The argument that “GoogleTranslate” translates more words per minute than all human translators in one year is much bandied around as a rationale for why human translators must adopt machine translation (MT) as a tool for their own work not only in PR materials (commercial propaganda) of “the translation industry”, but now also on some translators’ blogs, usually blogs of former translators working for “the translation industry”, or of those who use their blogs as a marketing tool to attract newbie translators to their paid webinars and other offerings. 

This argument is usually accompanied by statements like these:

  1. The market for human translation and for MT is worth X billion dollars already and it is growing by X percent a year.
  1. Translators and “the translation industry” have already lost 99% of our market opportunity to Google and Microsoft.
  1. We, human translators, must embrace technology instead of stubbornly resisting it and use it to work faster because that’s what clients want.
  1. Technology is progressing so quickly that MT will be “almost as good as human translation” within (fill in a number of years). MT will be just as good (or almost as good) as human translation very soon (although estimates vary, from three to 20 years from now; there has not been not much change in this respect in the last two decades or so).

Et cetera, and so on and so forth – this kind of philosophical prognostication and prophesying has been going on for quite a while now.

All of these arguments are somewhat valid, as far as they go, at least from the viewpoint of “the translation industry”, i.e. the people who buy translations from translators and sell them at a higher price to their clients. “The translation industry” would obviously love to be able to gorge itself on a bigger piece of the pie, especially since it is such a huuuge pie, as Bernie Sanders would put it. (I think that it is important to make the distinction between actual human translators and “the translation industry”; that is why I always use quotation marks when referring to this particular industry.)

Like many other translators, I have been using machine translations as a tool for my own purposes – mostly to give me an idea of the material that I am about to translate – for more than a decade.

But based on the experience of this human translator who has been trying to figure out whether I can use machine translation to supplement my own income, namely income derived from my own human translations and from the work of translators who kindly work for me in exchange for the money I pay them (which also makes me part of “the translation industry”), none of the arguments listed above really makes a whole lot of sense.

First of all, it is clear to me that nobody can put a number on the “value of the market for translation”, whether it is human translation or machine translation.

If one looks at the constantly growing global population of people who need strong headache medicine because their life is constant suffering and pain, the market for Percocet, a strong, combined opioid/non opioid pain reliever, would be certainly on the order of several billion people, and thus could be valued at many trillions of dollars. And although different pharmacies and stores charge different prices, according to an answer that I found on Yahoo, Percocet costs about 300 dollars (I assume this is per bottle, not per pill, at least not yet). Unfortunately, this means that 99% of the people who might want to use it because their life is constant agony, torture and pain cannot afford it. In third world countries, it would be more like 99.99% of people who are unable to purchase this wonderful drug.

The high price of Percocet and other opioid and non-opioid drugs is thus probably why most people simply opt for booze.

The estimate of the monetary value of the worldwide market for human translation is similarly nonsensical if 99.99% of people who might benefit from translations can’t afford to pay for them. Since human translation, especially human translation obtained from highly educated and highly experienced translators, is very expensive, even many people who could afford human translation decide to do without it and opt instead for machine translation, or no translation at all.

And even though what passes these days for human translation, namely the stuff “the translation industry” is selling to initially unsuspecting clients, is somewhat less expensive, it is still expensive and will remain so no matter how many trillion words “must be translated”, supposedly because they are simply there.

The high cost of human translation is also one reason why “the translation industry” has been telling us for quite a few years now that the market for machine translation is worth X billion dollars and that Google and Microsoft have already captured 99% of this market while both translators and “the translation industry” were asleep.

But there is a good reason why Google and Microsoft have quasi-monopolized this market: the MT service provided by Google and Microsoft is free, unless you need huge quantities of MT, in which case the cost is still quite miniscule.

So how do we as translators compete on price with a service that has been free already for more than a decade as “translation industry” entrepreneurs?

I remember that about 20 years ago, when machine translation that almost made sense, at least some of the time, was still a new-fangled invention, a patent lawyer who found my website online called me to inquire how much would I charge to edit a machine translation of a Japanese patent for him. He insisted that the machine translation was “pretty good”, but that it still needed some editing. I remember that he said the words “pretty good” two or three times.

I declined to help him because I did not want to downgrade the value of my services to such a low level at that point, and also because I did not know what else to say and how much to ask for.

Ever since then, or for about 20 years, I have been intermittently trying to figure out how to use MT to actually make money by editing it as a highly experienced, human translator, knowledgeable in the field of patent translation, given that I have been working in this field for almost three decades. Specifically, I have been trying to figure out how to make money from MT not by working as a slave for a “translation industry” intermediary, but on my own, when I work for a direct client.

As you have probably guessed by know, even though I would find this kind of work quite distasteful, I will do just about anything for money.

But although I must have offered this kind of service dozens of times, so far there have been no takers. I don’t offer post-editing of MT detritus very often. But if I feel that the client is very “price-sensitive” (cheap, looking for a bargain), in order to get my foot in the door, so to speak, I sometimes offer several options to a new potential client:

1) A full translation (option A), which might be for example a thousand dollars,

2) Translation of claims and the text describing figures, which might be for example a hundred and fifty dollars (option B),

3) Post-edited machine translation (option C) for the same price as option B, usually if it has been a slow month.

This sometimes results in takers for option B, but so far, there have been no takers for option C. The problem is, basically all of my clients and even potential clients not only know how to get a free machine translation of the text of a patent, but they also know that edited machine translation would be of such a low quality that it still will not really be worth the money that I am asking for it.

Which does not mean that there is no market there for edited (post-processed) crap, which will still be crap, although on an improved level – we could call it high-grade crap.

But since my experience is basically anecdotal, it may be applicable only to the relatively narrow field of patent translation. There must be some materials that do not really need to be translated, but that could make managers of some enterprises look very sophisticated, value-conscious and forward-looking and all that if they could show graphs and flowcharts and other props showing how much information they have been able to obtain with translations at a very low cost.

Translation of materials that do not really need to be translated, but that might make management look good if these materials were translated, is probably the prime market for post-edited machine translations.

But is there a market for post-edited translations of patent applications? My experience so far seems to indicate that the market for post-edited translations of patent applications does not exist because these post-edited translations would need to be highly accurate.

For better or worse, there just does not seem to be a market in the field of patent translation for what one might call high-grade crap, or slightly less inaccurate crap, which would be the logical result of applying the MT post-editing approach to patent translation.

So since there does not seem to be an easy way to monetize post-editing of machine translations in my field, I don’t think I will worry about the fact that I am leaving 100% of the MT market to Google and Microsoft.

What about your field, dear fellow-translators? Do you think that there is a market for post-editing of machine translations in your field?


 All physicians make mistakes, both of commission and omission, and sooner or later one will be fatal.

Greg Iles, Natchez Burning, Chapter 15, page 171.

Although according to a recent study by Johns Hopkins University, medical error is the third leading cause of death in the United States, after heart disease and cancer – heart disease killed 614,348 people, cancer killed 591,699 and medical error was responsible for 251,454 deaths during the period covered by the study from 2000 to 2008 – the occupation of medical doctor is still held in very high esteem and generally very well paid, at least in this country.

But in the age of blogs and social media, more and more people now dare to criticize more and more professions, including the profession of godlike MDs.

It is very easy to criticize any occupation, especially if you don’t know anything about it and don’t care how hard the person, who is doing his job as best as he can, is working.

It is also very easy to criticize a translation, any translation, and thus by extension the translator. The less the person doing the criticizing knows about foreign languages in general, and the language in question and the translation process in particular, the easier it is to tear a translation to pieces.

If a translation does not say what the person doing the criticizing knows it is supposed to say, then the translation obviously must be wrong.

A few months ago I was asked to translate a few lines from Japanese to English. It was only a couple of lines for which I still dared to ask for my standard minimum fee.

These two lines of Japanese text were written on the front and back of a Japanese credit card. I don’t remember what they said, some dumb advertising slogan about wonderful things that will come to you if you use the card, unlike with any other credit card.

But my translation was incorrect. Or so the customer said, because he had the original text that was written in English. Now, I knew that my translation was correct, as far as the meaning of the Japanese text went. But since I did not know what the original advertising text in English said, the translation appeared to be wrong. The client did not seem to know that an advertising slogan cannot be simply translated into another language, it must be changed to such an extent that it is basically rewritten, often resulting in a very different meaning.

Instead of trying to explain this simple fact through the intermediary of a project manager to the client, who I imagined was probably an important credit card company manager, I told the project manager that I was withdrawing my invoice and that I didn’t want to do this project.

The terse response of the project manager consisted of only two words, “Duly noted”. When I asked her about that particular job when she offered me a new project, she admitted that, “That client was very unreasonable”.

My instinct was telling me to stay away from this particular critic of my translation and let somebody else deal with the problem, and that’s what I did. It turned out that I was right to listen to my instincts.

It is dangerous when a client “knows” exactly what a translation should look like. For this reason, back translations can be particularly tricky, especially if a client does not know much about foreign languages and translation, which is often the case.

I used to periodically do back translations of Japanese questionnaires originally written in English and then given to Japanese focus groups for several years for a small translation agency, a one-man agency, for quite a few years. Fortunately, the guy who owned the agency knew that the best way to avoid problems with back translations is to give the translator the original text. He always sent me both the Japanese and English texts and I would look at the English one in a while as I was translating it if I was wondering how to translate something.

As a result, my translation was quite close to the original text, but it was also different enough because it was a real translation, so the client was happy. I did not ask whether the client knew that I had the text in both languages. Like a politician, I had a teleprompter at my disposal feeding me lines, but like a good politician, I was mostly improvising.

