Posted by: patenttranslator | January 18, 2017

Proofreading of Translations Can Easily Result in a Disaster

Like most people who run a small translation agency, I proofread a lot of translations that were done by other translators, in addition to proofreading my own translations. I consider myself to be a translator first and foremost, and a specialized translation agency owner (or greedy middleman, if you will) second.

I generate about seventy to eighty percent of my income from my own translations. Twenty to thirty percent I generate by cunningly exploiting other poor, defenseless translators. This ratio has remained more or less constant for the last twenty years.

Most of the time, my first impression of a translation of another translator that I am proofreading is mixed and often more on the negative than on the positive side. It could be also said that the most common feeling is disappointment. I can usually understand both the source and the target languages quite well because I specialize in a few languages—namely those that I can understand—and I generally stick to one field because I translate mostly patents, either myself or using other translators.

But I realize that my initial negative impression is mostly due to the fact that the translator did not translate everything exactly as I would have translated it … and really not much else. As I continue proofreading the translation, I often realize that the way another person translated the text makes good sense and that it may even in some ways be better than if I had translated it, and that I can learn something from the different approaches of different translators.

Since insanely repetitive formulations are so frequently used in patents, it cheers me up a little when I find out that even the highly formulaic language used in patents can sometimes be translated in a slightly different way.

Problems with Proofreading Translations In-House

Corporate translation agencies often try to do proofreading in-house the way I am doing it, although sometimes they send translations out to have them proofread by a second translator, especially when they have no idea what the translation really says, which is often the case.

I see major problems with both of the proofreading methods, namely proofreading in-house, or sending translations out for proofreading, as they are practiced by some translation agencies, although obviously not all of them.

When translation agencies, especially but not exclusively large agencies, proofread translations in house, it is often done by the project manager.

The problem is, since agencies try to translate every language and every field, the project manager is not qualified to proofread the translation, because he or she does not understand both the source and target languages, and usually doesn’t know anything about the subject or field of the translation, especially if it is a highly technical field, which is the case with patent translations.

Even under these circumstances, proofreading can be done in an intelligent manner at an agency if project managers know what they are doing.

But some of them don’t seem to know what they are doing. They may mistakenly think that the initial negative reaction to a translation, which is an instinctive reaction that is not necessarily based on the reality of the translation, means that the translation is not good enough and therefore needs improvements “to make it sound better”. If they don’t know what is in the original and know little or nothing about the specialized field, they start pestering the translator with what I call “stupid questions”.

I call them “stupid” because I know that if the proofreader knew both languages, there would be no need to ask these “stupid questions” as the answers are clearly provided in the source language that the project manager, who is supposed to be able to handle all languages, is unable to read.

Translators sometimes waste a lot of time answering these “stupid questions”. If they want to get paid, they can’t just say “Hey, stop bothering me with your stupid questions, you moron”, although that may very well be what they are thinking.

There is a smart way to ask a question, even “stupid questions”, and then there is also a stupid way to ask them, because the questions do need to be answered.

A smart way to ask translators questions is when the person asking them respects the translator, which includes respecting the translator’s skills, as well as his or her time.

The worst method for asking questions is by using the “drip, drip, drip, drip” … Chinese torture method, for example by asking five or six questions over a period of several hours, when the translator may be busy working on another project.

In the good old days, before translation agencies started calling themselves “Language Service Providers”, most agencies understood that time is a very valuable commodity for translators and this precious commodity should not be wasted by other people, such as project managers.

If you have five or six questions because you don’t understand something or are unsure about some words in a translation, why not write all of them down first and send them all to the translator so that they could be answered all at once in a single email?

A simple thing like that shows that you, the monolingual and perhaps inexperienced project manager, value and respect the translator’s time.

Ask only questions that need to be asked. For example, if you can see that an obscure name that is spelled in the original text was misspelled, or a number was written incorrectly by a translator, why rub his or her nose in it, like you would do to a dog who pissed on the carpet in the house?

There is no need to ask anything the translator, is there? Just correct the spelling or the number for God’s sake! We are all humans and we all make mistakes, including translators.

All translators make mistakes, especially in stupid numbers, names, decimal points …

Going over a translation with a fine toothed comb is not really going to improve a translation. When the fine toothed comb is wielded by an uninformed and inexperienced monolingual manager, it is much more likely to do great damage to it than to improve anything.

I consider most translators who work for me pretty brilliant people, at least when it comes to translating. Otherwise I would not be working with them. But all brilliant people sometimes make stupid mistakes. I know that if I want to do my job well, then I need to catch stupid mistakes before they reach the client, and that’s pretty much it.

If I need to do more than that, it means that I hired the wrong person for the present job and I need to find a better translator for the next job.

Problems When Translations Are Sent Out for Proofreading

The other method that is used by some translation agencies for proofreading is sending them out to a second translator whose job it is to validate or invalidate them through proofreading.

This can also be done intelligently, but in order to it well, the second translator would need to be as experienced and qualified as the first one.

But because experienced translators are not cheap and usually busy, the second translator is most of the time just a beginner who is quite cheap and available. Because proofreading is paid poorly – I hear that three cents per word is considered a good rate for proofreading – translators who are well paid and generally busy simply don’t proofread other people’s translations for translation agencies because it is not worth their time.

The last time I proofread another translator’s translation for an agency was in 1988.

