“As a member of the American Translators Association, I would never discuss translation rates in a public forum”, said for the n-th time a presenter at the recent BP (Business Practices) Conference of translators in Prague where I was one of the participants and presenters, before she launched again into a generalized comparison of rates charged by various translation agencies for translating the same text. Each time she said it with a completely serious face – about half a dozen times during her presentation – her qualifying statement, which could have been taken seriously based on the expression on her face, or as a joke, take your pick, was met with the same reaction – a whole room of translators appreciatively erupting into laughter and chuckling at what she said.

The translators, and I was one of them, were laughing at the absurdity of her statement. No business can exist and survive without having a good understanding of the fees that it can charge its customers. Because knowing how much or how little your competition is charging means that you known how much you yourself can get away with, this knowledge is one of the most important pieces of intelligence that any service supplier simply must have.

Just about every month I receive a few fake “Price Quote Requests” from a would-be competitor who wants to know how much I charge for the kind of work that I do …. in order to charge one cent less. This month it was some Korean guy who lives in China. He sent me a Japanese patent for a price quote for translation from the handy Price Quote Request Form on my website, while pretending to be representing some Chinese Patent Research Institute.

I almost fell for his trick because when I ran a Google search, I found out that such an institution really exists and that it is based in Singapore. But because the guy only gave me a Gmail address, I was not convinced and continued searching until I was able to establish that he probably has nothing to do with this research institution because the fax number that he gave me, (he did not give me a phone number so that I could not talk to him), was listed on a well known blind auction translation site where he was looking for translators to work for him. So I ignored him and he still does not know how much I charge.

Because translation rates or fees are so important, the ATA (American Translators Association) has recently updated its policy on rules for ATA members who are speaking in public venues about translation rates. Under the pretext of compliance with Antitrust legislation, created a century ago to protect little people from all-powerful corporations in the era of robber barons, these rules are now applied by the ATA to achieve the opposite effect of what was intended by the original legislators, namely to keep ATA members in darkness when it comes to how much or how little they should charge for translating and interpreting services. As Tony Rosado, like myself also an ATA member, put it on his blog:

When applied today, the rules conceived to protect the weak from the powerful, provide shelter to multinationals like Capita, SOSi, and LionBridge who take advantage, with the blessing of some of our professional associations, of the legal ban to talk about fees and working conditions of professional interpreters and translators who are forced to negotiate with commercial, not professional, entities who take advantage of any circumstance they can use in their favor.

Fortunately, non-ATA members, who flocked to the BP16 Conference in Prague from many countries in all the five continents, are not subject to the ATA gag order on discussion of rates in public. Apparently, unlike in the land of the free and the home of the brave, translators are still free to discuss in  public venues anything they want, including rates and fees, in enlightened countries where democracy is more robust and freedom of speech is still a given, such as in Lukashenko’s Belarus or in Sisi’s Egypt (I had the pleasure of talking at length to translators from both of these countries at the conference in Prague).

Slator.com apparently is not subject to ATA’s gag order on rates because it recently published a review of rates that various translation agencies in the United States are charging to the US government, as this information is publicly available on the website of the General Service Administration (GSA) of the US government. “In its quest for transparency, the GSA went as far as publishing all the proposals (schedules) submitted to it by its accredited language services providers” (quoted from Slator).

Apparently, the US government is not bound by the ATA’s gag order on rates either, only ATA members must keep mum on the tricky and dangerous issue … if they know what’s good for them!

It is a well known fact that the US government is trying to pay as little as possible for professional services purchased and that it is usually easier to get away with higher rates, especially for rush translations, when one works for direct clients, such as patent law firms.

But I happen to know that it pays quickly, generally in three weeks, and pretty good rates, especially compared to the kind of rates that some translation agencies, especially the big ones, would like to pay to translators because I do sometime work directly for the US government myself. In particular, I translate Japanese and German patents for the Department of Justice.

Thanks to Slator, I was able to ascertain from the range of rates published on its site that the rates that I am charging to US government are quite reasonable.

By publishing the rates that an agency of the US government is paying for translation to various translation agencies, the General Services Administration is, perhaps unwittingly, doing what major translation agencies and the American Translators Association, which should really be working for us translators and not for corporatized translation agencies, are trying to prevent, namely making existentially important information available to all translators.

As I have already discovered from the reaction on social media when I tweeted about the analysis of government rates paid to translation agencies on Slator, several translators expressed an outrage at how little the people who do the actual translating work, called translators, are being paid by same agencies who may be charging the customers much, much more than what the people doing the work can ultimately receive in the current translation agency model.

That Slator brought a little bit more transparency into the issue of rates is definitely appreciated by translators, and definitely very much unappreciated by the translation agencies whose business model abhors transparency like nature abhors vacuum. The funny thing is, neither is it appreciated by the ATA, which should be working for us, translators, but based on its policy about keeping mum on rates, is working for the agencies.

I think that the powers that be at the ATA should ask themselves the following question:

In the age of Internet, does it really make sense to try to manufacture ignorance by prohibiting members of an association of translators from discussing in public fees and rates that are paid to translators by direct clients and by translation agencies?

Apart from the issue of legality – the first Amendment to the US Constitution states unequivocally that the freedom of speech may not be abridged, not even by the American Translators Association when it comes to talking about rates – the problem is that this gag order simply cannot be enforced in modern society no matter how threateningly and legalistically it may be formulated and how convoluted the argument for its existence may be.

Disclaimer: As a member of many years of the American Translators Association, I would never, ever, discuss concrete translation rates and fees in public  venues, as I am aware of the ATA’s policy regarding strict prohibition of speaking publicly about translation rates and fees in compliance with the US Antitrust legislation.

I am merely commenting on information that is publicly available on the Internet and linking to it on my blog, which is probably still allowed by the American Translators Association.

(In the video below, a singer who was banned in Czechoslovakia for two decades is singing in a concert after he was able to return home when the communist regime finally fell. Notice how everybody knows the words of the banned songs and how many people are mouthing them as if in disbelief that they lived long enough to see and hear him again. He died a few years later).

Posted by: patenttranslator | April 21, 2016

The Battle of Two Wolverines for Our Minds at BP16 in Prague

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.

He said, “My son, the battle is between two “wolves” inside us all.

One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?”

 The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed”.

An excerpt from: You Are Not Alone – by Frances Black

I am sorry I haven’t been posting much this month. But I have a good excuse – I just came back from BP (Business Practices) 16 Conference 2016 in Prague, Czech Republic.

Unlike during my trip to the last translators’ conference – IAPTI 3 Conference in Bordeaux IAPTI 3 (International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters), a Conference held in Bordeaux, France in May of 2015, there were no major harrowing, nearly fatal experiences during this trip to a city that I used to know so well when I lived there for over a decade more than 30 years ago.

This time I only missed the connecting flight from Frankfurt to Prague when Lufthansa sent a message about a gate change to my iPhone, which prompted me to run for about 20 minutes from one end of the Frankfurt airport to the other, only to be told by a smiling German girl at the information desk that the gate had been changed again and that now I had to traipse on my tired feet back again to the same end of the airport where I had started the long journey of a thousand gates to my final destination.

Final destination for the day, anyway, not like in the films Final Destination 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, the “Pentalogy Horror” where everybody dies in the end.

“Fortunately, you don’t have to hurry now, Mr. Vitek, your flight is leaving in an hour so you have plenty of time”, said the German girl when she saw how heavily the overweight old man in front of her was perspiring with a smile that seemed more than slightly sadistic to me.

