, corresponding to four average local pensions, topped with a modest but important Czech pension. The Czech pension is important because it automatically pays my health insurance premiums and most healthcare-related expenses for pensioners in this country. And as far as I know, it would continue doing so even if I decided to move to another EU country. Had I decided to stay in Germany four decades ago, I might have serious money problems at this point.

So I don’t really need to work. And yet, I continue working, and probably will continue doing so also in the foreseeable future. I work much less now than I used to, mostly as an agency at this point rather than as a translator, but it looks like I will keep doing my thing for the foreseeable future and if I ever stop working completely, it will be probably for health reasons, when I’m too old to even put together a translation project, let alone translate myself … if I live that long.

So far I have lost only one project since I moved from Virginia to České Budějovice six months ago. It was a nice and lucrative translation project from a client in Western Europe, a patent law firm that sent me two similar projects twice already in the past couple of years. But I did not even put in my bid for the project although I knew that this meant that the client would not come back again with the same kind of thing next year. I was in terrible pain and could not really think about anything else except how to get rid of the pain as I wrote in the Kidney Stones post on this blog.

So the law firm is unfortunately gone for good. But others still continue sending me work. This week I‘ve had four smallish projects so far from two old clients in United States and I now still have one more for next week.

If you have been following the development in the United States when it comes to Democratic presidential hopefuls for the 2020 presidential election, 20 candidates have declared that they are running, including Bernie Sanders, who is well into his seventies, and creepy Joe Biden, who is also long in the tooth (but still likes to smell women’s hair). Along with Tulsi Gabbard, a fearless woman whom I admire immensely, my favorite Democratic candidates include Andrew Young, a young Chinese-American who was born to immigrant parents from Taiwan, and who has a solution for millions of people who are already or will soon be facing the prospect of losing their jobs to globalization and artificial intelligence. This would arguably include also a number of medical occupations, such as anesthesiologists or doctors reading X-ray or ultrasound images to create a diagnosis, some legal professions, or specialized translators such as myself.

Andrew Young wants to help solve the problems caused by globalization and artificial intelligence (which I call robotization) with something that he calls the Freedom Dividend – a universal basic income (UBI) of $1000/month to be paid to every adult American who is not already receiving for example a greater amount in Social Security payment as I am. He calls his concept of the new system, which is similar to the oil dividend that has been distributed for many decades to residents of Alaska and to what was proposed already by the founders of United States more than two centuries ago “Human-Centered Capitalism.”

What he is saying makes a lot of sense to me, I will vote for him if he is on the presidential ticket in 2020, but I doubt it will happen. I think it’s much more likely that creepy Joe Biden will represent the corrupt Democrats, and that the Wall Street and the super-rich will put him in the White House to essentially continue the policies of Obama and Trump.

But it should be an interesting political campaign anyway, at least during the Democratic primaries: Creepy Joe against Fearless Tulsi and Idealistic Andrew – unless the Democratic establishment pulls the carpet from under him and other young people with new ideas, which they are almost certain to do.

But let’s come back to the main theme of my silly post today, namely whether it is possible for me to retire now.

No, I don’t think so, not if I continue still receiving work from my old and also some new clients. Whether I need the money or not is not really the issue here, at least not the main one.

I will not be able to retire any time soon. The curse of a translator is not being able to retire. Not necessarily because you can’t …. but because your brain will not let you.

Last month I bought a gadget that I needed for something. Like all gadgets these days, it was made in China and because I now live in Central Europe, it came with assembly instructions in quite a few languages.

I did not really need the instructions, it was a simple tool and the assembly was self-explanatory enough, but professional curiosity overcame me as I started comparing the quality of the translations.

I keep doing things like that, even though I am officially retired and even though it is a waste of time. You can take a translator out of translation, but you can’t take the translation out of the translator.

The English was fine, the German was fine, but then when I took a look at the Czech, I could not believe my eyes. The “Czech translation” was not in a language spoken anywhere on this planet, or in this galaxy, or any other galaxy in this universe or any other universe. It was a few hundred units representing words, but the only thing in these assembly instructions that made any sense were a few English words, surrounded by a forest of nonsensical garbage composed of vowels and consonants.

What probably happened was that a translation agency, perhaps in China, perhaps in Moldova, perhaps in India, decided to have the instructions translated into major, important languages by actual human translators with a pulse, but “small” languages like Czech, Polish or Hungarian were simply run by a machine translation program …. and that was it. To save money, no bilingual human with an actual brain was even used to “check the translation”, so that nobody noticed that a mathematical formula used by the machine translation program somehow ran amok and created a non-existing language.