A relative newbie who has a lot of time on his or her hands can cause a lot of damage to a very good translation in the role of proofreader. An underemployed translator may also be severely tempted to mercilessly criticize a colleague’s work simply to make sure that in the future, the translation agency will start sending translations to him or her instead of sending them to the original translator.

Things sometimes work like this because some translators are not very nice people.

I think that it is important for proofreaders, monolingual, multilingual, inexperienced and experienced alike, to remember that they are not nearly as important as they may think they are.

Proofreading is important as a final stage when all pieces of the puzzle are finally revealed and come together. If everything, including the final proofreading stage, has been done well, the translation reveals the perfect (or not so perfect) meaning of the original text, just like a piece of arts reveals the perfect (or not so perfect) idea of an artist.

Would an “art-proofer” be able to improve a piece of art? I don’t think so.

Translation is both science and art, which is one reason why machine translation will never work.

If a translation is poor because the translator was incompetent, it can almost never be saved by a proofreader, no matter how competent the proofreader may be. Nothing short of a new translation will help in such a case.

The translating stage is when the magic happens, or does not happen as the case may be.

An inexperienced and uninformed proofreader can easily kill a perfectly good translation for some of the reasons I mentioned in my post, as well as for many other reasons.

And even a very good proofreader is unlikely to resurrect a translation if it was already dead upon arrival.

Posted by: patenttranslator | January 12, 2017

If You Don’t Have a Job Repairing a Robot, You Don’t Have a Job

The United States and a number of other countries have lost many millions of manufacturing jobs in the last two decades, in particular in the last decade.

The main reason why Donald Trump was elected last year may very well be the fact that he was the only candidate talking about this problem and promising to do something about it, still left standing after the Democratic Party unceremoniously got rid of Bernie Sanders by sabotaging his every move.

The truth is, the Democratic establishment prefers Donald Trump to Bernie Sanders. Bernie’s presence in the White House would remind Democrats day after day what they once used to be and no longer are: a party that fought for the middle class and working people.

I heard the sentence that I picked for the title of my post today on a call-in show about disappearing manufacturing jobs in the United Sates. It was said in a bitter sounding voice by a former automotive worker as an expression of the hopelessness he was feeling about his job prospects.

I’ve had many bitter comments on my blog from translators who are also discouraged by the current situation of translators and the conditions created for them by the “translation industry” that they are looking for a way out, preferably a different occupation.

Although they love, or used to love translating, they don’t think it is possible to make a decent living being a translator at this point. That is what the “translation industry” has done to our profession only in the last decade or so.

I think this is also one reason why there are so many instant translation gurus everywhere who claim to have a magical solution for all translators, though mostly for those who sign up for their paid seminars. To me, the funny thing, or one of the funny things about these instant gurus, is that most of them are so young they could be my grandchildren. And I am not really that old yet … I have adult children, but no grandchildren yet.

I think that many of these “experienced translators” are cashing in by giving seminars and webinars on how to make more money translating by using extra cool technology, social media, or by finding direct clients … because they can’t make enough money just by translating.

You can tell really good writers by how they write really good or at least popular books, which is to say books that many readers want to buy. Writers who are not as good teach creative writing at a community college because they too have bills to pay.

And really good translators are so busy translating, even in the brave new world created for them by the “translation industry”, that they don’t need to give webinars to make ends meet because their customers are keeping them busy translating at very good rates.

The equivalent of an autoworker who is fixing robots, robots doing what the worker used to be doing because he can’t find any other work, is a translator who fixes machine translations because he can’t find any real translation work.

The difference here, or at least one of the differences, is that while it is possible to design a robot that will replace a worker in a car plant who performs manual labor, it is not possible to design software that will replace the thinking that goes on inside the brain of a translator.

Human languages are too complicated. They are as complicated as human thought processes. If the “translation industry” were honest with its clients, it would have to admit this simple fact and make it clear that machine translation is only a tool. Although it might look like real translation, it is not really translation.

But they can’t say that because if they did, who would buy it?

Even beautiful sounding sentences can be a trap, if these sentences are translated by machine translation software rather than a human being. The problem with machine translations that are based on the statistical approach pioneered by Google is that beautiful sentences that sound just like sentences created by human translators often say the exact opposite of what was said in the original language.

I have seen many examples of texts in descriptions of patents that were translated by machine translation and that looked very impressive to me, a patent translator who has been translating patents for a living since May 1987 – nearly 30 years now. The sentences looked perfect, but they said the opposite of what was said in the original. After all, the software is only based on statistical probability.

The “translation industry” says that this problem will be solved by what the industry calls post-editing of machine translations by humans. Sometimes, the industry even calls this kind of unappetizing editing of raw machine output by humans “copy editing” to make it sound more appealing to translators and customers.

But several fatal flaws are hidden in this concept of humans whose job it is to repair a robotic system for translation of human thoughts.

When machine-translated sentences are obvious mistranslations because they sound hilarious or because they clearly make no sense, it is easy to see where the likely problem is in the machine-translated output. But when they sound like real sentences created by a real human being (because that is what they originally were, except for the fact that the meaning of the original text may now be the complete opposite of what the machine translation says), it is very difficult and extremely time-consuming to find out where the problem might be, even more time-consuming than translating everything from scratch.