Other than that, the trip went without a major glitch, especially considering that during my last trip to France a few months ago, my plane was diverted to another airport, which felt like a fiendish and terrifying hijacking. After that I had to spend the night in an overpriced hotel in hot, humid and dirty Atlanta, a young French guy who was sitting in the seat next to me then threw up on me after his second cognac (and instead of apologizing, he just sheepishly avoided looking at me during the rest of the flight), and for good measure I found that Air France lost my luggage when I finally made it to Bordeaux as you can read in this post.

But let’s get back to the topic of my post today, namely a few of my impressions from the Business Practices Conference BP 16 in Prague which ended only a few days ago. Because I tried to attend as many sessions at the conference as possible, sometime I would even visit half of two consecutive presentations if I could not make up my mind which one might be more interesting. Most were excellent and a few where kind of mediocre, I thought, although all were in my opinion worth listening to.

I will try to briefly compare, or contrast, two sessions in my silly post today. So as not to get sued, I will not name names, although it is possible that commenters will mention the names of the speakers later in the comment sections. Unlike the Democratic and Republican parties which see the need to prevent third parties from being able to participate in the political process as their main duty, I do believe in democracy and I do not prevent commenters on my blog from participating (unless they really piss me off for some reason).

One session was given by a young and relatively inexperienced translator who for the purposes of my silly post today will be representing one of the wolverines fighting for translators’ minds. Incidentally, I do not mean anything negative by the animal names inspired by the old Cherokee tale that is a favorite of motivational speakers and that inspired the title of my post today. Since I was also one of the speakers at the conference, I too was a grey wolf fighting for translators’ minds in my presentation about patent translation at BP16.

I believe that we, wise and experienced wolves and wolverines, can do important work … provided that we actually know what we are talking about and have something to say.

The main topic of the session of the first wolverine, a translator turned motivational coach, was how important it is for translators to understand and be accommodating to change, the only constant in our lives, as Heraclitus of Ephesus so eloquently put it 2500 years ago. The changes that she was talking about were mostly technological changes so cherished by “the translation industry”, such as fast computers, algorithms and machine translation, cloud computing, crowd computing, optimized management systems, the emergence of mega agencies, the use of computer assisted tools (CATs), technical tools enabling competition with translators in developing countries and other scary things like that.

Well, scary to us, human translators, but so exciting for “the translation industry”!!!

We have to understand these changes and learn how to adopt them in our own line of work if we want to survive, the first wolverine was saying in her presentation. She was using slides with graphs that were demonstrating on colorful rising and falling curves the progress of machine translation that seemed to be pretty exponential, at least in her graphs. We have to anticipate that within about 10 years, there is likely to be a breakthrough in machine translation that will result in something that is almost as good as human translation, she said.

When I raised my hand to point out that “the translation industry” has been claiming that machine translation that will be “just as good” or “almost as good” as human translation would be here in about five years is something that “the translation industry” has been saying for the last 30 years, she just nodded her head but did not pursue the thought further. (I felt bad for disrupting her train of thought.)

The conclusion that most translators would probably reach from her presentation would be that we translators have basically two choices: either we stop foolishly resisting technological changes and bravely adopt “translation technology” or “language technology” as human translators using technological tools for the purposes of “the translation industry”, for instance by becoming human post-processors of machine translations, or some of us may choose to become highly valued specialized translators in certain coveted fields who can more or less afford to ignore “translation technology”, (because they are so special, by which I mean both the fields and the translators).

I could probably more or less agree with the last conclusion, although I would tend to disagree with most of the other things that this translator coach was saying. But if I had the transcript of the session in front of me, it would be in fact my pleasure to tear the entire presentation to pieces because most of the so-called facts and conclusions were in my opinion about as wrong as the anticipated technological breakthrough in “language technology” that will result in a machine translation that is almost indistinguishable from the way you or I translate.

But it would be a very long post, and possibly not a very interesting one. Fortunately, I will not be writing it.

The main topic of the second wolverine, an older and much more experienced translator, was about something else, although her session was about a related topic – namely about the elusive definition of what quality in translation means and whether there is a correlation between quality and price.

Full disclosure – I’m definitely biased here because although I only met the second wolverine in person at the conference a few days ago, I have been talking to the second wolverine online in various translation discussion groups for about 25 years now, and she sometimes also leaves a comment on my silly blog, usually when she is moved to do so by yet another insanity that I post online.

So don’t expect me to be impartial here. If I were a judge, I would have to recuse myself. But I am not a judge, so I can pretty much say whatever the hell I want on my own blog.

As I was saying, the topic of the second wolverine was about whether there is a correlation between price and quality. She had the same text, about one page, translated by about five translation agencies. At least one of these agencies used a machine translation that was then post-processed by humans (my hearts goes out to them, as does yours, I hope). The other suppliers included a cheap agency that uses cheap humans and a more expensive agency. Unfortunately, as I came late to her presentation, I did not have the color-coded sheets of translations corresponding to the more or less expensive LSPs, which I am told stands for “Lame Service Provider.” But the two young and very pretty translators sitting behind me, one was from Russia and one from Italy, helpfully shared them with me (thank you so much again if you are reading this).

Although I had less time than most people because my translation sheets were shared, the experiment has shown even to me that it was pretty obvious that there is a correlation between price and quality because machine pseudo-translation post-processed by a pitiful, cheap human, which was the cheapest solution, was so gratingly unnatural that I would hesitate to even call it a translation.

It did make sense, but after the spirit of the original text, which was a clever piece originally written by an educated French writer, was murdered by the machine translation, there was not that much that a human post-processor could have done with it. And anyway, given how little these human almost-but-not-quite translators are paid, why should they bother to do more than just remove the most glaring mistakes even if they had more time to do something with the cadaver on their hands, which they don’t?

The additional translations provided by other translation agencies sounded more natural, and some even sounded good or pretty good to some people. But the interesting thing was that when we got to vote about which translations were the best and which we thought were the most expensive ones, there was no agreement between the translators and the other translators who voted differently.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the beauty or ugliness of a translation is in the mind of a translation critic.

We cannot measure objectively translation quality, although some translation agencies like to pretend that we can and that we do exactly that by using neutral and reliable quality metrics and standards that are internationally approved and agreed upon, called for example ISO (insert a number, updated for greater impact every few years), or EN15038 (this number is also updated for greater impact every few years).

Although the quality standards that some LSPs are advertising on their websites as an assurance of measurable quality are nothing but a big lie as they have nothing to do with the quality of the translators or translations and only relate to the way in which the papers are shuffled around a desk by various mendacious Lame Service Providers, they are very useful for advertising purposes, which is the only thing that matters in “the translation industry”.

But just like most of us can tell the difference between art and pornography, most of us can also tell the difference between a good translation and a really horrible one, which will always be the inevitable result of a machine translation, even a machine translation that has been subsequently post-processed by an underpaid human, as the spirit of the original text will always be killed by a non-thinking machine.

That, among other things, was what I took away from the presentation of the second wolverine.

The way I see it, the problem with the first wolverine was that she was looking at things only from the perspective of “the translation industry”, and also that she did not realize that the translation industry is not the translation occupation. She was sincerely trying to give good advice to translators, but her advice failed to take into account the fact that there is a big difference between these two concepts and that the “translation industry” is not the world. In fact, “the translation industry” represents only one segment of the translation market.

“The translation industry” needs us to work for them because otherwise it can’t make any money. But do we really want to work for “the translation industry” under the current conditions? And if not, what are the other options that translators have?

That question that was not examined in the first wolverine’s presentation at all. And yet, I believe that this is the most important issue facing translators at this point in time.