Writers who know foreign languages, such as the Czech-French author Milan Kundera who is fluent in French and English, are famously known for driving their translators crazy with often unreasonable demands. Miriam Nargala describes this in her article “The Unbearable Torment of Translation, Milan Kundera, Impersonation, and The Joke” as follows:

The novel [The Joke] has been translated into English, French, and many other languages more than once, depending on Kundera’s dissatisfaction with a particular translation (which, at first, he would support). Thus, there followed a cascade of translations (namely in French and English) as Kundera would eventually become dissatisfied even with the latest “definitive” translated version. As he famously says in an interview regarding the 1968 French translation of Žert, “rage seized me”. From then on, Kundera showed displeasure at any translator who, however briefly, would impersonate the author and take some license in translating Kundera’s work. Further, Kundera decided that only his full authorial involvement in the process would ascertain “the same authenticity” of his translations as the original Czech works. Kundera thus becomes the omnipresent, omnipotent author, himself impersonating God controlling his own creation. Finally, Kundera takes extreme measures and translates Žert into French himself. The resulting translation surprised many – editing changes are plentiful but apparent only to those who can compare the original Czech text with Kundera’s own translation. Kundera’s stance is conflicting, as he denies creativity to other translators but as the auto-translator, Kundera freely rewrites, rather than just retranslates, his own works.

What do you do as a translator with a client who is “seized by rage”? The best solution, in my opinion, is to pass the enraged client on to another translator. Kundera eventually started writing his books in French instead of Czech about 20 years ago. Unless he translates his books himself, which I doubt because I know how difficult it is to try to maintain the fluency in your native language after living in another country for decades without being able to speak your original native language, I wonder how often he is now “seized by rage” at the translators of his books from French into Czech.

Bilingual lawyers are also sometimes just as merciless critics of translations as bilingual or multilingual writers.

I remember that after I had translated a long summary of a divorce case, through a translation agency, again, a lawyer who had a Japanese last name and who must have been bilingual, was pestering me for several days by suggesting more lawyerly alternatives to my translation. I meekly agreed to every one of his suggested changes since I wanted to get paid. I also realized that although I was not getting paid for my time responding to his e-mails, he was charging his client billable hours. Presumably, the more changes he could make, the more money he made.

Mark Twain also dabbled in foreign languages, in particular German and French. He could not understand why there are three genders and so many cases with different endings for singular and plural of nouns, and he thought that the long compound nouns in German were simply hilarious. His ingenious analysis of German grammar in an article called The Awful German Language is definitely worth reading in its entirety, so I will not quote excerpts from it here.

And here is Mark Twain’s parody (I hope it is a parody) of a back translation of his own story from French into English:

Original: “There was a feller here once by the name of Jim Smiley, in the winter of ’49 or maybe it was the spring of ’50 I don’t recollect exactly, somehow, though what makes me think it was one or the other is because I remember the big flume warn’t finished when he first came to the camp; but anyway, he was the curiosest man about always betting on any thing that turned up you ever see, if he could get any body to bet on the other side; and if he couldn’t, he’d change sides.”

Back Translation: “It there was one time here an individual known under the name of Jim Smiley; it was in the winter ’49, possibly well at the spring of ’50, I no me recollect not exactly. This which me makes to believe that it was the one or the other, it is that I shall remember that the grand flume is not achieved when he arrives at the camp for the first time, but of all sides he was the man the most fond of to bet which one have seen, betting upon all that which is presented, when he could find an adversary; and when he not of it could not, he passed to the side opposed.”

Unfortunately, I can’t find the French translation, but if you know French, you can see quite clearly how Mark Twin is being unfair to his French translator.

You basically have to start a sentence with “il était une fois” even when the English text says just, “There was”, “un individu” is not a bad translation for “a fellow”, “Je ne me souviens pas” does not mean “I no me recollect not”, “achever” means “to finish” in French, not “to achieve”, as Mark Twain is implying because it’s one of the hundreds or thousands of faux amis, false friends or false cognates, between French and English – false friends who sometimes help, and sometimes lead an English speaker who is learning French astray.

Like many translators, I have heard horror stories from translators of different languages, such as Japanese or French, whose native language is English and who happened to have a boss who thought that his or her knowledge of English was superior to that of the translator.

How do you say to your boss that his English is horrible without getting fired?

Fortunately for me, most of my clients are Americans because I live in the United States, and it is very unusual for me to come across a client who understands the language from which I translate.

Although even very good doctors may sometimes make mistakes that can prove fatal, and even good translators sometimes mistranslate something, I believe that just like you have to trust your doctor instead of trying to tell him that you know a better course of treatment, you simply have to trust your translator, instead of continuing to suggest a better way to translate whatever it is that you need translated. If you know better, why don’t you translate it yourself?

If your instinct tells you that your doctor or your translator is not very good, you should trust your instinct and try to find a better doctor or better translator, because your instincts are almost always right.

But to insist that you yourself know how to treat your symptoms better than your doctor, or that you know how to translate something better than your translator, even something seemingly as simple as two lines of text on the front and back of a credit card, is folly.

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

Alice Walker

Ditch Cages

Last week, a translation agency in the UK asked me whether I would be able to accept a rush translation of a legal document from German to English. They said in their first e-mail that they found my information in the ATA directory, that the document was about 500 words and that they needed it the same day by 5 PM. Greenwich mean time, probably, which would mean that I would have just a few hours for the translation.

Ten or twenty years ago, it would be a very simple negotiation. I would tell them my payment terms, and they would either send me the translation, or not if my terms were not acceptable. Since it was a rush translation, I might have asked for a couple of cents more than usual. Ten or 20 years ago, that was it, and I almost always ended up accepting the translation.

But times have changed.

I said, yes, I could fit it in, but could I see the document first? No, you can’t, they said. We hope you understand that we can’t show you the document unless you sign our NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) first. I did understand and I was pleasantly surprised that although the NDA was more than 1,500 words long, unnecessarily so because it was full of ridiculously pompous and redundant legalese, the NDA in fact did only described in detail non-disclosure of confidential information.

I was pleasantly surprised that the NDA, despite the ridiculous and stilted formulations, was in fact an NDA because what “the translation industry” is now calling NDAs are often contracts dealing with a whole range of conditions severely restricting the freedom of translators with respect to just about everything, from payment terms to illegal non-competition clauses so as to allow translators a space no bigger than the space available to caged hens who are made to work just as hard for the poultry industry in tiny cages barely bigger than the poor bird’s body (0.46 square feet per caged bird).

In these tiny wire cages, hens are laying eggs as fast as they can, just as translators working for the “translation industry” must work as fast as they can in the tiny cages created for them by the paperwork they are made to sign before they can even see the text for an urgent translation.

So I signed the NDA, scanned the document and sent it back to the agency. I also attached my résumé as requested and told them in my second e-mail how much I charge for European languages and how much for Japanese translations. I offered them a pretty good rate, without a rush surcharge as I would have in the past. The rate I offered was in fact lower than what I used to routinely charge translation agencies 10 or 20 years ago, because realistically, that’s where the rates paid to translators in the current version of “the translation industry” are today, even after 20 years of inflation.

The third e-mail from the agency finally contained the document for translation. I saw right away that it would be a very simple, routine translation, although I doubt that the agency knew that because it was in German. But I also saw that the document had 773 words in German, which probably meant that the English word count would be closer to a thousand words, and not 500 words as the agency falsely stated in its first e-mail. At that point I already knew that I would not work for this agency because it would most likely demand discounts for “full and fuzzy matches”, which was probably how they arrived at their own word count.

Within a few minutes I received a third e-mail from them with more four more documents to sign, attached in addition to the 1,500 words of the NDA, titled as follows:

  1. Supplier Terms and Conditions (3,093 words)

The terms and conditions included a condition, fairly common now in typical “translation industry” contracts: The company may refuse to pay or reduce any Fees payable to Supplier for Services by such amount as the Company may in its reasonable discretion determine.

  1. Supplier Rate Card (305 words)

The Supplier Rate Card included in addition to questions about my rates, the interesting item of my “CPDs”, evidence of which I was requested to submit to the agency:


Evidence of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is now required for most professions and is a benchmark of professionalism [Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha].  It is now a requirement of ISO 17100 that translators maintain and update their competencies. Do you carry out CPD activities and if so, would you be willing to give us details of CPD undertaken if requested from time to time?

Had I answered this question, my answer would be: Hell, no, I do not carry out CPD activities, I am too old for this stupid nonsense. I do have a degree in translation, more than 30 years of experience translating in-house and as a freelancer on three continents, and during those 30 years I was fortunate to be able to provide quite well as the sole breadwinner for a family of four, which is probably much more difficult for translators to achieve these days in the current version of the “translation industry”.

A helpful explanation of CPDs was also included, probably for “newbie translators”.

What counts as CPD?

Lots of activities you probably already undertake.  For example; webinars, learning new info, learning a new tool, learning about a new type of translation task or text type, joining in with industry discussions online or offline, going to a new country and learning about a new culture etc.

(OMG, I must join in an industry discussion rant online or offline, or go to a new country and learn about a new culture! Gosh, I completely forgot about that!)

But wait … does eating sushi count as a CPD unit of continued education in Japanese culture? And what about kimchee, can I get a CPD point for Korean culture if I eat a lot of stinky kimchee, does eating pizza regularly count for CPDs awarded for Italian culture, and would eating burritos at least once a week get me a point or two for Mexican culture?