It is highly unlikely that humans hired at slave wages will bother trying to find mistakes in machine-translation output for one simple reason: the “translation industry” wants to pay them so little that even if the “post-processors” want to do a good job, they won’t have the time to do it.

I have been contacted by translation agencies several times already to work as a “copy editor of machine translations”. Out of curiosity, I called twice to inquire how much would I be paid for this work.

Both times I was offered the princely sum of 1 cent a word, as I wrote in a post titled So Now I Know How Much They Want to Pay Us a little over a year ago.

Some former car plant workers did become robot repairmen who were fixing robots that had replaced them … until they were fired even from this job once the robots were fixed.

But I can’t imagine that real translators would be willing and able to repair the product of machine translation robots for a living, no matter how desperate these translators might be, at the pitiful rates that the “translation industry” is willing to pay for such a horrible job.

Posted by: patenttranslator | January 5, 2017

Dress a Woman with a Stick or Shave a Woman with a Machine?

If you tried to attempt either of the imbecilic actions mentioned in the title of my silly post today, the chances are the woman in question would start hitting you with a stick.

And who would blame her?

And yet, “dress a woman with a stick”, and “shave a woman with a machine” are perfectly legitimate translations of the Czech sentence “Stroj ženu holí“. If you don’t believe me, take a look at this article discussing ambiguities of translation from one language into another—in this case Czech to English—that human translators must solve many times a day in their much misunderstood and often unappreciated work.

A human translator would immediately start thinking there must be something wrong with the sentence because it makes no sense. A human translator, male or female, would know that women are far too complicated beings to allow anyone to dress them, let alone with a stick. Sticks simply don’t go together well with the act of dressing a woman.

A human translator would require context to translate an ambiguous sentence such as the Czech sentence “Stroj ženu holí“. If there was no context in the source text, he or she would probably go on the internet and try to find the context to make sense of a nonsensical sentence.

If there was no context to be found anywhere, a human translator would probably translate the nonsensical sentence as “Machine is shaving a woman”, because something like that is much more plausible than a woman being dressed up with a stick. For example, I have heard that some women shave their legs, although I have never actually seen one do it.

It is understandable that most women would be very private about something like that.

At my local supermarket I have seen pink razor blades being advertised as razors for ladies, and I have stayed away from these razors based on the assumption that the features of and requirements for shaving razors for female legs and those to be applied to male beards are probably different and both types are probably not equally suited to the similar, but not identical task.

But then I found recently (from a woman) that I did the right thing by staying away from them for another reason: Guy razors are the best, much better than the one for women and there is this thing called “pink tax” on women’s razors. They are pretty much the same product (if not inferior), but they are much more expensive. The same goes also for shampoo, etc.

The is no end to the perfidy of men!

If you are interested, this is what one of these manual shavers for women, called “Venus”, looks like. It costs from 9 to about 30 dollars.

If you are in the market for an electric shaver for women, you can also chose from many models, manufactured by Panasonic, Philips, Conair, and Remington, priced from about 12 to about 20 dollars, most of which should be available at your local Walgreen’s.

Thoughts like these would probably be going through the head of a human translator who is suddenly confronted with a sentence that makes no sense and that must be translated into another language, which, incidentally, usually happens to me and probably most human translators at least once every twenty minutes.

In the case of male translators, some other thoughts might possibly be also going their heads at the same time, since male brains are particularly well adapted (thanks to evolution) for certain types of multitasking.

A good translator would thus probably translate the sentence “Stroj ženu holí”, which consists of only three short and simple Czech words, as “A machine is shaving a woman”, since it is somewhat plausible that such an action could be accomplished with an electric shaver for women’s legs (or “whatever” as Donald Trump might put it). A good human translator would most likely also leave a Translator’s Note to let the customer know that there is probably something wrong with the text in the original language.

But what is a machine translation program supposed to do with such a devilishly complicated sentence, even though it contains only three short words?

When I ran the sentence through Google Translate, the best current available machine translation program, which is somewhat disrespectfully referred to by some translators as Giggle Translate, the machine translation program translated it for some reason as “Woman shaves machine”.

It is certainly an interesting concept that might make you giggle a little because that’s what it did for me.

This is just my guess, but I think that the new “neural translation” feature of Giggle Translate, which instead of using grammatical and language rules tries to match one sentence with the closest sentence available in its gigantic database and then somehow makes everything “neural”, would most likely come up with a sentence that would say that somebody, most likely a man, is beating, or hitting, a woman with a stick.

Disgusting, revolting and unforgivable as such an act might be, since the truth is that such acts have happened, and probably on many occasions, based on the innovative approach of Google, the “neural translation” of Google Translate would probably be: “A man is hitting a woman with a stick”.

When I ran the sentence through Microsoft Translator, which is (or is supposed to be) based on grammatical rules instead of statistical probability, it came up with “Machine woman shaves”. This translation clearly shows to me that the human programmers working on the design of Microsoft Translator need to work on their knowledge of grammar, Czech grammar in this case.

The fact is that just like Google Translate, Microsoft Translator also completely ignored the rules of Czech grammar in the sentence I used to test it.

It would be immediately evident to any human translator that “Machine woman shaves” is a mistranslation because the word “Stroj” (Machine) is the subject here and based on the ending of the word “ženu” (woman), the woman in question is the object here, grammatically speaking, and thus (she) cannot be in the position of some “machine woman”, so that the word “machine” would be expressing a qualifying feature of the “woman” as if it were an adjective.