Let’s hope that she will eventually be able to examine the issue also from the viewpoint of translators, instead of just painting a picture of immutable reality to which we translators must surrender if we want to survive.

She probably will be able to do that at some point, I think she is very talented.

The second wolverine made translators look at the problem that “the translation industry” has with translation quality, which made her presentation so fascinating to me. She was thus also making us examine the sorry state in “the translation industry” while implicitly telling us that they way forward for the translation profession is to concentrate on quality, which is something “the translation industry” is often unable to even ascertain, let alone evaluate, as it is an industry of brokers who don’t really understand much about translation.

To me, the voice of the second wolverine at the BP16 Conference in Prague was much more interesting, much more important  and therefore worth to be listened to and fed in my heart.

 

As an old timer who has been working as a freelance translator for almost three decades, in fact 36 years if I include my experience as an in-house translator in Europe and Japan, I have seen a lot of changes in what used to be called “a profession” and what is now called by many people, including translators, “the translation industry” (as if there were no difference between the two).

Change is inevitable in any profession; indeed, change is the only permanent constant that can possibly exist in human life. One thing is for sure: there will be no more changes in our life when we are finally dead.

Things can change for better or worse for the recipients of these changes and they usually fluctuate in both directions. But the trends that I see developing in “the translation industry” are more than just mere changes. In my mind, they evoke the image of a death spiral that is looming not only for the translation profession, but ultimately also for a large segment of “the translation industry”.

On the one hand, it would seem incomprehensible that a profession of highly educated and experienced knowledge workers, including translators—which used to guarantee a fairly comfortable middle class existence to this translator for more than three decades—could slip within a period of only about a decade to the current status quo.

On the other hand, what we are seeing in “the translation industry” is a mirror image of what is occurring in the corporate world in many other professions and countries. Newspapers are full of reports describing how in various other professions highly qualified human labor is either being replaced by machines, or outsourced to developing countries to maximize profits, including the legal profession, medical profession, accountants, and other professions.

The same trends are also dramatically manifested in the corporate “translation industry”.

The current business model of corporate translation agencies does not have much use for professional translators because it can’t really afford to pay them wages commensurate with their education, experience and expertise. The current business model of uberized corporate translation agencies cannot afford to work with professional translators because uberification naturally values profits über alles (German for “above all”).

It’s not personal to the translation agency owners and CEOs of uberized enterprises, it’s business.

The modern corporate translation agency model is based mostly on the concept of an owner or owners who own a business in which easily replaceable workers, who are essentially assembly line workers, perform functions that can be broken down into repetitive operations to achieve maximum profits for the owner or owners of an enterprise. The profits are not shared equitably with workers who are seen as mere assembly line drones because maximum profit can only be achieved when workers who do the actual work are paid as little as possible.

This concept is compatible with an assembly line for production of shirts, shoes or hamburgers where most of the work is done by machines and humans perform assisting and supervising roles. But the concept is not compatible with a working environment created for intellectual activities of highly educated and experienced knowledge workers such as accountants, writers, or translators, who in fact are the only professionals who ultimately are able to translate highly complicated texts, such as articles from technical and medical journals, or patent applications from or into foreign languages.

Notwithstanding the deafening noise that “the translation industry” is making about wonderful, revolutionary, disruptive “language technology” tools, by which is meant mostly machine translation and other computer tools, language technology provides tools that are very useful, but that can be used only by translators.

A customer relying on machine pseudo-translation is relying on a mountain of mistranslations. A customer relying on machine pseudo-translation that is additionally “post-edited”—by humans who are again treated as mere appendages of “smart machines” and considered and reimbursed accordingly—is relying on aggregated, butchered segments that will likely have fewer glaring mistranslations, but that will contain a lot of mistranslations nevertheless. The fact that the original spirit of the message is always killed by machine translation is not even debatable. The meaning of the sentences is also usually murdered by a non-thinking, non-feeling machine, unless the sentence is reconstructed, which is to say retranslated by the underpaid human appendage to the machine.

And yet, the three most prominent trends in the uberized corporate “translation industry” are:

  1. Reliance on machine translation,
  2. Reliance on post-processed machine translation,
  3. Reliance on “translators” who may be translating words supplied to them by an uberized translation agency while pecking on a cell phone keyboard, for example while sitting on a bathroom throne.

The third characteristic of the uberized “translation industry” that I list above is in fact taken from an article describing a new business of a young Korean entrepreneur, in which human “translators” are described exactly in this manner, while the article is celebrating the indomitable, innovative spirit of this young translation industry entrepreneur.

The translation industry is killing itself, seemingly without realizing what it is doing not only to real translators, but also to itself, or giving a damn about it.

The only way out of this death spiral for actual translators—university educated professionals who have years or decades of experience and expertise in specialized fields of human knowledge—is to make it clear to our customers that we, translators, are not a part of this “translation industry”.

We may or may not be using computer tools such as CATs (computer-assisted tools) or machine translations, but we use these tools for our own purposes. We must not allow other people, i.e. “the translation industry”, to control translators with these tools and use them against us.

We are not human post-processors of machine translation detritus for one cent a word, or possibly half a cent a word, or possibly less than that. Some pitiful human beings may be doing that, and our hearts go out to them, but human beings though they may be, translators they are not.

We do not translate while pecking away on a cell phone keyboard sitting on the bathroom commode (although some of us may be checking e-mails or Facebook or Twitter messages in this manner). Some other, pathetic human beings, because they still are that, may be attempting to translate in this manner to please “the translation industry”. This business model will go down in flames once all of the initial investors’ money has been spent.

We, human translators, are not “translation industry” slaves. We are the alternative to “the translation industry”.

And as long as we can survive the onslaught of greedy merchants who are attempting to replace human intellect by silicon brains using algorithms, assisted by unfortunate, pitiful human slaves, and as long as we refuse to become a part of “the translation industry”, our customers will have a choice between the translations provided by “the translation industry”, and translations provided by university educated human translators who have many years of experience and expertise in highly specialized translation fields.

There are markets for what “the translation industry” is selling, because some customers simply do not care that much that what they are being sold as translations is a mountain of mistranslations, as long as the translation service is really, really cheap, while ignoring the old adage that cheap things ultimately turn out to be very expensive.

And then there is also a market for real translation provided by specialized translators and specialized translation agencies who actually know what they are doing; unfortunately, not a common occurrence in the current version of the uberized “translation industry”.

And regardless of for what purpose translations are used by translation customers, we hope that most of them realize that few things may ultimately turn out to be more expensive than the cheap, machine-translated, human post-processed misinformation that is currently produced in copious amounts and labeled as translations by “the translation industry”.

The challenge for translators is to figure out how to connect with customers outside of “the translation industry”. Incidentally, translators’ associations are now facing the same decision – will they actively work for translators whom they are purporting to represent, or will they instead prefer to work for “the translation industry” by actively working against the interests of translators. Some are clearly doing the former, and some the latter.

The way I see it, the only way to escape the death spiral that “the translation industry” is persistently and untiringly creating for us and itself is to provide a valid, independent alternative to what is going on in “the translation industry”.

Unless we are able to provide such an alternative, our profession may soon be history.

Posted by: patenttranslator | April 5, 2016

Are we protecting our profession? Part 2.

The Professional Interpreter

Dear Colleagues:

On the first part of this entry we discussed the role that professional associations should play on the face of antitrust legislation and its adverse effect on our profession.  Today we will explore another crucial aspect of the profession that has been under siege for several years; and if some external forces have their way, it could set the profession back to the Stone Age.  I am referring to the very popular tendency to minimize the importance of interpreter and translator professional licenses, certifications or patents and the acceptance, and in some cases even blessing, of lesser quality paraprofessionals as the preferred providers of services by many government entities and multinational interpreting and translation corporations who make the decision to hire these individuals, who are unfit to practice the profession, based to the extremely low fee that they command.