After all, Czechs, Poles, Hungarians, we are talking what, ??? …. 45 million people at the most, right? Who cares about them. Let them learn English, or German, or freakin’ Chinese if they want a real translation.

This is the state the art of  the art typical of so-called translation industry nowadays, where so-called “language tools” are venerated as holy cows because they result in extreme efficiency combined with very low cost when humans are no longer needed for the translation.

But it’s not just relatively unimportant instruction manuals that are now translated with new techniques based on super-duper artificial intelligence and technology that truly deserves the moniker “destructive”, so popular these days.

Although I don’t know the dude, I received the email below from him three times so far, twice as a regular email, and once as a request for price quote that came through the price quote link on my website:

 

“Hello Team,

This is with regards to a Patent Translation Crosscheck / Editing service that we have received from one of our existing client. This is a huge client with high volume of Patent translation Crosscheck / Editing requirement. They would be providing us a constant source of business on a monthly basis.   

The language pair requirement for these patents are Japanese to English. These patents would be translated by the client and sent across. I have attached a sample translated document that was sent by the client as a reference. We would request you to go through the file and comment on the overall quality of the translation. Based on your quality analysis of the file, kindly let us know which service is most appropriate i.e. translation check + English editing or Only English Editing is sufficient.

Hope to hear from you within at the earliest, as we have to get back to the client within 24 hours.”

 

Of course I ignore similar requests, which I have been receiving from all kinds of places lately.

Based on the address on its website, the agency is based in UK, but when I Googled the unusual name of the person who sent me the thing, I saw that he was really based in India. That is not unusual these days, many translation agencies with an address in a Western country, and UK in particular, are in fact based somewhere else.

So what would be my job, actually, if I accepted this mission from this translation agency, if the translation was really bad, or better yet, if it was a result of another algorithm run amok, a likely occurrence given how efficient the so-called translation industry is these days?

How would one fix something like that? “These patents would be translated by the client and sent across.” What the hell is that supposed to mean? The whole concept is preposterous. I suppose my role would be to “validate” these “translations by the client” so that they could be used in the court of law as real translations? And the client would of course decide what terms would be used in them and what exactly the translation would say, for example in patent litigation.

That would work perfectly, wouldn’t it? Except that it would be fraud.

But it’s not just the language tools celebrated by the “translation industry” that is rapidly changing our world, and not for better. The entire world in which we live now is one big creepy, sleazy town built for efficiency at all cost.

I read in a newspaper that a new work by Antonín Dvořák was recently discovered. Unfortunately, it was not finished, in fact, it was barely begun, just a short musical theme jotted on a few pieces of paper that were ultimately thrown away by Dvořák, probably when he realized that the thing is so bad that it cannot be saved.

But since a “newly found musical work” of  Antonín Dvořák is highly marketable and has an important monetary value, somebody decided to resurrect it and have the thing finished “based on the entirety of Dvořák’s work” by using artificial intelligence, the article said. This somebody stands to make a lot of money if this creepy scheme works, and Antonín Dvořák cannot defend himself because he is safely dead.

Welcome to the creepy, sleazy town of modern world, where nothing is what it seems and where everything will in a few years be infected by Artificial Intelligence to a degree that will render this world virtually unrecognizable.

 

Posted by: patenttranslator | April 13, 2019

A Degree in Languages Can Be Very Valuable

“You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”

― Mae West

First of all, I want to mark myself safe after watching almost all episodes of four seasons of Breaking Bad on Netflix. Yesterday I tried to watch for a change a movie about the end of the world due to flesh eating creatures who react to sound and then attack humans, but after about 15 minutes I could not stand it anymore and went back to what’s still left for me of Breaking Bad.

The series is almost as addictive as Walter White’s, the good/evil protagonist’s of the Netflix series, blue and white meth.

But that is not what I want to be writing about today. Today I would like to share with the readers of my silly blog my deep thoughts on the subject in the title of my post.

Many translators are constantly bombarded by comments from people who are telling them that they made a big mistake by spending decades of their life studying languages to graduate with a degree in a foreign language. Imbecilic comments of this kind often appear in smug comments of know-nothing morons analyzing problems with current education in newspapers, on Youtube, and we might even hear this received wisdom after we reveal our occupation to someone asking us the nosiest question of them all: “So what is it that you do for a living”?

Especially now that machine translation, which is often confused by civilians with actual translation, is available for free on computers and smartphones, people who don’t know much about languages, and often not much about anything else either, are convinced that the study of languages is a waste of time because good money can be made only by those who have a degree in one of the STEM fields (which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

And since it is unavoidable that all translators will soon be replaced by computers and software, or so the received wisdom goes, what is the utility of non-STEM education in the marketplace of the modern, high-tech world that is full of destructive technologies, right?