If this were the case, the noun in Czech would have a different ending, namely, it would be “žena“, not “ženu“. Although this is something that would be obvious to any Czech first grader, since Microsoft Translate does not seem to grasp even this relatively simple grammatical rule, it still has a long way to go, not only in Czech, but also in other languages.

So, dear reader, whenever you see another press release from Google Translate or from our beloved “translation industry” stating unequivocally that “machine translation is quickly approaching the level of human translation”, try to remember that machine translation has been “approaching the level of human translation” since 1947, very quickly in the last 20 years, and really very, very quickly in the last 10 years (every year, dozens of article are published stating categorically that within three to five years it will be as good or almost as good as human translation).

Or maybe you can just remember a post about the dilemma of whether to translate three simple Czech words, “Stroj ženu holí” as “A machine is shaving a woman”, “Shave a woman with a machine”, “Dress a woman with a stick”, or “A woman is shaving a machine” to put the threat of machine translation to human translators in the proper context.

Like everything else, the concept of “machine translation” is all about the proper “context” – a word so dear to the heart of every translator, but impossible to explain to a silicon brain because its origin is in human experience.

Posted by: patenttranslator | December 29, 2016

Escaping the Inescapable Network of Falling Rates

I was going to mail a letter yesterday, well, a credit card payment. Few people probably still mail letters in 2016. I can’t remember the last one I mailed, but I still mail checks to pay bills.

But when I arrived to the big blue mailbox, it was surrounded by yellow tape and there was scaffolding next to it and three smallish guys were doing something to it. It looked like they were painting the wall next to the mailbox. So since I did not want to get the paint on me, I gave my letter to one of the guys, who looked to me to be barely 18, and asked him if he could mail it for me.

He looked at me as if not comprehending what I was saying. Then one of the older guys said something to him in Spanish, he nodded his head and took my letter and attempted to put it into the big mailbox.

But he could not figure out how to do it because he was trying to push it into the mailbox through a non-existent slot. In some countries, the slot is on the side where the kid was looking for it and I guess Mexico is one of them. But in United States, you have to first pull up the big metal flap that protects the mailbox, from rain, probably. After a second he figured it out, pulled the flap up and posted my credit card payment, I thanked him and that was that.

I deduced from this episode that he must be a brand new “illegal immigrant”, probably from Mexico, who just arrived to this country and has not even mailed a letter from here yet.

New translators (newbies) and would-be translators who often work for incredibly low wages are the “translation industry’s” equivalent of “illegal immigrants”. And they do not necessarily live in low-wage countries, since anybody can claim to be a translator. And some people who translate can do it very cheaply because their translation income may not be their primary or sole income.

Thirty years ago when I started working full-time as an independent translator, I was being paid (at first) six cents a word for translating Japanese patents for a small translation agency that specialized in patents.

Then another Japanese translator told me that he knew a guy who paid seven cents who was looking for Japanese translators, so I stopped working for 6 cents, (which 30 years ago was the equivalent of 12 cents now), and started working for that guy, who had tons of chemical patents because he used to work for a big chemical manufacturer. Then I stopped working for him when somebody offered me 10 cents a word, and by the mid nineties I was charging at least 15 cents, up to 18 cents for rush work to some translation agencies.

That was what I was charging to translation agencies and it wasn’t bad, but since I saw no reason to keep working only for agencies, by the mid nineties I was working more for direct clients, mostly patent law firms, than for translation agencies and I was and still am charging direct clients a little more than what I can charge a middleman, of course.

Incidentally, there is no magic bullet to finding direct clients for your translations, but here are a few pointers:

  1. You need to have a good idea about the field in which you want to specialize: in my case, patent translations.
  2. You need to identify who your direct clients are: in my case, my direct clients were obviously going to be patent law firms and patent law departments of different companies, mostly large corporations.
  3. You need to design a strategy to make them aware of your services: I have been sending letters to potential clients for about 10 years since the early nineties every time my work load was light. I must have sent thousands of letters, but I did find my first clients in this manner, and some of them stayed with me for more than a decade. I no longer send letters in this century as I am now relying on my website and silly blog for visibility on the internet.

In contrast to the development of rates in the eighties and nineties of the last century when rates kept going up if you had a good language combination and specialty, the rates paid to translators by the “translation industry” started going down instead of up in this century, even for highly specialized translation, such as for patent translations, and even for very complicated languages that are very difficult to learn, such as Japanese.

Some of the downward slide is the result of globalization, as some translation agencies now send translations to countries such as India or China where labor is much cheaper than in Western countries. The translations might not be very good, but they are probably still much better than machine translation.

A big part of the downward slide is the result of “portals for translators”, where translators bid in blind actions, and work goes to whoever bids the lowest.

In contrast to popular belief, personally, I don’t think the decline in rates over the last decade or so has much if anything to do with machine translation.

In spite of how the propaganda machine of the “translation industry” is trumpeting the claim that machine translation is “quickly approaching the level of human translation”, machine translation has been quickly approaching the level of human translation for at least 10 years, or in fact since about 1947 if you know the history of machine translation.