It took interpreters and translators many decades of constant…

View original post 1,781 more words

Posted by: patenttranslator | April 1, 2016

A Brief Comparison of Machine Translation and Human Translation

Instead of pontificating about the dangers of relying on machine translation and arguing that post-processing of machine translation is a really idiotic idea and probably not the way to go, I am posting below the Japanese text of a leaflet dropped by the US Army on Japanese islands in August of 1945, machine translation of the same Japanese text (lightning-fast with GoogleTranslate), and my own quick-and-dirty translation (as a sample of human translation, which did take a little bit longer to finish).

Otherwise I have no comment for the moment, although I am hoping that the readers of my blog might have a few.

1. US Army Leaflet Urging the People of Japan to Surrender in Japanese

日本國民に告ぐ!!

〝卽刻都市より退避せよ〟

このビラに書いてあることは最も大切なことでありますから良く注意して読んで下さい。

日本國民諸君は今や重大なる秋に直面してしまつたのである。

軍部首脳部の連中が三國共同宣言の十三ヶ條よりなる寛大なる條項を以て此の無益な戦争を止めるべく機會を與へられたのであるが軍部は是を無視した。

そのためにソ聯は日本に對して宣戦を布告したのである。

亦米國は今や何人もなし得なかつた恐しい原子爆弾を發明し之を使用するに至つた。之原子爆弾はたゞ一箇だけであの巨大なB-29二千機が一囬に投下 する爆弾に匹敵する。この恐るべき事實は諸君が廣島に唯一箇だけ投下された際、如何なる状態を惹起したかはそれを見れば判るはずである。

此の無益な戦争を長引かせてゐる軍事上の凡てをこの恐るべき原子爆弾を以て破壊する。米國はこの原子爆弾が多く使用されないうち諸君が此の戦争を止 めるよう天皇陛下に請願される事を望むものである。米國大統領は曩に諸君に對して述べた十三ヶ條よりなる寛大なる條項を速やかに承諾し、より良い平和を愛 好する新日本の建設をなすよう米國は慫慂するものである。

随つて日本國民諸君は直ちに武力抵抗を中止すべきである。

然らざれば米國は断乎この原子爆弾並に、其他凡ゆる優秀なる武器を使用しこの戦争を迅速且強制的に終結せしむるであらう。

〝即(ソツ)刻(コク)都(ト)市(シ)より退(タイ)避(ヒ)

2. Machine Translation (with GoogleTranslate)

!! Which it says to Japan Kokumin

“卽刻 case urban retreat than”

Carefully read well because it is that the most important thing is that you have written in this villa.

Japan Kokumin gentlemen is the was settlement in the face of now Naru serious fall.

Although guys of military leadership is Mikuni of Womotte generous Joko consisting of ten SankeJo of the joint declaration was spatula gave the Ki會 in order to stop the futile war of 此 military ignored the Shi.

Soviet Unicom for that is the declared war and unto Japan.

Also Beikuni is ItaruTsuta the fear Shii atomic bomb who has failed now obtained without any person to use this to 發明. This atomic bomb was Isuzu Ichi箇 only in that huge B-29 two thousand aircraft comparable to the bomb to drop on one 囬. This formidable KotoMinoru is when the gentlemen was dropped only only 箇 in Hiroshima, or elicited any state should be seen if you look at the it.

The all of the military on the Iru prolongs a futile war of 此 destroy Womotte this terrible atom bomb. Beikuni is wishing that the gentlemen is petition the 此 of war to stop Mel so the Emperor of this atomic bomb is not used a lot. Beikuni President accepted promptly generous jaw section consisting of thirteen KeJo described in unto the gentlemen in 曩, is Beikuni so as to form the Shin Nihon & Co. of construction to love good a better peace intended to encourage is there.

Sui Tsute Japan Kokumin gentlemen should be stopped armed resistance immediately.

If scolded Zare Beikuni is Danko in this atomic bomb parallel, using the excellent Naru weapons loose Yahoo Legend will Ara a Schiml to end this war quickly 且強 system basis.

“Soku (graduate) time (full-bodied) capital (g) City (city) than withdrawal (Thailand) avoid (human)

3. Human Translation of the Same Leaflet

People of Japan: Attention – Evacuate Your Cities Immediately –

The text written in this bill is very important: please read it carefully!

All of the people of Japan are now facing a Fateful Autumn.

Your military leaders were given the opportunity to stop this futile war based on the generous 13 conditions of a Joint Declaration of the Military Leadership of the Three Countries at War, but the military ignored them.

That is why the Soviet Union declared that it is at war with Japan.

Moreover, the United States has invented a frightful atomic bomb that has been already used. One such atomic bomb has a destructive force equivalent to the bomb that was dropped from the large 2,000 B29 bomber. You were witnesses to the destruction that a single bomb dropped on Hiroshima has caused.

All the military forces prolonging this futile war will be destroyed by these terrible atomic bombs. The United States is hoping that you will all petition your Emperor to end the war before many more such bombs are used. The president of the United States encourages you to approve immediately the generous thirteen conditions proposed previously in order to start building a new, peace loving Japan.

Consequently, the Japanese people must stop armed resistance immediately.

Otherwise, the United States is determined to use these formidable weapons as well as other excellent weapons to force this war to a rapid conclusion.

 – EVACUATE YOUR CITIES IMMEDIATELY – 

 

I needed to book a hotel yesterday.

I knew which hotel I wanted because I stayed in it before. It’s a very convenient hotel because it is not far from the airport and you can easily walk to a metro station that will take you downtown in minutes, or to a tram line if you need a shop nearby. It’s kind of dated and faded, but the rooms are big and clean, the bed is really big and comfortable and it has a big shower in the bathroom. And in the restaurant downstairs they serve a good breakfast, included in the price, of course, and the dinner, which you have to pay for extra, of course, was good too the last time I stayed there and I got to talk to some interesting people who were sitting across the table from me the last time I had a dinner there.

Most importantly, it’s cheap, just what a cheap guy like me needs. It’s probably a little cheaper because the management did not figure out how to put WiFi in every room the last time I was there – you have to go to a room downstairs to be able to get on your laptop. But then I figured, I could use the data on my iPhone if I needed Internet because I would be mostly sleeping there anyway, right?

It took me a while to remember the name of the hotel, but when I finally did, I went directly to its web page – and to my surprise, they had no vacancies. Maybe they have some kind of a convention there, or maybe they are finally renovating the hotel and putting WiFi in every room. But the web page had a helpful link to hotels nearby, so I clicked on the link, and voila – there was another hotel, a smaller but newer one, located only a few hundred yards from the one I knew.

So I went to the web page of that hotel because I really wanted to stay in that location. It’s not only that it’s convenient to the airport and not too far from downtown by public transport. Full disclosure: I used to live in that city for quite a few years, a long, long time ago, and I wanted to be able to walk up the hill about a mile to the street where I used to live when I was young to wallow in rich nostalgia while wondering about things that might have been had my life taken a turn in another direction a long, long time ago.

I know it’s crazy, but I sometime like doing things like that.

The hotel brought to me by the link looked newer and fancier and it seemed to cost 20 dollars more, but I figured I probably had no choice. So I started booking a room. But the web page was unimpressive, the colors were washed out and the design was ugly and so counter-intuitive that it was in fact a little difficult to figure out what the real price was.