  1. Payment Terms (507 words)

The Payment Terms included also this pearl, which I understand is also a very popular clause in “translation industry” contracts these days because you can’t actually pin down exactly how long it will take for you to get paid:

“The payment shall be made 30 days from the end of the month, e.g. any invoice dated January will be paid around the end of February.” 

Since they asked me to translate about a thousand words within a few hours on the fifth of August, and the agency said that it accepts invoices after the end of the month, I think these payment terms mean that I would be expected to submit my invoice by the end of August, and then I would be paid, should I be so lucky, around the end of September.

  1. Registration Database (295 words)

The Registration Database is a handy tool for the agency, handy mostly for checking up on the rates different people may be charging. Its main purpose is to make it possible to determine within a split second who charges less than you once you are registered in the database. I expect more and more agencies in the ” translation industry” will be using this handy tool.

So in order to translate 773 words from German to English (or about 500 words according to the agency), I would have to sign four different documents with a total of 5,700 words, and I would have to agree to each of the conditions according to the formulation in each of the documents, remember what they are, and try not to piss off the agency, for example by forgetting to visit a new country every now and then and trying to learn its culture, or by submitting my invoice on the 6th instead of on the 7th of each month.

Why is it that translation agencies that are trying to put translators into tiny wired cages created in contracts with many thousands of words that translators, who are supposedly “independent contractors” are being forced to sign, are even allowed to display the official logo of translators associations as “corporate members” of the American Translators Association, or of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting in UK? I did see the logos of both organizations prominently displayed on the websites of agencies in the ” translation industry” which has been trying for many years to treat translators the same as chickens in tiny cages.

Are these translator associations doing anything about the contracts that their “corporate members” are making translators to sign? And if they are not doing anything about them, who are these associations purporting to represent translators really representing?

How is it possible that both the ATA and ITI, organizations allegedly of, by and for translators, accept corporate members, when so many of these corporate members treat translators worse than the poultry industry is treating caged birds?

Other associations of translators in other countries do not accept corporate members, such as the BDŰ (Bundesverband der Dolmetscher und Űbersetzer, the Federal Association of Translators and Interpreters in Germany, which is not far behind the ATA in number of members), or the IAPTI (International Association of Translators and Interpreters, founded a few years ago in Argentina, (an international organization of translators, which I think has less than a thousand members at this point, but is quickly growing in many countries and on every continent), presumably because these associations of translators understand that the interest of translators and corporate members, primarily translation agencies, are often diametrically opposed, and one cannot serve two masters, sit on two chairs, etc.

Although nobody seemed to care about pitiful, caged birds only about 10 years ago, one reason why there was such an outcry about the welfare of chickens and hens was that as the article linked above puts it, A small, millennial-led group that boasts of creating databases on egg-buying companies [was] lobbying investors and methodically testing the palatability of its public messaging”.

Where is the group of concerned millennials in our associations of translators? Nobody seems to care about the welfare of pitiful translators who are put in tiny wired cages where they don’t even have enough space to turn around, figuratively speaking.

That would change if the interests of translators were represented by associations of translators that ostensibly were there precisely for this reason. While it may be possible for different people to disagree as to whether non-translating persons and institutions, such as translation agencies or the FBI, or the NSA should be permitted to become members of an association of translators, most reasonable people would have to agree that translation agencies have already acquired too much power over translators in the last couple of decades. Our associations are supposed to promote the interests of translators, rather than the interests of translation brokers, or of the government. Unfortunately, they just pretend not to even see the problems. In any case, they are not doing much, if anything, about this particular problem.

Instead, the ATA has invented a system of infantile “continued educational points” that are now used also by translation brokers to enforce obedience in translators, mostly newbie translators.

Established, experienced translators can hardly be expected to take this system seriously, and I understand the Institute of Interpreting and Translating in UK has a similar policy of demanding that translators continually participate in acquiring silly “educational points” that make experienced translators either laugh or cringe.

If a poor translator must sign five different documents totaling almost six thousand words even before being offered any work at all, that is an abuse of the system for production of translations, (or for production of linguistic sausage as one blogger puts it), that has been created over the last two decades by a certain type of translation agency that preys on newbie translators.

Supermarket customers have noticed that there is clearly a big difference between the quality of the cheapest eggs produced by caged birds and eggs produced by “free range” hens. The former have whitish yolks and are almost tasteless, the latter have yellow yolks and taste the way eggs are supposed to taste.

Have customers noticed the difference in the quality of translations produced by newbie translators who become imprisoned in little cages created for them by the “translation industry” in contracts that they have to sign even before any work is assigned to them?

I don’t know the answer to this question. Many probably have noticed, some probably have not.

I do know that some associations of translators admit into their ranks translation brokers and powerful governmental bodies as non-translating members called “stakeholders”. If these associations really are associations of translators, they should at the very least try to regulate the size of the stick with which poor little translators cowering in fear in their tiny cages are beaten, the big stick that stakeholders use to beat poor little translators over their heads, and to increase the square footage available to these pitiful translators in the tiny translator cages.



Posted by: patenttranslator | August 5, 2016

The Limits of Censorship and the Power of Rock ‘n’ Roll

When I was a child, my parents had two radios in our apartment in a small town in Southern Bohemia. The radio in the bedroom was a big traditional radio with four beautifully glowing vacuum tubes that I could see and occasionally spend some time admiring, when I removed the back cover from it. My father told me that the big radio was quite expensive when he bought in the 1950s. The other radio was called rozhlas po drátě, which in Czech means, “radio by wire”. The radio by wire was a smallish, dark-brown, rectangular box connected with a very narrow wire sheathed in white plastic to a socket in the wall. Unlike with the big radio, its reception was always perfect, although you could not turn the big speaker encased in it up very loud.

Most apartments came with the little sockets in the walls in several rooms for connecting rozhlas po drátě to the convenient sockets back then, the way most American houses are now prewired for cable TV.

Up until about the age of 11, which would make it 1963, I was not really interested in the bigger radio. It had several wavelength bands in it for long waves, mediums waves, and short waves (there was no FM yet when the radio was manufactured), because you had to hunt for different stations on it, almost all in foreign languages.

I was perfectly happy with my smaller dark-brown radio in the kitchen. It was easy to turn on, it didn’t even need electricity and I knew that at 3 PM there would be an hour of brass band music, which was tolerable. Then in the evening there was a short fairytale for children being put to bed, enjoyable at any age, and in the evening they would have on a block of popular music with my favorite singers, like Milan Chladil and Ivetta Simonová, or Karel Gott.

Because we had a big sofabed in the kitchen, sometimes I preferred to lie there listening to “the radio by wire” until I fell asleep. It did not really bother me that I was able to listen only to one station because there were many different programming blocks on it, some of which I liked, some of which I listened to only once and never again.

But when the Beatles’ sound hit the world in 1963, the problem was, I could find them on several stations on the big radio in the bedroom, but never on the radio by wire. So I stopped listening to the radio in the kitchen and started instead spending long hours listening to the big radio in the bedroom, sprawled on the bed like a lazy dog, with a pillow under my head, sometimes looking at the strange, illuminated names of cities on the radio dial, names like Wien, Hilversum, or Milano, sometimes with my eyes closed, dreaming about the different worlds behind those strange names … and a few other things too, after about the age of 15.

Like millions of other teenagers in the 1960s in many countries, eventually I became quite an expert on rock ‘n’ roll music, although at first I did not understand the words of the songs since I did not speak any of the languages in which they were sung: mostly English, once in a while in French or Italian.

On one spot on medium waves, and also on one spot on the short and one on the long wave frequency, I heard a strange, monotonous, bubbly noise, that to me sounded at first kind of cool. I imagined that it was the noise a spaceship makes traveling through space… (it did sound like that, I thought). Anyway, that was my first explanation for it at the age of about nine. It sounded a little bit like modern car alarm, but more full and solid.

Eventually I discovered that it was no spaceship at all, and that in fact, the strange bubbly noise was jamming, or an attempt by the people who put together the programs on the little radio in the kitchen (the one that was so easy to use and did not even use electricity to operate), to jam some of the programs that one could hear only on the big radio in the bedroom.

For whatever reasons, the people who prepared the programs on the radio by wire did not seem to like the Beatles, or the Rolling Stones, or Diana Ross, or Jimmi Hendrix or Otis Redding, or any of the other musicians I liked to listen to.

So they put their smart heads together and came up with the clever idea of jamming a radio station if they did not wants kids like me to be listening to it.

The way the people programming the little radio by wire saw it, the problem was not really that much that kids like me were listening too much to music of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Monkeys, although, all things considered, it would have been much better if they listened to other kinds of music, of course.

The problem was that the station that I was listening to, called Radio Free Europe, was broadcasting from Munich in West Germany, and it was financed by the US Congress based on the idea that people behind what Winston Churchill so fittingly called the Iron Curtain should also have an alternative source of music and information to listen to.

It was probably the best idea the US Congress has had in more than two centuries. Thanks mostly to rock music, the popularity of Radio Free Europe, which was broadcasting also in Czech among other languages, took off like wildfire behind the Iron Curtain.

Back in the ‘60s, there were only two main FM stations on the radio, Prague I, for general broadcasting, including pop music, and Prague II, which was broadcasting mostly classical music.

But by the mid ‘60s, the rock music served up for Czech and Slovak audiences by Czech and Slovak announcers from Radio Free Europe in Munich became so popular that we started jokingly to refer to it as Prague III.

Just about everybody under the age of 30 or so was listening to decadent Western music most days, often on transistor radios that were carried around the medieval town where I lived by young people who did not want to miss their favorite music while they were just “hanging out” as my kids would put it today.