I always print out the machine translation of the patent I am translating, either from the European Patent Office or the World Intellectual Property Office website, which offer three types of machine translation of patents: Google Translate (feared by some, but also known as Giggle Translate among other translators), Baidu and Microsoft (Bing) Translator.

When I print out a machine translation from Microsoft Translator, I see that Microsoft Translator is basically indistinguishable from Giggle Translate. Sometimes Giggle Translate is slightly better, but it sometimes gets beaten by Microsoft which does not seem to jump to wrong conclusions as much as Giggle Translate, at least when it comes to highly technical terms. And quite often the sentences produced by Giggle Translate look like a really good translation … but the problem is, they say the opposite of what the text says in the foreign language.

So I don’t see machine translation as having affected much the rates being paid for translation. What did affect rates directly (and every translator is affected at least indirectly by everything every other translator and translation agency is doing), in addition to globalization, is the incredible greed so prevalent in the “translation industry”.

The “translation industry” does not seem to care that by always chasing lowest cost of labor, they are killing off their best customers. There is a reason why some people are willing to work for very low rates, and the reason is usually that these people can’t command higher rates because they can’t really translate.

The big secret, that only a few translators seem to know and talk about, is that the inescapable network of low rates being paid for translation is escapable.

The “translation industry” would like to think of itself as the indisputable king of translation. It believes that its business model and the methods of large translation agencies that brutally exploit translators and seek lower and lower labor cost to achieve higher and higher profit is the most logical and the best business model in this particular segment of the service industry.

But as I read somewhere, because translation is so incredibly fragmented, the ten largest translation mega-agencies with offices on several continents account for less than ten percent of the market for translations.

The “translation industry” is not Big Pharma, which can enforce its own monopoly over the market for medications resulting in incredibly high prices by bribing our politicians year after year. There is a lot of competition in the market for translation and as far as I know, the “translation industry” does not even have lobbyists.

The key for translators to escaping the inescapable inevitability of falling rates in the “translation industry” is to stay away from the most exploitative segments of the “translation industry” by creating an alternative to it – a business model that is based on methods that have worked for translators in the last century and the centuries before, when translators such as myself were working only for small agencies with a human face that paid good rates and that did not treat translators as indentured servants.

But I also believe that the most important component of the alternative business model for translators who want to escape the inescapable network of falling rates is that they need to eventually work mostly for direct clients instead of working only for a broker.

I just heard on the news that 2016 was the first year in a long time when there was actually an increase in salaries and wages paid to workers.

It is not inevitable that rates paid for translation should keep falling. But if translators do nothing and obediently accept the dictate of the new “translation industry”, it is not difficult to see that they will continue doing precisely that.

Posted by: patenttranslator | December 24, 2016

After Seven Years of Passionate Blogging, What Do I Have to Show for It?

In about five weeks it will be exactly seven years since I started writing my translation blog. I suppose that is as good a time as any for a little bit of blogging nostalgia from Mad Patent Translator.

As of today, almost at the end of the year 2016, my blog has 643 posts and these posts have 8,391 comments. That’s a lot of comments from a lot of people on every continent with the exception of Antarctica, although about one third of them are my own responses to people who bothered to leave a comment on silly blog.

Nobody seemed to know about my blog at first in 2010, and for a long time after. Those were the dark, cold, lonely days when the sun did not shine and nobody seemed interested in what another “vox clamantis in deserto” (voice of a translator crying in the wilderness) was saying. But then, after the ATA Trekker (of blogs by translators) put my blog on its list of blogs about translation, other translation bloggers started slowly linking to it and that little magic widget on top called the view counter started changing the count displayed all the time, to my considerable surprise, sometimes bordering on elation.

Whenever I write something that makes people share it on social media. and WordPress sends me the message “Your blog’s stats are booming”, it makes me so happy! It sort of validates what I am doing and saying. Only fellow bloggers (and Donald Trump) know how good it feels. It’s almost as good as the feeling when PayPal sends me an email that says “You’ve got money”.

During these seven years of incessant blogging (at least four times a week, sometimes eight times a week, mostly about translation, but also about my dog and the kinds of books I like to read), I have made a lot of virtual friends, and a few enemies of course too. And a few people who at first seemed to really, really dig my blog and heaped praise on me for my innovative approach to my efforts at analyzing translation and the “translation industry” but then turned into sworn enemies … just because I said something they did not like.

Oh, well, that’s life. You can’t please all the people all the time, right? You can’t even please the same people all the time, no matter how much you try!

My most popular post, the one that has so far had the most views and that has thousands of likes on Facebook, is Translator’s Dementia, What It Is and How to Recognize the Signs. But after it reached more than 2K likes, Facebook erased the count and started counting from zero again. Although it is about three years old, people still read it and share it on social media (13 people read it today).

The most controversial blog post was one in which I dared try to make fun of women. It’s called Why Are All Sign Language Interpreters Women? and it is also still frequently read. It has dozens of comments, attacking me mercilessly. It is fine and dandy when women are making fun of men, this is something that is very much encouraged in Western culture. But when a man tries to make fun of women, that is just indescribably sexist and vile and such a person deserves to be crucified.

My series of posts in which I compare translators to zombies, such as Attacks of Zombies Are Unrelenting in a Horrible Economy are also very popular and at least two of my zombie posts were translated into several languages with my permission. It’s not a problem to call translators zombies, or really anything you want, and neither translators nor interpreters will be grievously offended by it, as long as you don’t say anything about women in particular.