I don’t know about you, but when I have doubts about the price, I get suspicious. So I went back to Google and it took me to Hotels.com, of course, where else. Just for the heck of it I clicked on the same hotel that was linked to the one that was fully booked. Unlike the web page of the actual hotel, this web page was very easy to navigate, the colors and the design were not torture for my eyes, and it looked like a nice, comfortable room was only 10 dollars more than in the old hotel, not 20 dollars more. So I finally booked the room that I needed.

Why am I telling you all that? What does it have to do with translators or “the translation business?”

Maybe nothing, and maybe a lot. After I booked the room, I went to the booking agency’s blog – I do strange things like that sometime – and I found out from the post that I was reading on it that although just about every hotel has a website from which one can book a room, some 75% of bookings in hotels are made through various popular booking agency sites.

One reason for that must be that unlike the owners or managers of many hotels, the managers of booking sites put a lot of thought, effort and money into the booking sites for hotels that make them good money, unlike many translators, who should be the owners and managers of their skills and expertise, but who too often forget to put enough thought, effort, and yes, even money into their websites (if they even have one) and other forms of marketing and advertising.

A hotel booking agency must have a contract with the hotels it is marketing and advertising and its take is about 20 percent of the cost of the room. That’s a lot of money that the hotel is losing to the agency due to managerial incompetence, year, after year, after year.

Most translation agencies’ take is about 50 percent and in the globalized “translation industry”, some manage to grab even more. Unlike agencies in “the translation industry” who prefer to call themselves “LSPs” as in “Language Services Providers”, hotel booking agencies do not falsely claim that they are “hotel room providers”. The guests obviously know that the real service providers are the hotel owners, desk clerks, bell boys and chamber maids, not the hotel booking agencies.

Hotel booking agencies don’t need to pretend that they are what they are not.

They simply concentrate on their expertise, which lies in gathering of and maintaining current information, promoting hotel websites through search engine optimization and other types of marketing and advertising, and of course making sure that they get paid well and on time. They must be also constantly trying to figure out how to make more money by adding other services for which they could charge a commission, maybe through agreements with car rental companies or tour operators. That must be how it works these days in a world that is interconnected through Internet where everybody is interdependent on everybody else.

Translation agencies, on the other hand, need to pretend constantly all kinds of things that are simply not true. They call themselves “language services providers” and sometime even “language providers”, as if their customers were pitiful mutes.

They are also big on “language technology”, which means mostly machine translation, the result of which may or may not mean what was in the original language. They are furiously trying to figure out how to sell machine translation, which has been available for free on the Internet already for a couple of decades, to clients for good money. There is so much money in these markets, they keep saying on the blogs, I forgot how many tens of billions of dollars these wonderful markets are worth according to them.

They are saying that in order to gain these markets, they are developing their “domain expertise”, which means MT engines for specific fields, such as advertising or patent translation. But since the only way to know whether a machine translation says more or less the same thing as the text in the original language is to have the whole thing basically retranslated by a human translator who possesses a human brain (as opposed to zombie translators whose brains are atrophied), they are trying to turn human translators into what they call “machine translation post-processors” who would be paid much, much less than actual translators.

Human translators constantly complain on social media about the status quo in the translation industry. But how many of them have realized that unless they make it possible to be found directly by clients, unless they can find work for themselves without the intermediary of the translation agencies, they will be completely dependent on the translator booking agencies, who are equivalent to but infinitely more domineering in “the translation industry” than the hotel booking agencies are in the hotel and hospitality industry.

Human translators constantly emphasize on social media that they are professionals and that they should be treated as such.

But how many behave like professionals? Would a professional simply use a free e-mail address on Hotmail? That would be like a real estate agent who comes in an old, battered piece of junk car to meet a client buying an expensive house.

Would a professional look for work on blind auction sites such as Proz where a crowd of hungry translators must be fighting over who will get some work today based on who will ultimately come up with the lowest price?

Would a professional agree to interact with a booking agency through “portals” based on extremely constricting and often illegal agreements that sometime treat translators as if they were nothing more than slaves? Would a professional sign a clause stipulating that if the booking agency decides in its wisdom to sue a translator, the translator will pay “reasonable attorney’s fee” of the booking agency, on top of whatever other penalties may be demanded?

I think not. A beginner might do all of those things to have some work, any work at all. Once the beginner starts thinking like a professional, he or she would start acting like one, which might include among things:

  1. Getting a good specific Internet domain that makes it possible for clients looking for precisely the kind of service that a professional translator is providing to find this translator without the intermediary of a translation agency.
  1. Having a well functioning website that makes it possible for a client to actually find a professional translator without the intermediary of a translation agency.
  1. Trying to determine who the direct clients are, where they are, and spending as much effort and time as was spent previously bidding on blind auction sites to figure out how to contact these clients to offer them professional services directly, without an intermediary.
  1. Broadening the scope of services by entering into agreements with other translators of other languages and in other translation fields, or with translators who can replace or help him or her temporarily, for example when there is too much work, or when a professional translator wants to take a break or go on a vacation.
  1. A professional does not say “no, I don’t do that” to a client who has a translation that needs to be done. If a client has the money to pay for the service, a professional translator will figure out how to get it done through another translator if need be, so that both of these professionals make enough money. Otherwise, the client will have no choice but to take his or her chances with “the translation industry”.

A professional hotel manager understands that a good website that works the way it is supposed to work means that instead of relying on booking agencies for 75% of the bookings in the hotel, 75% of the rooms in the hotel are booked by the guests directly from the hotel’s website and only maybe 25% will come from booking agencies. A professional hotel manager understands that this will do wonders for the bottom line, while exactly the same services will be provided as before.

It so happened that because the hotel manager of the hotel where I wanted to stay was incompetent, at least when it came to the hotel’s website, a customer who absolutely wanted to stay in his hotel left his website and booked a room through a booking agency and the hotel thus lost probably at least 30 percent of the potential revenue from this particular transaction.

Just like the job of a professional hotel manager is to make sure that potential clients do not have to rely on hotel booking agencies, the job of a professional translator is not only to translate, but also to reduce dependence on the translator booking agencies as much as possible.

Different people will use different means to attain this goal, but it should be a no-brainer that complete dependence on a booking agent is a bad thing, no matter what business you are in.

Posted by: patenttranslator | March 29, 2016

Are we protecting our profession? Part 1.

The Professional Interpreter

Dear Colleagues:

Every now and then something happens in our profession that makes me wonder if we are truly doing what is best for all of us: individually and collectively as interpreters and translators.  In fact, this happened recently when I learned, like many of you, that the American Translators Association had revisited the antitrust legislation issue and had reviewed its policy.  As expected, ATA followed its traditional pattern of protecting the “interests” of the association over the interests of its individual members or the profession, and adopted a policy that clearly observes antitrust legislation as is, without questioning it.   It is not clear to me how the association arrived to this resolution to endorse everything the government wants, and is included in the legislation and case law, without first seeking a legal opinion from attorneys who disagree with the current antitrust laws or their interpretation by the government.  As…

View original post 1,148 more words

Posted by: patenttranslator | March 19, 2016

What Are the Rules for Paying Translators’ Invoices?

Just like there is no such thing as “the going rate” for translation, because “the going rate” depends on how much or how little a client, (or an agency, which is not really the same thing as a client when you think about it), needs you and how much or little you are willing to accept for your work, at least in the United States there are really no official rules when it comes to how long translators should wait for payment of their invoices.

In the real world (non-translating world), payment is made before or when a service or a product is purchased, or immediately after a service has been provided. When you go to a shop and buy a teddy bear for your favorite niece, you have to pay before they’ll let you take the teddy bear with you, either with cash or a credit card. Otherwise you would be considered a thief and they could call the police on you. The same is true about air-conditioning and dishwasher repair people: you have to pay them when the problem has been fixed.