The only other station that was immensely popular with youthful delinquents in Czechoslovakia in the ‘60s and ‘70s was Radio Luxemburg, which later became a model for pirate stations broadcasting rock music illegally from a ship. But since the DJs on Radio Luxemburg only spoke very fast English and nobody could understand their jokes, Radio Free Europe announcers had a natural advantage because they spoke the language of their audience.

To try to jam a radio station is technically a very complicated task and a very expensive one too, especially in a country that is surrounded by mountains, which is the case of Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia. I don’t know how many expensive jamming stations had to be constructed for this purpose alone to defend the one station broadcasting over wire from a little square box, but there must have been dozens of them, probably hundreds.

In an ironic way, it would be possible to say that the concept of a comprehensive network of transmitters was ahead of its time since it was very similar to the basic concept of cellular telephone networks. The main difference was that instead of relaying signal to enable communication through portable telephones, the network of jamming stations relayed signal whose sole purpose was to jam the broadcasts of a certain radio station for political reasons.

I remember what the jamming installations looked like because there was a jamming transmitter near the tiny village of Sedlice where my father bought a small country house to get away from the smoke-polluted air in the town because he had asthma.

I think that initially, the communists in the ‘50s started jamming all of the programs of Radio Free Europe in Czech, but by the time I started listening to the station in the ‘60s, they stopped jamming the music programs and kept jamming only spoken words in programs about current events and politics.

They probably thought that music was less dangerous than spoken word, and they did need to save money. But they were wrong: music is just as dangerous as spoken word, even more so.

In my opinion, it was not really the military might of NATO, or the superiority of the Western economic system, which is supposedly based on the invisible hand of the market. Nor was it Reagan’s brilliant performance when he uttered the famous words, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” that finally brought an end to communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe, although my eyes teared up when I watched him on TV in my apartment in San Francisco.

I think that the most important weapon that eventually caused the fall of the communist regime was the music coming from vacuum tube and transistor radios that young people were listening to during four decades.

The way I see it, the totalitarian regime in my old country was ultimately destroyed by the Beatles, the Stones (and even the Monkeys!) in the ‘60s, and later Madonna finished it off with a coup de grâce in the ‘80s. Since there was no way to prevent the effect that music had on the youth for several generations during four decades, when a big student demonstration in Prague was brutally suppressed by the police in the Fall of 1989, the people finally had enough of seeing their own children being beaten and bloodied by police, and the regime fell within a few weeks.

That was one of the things that I was thinking about when I heard Bernie Sanders exclaim in front of crowds of his young supporters “Enough … [and then he waited for a second, to let the crowds enthusiastically finish the rest of sentence] is enough!”

Especially in the age of the internet, censorship has its limits. The Chinese Communist Party still believes that it is possible to simply prevent the entire Chinese population from accessing uncontrollable internet. I wonder how well its policy is working. Sometimes I do see a PRC flag on the dashboard of my blog, although officially, blogs like mine are not accessible from the internet in China. The comprehensive jamming of the internet in People’s Republic of China must be a very complicated and expensive project.

Here in the United States, censorship is practiced differently than in Communist China. The jamming of alternatives to the current system is less in-your-face kind of censorship, and for the most part is hidden from view. Omission of relevant information and slanted information is used on us, sometime in combination with so called white noise, such as the white noise boxes that were allegedly placed by the DNC at the Democratic Convention in Philly last month to make sure that the booing of rowdy Bernie delegates would not be heard during Hillary’s coronation. The DNC later denied the story, called it a rumor and said that the boxes were antennas. But how many antennas have you seen that were in the shape of a boxy speaker?

One of the main reasons why Bernie Sanders never had a chance against Hillary Clinton (although 70% of young people voted for him and only a small percentage for Hillary) was because the mainstream media simply boycotted Bernie, while the Democratic party went about electing Hillary as its candidate in an extremely undemocratic manner, which will probably lose them an even a higher percentage of young voters, possibly forever.

But whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump wins the presidency in a few months, it is clear that selective feeding of information to people by a wire, whether it is called radio by wire or cable TV, is not nearly as effective as it used to be a few decades ago.

Young people are largely unaffected by cable TV. Most of them don’t even bother with a cable TV subscription, and not only because cable TV is very expensive. Most of the information that they are interested in is floating on the internet and shared, freely so far in most countries, on social media … so why pay to be fed by a wire that delivers mostly just one-sided propaganda?

To try to control programming that informs and entertains people in an entire country seemed like a realistic idea a few decades ago when something like that could be done through a cheap radio coming to everybody’s house through a tiny wire.

It did work quite well back then for a while, for quite a few decades in fact.

And a similar approach to censorship of information, loaded with commercials and low-grade entertainment, sometimes also called infotainment, has been working for several decades now also in this country.

The question is: is it still working?

Every few months, the ATA publishes an article representing the views of “the translation industry”, or what the ATA euphemistically calls “stakeholders”, i.e. members of the American Translators Association who are not translators. Since you don’t have to be a translator to be a member of the ATA, the generic term du jour for the many non-translating members of the American Translators Association is at this point “stakeholders”. I wrote several posts on my silly blog on the subject of propagandistic articles written by these non-translating stakeholders, articles that seem to be aimed mostly at putting translators in their proper place, namely as obedient peons of “the translation industry”, because articles of this type are unfortunately often found in the ATA Chronicle. For example in this post which is now already almost five years old, I compared the propagandistic nature of these articles in the ATA Chronicle to the predictable propaganda saturating our establishment media.

Although the origin of the term Big Data relates to automatic correlation of market trends, customer preferences and other characteristics useful for businesses, the name “big data” itself seems to have been designed to impress potential “translation industry” stakeholder clients and to intimidate little translators at the same time. If I am not mistaken, it is also supposed to replace what used to be called “content tsunami” a few years ago. The name suggests to me, and probably to most people, Orwell’s Big Brother and his style of strict enforcement of law and order in a pliant population scared to death by the omnipresent eyes and ears of Big Brother who is armed with big data and other diabolical tools.

My simple mind naturally cannot even begin to understand all the cool details and fascinating implications of WHAT BIG DATA MEANS TO THE LANGUAGE SECTOR, as per the title of the last section in the article by Don DePalma in the July/August issue of the ATA Chronicle.

Perhaps that is why I would find the numbers, statistics, and conclusions of Mr. DePalma for us little translators, quite frightening … if I did not find them at times also more than just a little silly.

As the late, great Miguel Lorens, Spanish-to-English financial translator whose blog was so enjoyable, wrote in 2012 in an article titled “Future Schlock: Common Sense, Nonsense and the Law of Supply and Demand”, basic laws of physics are sometimes simply ignored in Don DePalma’s analyses of things present in order to arrive at the desired conclusions about the cunningly predicted greatness of things to come. This is how Miguel Lorens illustrated DePalma’s approach to reality in the post he wrote four years ago:

” […] Or imagine your friend giving you a tour of his new five-bedroom house. ‘And this is the guest room. However, the law of gravity doesn’t apply here, for whatever reason.’ You peer inside and see a bed, a dresser and a cocker spaniel floating around in zero gravity. What would you do? Would you follow your friend out to the garden to have cocktails as the furniture and the dog float round and round? Or would you devote your entire life to finding out why the law of gravity doesn’t hold in your friend’s guest bedroom?”

The question of, “Where Does Language Fit In with Big Data?” (the somewhat overbearing title – overbearing to language – of the ATA Chronicle article), is of course much less important to us than the question of where do we, little translators, fit in with Big Data?

You probably guessed it already – little translators can only fit in with the Big Data if they are obedient enough to listen to the wise voice of the “translation industry” and become diligent, indefatigable post-processors of the gunk spat out by Big Data.

As Don DePalma puts it, “Big data has increased the volume of content dramatically. At the same time, automated content enrichment and analytical tools based on big-data science, [emphasis mine; I did not know that there was such a science], will enable the training of more sophisticated tools to help humans translate the growing volume of content and enable machines to close the yawning gap between what’s generated and what’s actually translated [emphasis mine again].

Let’s think about this short and relatively simple sentence for a moment. Ok, so the volume of content has dramatically increased. It sounds like an introduction to revolutionary change, but is this change more revolutionary than for example the change involving a dramatically increased volume of data when the Chinese invented paper, replacing stone tablets, bones and tortoise shells, when Guttenberg invented the printing press, when the internet was invented by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), or when the telephone became a tiny portable computer potentially containing hundreds or thousands of apps? And so on and so forth.

More stuff is out there, so new technologies are being developed to do more stuff with the stuff that is out there. When you put it like that, it sounds more like something that has been happening for centuries … because that is all it really is.

Although there is an enormous amount of content floating around in the blogosphere, to select just one part of what is identified in the article as belonging to Big Data, (and some of this content is very interesting), this also means that a lot of it is stuff out there that is completely useless and that will probably never be translated.

So how can one use this content in statistics identifying what needs to be translated and put a price tag on it (as part of Big Data from which profit can be extracted by “the translation industry”) if it is identified by using “automated content enrichment and analytical tools” and such … unless somebody, such as a company CEO, determines that all of the largely useless PR content of a propagandistic corporate blog needs to be translated. Sure, this is likely to happen, but if this content is translated with machine translation and then post-processed by us little translators, will it increase sales or improve the brand image of the company, or will this do the opposite of what was intended?

And if automatic content enrichment (whatever that is) and analytical tools (whatever they are) are used instead of a well functioning human brain to select content to be translated (instead of a CEO’s decision), these tools are guaranteed to pick unnecessary content to generate still more propagandistic PR nonsense, only this time in other languages.