Some bloggers, very good ones among them, have turned their blogs into marketing platforms for their services, while adding teaching or coaching to their arsenal of moneymaking tools.

Personally, I have nothing against bloggers who put a begging plate on their blog, and I keep reading their posts if I am interested in what they are saying. I might do it one day myself, although I hope I will never have to do that. But when a blog is turned into a full time commercial tool, I unsubscribe and stop reading such a blog.

I think there is a big difference between what people say when they are trying to communicate their ideas to other people because they believe in what they are saying, and because they want to share ideas bouncing around their heads, and what people say because they are trying to make money.

Once a blog is about money, I consider it to be mostly about money, and I don’t trust it anymore.

Every corporate translation agency has a blog, but because all those corporate blogs are designed with the sole purpose of driving sales, they don’t have a whole lot of blog posts worth reading. It’s mostly chest pumping propaganda declaring over and over again how wonderful the translation agency is and what superior services it provides to its customers.

But lest I seem too pure and disinterested in profiting from the content I pump out into the cyberspace several times a week, I do have an ulterior motive for writing my posts about translation too, of course.

Because generally speaking, clients don’t stay with one service provider for more than 20 or 30 years and I have been translating patents for 30 years, a significant portion of my income depends on whether new clients will or will not discover my excellent, yet moderately priced patent translating services in a given year, as old clients are lost through natural abrasion.

Starting about a decade ago, some years I was lucky to land a lot of new clients in this manner. I saw a drop in acquisition of new clients from the internet starting a few years ago … but this year has been very good again in this respect, and I think it might have something to do with my blogging.

Thanks to my incessant blogging about translation, and patent translation in particular, both my website and my blog are usually found among the first organic entries on the first page just under the advertising entries when somebody types keywords containing something about patent translation or patent translators into Google or just about any other search engines.

Which means that as long as I keep writing my posts, I shouldn’t have to spend money for advertising on the internet, which I hear is very expensive.

So I would say that after seven years of passionate blogging about translation, I do have something to show for it in terms of income, even without a begging plate on my website or blog, and without having to turn my blog, which is here mostly for me (and hopefully other people too) to have fun, into a commercial platform.

I could also write about other things that I discovered thanks to my blog, such as the kind of musical education that I’ve received based on my idea of framing my posts with two music videos from Youtube, as well as other things my blog have given me too.

But I will save that for another post and instead just wish everybody Merry Christmas!

Posted by: patenttranslator | December 21, 2016

All We Want Is to Have Total Control Over You

Once in a while, I receive an email similar to the one below:

Good day,

 I hope this e-mail finds you well. I’m contacting you because [our translation agency] recently acquired a very large project consisting of translating business material, mostly e-mails pertaining to a merger between two companies, from [a foreign language] into English.

The bulk of the translation will be performed either logging in via VPN into our server or using a special program similar to Trados for which we will give you access, train you and be available for any troubleshooting issues. The reason behind this is that confidentiality is key.

Please let me know if you would be interested in being considered for this project and I can provide you with a bit more information once I hear back from you.

Thanks you, [sic]

[Coordinator’s name]

First of all, “Good Day”?

This is, or at least used to be, a slightly weird salutation used frequently in faxes sent to me in the last century, and then in emails in this century by scammers in Nigeria who were and still are stealing money from so many stupid (sorry, I meant to say gullible) people living in western countries. Nobody else seems to be using this greeting, with the exception of an occasional agency project manager handling a very large project consisting of “millions of documents” (ha, ha, ha).

Although, judging from the coordinator’s last name, it might be a direct translation of the same salutation from his native language into English, which might be the origin of the use of “Good Day” by Nigerian scammers as well.

After only one short email, I already had a feeling that this coordinator might not be the brightest bulb in the chandelier. Generally speaking, people who are not terribly bright are often very difficult to work with.

And why do these people have to lie to translators even before we start working for them? Millions of documents, each costing about a hundred dollars to translate? Not even a very well heeled law firm, or more specifically its important client, is likely to have a budget for such an expense.

The reason for making translators jump through all these hoops is not that “confidentiality is key”. If an irate translator decides to share confidential information that should never be disclosed, there is nothing a translation agency in its capacity as a mere intermediary can do about it.

The best way to make sure that confidential information will remain confidential is to work only with translators that one knows well and trusts.

This is how things used to work, but that was so twentieth century! This is definitely not the modus operandi in the “translation industry” these days.

Since operators in the modern “translation industry” have “databases with thousands of translators” in them, if we are to believe what they proudly claim on their websites, the old notion of confidentiality of a customer’s information is now quaint and obsolete.

Translators who live in another country or even on another continent will sign any confidentiality agreement they may be asked to sign without feeling bound to comply with anything that is spelled out in the agreement, especially if they are treated shabbily by the translation agency, namely, forced to “perform translation either by logging in via VPN into a server or by using a special program similar to Trados”, and most likely paid low rates and forced to wait for payment two, or even three months, which is not that uncommon anymore in the “translation industry”.