Prepayment or Payment When Service Is Rendered

This is true in the translating world as well, but unfortunately, on a much smaller scale.

I sometimes ask new clients to prepay for a translation, but only if it is an individual who has found me through my website and whose credit worthiness simply cannot be ascertained, for example a patent agent who has a professional practice, but who only has a modest website and works as a sole proprietor rather than for a patent law firm, or an individual who wants me to translate a personal document.

Should such a customer refuse to pay in advance, it would be a pretty clear sign to me that I don’t want this work because the chances that I may not be paid are high. I think it’s interesting that prepayment has never been refused to me so far in these cases. I do not demand prepayment from translation agencies because I do not consider them clients; they do not behave as clients normally do, and very few would be likely to agree to prepayment.

It sure is nice to get money before we even start working. If the cost of the translation is only a few hundred dollars, I usually ask for prepayment in full. If it is more than a thousand dollars or several thousand dollars, I usually ask for a down payment of 50% and the remainder “upon delivery of translation”. You can structure the procedure in such a way that once the translation is finished, you send an e-mail to the client informing him that the translation will be e-mailed upon receipt of the remaining balance. All you need for that is a PayPal account.

This is a very safe method, but one should keep in mind that demanding prepayment is a double-edged sword. Customers don’t like it when they are asked to pay in advance, although most people do understand why it is necessary. So I generally do this only for customers who are private individuals and only the first time. If they come back with another order, I invoice them without asking for down payment because their credit worthiness has already been established as far as I am concerned.

Payment Within 30 Days Is Generally Considered a Prompt Payment

When I started working as a freelance translator in 1987 in San Francisco, I was working exclusively for translation agencies. (How time flies when you’re having fun!) The general rule back then was that an invoice would be paid by a translation agency within 30 days, although it often meant 30 days plus a few more, taking into account the time it takes to receive a check by mail.

I still believe in this rule. When I work as a translator for an agency, I always specify before I accept a job that my payment terms are 30 days net, and I start asking what happened to the payment after about 35 days.

When I get paid early, my heart is overflowing with love and gratitude and the agency goes on my list of preferred agencies.

If it takes considerably longer than 5 weeks, the agency goes on my list of non-preferred agencies, which means that unless I am really, really hungry, I am likely to tell them that I’m too busy next time, even if in reality I would be able to fit their job in if I tried a little harder.

When other translators work for me (and I am “the agency”), I usually pay them within a week or so if it is a small amount because I know that even a small amount will make their day, and it does not really cost me anything. Because I always specify that I pay within 30 days, I get very nervous if their invoice is close to 30 days old and I don’t have the money to pay them.

Fortunately, most translators now accept payment by credit card through PayPal, so I just pay with a credit card through PayPal and most of the time still get paid by the client before the credit card bill is due.

(So now you know that I am not a very fast payer, but neither am I a slow payer).

Some Direct Clients and Agencies Are Very Prompt Payers

Over the years I have worked for many translation agencies and many direct clients who have paid me very quickly, and I still work for several such direct clients and agencies. In fact, last month I received a check from a direct client for a translation from German ten days after I sent my translation and invoice, and today I received a check for something I translated from Japanese seven days ago. (My heart is overflowing with love and gratitude!)

I always quote two rates when I work for direct clients: a non-rush rate and a rush rate, which is 45% higher than the rate for regular turnaround (the rush turnaround time takes up to twice as long).

The wording “up to” is important. If I am not very busy and I manage to finish the translation within the “rush turnaround time”, I send the translation to the client within the rush turnaround deadline while charging the lower rate and some clients reciprocate by sending the payment early.

The arrangement with two prices is very suitable for patent translations for a number of reasons. First of all, when I provide two cost estimates to a client, usually a patent lawyer, my client runs both of my cost estimates by his client and unless the case is urgent, the client usually goes for the lower cost. Time is sometimes not that important when it comes to patent translation, for example when a law firm has several months to file a new patent application for which my translation is needed.

This means that I am making 45% less than I potentially could be making, but it also means that I can fit in other work if there suddenly is more work for me. It also means that if I deliver my translation sooner than expected, I am rightfully perceived as a good guy, which has its advantages, such as reciprocation by a client who decides to pay early.

However, I believe that this kind of arrangement is likely to work only for direct clients. I can only raise my cost by a cent or two if I accept a rush translation from a translation agency.

Some Translation Agencies and Even Direct Clients Take Forever to Pay (More than 45 or Even 60 Days)

In addition to lowering the rates that are often paid to translators now by at least 20% within the last decade or so, the corporate translation agency model has made it all but impossible for independent translators who are dependent on this agency model to make a living in other ways, such as through demeaning and often illegal “Non-Disclosure Agreements” designed to prevent competition from actual translators while turning them into indentured servants.

One of the ways “the translation industry” is also making it impossible for translators to survive is the fact that “the 30 days net rule” for payment of translators’ invoices, which used to be a standard for decades, has been for the most part eliminated in the corporate translation agency model.

I don’t work for this type of agency anymore, so I may be exaggerating the problem to some extent, but from what I read in translator discussion groups, especially on LinkedIn, the clause stating that, “the payment of invoices will be made by the 15th of each month 45 days after the end of the month” is becoming a standard part of contracts that corporate translation agencies are now asking translators to sign, as I wrote in my previous post.

Since translators are often also forced to submit only one summary invoice per month on a specified date, this means that they may have to wait significantly longer than two months to get paid for their work if they agree to these terms.

Not only is this an incredibly long period of time to go without pay, but this arrangement contains another major risk: it may be difficult for a translator who has not been paid for the work done during the last month to refuse to accept new “assignments” during the next month(s). Especially if these assignments are for the same project, saying “no” to them takes a lot of courage. The translator may be saying to herself: what if they replace me with another translator on this project? It is tempting and seemingly safer to accept new work. But saying “yes” is in a way even riskier because the translator may all of a sudden start worrying about not getting paid for a much larger amount.

Saying no by insisting on getting paid first before accepting a new translation is actually safer in this case because it limits our exposure to potential non-payment, but this is much easier to do if the payment term is 30 days, rather than “45 days after the end of the month”.

I have found that when it comes to payment of invoices, the general rule is that larger companies, both agencies and direct clients, usually take longer to pay than smaller entities. That is one reason why very small, small and medium-sized companies are my preferred clients.

In a company with a corporate structure, the translator can be referred to the accounting department, which can be just an answering machine. When accounting gets back to you, it may be just an e-mail stating that the invoice will be paid by such and such date and that’s the end of it. There is much more accountability in smaller companies, whether these are translation agencies or law firms, and I usually find the highest level of honesty and accountability when I work for an independent practitioner who is often the sole proprietor of the business, such as a patent agent or a medical doctor, because they feel personally responsible since they are the actual people who promised to pay on time.

Some Direct Clients Also Take a Long Time to Pay – But Generally Not As Long As Agencies

Unlike some translation agencies that are based on a corporate model, large patent law firms do not ask me to agree to unacceptable payment terms in writing. Instead, they simply sign my standard work order agreement specifying the condition that the payment of my invoice is due in 30 days net, but then they simply ignore it. In response to inquiries, their accounting department may finally get back to me with an e-mail saying that payment will be made by such and such date.

I can live with a longer waiting time if I work for a corporate direct client because I can charge such a client a higher rate than what I would be getting from an agency, and also because even corporate patent law firms that take a long time to pay usually still pay me within 45 days (not 60 or more days as may be the case with some translation agencies).