So far I have published exactly 620 posts on my silly blog; this will be my 621st post in five and half years. The reason why about four or five of them have been translated so far into four or five languages with my permission, and probably more without my permission, is that other translators/bloggers wanted to share the content of what I am saying with other translators and bloggers who do not understand English.

It had nothing to do with what is called Big Data, or content tsunami, or automated content enrichment and analytical tools based on “big-data science”.

Instead, it had to do with Small Data, data that is selected by human intellect instead of an algorithm as being important enough to be translated and worth the time of a human translator to do so, even without compensation for a significant amount of work.

To come back to the ATA Chronicle article, the final conclusions in Don DePalma’s article are actually quite hopeful when it comes to prospects for human translators … although I suspect that he might have cunningly incorporated them into the article largely to placate us little translators who read the magazine, and to get us used to the idea that Big Data is really good for us:

Even if machines generated the lion’s share of translation [meaning pseudo-translation, Mad Patent Translator] and humans did a smaller percentage, the sheer absolute volume of human translation would increase for high-value sector such as life sciences, other precise sectors, and belles letters. In turn, the perceived value of human translation would increase. Why? Because when you bring in a live human, it means the transaction is very, very important …

As interlingual communication becomes transparent, we predict that the number of situations where high-value transactions occur – i.e. those requiring human translators and interpreters – will go up, not down. If provider rates increase and companies use MT to address a larger percentage of their linguistic needs, human translators could benefit as they are paid well to render the most critical content supporting the customer experience and other high-value interactions […]

Although it has not happened yet, we speculate that MT driven by these phenomena could remove the, “cloak of invisibility” from translators, giving them greater recognition and status.”

Up until now, the overall impact of what is referred to as language technology in the working environment for human translators, meaning mostly Computer Assisted Translation (CAT) and machine translation, has been largely negative.

Initially, translators were promised a pie in the sky in the form of CATs that would dramatically increase the number of words that they would be able to translate per day, leading to a much higher compensation for their work. Instead, they had to spend a considerable amount of money – I understand Trados software costs 800 Euros – and an even more considerable amount of uncompensated time while learning and using this software, only to be told in the end that they must provide discounts to “the translation industry” for what are called “fuzzy matches” and “full matches”, a disgraceful invention of “the translation industry” that amounts to nothing more and nothing less than extortion and wage theft.

The unfortunate fact that the rates paid for translation to translators by most translation agencies are generally lower than 10 or 15 years ago is clearly due not only to globalization and corporatization of “the translation industry”, but also to the impact of “fuzzy matches” and “full matches”.

I doubt very much that MT and Big Data will “remove the ‘cloak of invisibility’ from translators, giving them greater recognition and status.” The opposite has been happening so far, as “the translation industry” is definitely interested in keeping translators invisible rather than making them more visible. That is why “the translation industry” also invented the term “Language Service Provider” and replaced the term “translation agency” with the acronym “LSP” to make it appear as if it were translation agencies who are in reality acting as brokers, not the translators, who provide the languages services.

I don’t know how Don DePalma came up with this idea, but it makes no sense to me.

But I do agree with his other conclusion, ” […] We predict that the number of situations where high-value transactions occur – i.e. those requiring human translators and interpreters – will go up, not down.”

I am also hoping that the following conclusion may be correct, “If provider rates increase and companies use MT to address a larger percentage of their linguistic needs, human translators could benefit as they are paid well to render the most critical content supporting the customer experience and other high-value interactions”.

If I try to project this expectation on my field, namely patent translation, I can see how technological changes, mostly the availability of machine translation for most types of patent applications, have gradually changed the type of materials that I am translating now as opposed to what I was translating some 15 years ago.

Since machine translations of patent applications were not available 15 years ago, there was more work available to me in that area than today, and I believe that some, possibly a substantial amount of this work, were translations of patents that were not really required.

It was impossible to know anything about the content of these patent applications (if they were for instance referenced as cited literature in a search report), they had to be translated for example for litigation purposes, whereas it is now possible to take a look at an MT file and the figures in a patent application to eliminate patent applications that are not directly applicable to the issue at hand, even if the original document is in a language that is completely incomprehensible to most people, like Japanese.

I believe that this is why a higher percentage of utility models (“lesser inventions”) need to be translated now, because machine translations are not available for utility models, either in Japanese or in German. Moreover, since older Japanese utility models are often poorly legible, it is basically impossible to convert a PDF format, (the only format in which they are available) to a digital file that would not make any sense whatsoever once it has been run through a machine translation program.

Another change that I see in my field is that while the number of translations of existing patent applications that are needed for prior art research has decreased to some extent, again probably due to the availability of machine translations that are “good enough” to establish the basic points of a patent application, the number of patent translations for filing, for example of German, Japanese and French patent applications to be filed in English, is increasing because more and more patents are being filed all the time.

So how would I answer my own question: is marriage between Big Data and little translators a marriage made in heaven, or hell?

Well, I think that it depends on whether we, the little translators, allow Big Data to abuse us in this marriage. If we simply submit ourselves to Big Data’s demands and to the capricious whims of “the translation industry” and go along with whatever is demanded from us by a nasty spouse, it will be a marriage made in hell, as for the most part, we will be performing and thought of as mere post-processors of the MT gunk who can also do actual translations as required.

But it could be also a marriage kind of made in heaven for translators, if we, the little translators, forget the notion that we are powerless against the brute we married and concentrate on the most critical content, i.e. the highest value-added content dug out from infinite oceans of Big Data by ” big-data science”, assuming there is such a thing.

In conclusion, my advice to most translators is: you don’t need to be married to Big Data or to “the translation industry”. Stay or become single and try to work mostly for direct clients. Why stay in an abusive relationship with the “translation industry” or Big Data when with a little bit of work and thinking, you can eventually become happily divorced.

Posted by: patenttranslator | July 29, 2016

In the Power of Money-Making Algorithms We Trust

I don’t really believe very much in the power of algorithms. I just don’t trust them too much.

Unlikely bedfellows though they are, driverless cars, drone killings, and machine translation have one thing in common: they are controlled by algorithms, and algorithms can be lethal. Sometimes, an algorithm can kill by driving a driverless car into a tractor trailer, and while a drone (“believed to have been operated by the US”, as the New York Times put it) is relying on smart algorithms, it sometimes assassinates 60 civilians in a funeral procession.

Machine translation has been so far diligently killing, quite gruesomely, not just our language, but also jobs for translators, although it is quite possible that people relying on information “translated” by an algorithm were already or will be killed one day too.

According to, a translation platform called Fluently is going out of business because the company ran out of cash and failed to secure further financing. Fluently was an online translation platform, (one of many) that sought to automate away the project management part of translation. Although the company says that it signed up 2,000 translators, the company eventually did not make it. I think that what in fact killed this (yet another) innovative platform was the company’s excessive faith in the power of algorithms. Here is how Slator described what happened:

“Minimal Human Interaction

In part, Fluently relied on clients’ willingness to manage their own projects, and on translators open to completing jobs with minimal human interaction.

The way Fluently works is clients log in, drag and drop files, and then get an instant word count, translation memory leverage, and a quote. They then go through a briefing screen, where, using a slider, they are able to select, for example, what style they prefer (formal, informal, etc.) and pick the translator’s area of expertise.

After clients choose from among the matched translators served up by Fluently’s algorithm, they are required to pay upfront. Payment is done through the platform and the funds are held in escrow until the translation is delivered.

There was a lot of rejection when a customer picked a translator, but the translator did not take the work. Fulfillment became difficult.”

—Karin Nielsen, founder of Fluently

Most translators will understand instantly that it is not terribly difficult to, “sign up 2,000 translators”. There are so many of them out there! Even somebody like myself, a one-man operation which does not provide a “translation platform”, and which is not really a translation agency either, receives dozens of resumes from translators hungry for work just about every day, and I usually delete without reading them.

Matched Translators Are “Served Up” by and Algorithm

I love the description, “After clients choose from among the matched translators served up by Fluently’s algorithm”. Smart translators are served up by smart algorithms like a meal in a restaurant, huh? But if the algorithms were so smart, how is it possible that ” fulfillment became difficult” because the translators in the end did not want the job?

Because I don’t believe in the power of algorithms when it comes to finding good translators, I only work with a few translators, almost always translators who were recommended to me by other translators; currently less than a dozen.

But unlike in the case of the Fluently platform, soon to be or already deceased, my translators almost never reject a job offer and on the rare occasion when they do, usually because they are on vacation or because they can’t fit the job in (although my deadlines are generally very generous), they usually suggest colleagues who are equally skilled in the art of patent translation and who, bless their hearts, charge about the same.

My guess is that Fluently’s signed-up translators rejected the jobs offered to them for two reasons: 1) because they were poorly paid, and 2) because the deadlines were short.

I should mention that the rates I pay translators who work for me are not really stellar (as one of them snidely commented to me). But still, they are much higher than the rates translators can expect, regardless of their education, credentials and experience, on “translation platforms” such as Proz or Translators Café. (And the rates on these platforms are probably still much higher than what Fluently was offering.) So that I can sleep at night, I pay translators who work for me the lowest rate that I myself am willing to accept for my work from other translation agencies. Even so, there is still a nice profit margin in it for me, too.

I know from resumes that I receive daily that I could hire translators for the translations that I am unable to do myself, (usually due to the wrong language direction), but that I can proofread quite competently since I almost always know both languages. Also, given that I have been in the business of patent translation, both as a translator and as a mini-agency for almost three decades, I know a little bit about how things work in patent translation and don’t need to rely on a combination of databases with very smart algorithms; I can just use my human brain.