The reason why the kid at the translation agency is so graciously willing “to train me”, moi, a translator who unlike the kid at the agency has 30 years of translating experience, in “using a special program similar to Trados” is that this “special program similar to Trados” counts some words as “reused words”, also referred to as so called “fuzzy matches” and “full matches” subject to an obligatory discount that is extracted like three pounds of flesh from the translator by the translation agency – a discount that will not necessarily be passed on to the end customer who may not even know about this interesting arrangement between agency and translator.

It’s easy to tell from even such a short email that this agency would be a customer from hell. Which is why I don’t answer e-mails like this and only use them as a fodder for my silly blog posts.

I don’t want to work for an agent who wants to be in total control of the way I translate. When somebody is in control of what I do when I am translating, it makes it very, very difficult to do good work, especially since I would be making at least 40% less than if I worked directly for the actual client.

An interesting point here that seems to be ignored in the modern version of the “translation industry” is that a translation agency that in fact does exercise total control in the manner outlined in the e-mail over a translator who is nominally “an independent contractor” is treating the “independent contract”as an employee.

Because the amount of control over a person who may be called by the agency  “an independent contractor” is according to US laws the most important factor determining whether such a person is in fact an independent contractor, or an employee (an employee sans benefits), should the agency be audited by the Internal Revenue Service or by a state or local auditing authority (the always popular City Hall), all “independent contractors” who are required to work in the manner suggested in the e-mail would likely be reclassified as employees, which would cost the agency a lot of money for unpaid taxes, plus penalties.

It still makes sense to work for an honest agent, who does not try to treat me as an employee without any rights or benefits, and who creates good working conditions for me when work is slow, and I still do that. But under the requirements so often brazenly demanded by the worst actors in the new version of the “translation industry”, it makes no sense to me to even consider proposals like these that periodically pop up in my email.

As a translator, I am the person who needs to have total control over my own work.Thankfully, as a patent translator who works directly for patent law firms, I am not dependent on the “translation industry” and I do have complete control over the work that I am doing.

One advantage of working with patents is that I am not dealing with little bits and pieces of information, often without any context, while working with an unfamiliar program and on an unfamiliar platform into which I first have to log on only to then yield total control over everything to a kid working for a translation agency.

As an independent patent translator, instead of having to deal with all of that nonsense, I define the working environment that works for me and I then translate the entire patent myself from beginning to end.

Ever since I was a teenager, I have been and still am an avid reader of mystery novels and whodunits in several languages.

To me, a patent translation is like solving the mystery of who is the murderer, while trying to figure out what happened in a complicated plot with several red herrings thrown in it for good measure.

Provided that the mystery novel, or the patent, is well written, I get a great deal of an indescribable kind of pleasure from the reading, or from my daily translating activity that would be difficult to explain to people who don’t read mysteries and don’t translate patents.

But anybody who too has been afflicted by either of the two kinds of divine madness mentioned above – a passion for whodunits, or a passion for translation, will understand what it is that I am talking about.

Posted by: patenttranslator | December 15, 2016

Please Abuse Me – I Am a Translator

Translators are gluttons for punishment. They keep begging me to abuse them, and they will not take “no” for an answer.

Most days I have to delete at least a dozen résumés from my inbox that scream at me, “I am a translator, please, please, abuse me!”

These translators signal their eagerness in no uncertain terms to me in formulations copied and well established especially, although not exclusively, in résumés of newbie translators whose first language is not English.

Here is a short sample of a few of them.

  1. I work well under pressure

You do? Is that why you became a freelance translator? To work well under pressure?

That’s funny, personally, I got into my present line of work to escape pressure, to get out of the rat race and quit it for good.

But you enjoy this kind of abuse of human beings by other human beings?

And what does working well under pressure mean … does it mean that you can translate 5,000 or more words per day on impossible to meet, do-or-die deadlines? If that is the case, most brokers of translation and translation services, calling themselves “Language Services Providers” nowadays (ha, ha, ha) would probably try to lower your rates, would they not? If you can translate twice as many words as most other translators, it’s only fair that your rate should be only half of what other translators are paid!

Personally, I don’t work well under pressure. I thrive when I have enough time to do a good job, and I catch more mistakes when I have enough time—mine as well as those of other translators—when I am rested and have plenty of time to do a thorough job.

I sometimes have no choice but to translate 5,000 words a day. But if I have to do that, I charge a higher rate, at least 40% higher, because working like a robot gives me a terrible headache in the evening and I can’t sustain such a suicidal pace for more than a few days.

  1. My rate is negotiable

You don’t say! How negotiable is your rate, my dear newbie? Can it be negotiated down to 0 (zero) cents per word or per hour?

After all, it’s such fun to translate! It’s a blast and you love it so much because it is the coolest thing in the universe. Special “translation platforms and marketplaces” have been and are being developed as I am writing these words (also called blind auction sites), where translators fight over who will offer less for a translation job in order to land a crummy job from an anonymous client.

Some people are making a lot of money from this lovely and ingenious design, but it’s not the translators who do the heavy lifting and underpaid work, that’s for sure.

  1. I am a proficient Trados user

Remember how wonderful “translation technology tools”, also called Computer-Assisted Tools, and Trados in particular, were first sold to translators by the “translation industry” with the promise that they could double or triple the number of words translated per day, and the same tools were then used by the same “translation industry” to negotiate rates paid to translators down by about 30% on average in the last decade or so on the basis of a criminal scheme called “full matches” or “fuzzy matches”, i.e. words regurgitated by a computer program to be flagged as reused, identical or similar words deserving only a fraction of the nominal rate of reimbursement?