Well, what do I know, maybe there is a point to this kind of reasoning. But although I have been hearing for about the last 40 years from all kinds of people that my choice of what I wanted to do with my life was not very practical because technology would soon make professions like mine redundant, it is clear to me that whether translators will become obsolete or not would among other things depend on how one would defined the term “all” and the term “soon”.

I don’t have a crystal ball revealing to me what is going to happen in the future job market. But I do have some limited experience as somebody who many years ago received a theoretically useless degree in a non-STEM field, in particular in Japanese studies, which on the surface of it is as far from Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics as one can get.

Even back in the last century, many people thought that the education in the field that I had chosen to pursue all those years ago would not turn out to be very practical and conducive to earning a decent living.

But these false prophets were wrong, as time would prove in due course.

After graduating with a degree in Japanese and a minor in in English in 1980, the imperative, non-compromising arm of wanderlust pushed me a few years later away from the Old World into the open arms of the New World, so that in 1982 I found myself as a new immigrant walking the streets of San Francisco.

Just like today, there were homeless people sleeping in the streets of the fair city already then, only not as many as today because the cost of housing was a fraction of what it is now.

My mission, which I could not afford not to accept, was to make sure that I was not going to join their ranks, something that could have easily happened given that I had no money and did not know a single person on the entire American continent (counting also Canada and Central and Southern America.)

But since there were hordes of Japanese tourists wandering with their authoritative Japanese guidebooks in the early eighties around San Francisco, ready to spend their hard-earned money but unable to communicate with anyone to convey the gist of the adventure that they were eager to experience, it took me less than a month to find a new job in San Francisco thanks to the fact that I could speak English and Japanese, and French, and German, …. and a few other languages that did not really count for too much back then. Despite my ignorance of the City, these four languages combined gave me my first job with the San Francisco Convention & Visitors, although I knew virtually nothing about the City in which I had spent only a few weeks.

Helping to send American and international clientele to numerous tourist traps in and around San Francisco was an enjoyable and interesting job, so much so that I lasted on that job for my first three years in America. After the first year or so I became a virtual, multilingual authority on what to do and where to go in San Francisco and the Bay Area, thanks mostly to my interest and education in foreign languages.

A good education in a STEM subject would probably do the same trick for me … eventually, but that was not were my interest was and still is.

After three years of dispensing advice to tourists, my interest in languages and overall linguistic background led me to meet and eventually marry a Japanese woman who as so happened did not want to go back to Japan after her student visa expired. Ours was not a perfect marriage, but what marriage is? It did last 34 years, and it gave us two beautiful boys, who now are two adult American taxpayers. All roads do not lead to Rome as an old European proverb has it – it is written in the stars that some lead to San Francisco, whether you are coming from Prague or from Tokyo.

After my first three years in San Francisco, I spent a year living with my in-laws in Tokyo. Again, I was able to find a job thanks to my linguistic education within less than a month there, and I started working in downtown as a translator for a somewhat shady import-export company specializing in gray markets.

That was fun too! And I learned a lot from that job as well.

But when my new wife finally got her immigrant visa for United States, after a year we both had enough of Japan and returned to the city where we met – now a favorite question used by banks and credit card companies, in addition to your mother’s maiden name, to establish the identity of a person who has lost the password.

It took me another year after my return to San Francisco before I figured out that the best way to put my education and my skills to good use was to start my own translation business, which I did in 1987 and which is still active, even though I am officially retired by now. But being retired for me at this point only means that I don’t have to work because unlike in the past, I don’t really need to make money … it does not mean that I will not work if the subject is interesting and the money is good!

So there you have my life in a nutshell, and this blog shall remain a living testimony to what one can do with an education that puts an emphasis on foreign languages, namely experience all kind of interesting things and places and have have a lot of fun doing so.

It’s not that I don’t value education in a STEM subject, especially since for more than three decades I have been translating mostly patents and articles from scientific and medical journals. But an education in a subject that may eventually turn out to be lucrative, but at the same time does not really interest you too much, is probably a recipe for a boring, unfulfilled and unhappy life.

And as Mae West, who is described on Wikipedia as an American actress, singer, playwright, screenwriter, comedian, and sex symbol (1893 – 1980), whose entertainment career spanned seven decades, and was known for her lighthearted bawdy double entendres and breezy sexual independence, said a long time ago, it’s important to have fun, because you get to live only once, life is short and then you die.

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