I know that I could easily find translators who charge much less than what I am paying when I look at the rates that translators themselves advertise on what are called “language platforms” and that I could contact translators who are much cheaper.

But greedy as I am, I fear that if I go for maximum profit for me, me, me by looking around for translators offering lower rates, I will eventually pick a subprime translator without realizing it, or even though I may pick a relatively good translator, this translator will be under such pressure to accept as much work as possible to pay the bills, that in the end, he or she will start making too many mistakes.

And if I am not able to catch these mistakes, I will eventually lose a client that might have been with me for many years.

Staying Away from Algorithm to Play it Safe

So I try to play it safe. I don’t use logging, dragging, dropping, or “translation memory leverage” which I assume means wage theft through algorithms referred to as “fuzzy matches” and “full matches”, a very popular racket nowadays in “the translation industry”.

Nor do I ask my customers to pay in advance to make sure that I will get paid for the translation even if the quality is so horrible that the customer might balk at paying for it. Well, I do ask for advance payment if I am unable to ascertain that the customer is a bona fide patent law firm or a real company that has an address, a product to sell, and employees.

If I deal with an individual, I usually ask for a down payment of 50%, but this is the only time when I do so.

I believe in replacing algorithms by human interaction as much as possible. I understand that replacing human interaction with smart algorithms as much as possible would certainly be a very profitable concept for a translation platform. The owners of the platform could save a lot of money that would not need to be paid to project managers when everything is done by just dragging and dropping files into automated menus.

All you need now is a few thousand translators hungry and willing to work for what an algorithm determines their work is worth – and you have created the most innovative, ultimate cash register platform in “the translation industry”. Ka-Ching with minimum human interaction.

But minimizing human interaction, profitable as it might be, is not a whole lot of fun for clients, or for translators. It would be kind of like trying to limit human interaction to a minimum during sex. I suspect that fulfillment might become difficult. Human interaction, when it works well, is not only necessary, but also fulfilling, and fun.

It is not an accident that the most severe type of punishment in prisons is a model that is based on minimum human interaction called solitary confinement.

Contracts between a corporation and a subcontracting company hired by the corporation are usually very one-sided and sometimes downright nasty to the party subcontracted to supply goods or services. This is indicated already by the prefix “sub” in English, German, Russian, and Czech, “pod” [meaning “under”] in Polish, or [shita, under] in Japanese. The prefix clearly shows who is the on top and who is way down below.

I have translated many contracts of this type from several languages, including Japanese, German, French, Czech and Russian. Certain things tend to be emphasized in these contracts more in some languages, while they may be only glossed over in other languages.

For example, Japanese contracts always strongly emphasize penalties, including the contract’s cancellation in the event of a single missed deadline, while the only excusable reason for such a major sin on the part of the subcontractor is usually what is referred to as force majeure, which in French literally means “greater force”, such as an earthquake, hurricane, flood, or armed insurrection or war.

(Personally, I think that “No Wi-Fi” should be added to the force majeure clause for contracts with translators as a legitimate excuse for non-performance of services.)

I remember that the last contract that I translated from Russian had a lengthy clause dealing with harsh penalties for subcontractors who send to the work site inebriated operators. I don’t remember a clause about alcohol or drunk subcontractors in any contract that I translated from any other language.

But one-sided as these contracts that I am translating may be, none of them approaches the nastiness and scope of illegality sometimes found in a number of contracts that translation agencies ask translators to sign.

The first indication that something is wrong with a translation agency that wants to hire you for a project is when you are asked to sign a contract before the agency even has a project for you. It has happened to me many times, most recently three days ago. Why do they ask translators to sign a contract if they have not even sent them any work yet? They usually say that they can’t show us the document until we have signed their non-disclosure agreement. OK, maybe that’s true, maybe not. But if it is true, then the agency should be obligated to send the work to the translator once a rate or a fee that is acceptable to both parties has been agreed upon.

But that is not how it works. What actually happens is that the agency asks a translator, or several translators as the case may be, to sign an agreement when the project is still at the bidding stage and the agency does not have it yet, and may not even have it in the end, or when the agency is contacting several translators, asking all of them to sign a contract, so that the translation will go to the lowest priced warm body available at the moment.

That is why I never agree to sign anything until the agency says that the job is mine if I sign a contract that I can sign in good conscience on the dotted line.

Once a confidentiality agreement is received, there are several possible strategies for dealing with it.

Some of these agreements are so nasty and tell so much about what kind of agency it is that the best way to deal with it is to refuse to sign it. Sure, I will lose a potential project, but I will avoid major headaches that I would have to deal with had I signed a demeaning contract that sometimes contains illegal clauses. Instead of simply refusing to sign a contract, it may be better to counter by offering to sign a Translation Services Agreement prepared by the American Translators Association for its members. If the agency is an ATA member (and they all are, and eagerly advertise on their website that they belong to this august organization), why would the agency refuse to sign a standard ATA agreement?

Abusive clauses that some translation agencies use, especially mega-agencies, include also the following outrageous demands:

1. A clause specifying that any and all intellectual property created during the translation process shall belong to the agency. Since the agency is acting only as a broker, intellectual property created during the translation process may belong to the translator, or to the end client, should the end client request it as the party that ordered the translation and pays for it. That makes sense to me.

But why should it belong to an intermediary, a broker who did not create any intellectual property and only acts as a go-between? If there is legislation allowing that, this legislation needs to be changed. But of course, if translators sign such a clause, they lose all rights to the intellectual property created by their own work, which shall henceforth belong to the middleman forever and ever, Amen.

And it is not even clear what such a clause actually means. Does it mean for example that a list of terms that the translator created while working on a patent project does not belong to the translator but to the broker? I think it does. But then it would also mean that the translator could not use the same list of technical terms that may be stored on his computer on another project for another agency or direct customer without risking a lawsuit, would it not?

2. A clause specifying that a translation agency has the right to raid the house of a freelance translator without prior notice, ostensibly “to verify that virus protection software has been installed correctly”, or under another ridiculous pretext. I doubt that employees who are paid twice a month and whose taxes are paid by their employer would allow their employer to spy on them in this manner. And these are workers who as employees are guaranteed a certain amount of income while they work for the employer. To infringe upon the personal freedom of “freelance translators” who are not promised, let alone guaranteed, any income by the agency in such a disgusting manner is in my opinion very disturbing and clearly unconstitutional. The police need a warrant to enter our houses, but translation agencies do not?

3. A clause specifying that a translation agency has the right to spy on a translator by having access to his or her computer, usually again based on some variation of the weird claim that the agency needs to ascertain something about software that has been installed correctly, etc.

Should another party have remote access to your computer, and should this party happen to be a translation agency, such a party would have a list of who your customers are, both direct customers and translation agencies who send you work, and it would know exactly how much you charge them for projects that you are working on and what these projects are. Such a quasi-omnipotent agency would also be able to see for instance which websites you visit on the internet, which blogs you read and it could also read the correspondence in your e-mail.

Granting this kind of extraordinary, illegal power to a translation agency would compromise your relationships with all of your other customers, both direct clients and agencies. Should they somehow find out about it, they would naturally stop working with you because signing such an agreement with one agency would mean a breach of any other confidentiality contract with any other client. Not even employees may be asked to grant such permission to their employers to be spied on in their own houses. Something like that would be clearly illegal in most jurisdictions on this planet, with the possible exception of North Korea, as I wrote in another post on this blog.

The fact that translation agencies dare to put something like this in a contract with persons who are at the same time called “independent contractors” in what is referred to as a “Non-Disclosure Agreement”, (albeit with non-disclosure going only in one direction, while everything about the translators would have to be disclosed), tells us a lot about the low moral standards to which “the translation industry” has sunk in recent years.

I do believe that something as vile as this particular clause would be simply unimaginable a decade or two decades ago when most translation agencies were simply businesses trying to make money by delivering service in the market for translation through honest cooperation with translators.

4. A clause stating that should the translation agency sue the translator (who is an independent contractor), this independent contractor will be liable for the agency’s “reasonable attorney’s fees”. This clause is designed to muzzle the translator and make him agree to anything the agency wants, no matter how illegal it may be, out of fear of being sued, if the agency has nothing to lose by suing for any reason whatsoever when its legal costs are paid by the translator.

Since these contracts are only proposals, translators are of course free to offer their own contract instead, such as the standard contract proposed for its members by the American Translators Association, or to modify the terms of the contract and cross out the most offensive clauses.

Personally, I think that a translation agency that puts all or some of the clauses listed above in what it purports is a “Confidentiality Agreement”, or “Non-Disclosure Agreement” (often abbreviated as NDA) is not a client that is worth having, especially since agreements of this kind are usually also connected with very low rates paid to translators and combined with short deadlines and a long waiting time during which translators are forced to wait for payment.

One thing the lawyers who draft similar contracts for translation agencies don’t seem to care about is that when the contracts give translation agencies so much control over translators who are officially classified as “independent contractors”, these translators may no longer be considered “independent contractors” under law. How can they possibly be called “independent contractors” when that they are forced to assign all intellectual property created by these “independent contractors” to the agency, when they agree to have their house raided by the agency without a prior warning, as well as agreeing to being spied on by the agency through their own computers and to pay the agency’s “reasonable attorney’s fees” should the agency decide in its wisdom to sue them for some reason.

Insertion of these clauses into a contract means that the translators who sign such contracts no longer belong to the category of “independent contractors” as defined by law in the United States and various EU countries.

Since translation agencies, (or Language Service Providers, if you will), pushing such contracts have so much control over translators, these translators can be reclassified by tax authorities as employees, which would make their employers liable for half of social security taxes and other taxes applicable in the United States and EU countries.