If it is a translation agency, I think it is best to pass on offers of work with punishing payment terms, not only because the rates are much lower, but because the risk of non-payment of a large amount from a broker are for obvious reasons much higher than when one is working for the actual client.

Over the last almost three decades, I have been “stiffed” by several translation agencies, based both here in the United States and abroad, but so far (knock on wood!) I have never been stiffed by a patent law firm.

 

As translation agencies grow bigger and become more and more aggressive, they have become a different kind of animal, similar to and in some respect worse than the Uber Corporation and very different from what a typical translation agency used to be only a few years ago.

As most people know by now, Uber is a multinational online transportation company, headquartered in San Francisco, which operates the Uber mobile app that allows consumers with smartphones to submit trip requests that are then submitted to drivers who use their own cars to provide the same service as taxi drivers. According to Wikipedia, as of May 28, 2015, the service was available in 58 countries and 300 cities worldwide. So many countries have started copying this business model that the business trend is now referred to as Uberification.

Evidence that the Uber-model is in full swing in what is now referred to as “the translation industry” can also be found in my own e-mail.

Ten years ago, I started translating patents for a translation agency in Europe, mostly Japanese patents about medical devices and pharmaceuticals. As I don’t seem to have a Confidentiality Agreement in my file for this agency, it probably did not send me such an agreement. I only received “Important Instructions” from the agency ten years ago, admonishing translators not to forget things like running a spell checker (???).

The instructions from ten years ago amount to about 400 words and fit easily on a single page if you print them out. One of these “Important Instructions” in fact says, “Have your used the spell checker on your work?” (Gee, thanks guys, where would I be without your instructions?)

I used to work for this agency, although only occasionally, between 2006 and 2010. I see that the last time I worked for it was in 2010 and that back then they paid me five weeks from the date of my invoice. I stopped working for them six years ago because the e-mails I kept receiving from them were a clear indication to me that I did not really want to work for these people.

Every few months I would receive a new e-mail from a brand new agency coordinator (the old ones kept disappearing), asking me again for my résumé, while also providing a wealth of information about a new invoicing system, new payment terms and other changes and updates. Some of these instructions were sent only to cancel the previous instructions and replace the old batch of helpful advice and directives with new ones. It would have created a confusing situation for me had I still been translating for them. But as I said, I haven’t replied to any of their missives for about six years now.

Although I have been diligently ignoring their e-mails for the last six years, within the last ten days I have received the same e-mail (three times already) from them: a zipped subdirectory with brand new instructions once again. I do not respond to e-mails from agencies that I don’t want to work for, but I usually open and read the file because I am by nature a curious and inquisitive person.

The latest zipped subdirectory informs me that since the agency is opening a new office in the United States (Yay!), I need to sign a few more forms for them, as well as a “Contract-NDA”, which unlike the helpful “Important Instructions” that were only about 400 words long ten years ago now has seven pages and a total of 3,813 words.

A separate form, titled “Payment Terms for Vendors” states that I may submit “only one invoice per month before the 10th of the next month” and that “the payment of invoices will be made by the 15th of each month 45 days after the end of the month where the invoice has been sent” (it says “where” instead of when).

So, instead of paying for each invoice in about a month (which is still a pretty long time), the corporatized and Uberized fighters in “the translation industry” now pay the poor people who work for them in two months. Or maybe in three months: since only one invoice can be submitted on the 10th of the next month, “the vendors” may even get paid for their work close to three months after the translation was delivered.

How long do Uber drivers have to wait to get paid? I don’t know, but I am sure that unlike “vendors” working for corporatized and Uberized translation agencies in “the translation industry”, it cannot possibly be two to three months. Even the Uber Corporation probably understands that unlike “vendors” who work for corporatized translation agencies, people who drive cars for them need to eat every day and have bills that will simply not wait two to three months.

Businesses like Uber, Airbnb, EasyCar Club, or Girl Meets Dress are based on the idea that a new type of economy, often called share economy, can be created to replace old business models that may no longer work very well in a world where everything is interconnected with everything else because just about everybody has a smart phone. Just about everybody can drive a car, has a house or apartment and can part with his car or her dress for a day or two in exchange for some money, so why not take advantage of it and organize things through Internet by using an app to make a lot of money for the Organizers.

The threshold for participating in this kind of business as a service provider in a shared economy is very low. You basically only need to have something that most people have – a car, an apartment, or a dress – and a pulse, to be a service provider.

The modern model of translation agencies in “the translation industry” is based on a similar concept and a similar assumption, namely that since everybody is on the Internet, many people who “know” two languages can be translators. The translation business can thus be organized along similar principles as for example the Uber transportation business.

But things are not that simple even in the Uber world. The traditional model in the old economy has a few advantages that are difficult, if not impossible, to replicate in a sharing economy. For example, while it is not that easy to drive a taxi and you generally have to be a really good driver and go through a thorough evaluation process to qualify for the job, especially in a big city, there is no telling what kind of driver is driving an Uber customer.

Because the job entry threshold for Uber drivers is so low, some drivers may be mentally ill, criminally insane, and some of them may even be psychopathic murderers. That was the case of an Uber driver who recently went on a shooting spree in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and killed six people, while continuing to pick up new Uber customers.

The question that I am asking myself is: who are these “vendors” who are able to continue working for the new type of corporatized translation agencies, which in some respects are treating their “vendors” even worse than Uber is treating its drivers?

The “vendors” who work for the new type of corporatized translation agencies may not be as dangerous to their customers as an insane or psychopathic Uber driver who happens to be a killer. But I think that it is unlikely that many of these “vendors” are professional translators who have a university degree and many years of translation experience in a specialized field.

Ten years ago when I started working for the translation agency that inspired my silly post today by sending me a new “Confidentiality Agreement” that is almost four thousand words long, while extending the payment terms from 30 days net to at least 60, possibly 90 days, depending on when “the vendor” is allowed to submit an invoice, my hope was that I was making a connection with a specialized translation agency that would come to value and appreciate the specialized translation services that I was providing as an experienced translator of patents from Japanese, German, French and other languages.

After all, the threshold for entry to the profession of a patent translator who can competently translate Japanese or German patents dealing with medical devices, pharmaceuticals, electronics and other fields is not exactly as low as the threshold for entry to the job of an Uber car driver.

But as the translation agency eventually decided to Uberify its business, I had to stop working for it years ago because the business model of this particular translation agency made it impossible for me to continue working for it. This translation agency’s business model is incompatible with my business model.

It is fairly safe to assume that most experienced translators will do the same, because what else can they do if they want to be able to pay their bills? This means that the type of agency that I am describing in my silly post today will probably then be forced to work mostly with beginners and subprime translators who are likely to be able to deliver only work of questionable quality.

Paradoxically, this also creates an opportunity for translation businesses, specialized agencies and individual translators, whose business model is not based on the Uber model of a sharing economy, but instead continues the traditions inherited from the old economy.

After all, the AirBnb model has not put traditional hotels or bed and breakfast establishments out of business yet, and regular taxis are still patronized by customers who are willing to pay a little bit more for better safety combined with convenience. I even see a generational divide here: for example, my son always uses Uber service when he needs a ride somewhere; I always use a regular taxi and probably always will. I don’t use taxis that often, and my own safety is more important to me than a lower cost.

I see a kind of split in “the translation industry” that is similar to what has already been occurring for quite a while in other industries, a split that will result in two types of translation providers, if we want to use this term:

Translation agencies who have jumped on the Uber,  AirBnb and Girl Meets Dress bandwagon and rely mostly on “vendors”, (the preferred term in “the translation industry” since the industry does not like the word “translators”), whose threshold to entry into the translation profession is very low, are on one side of the great divide.