Translation agencies who push the clauses listed above on translators, who are officially “independent contractors” while being treated more as indentured servants than independent contractors, thus expose themselves as well as their translators to time-consuming audits for tax evasion and costly appeals based on the “Non-Disclosure Agreement” alone, simply because businesses using such contracts would exercise more control over their translators than employers have over their own company employees.

Posted by: patenttranslator | July 19, 2016

Too Many Tools Spoil the Translation

I made an interesting discovery recently when I was translating a fairly long Japanese utility model into English. Usually, when I am translating the text of Japanese patent applications, I automatically download a version of the machine translation of the Japanese text either from the Japan Patent Office, or from the European Patent Office website to use as an expanded dictionary, although with many caveats, of course. Machine translations into many languages, including into English, are available for all relatively recent Japanese patent applications going back more than 20 years. But they are not available for older patents and utility models, which belong to a lower category, inventively speaking.

Even in a case like that, I can simply convert a PDF file to MS Word and create machine translation manually, for example with GoogleTranslate or with Microsoft Translator. If there are just a few very slight imperfections in the printed copy, the conversion to a digital file will result in a text that is often completely nonsensical. But even if I have a perfectly legible PDF copy, as was the case with this utility model, the conversion from PDF to a digital file creates too many obstacles for a machine translation program because the spacing between Japanese kanji, hiragana and katakana characters, even though they might have perfectly regular spacing, throws off the algorithms of the machine translation program because there are no spaces between Japanese words.

It is not even clear what a word is in Japanese, so the Japanese text may look like this: itisnotevenclearwhatawordisinJapanese, or like this: i t i s n o t e v e n c l e a r w h a t a w o r d i s i n J a p a n e s e. When the wrong characters are connected together, the result is obviously completely wrong. For some reason, machine translation programs can handle the first alternative for Japanese texts relatively well, but not the second alternative.

Here is an example of what happens when a perfectly legible PDF file in Japanese is converted to digital form and then put through GoogleTranslate:

“In Tsu by the and the child that same map di-work for the person E students that Ki out and this you promote the blood circulation of the head part. Placed by the comb-shaped heat scratch preventing portion to the peripheral edge evenly of the head portion, order to carry out the heat scratch prevention treatment of all rectangular position to the head part, be sampled rate de la Lee ya when you for the use and to or cormorant child to the skin to the heat scratch you can in prevention to. Because the thermal scratch-resistant full-time (Note1) are placed at the site had close to ground clip on the head part, it is sampled Les To de la Lee You can ya di one hand in the prevention and this bovine or by the heat scratch.”

Even this kind of “machine translation” may still be somewhat useful to me because some of the words are translated correctly, such as “rectangular position”, (actually, now I remember that I did not use these words in my translation, so this must have been wrong too). But then again, because not too many words are useful, this kind of machine translation is completely useless to a non-translator.Based on the machine translation above, do you have any idea what this new utility model about a minor invention is about? Hint: it is not about “a cormorant child”. Sadly, there were no “cormorant children” in the Japanese text at all.

Incidentally, this is also one reason why I don’t bother using any CAT tools, although the main one is that I simply don’t need them, don’t like them, and despise the way predatory translation agencies are trying to use them to extort illegal discounts for “full and fuzzy matches” from hapless translators.

The discovery I made while translating without having access to a machine translation was the realization that when I don’t have to look at the words in a machine translation because there is none, I experience an exhilarating, almost forgotten feeling of freedom: freedom for me to translate the text the way I understand it, without having to pay attention to what an algorithm thinks the text means.

In the prehistoric times before machine translation was available to me and my clients (20 or 30 years ago), I would usually have three dictionaries on my desk – one to look up characters that I did not know, or used to know but somehow forgot, one standard Japanese dictionary, and one technical dictionary (often more than one).

But then machine translation came along, and instead of looking up characters, words and technical terms in paper dictionaries, I do all of that faster online now.

It speeds up the translating process if I translate a very complicated text in a field that I don’t know all that well, such as biotechnology. But if I have to look at a machine translation when I translate a reasonably simple text in a field that I know quite well, for example a patent about electric design, it slows me down when I have to look at a machine translation as an additional source of information.

And it is definitely advisable to at least take a look at an official machine translation obtained from the Japan Patent Office or the European Patent Office website because I have to assume that my client has this translation and possibly expects me to use the technical terms contained in it. If I don’t used them, I need to have a good reason for not using them, namely because I know that they are wrong.

I really like the feeling of freedom that I experience when I can simply ignore stupid algorithms.

It’s like the old times. I put on some weird music, increase the volume during an easy passage when everything is pretty clear, turn it off for a while if I come across something that for the moment I don’t understand because I have to figure it out first and the music is distracting, and then turn the music back on, but usually at a lower volume.

This, to me, is the natural rhythm of translation, or the natural rhythm of the way I translate. I think that too many tools – CAT tools, machine translation, dictation and transcription software, and God knows what other tools highly entrepreneurial tool merchants with many bills to pay and a limited number of potential customers may come up with – somehow disrupt the natural order of things in the Universe, which tends to send celestial bodies a few degrees off their usual trajectories, thus creating dissonance in the soothing and restful music of spheres that I need to hear in my head when I am on a roll as the mystery of the meaning hidden in a foreign language suddenly becomes clear to me.

Too much of everything spoils the fun for me. J. R. Tolkien wrote the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy in his spare time, usually at night while sitting on his  bed in an attic by pecking on a typewriter with only two fingers. No other tools were needed.

Tools are a good thing only if we can use them if we want to use them because we find them useful. Too many cooks spoil the broth, and too many tools spoil the translation, that’s what I think.

And when we are asked to use certain tools for our work, we have to make sure that the tools that we are told to use (or else!) will not turn us into …. tools.


Posted by: patenttranslator | July 11, 2016

An Important Skill for Translators

Knowledge of a foreign language or languages, knowledge of a specialized subject matter, and superior writing ability are the three skills that every translator needs to have, regardless of which language and subjects he or she translates. In an age when marketing is everything, good marketing skills are as important, if not more, as the knowledge of just about anything, or skills pertaining to translating and writing.

But other important skills are often overlooked when it comes to the toolbox of skills that is essential for just about any occupation, including that of a translator; and the ability to anticipate and foresee future trends is certainly among them.

Some people are very good at analyzing current trends and selling their analyses as projections and forecasts of future trends, and the internet has turned this kind of instant-expertise-for-sale into a booming industry. Advice can now be sold in the form of webinars to thousands of translators who are eager to know what to do in a world that keeps changing so quickly.

I have to say that many of these instant translation experts and prognosticators remind me of the occupation of a haruspex in ancient Rome. A haruspex was a priest in ancient Rome who was trained in divining good and bad omens indicating future events from the entrails of sacrificed animals, such as chickens and sheep. This was a practice that Romans inherited from the Etruscan religion. The Etruscans (a civilization that remains very much unknown to the modern world) adopted this religious and business practice from the ancient Near East, although it appears to have originated in Babylon – probably because just about everything appears to have originated in Babylon, including foreign languages, which according to the Bible were created as God’s curse for a botched urban revival mega-project.

I remember from my Latin classes that according to Cicero, Cato famously said that he was surprised that a haruspex does not burst out laughing when he meets another haruspex  (… mirari se aiebat quod non rideret haruspex haruspicem cum vidisset), partly because this sentence is an excellent tool to teach past tenses in Latin. To paraphrase Cato the Elder, who left us some wonderful quotations such as, All mankind rules its women, and we rule all mankind, but our women rule us”, sometimes I am surprised that one instant translation business prophet does not burst out laughing when he or she meets another instant translation business prophet.

Fast Technological Changes Are Changing Many Professions in the 21st Century

Johannes Gutenberg, (whose real name was Gensfleisch, but who changed it to Gutenberg, which means good mountain, the maiden name of his second wife because it sounded much better to him that his original name), invented the printing press around 1440 based on the idea of a wine press. His invention was used with only a few minor modifications for about four centuries until the invention of linotype printing in the late 19th century, and the linotype printing technology was then used again almost without any changes for another century until the 1970s.

Compared to our time, technology changed and eventually died very slowly in previous centuries, a very good thing from the viewpoint of job security in many professions. But technology changes so quickly these days that when we are watching a movie, we can usually guess in what year the film was made within a span of about two or three years based on the model of the cell phones the actors are using.

One reason why job security is not guaranteed for the same profession for many generations, as was the case in the times of Johannes Gutenberg, and even in the 19th and 20th centuries, is the fact that changes in technology are not easy to predict.

What can be predicted is that instead of trends that last for a few centuries or at least a few decades, things that we used to take for granted can now change within a few years or even a few months. For example, who could have predicted that instead of reading dirty manga magazines, which is how I remember Japanese commuters on the subway trains in Tokyo 30 years ago, 70% of the same commuters on Japanese subway trains would start playing games on their cell phones? This is obviously an unfortunate development for Japanese manga translators, and a very good development for translators who specialize in games.

Or who could have predicted twenty years ago that the demand for translations of Japanese patents would go down considerably and the demand for translations of patents from Chinese and Korean would all of a sudden explode? This is another example of the kind of change that no all-purpose translation guru would be able to predict. And since different translators translate so many different languages and work in so many different fields, it is almost impossible to find any commonalities between these fields and languages.

A translator of German or French legal documents does not really have that much in common with a translator of novels from Japanese or Polish, or with a translator of Korean and Chinese patents. A well trained haruspex worth his three coins with the image of a Roman emperor on them could probably provide about as much insightful advice about modern translation trends to “translators” as most modern instant gurus.