On the other side are translation agencies and individual translators whose businesses continue to be anchored mostly in the traditions and practices of the old economy, where translation agencies and translators compete primarily on competence and expertise instead of competing mostly based on rock-bottom prices and where the threshold for entry into the profession of a specialized translator is and always will be quite high.

 

Posted by: patenttranslator | March 8, 2016

A Rose by Any Other Name Is Not Necessarily Still a Rose

Freelancer, vendor, assignment, LSP …

These and other words and abbreviations are used not only by translation agencies, but also by translators on a daily basis. Few of us seem to pay much attention to what these words really mean and why they are used the way they are by translation agencies, and sometimes also by translators.

Freelancer

When people ask you, “What is it that you do?” and you say, “I am a freelance translator”, do these people see you as an intrepid, independent professional and entrepreneur, or are they mostly wondering, How does somebody who doesn’t know where their next gig is coming from going to be able to pay the bills? They probably know a kid, maybe not so young anymore, who designs websites on the side while still living in what in German is called a “Mama Hotel”, and what GoogleTranslate would more or less correctly translate as “Hotel Mama”. There are lots of these hotels also in Japan and many other countries these days for some reason. I am told that in Spanish, kids staying home forever are labeled as “having a disease called Mamitis”. When you introduce yourself as a freelancer to nosy people, do they see you as that kid, or as a mature business owner?

You could also describe what you do for a living as, “Owning a translation business”. But if you mostly work for middlemen who are running a tight ship in our beloved “translation industry” and who seem to have the power to force freelancers to sign incredibly constricting, demeaning, and outright illegal “Non-Disclosure Agreements”, are you really a business owner?

There is a simple test that can probably be used to answer this question. Most business owners, regardless of what kind of business they have, can generally sell their business, and many in fact do so when they decide to retire. One of the perks of having a business is that most business owners are creating a value that is transferable. Are you running your business in such a way that you will be able to sell it when and if you decide to retire?

If not, well, maybe you are indeed just a freelancer.

Vendor

A vendor is somebody who sells something. It can be just about anything. There are all kinds of vendors in our world: hotdog vendors, vendors at a lemonade stand (who are sometimes just little kids learning basic business rules), and vendors who sell all kinds of services to all kinds of people and businesses.

It’s one thing when an accounting department of a business that needs to purchase a number of specialized services calls me a vendor. Since I mostly work for patent law firms, people working in law firm accounting departments call me “vendor” every year, typically when it’s a new customer asking for my tax identification number. I don’t feel that there is anything wrong with that. After all, the law firm is paying for the services provided by a number of other specialized businesses, while the cost of that service is then transferred to the law firm’s client. So the law firm’s accounting department naturally needs a generic name that includes all types of services provided by specialized businesses, a generic name that fits beautifully on a tax form.

But isn’t it true that translation agencies, if we can still dare to call them that now that they’ve renamed themselves “LSPs”, make money only from the work of translators who work for these translation agencies by translating documents for them, which is something that these agencies can’t do on their own? Would it be too much to ask translation agencies to try and remember that the work that makes them money is called translating and the people who do this work that makes them money, the work that they can’t do themselves, are called translators?

If they can’t remember that we are translators and keep calling us vendors instead, aren’t they making very clear to us that as far as they are concerned, we are not really all that different from lemonade vendors, or pretzel vendors, or hotdog vendors? Is it possible that instead of calling us translators”, they prefer to call us “vendors” to “bring us to heel” as Hillary Clinton might put it?

Assignment

“Assignment” sounds so exciting! Agent 007 has been getting exciting assignments in James Bond movies since the 1960s, and dangerous as these assignments are, none of the actors who played James Bond, from Sean Connery in the ‘60s to Daniel Craig who played him last year, ever turned down a single one of them. Well, how could they have turned them down when they had so much fun on each of these assignments, including playing with super-cool guns, cars and gizmos and getting laid by all of those beautiful actresses?

Maybe that’s why translation agencies call a translation gig “an assignment” instead of “a translation”. They’re just trying to make things a little bit more exciting for us!

Or could it be that they are using generic names for everything instead of calling a translation a translation because “translation” is a concept that they don’t clearly understand? Why would I be saying such a silly thing? Well, in all the time that I have been translating patents, unless it was something that already had an English summary, translation agencies have been referring to everything that was in Japanese by the generic name “a document”.

I don’t remember ever receiving an e-mail from a translation agency that would be packed with specific information identifying what’s in it, for example something like this:

“Hi Steve, we have a new translation for you if you have the time, it’s a Japanese utility model about a medical device, namely “Ultrasonic Device for Measuring the Volume of Damaged Nerves Indicating Direct Correlation with the Amount of Received Spam”, not very complicated, right up your alley”.

Instead, the e-mails I receive these days tend to sound more like this:

“Dear Linguist:

I hope you are doing well. I am reaching out to you because we have a document for translation from Japanese to English. We need to have this document translated by 10 AM tomorrow. Do you use Trados and what would be your rate for this assignment?”

The reason why agency coordinators use the word “document” is that they have absolutely no idea what “the document” is about, unless it has an English summary, or there are some figures at the end of it, which thankfully is sometimes the case. And I would be dumbfounded if a generic agency project manager could tell the difference between a patent application, a utility model and an issued patent, let alone if a PM could tell what “the document” is about and whether it seems to be difficult or not so difficult to translate. As I have indicated, it has not happened to me yet in almost three decades. Also, have you noticed how the dramatic introduction “I am reaching out to you” has become very popular recently in mass e-mails that are sent by generic “LSPs” to dozens of unnamed “Dear Linguists”?

It’s just my theory, but I think that they do it again mostly to jazz up our boring lives and make things a little bit more exciting for Dear Linguists.

LSP

This is a relatively recent abbreviation invented by “the translation industry” as another generic term, in this case an abbreviation that only translation agencies and translators are familiar with, aimed at replacing the term “translation agency”, which is a perfectly understandable and neutral term that had been in use for many decades prior to the invention of this abbreviation, an abbreviation that is all but completely incomprehensible to outsiders.

LSP is a very good replacement for the term “translation agency” for a number of reasons. First of all, most people outside of “the translation industry” have absolutely no idea that “LSP” stands for “Language Services Provider“. Thus it is a perfect way to get rid of the misleading term “translation agency”, which indicates, or at least strongly suggests, that an “LSP” is just a broker rather than an actual provider of translations.

If the customer does not realize that the “LSP” is just a broker using far-flung “freelancers” who may be located somewhere in low-wage countries, (and we have a lot of those on our blue planet, don’t we?), that is clearly a good thing for the translation agency, I mean for the “LSP”.

Secondly, the fact that so many translators have started using the term “LSP” on their own, even in passionate discussions on social media, is proof positive that whoever came up with the clever idea to replace the term translation agency by an abbreviation that is incomprehensible to outsiders was a translation industry genius.

Once the general public starts using the abbreviation “LSP”, and maybe even eventually learns what it stands for, the tenuous connection between the word translator, as in the person who does the translating work, and the client, as in the person who needs translations and pays for them, will be successfully and completely severed and the concept of an “LSP” will replace the concept of “a translator” not only in the minds of clients, but also in the minds of translators.

In spite of what Shakespeare’s Juliet expressed so beautifully in the balcony scene,

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;”

the words that we use for the multi-faceted reality surrounding us are really important. So important that one way to interpret Shakespeare’s play would be to come to the conclusion that the main reason why Romeo and Juliet tragically die in the end was that they did not realize how important words are in the real world.

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