Similarly, a business called Common Sense Advisory, which bills itself as, Market research for Global 2000 companies to operationalize, benchmark, optimize, and innovate industry best practices in translation, localization, interpreting, globalization, and internationalization” does not really have a whole lot of information that would be of much use to translators either. Personally, I am very skeptical about the usefulness of this type of business as a source of information for translators. The first “active word” sounds like a bad translation from Japanese (operationalize = 操作化?), and so does the last one (internationalization = 国際化?). It is most likely just a very good source of “translation industry” propaganda, which is to say, of misinformation.

No matter how many cute graphs and questionable statistics and dreadful new terms these haruspices (I think that is the proper plural form in Latin) come up with, why would anybody trust these particular prognostications if the company can’t even come up with new words that would sound like good English to describe what it is that these “translation industry” pioneers do for a living? It’s beyond me.

Corporatization and Globalization of Translation Have Created the Current “Translation Business” Model

Unlike technological changes, the application of the corporate business model to translation is something that probably could have been predicted after the signing of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) in 1993. This happened at a time when what is now called “the translation industry” consisted for the most part of very small mom-and-pop translation agencies that were usually run by current or former translators who understood translation because they themselves were translators, unlike the present monolingual managers and owners of translation mega-agencies who take their inspiration from the vampiric business model of Wall Street.

When just about everything is being corporatized and globalized, including wars, prisons, charities  …, translation too has been turned into a business model that cares only about one thing: higher and higher profit levels. This means that “the translation industry” can remain highly profitable for business model owners only if translators, the people doing the translating work, can be hired at lower and lower rates.

That is why translation rates have been pushed down by “the translation industry” for the most part to levels that are much lower than what experienced and highly educated translators were able to demand for their work two or three decades ago, especially taking into account inflation.

The changes during and after the shift to the corporate translation business model are evident even in the ludicrous terminology that is used to describe this business. Translation agencies no longer refer to themselves as “translation agencies”. They have become “LSPs”, or “Language Services Providers”, as if the brokers purchasing translations from translators to resell them at a higher price to end customers were the ones providing these translation services, not the translators.

Many other ingenious terms were created for the illicit techniques developed to pay translators as little as possible, terms such as “fuzzy matches and full matches”, “post-processed machine translations”, and other terms created as descriptions of insidious techniques that really have nothing to do with the process of translation (which occurs in the human brain), and everything to do with the process called greed (that also happens to originate in the same organ of the human body).

Most of Our Professional Associations Are Not Really Our Friends

It is very unfortunate that some associations of translators have been basically co-opted by the corporate translation industry to such an extent that many translators no longer realize that things were not always as bad for us as they are now, namely before the advent of the greedy mega-agency business model that has been adopted also by many smaller translation agencies who care only about the bottom line and do not give a damn about the damage they are causing to our profession.

You may or you may not agree with some or most of what I am saying in my post today, but do you remember and can you cite a single article grappling with the issues that I am trying to identify here in a publication of your local association of professional translators?

I certainly don’t remember any such article in the ATA (American Translators Association) Chronicle, which calls itself “The Voice of Translators and Interpreters”. Leafing through any issue of this magazine provides very clear evidence that the voice of translators and interpreters is almost inaudible, while the voice of the “translation industry” is heard loud and clear on the pages of this publication.

We Also Have to Work a Little Bit More on Our Analytical Skills

The knowledge of foreign languages and of specific subjects, in addition to the ability to write well, are important skills without which translators can only deliver shoddy work.

But there are also other skills that we need to work on if we want to survive the onslaught of the “translation industry” on our profession. First of all, we need to realize that a translator’s profession is not the same thing as “the translation industry”. We and our profession exist independently of this industry. Our profession existed before this industry was created, and it will hopefully still be there even should this particular industry die in the event that artificial intelligence that can perfectly simulate human thinking, emotions, sexuality, humor, empathy and many other aspects of our existence that humans share only with animals can be developed at some point and put to good use for greater profitability of this industry …. because at that point, the industry will have killed itself with its own greed.

I don’t think we need a laughing haruspex to tell us what will happen to our profession if we give in to the “translation industry” pushing our rates to lower and lower levels in the interests of higher and higher profits for the industry.

Unless we use our analytical skills to figure out how to cooperate with each other and with the pre-corporate model of translation agencies while working largely outside of “the translation industry”, which represents only one segment of the translation market, we as translators will be relegated to the role of slaves pulling away at the oars of slave ships toward ever greater profitability for the owners of the slave ships.

It is true that most adult immigrants, refugees and migrants are not really able to learn a foreign language. Some of them learn it to some extent, some of them very well, but many learn it only to a very limited extent. The latest wave of refugees in Germany, mostly Arabic speakers, will find it horribly difficult to try to learn German because it is extremely difficult for most adults, especially uneducated adults, to learn a foreign language.

And there is now a million of newcomers from a very different cultural and linguistic background in Germany. How will such a relatively small country cope with this influx of foreigners?

When I was growing up in the 1950s and 60s in a small Czech town called Český Krumlov, I remember that in some parts of the town I was surrounded by really nice but really funny old people that we kids called “Nĕmci” (Germans). Some of them could not speak any Czech at all, and some of those who did speak it spoke a funny, simplified version of the language that was full of comical mistakes. Czech has a very complicated system of declensions for nouns, conjugations for verbs and other treacherous traps for foreign speakers. Even natives get it wrong at times, especially uneducated natives.

Quite a few “lucky” Germans who were allowed to stay in the place where they were born and grew up after 1945. Most of them were expelled to Germany and Austria, in spite of the fact that their families had lived in what in German is called Sudetenland for many generations.

It was inexcusably wrong to expel them from their homes, but the reaction of people who were kicked out from what used to be their home first, by the same Germans who were later expelled too, was not unexpected.

When American friends express their shock to me at what was done to Germans in Sudetenland after the war, I say to them, imagine there was a war between Mexico and the United States, and that Mexico won the initial phase of the war and all “Anglos” who were not killed by Mexicans, and many would be killed, were expelled from California, Arizona, Mexico and Texas to the East Coat. What would Americans do in the end to people of Mexican origin living in those states once they did win the war? Let’s not forget what they did after the attack on Pearl Harbor to all people of Japanese origin, many who were US citizens, and none of them guilty of anything.

Wars tend to make a big mess of everything for decades and centuries instead of solving anything.

The first foreign word I tried to figure out when I was about seven years old was the German word “Familie” when I ventured with a bunch of kids my age to a large cemetery at the edge of the town where I lived. What I saw was a weird place with row after row of graves, often with photographs of people placed on the tombstones, with German names inscribed on them in golden script in a funny kind of alphabet that was difficult to decipher, and these names were sometimes followed by the word “Familie”. I tried to figure out what this word meant, but I was at a loss and none of the other kids knew what it meant either. Surely, it could not mean “family” because the Czech word “rodina” which means “family” is so different from that strange word “Familie” on the tombstones. Maybe they all had the same last name I reasoned as a monolingual seven-year-old. The cemetery made such a big impression on me that I saw it again, or what I think I remember of it, in my dreams recently.

The town where I grew up was about 70% German before the war, something that I only found out about my hometown when I was in my late twenties.

I remember one old man in particular, although I don’t remember his name. He loved children and always tried to talk to us in broken Czech, although we mostly just made fun of him by repeating his mistakes in Czech and laughing. But he just laughed with us; it made him happy to see children laughing, no matter that they were laughing at him. I wish there was a way to apologize to him for how cruel we were as stupid kids. Now that I am about the same age as he was then, I could even do it in German.

I had a good friend back then who used to come to my town every summer to spend two months with his grandparents who were German. His grandfather spoke both languages fluently, but his grandmother spoke only German. I never actually saw her outside their house. She probably stayed inside in a world that she could understand where there was always a radio station on in German when I rang the bell to ask if Vašek could come out to play.

My friend’s name was Vašek (a form of Václav), but his grandmother called him Vašku, which is the vocative case that should be used only when addressing someone. Because she did not understand what these damn cases meant, (and there are seven of them for Czech nouns, seven for singular and seven for plural, each with a different ending depending on the “class” of the noun), she would just say with the few Czech words that she did know, “No, Vašku is not home” instead of, “No, Vašek is not home”. But I did not make fun of her or try to correct her. Somehow I understood that it was not my place to do that.

During the two months that Vašek spent every year with his grandparents from an early age, he always learned enough German to communicate with his grandmother, but as he told me once over beer in a pub when we were about 16 or 17, he would then forget most of his German during the rest of the year, so that eventually he forgot all of it.

There were still many kids in my high school who were German, but we did not really perceive them as having a different nationality because they spoke perfect Czech without a foreign accent. The only visible difference was that their first names, like Elfi (for Elfriede), or Hedvika (for Hedwig), were kind of unusual, but once I was a teenager, those names sounded more exotic than funny to me. And the last names did not really matter that much because German last names are almost as plentiful in the Czech Republic (sometimes with simplified spelling to match a different language) as Czech names in a phone book in Austria, or Polish names in a phone book in Germany, assuming they still use phone books in these countries.

So based on my experience in post-war Europe, I believe that even if most “migrants” who eventually put down roots in a different country and different culture are not really able to learn the language very well, it simply doesn’t matter very much. The children of new immigrants always learn the language of the new country and after a few decades, the problem is that most of the children of new immigrants don’t bother to learn their parents’ language. Even if their parents try very hard to pass on their language to their children, the children of immigrants often speak the language of their parents like a third grader, if they speak it at all.

And this is true not only of the United States, but probably of many other countries as well.

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