This ingenious and highly profitable abuse of human beings, which is nothing more and nothing less than an illegal wage theft scheme, is well established now in the “translation industry”.

If your rate is negotiable and you love translating so much, how about if you are charged for the privilege of working for a new kind of “translation marketplace” instead of being paid peanuts?

Would that work too?

This kind of double dipping would definitely work for “Language Services Providers” – people who buy and sell translations, wholesale and retail.

It’s probably coming to us in a new, improved, enhanced and perfected version of the “translation industry”.

  1. I would love to be a member of you team

What team is that? There is no team, my dear newbie. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out here in the wonderful freelance universe.

When every other translator is a competitor, that means that there are no teams in our wonderful freelance universe, only circular firing squads.

I used to be on a team, but that was more than three decades ago when I was an employee.

And I tried my best to be a good team member: I called in sick only twice in three years when I was an employee.

Incidentally, don’t tell anybody, but I did not really get sick on those two days I called in sick. There were these two girls that I wanted to show around San Francisco, one was from Austria, and the other one from Japan, so I had to take a day off.

But it was worth it because I married the second one. Our children should be really grateful if they ever find out why I called in sick one fateful day 32 years ago when I was a team member.

But I am digressing again.

I was willing to be a team member employee because in exchange for being a good team member, I got a few things from my employer that were customarily offered to good employees in America back then (30 years ago) and that probably are no longer being offered presently, things like:

I received health insurance paid by my employer, including dental care insurance. I also had life insurance (although I did not really need it because I had no family), vacation time, more money if I had to work on Saturdays, Sundays, or holidays, and every year my salary was increased by a small but significant amount because that was how employers used to reward good team members back then.

What will be your reward, my dear newbie, for being a good team member?

Your reward will be that an “LSP” may send you another job at some point … unless another member of a circular firing squad of translators offers to do the same job for a little less.

It is interesting to me that no matter how desperate the people looking for work as translators may be, so far I have not received a single offer from a volunteer for the ultimate abuse and punishment for and aspiring translator: to post-process machine translation for a living. Even people who may be living a hardscrabble life in an impoverished country seem to understand that this kind of abuse of humans by other humans who use machines to inflict torture is something that should probably only exist in Dante’s seven circle of hell (or maybe the ninth circle of hell), but not in real life.

Posted by: patenttranslator | December 9, 2016

Checks and balances in professional associations

The article below is published here as a guest blog post. It was  written by Catherine Howard, Maria Karra and Attila Piróth, and it was originally posted on Maria Karra’s blog:

http://sciword.blogspot.com/2016/12/checks-and-balances-in-professional.html

A society is democratic to the extent that
people in it have meaningful opportunities
to take part in the formation of public policy.

(Noam Chomsky)

In democratic structures (from associations to states), separation of powers (legislative, judicial and executive), regular elections, and diverse checks and balances ensure that no small group can obtain total control over the structure. In autocratic systems, checks and balances are dysfunctional or absent, the separation of powers is incomplete (the person/group in control of one power, e.g., legislative, is also in charge of appointing the people in control of other powers, e.g., judicial and/or executive), and often election rules are tailored to the needs of the ruling elite. Governments with autocratic tendencies are often tempted to declare a state of emergency, in which governing by decrees allows them to bypass democratic decision-making protocols (parliamentary votes). This is akin to suspending the application of the bylaws in an association, allowing the board of directors to take decisions without the regular checks and balances ensured by the bylaws.

Members of professional associations usually have a sufficiently deep understanding of the stakes of their own professional situation and the various factors that are at play. This allows them to make informed professional decisions. Taking an active role in a professional association often proves to be an emancipating experience – and also a step towards becoming an active citizen. Someone who has experience in how small democratic organizations are run will be better informed about taking an active role as a citizen. In the case of an international professional association, the experience can be particularly enriching.

States and local governments grant important privileges to associations and other nonprofits (tax exempt status, sometimes tax breaks for financial backers, free access to municipal facilities, funds, free promotion in local newspapers, etc.) because these nonprofits play a vital role in enabling collective action, creating social cohesion, etc. As a safeguard against the abuse of these privileges, governments impose external checks and require internal checks and balances.

The first set of external checks is imposed when the organization is registered. Only when the registration has been fully approved by the authorities does the organization obtain a legal personality. Tax authorities and banks (or other financial service providers such as PayPal) require proof that the organization has obtained a legal personality to issue a tax number or to open an account. Without a tax number or a bank account registered in the name of the organization, the organization can only function in a rather limited way, since regular governmental oversight is not yet in place. This limitation usually applies to all kinds of income-generating activities, including services provided in exchange of membership fees (there can be no paid service without an invoice, and no invoice without a tax number). Obtaining a tax exempt status usually requires further, even stricter checks – for which the full registration of the organization is only one of the prerequisites.

Once legal personality and the association/nonprofit status are obtained, authorities monitor the organization on a regular (often yearly or quarterly) basis. The external checks include monitoring the formal compliance of the bylaws with the relevant regulations as well as financial reporting obligations.

The internal checks and balances are set forth in the bylaws (which cannot be changed by the board of directors alone, only with the general assembly’s approval). These internal checks and balances include elections as well as publishing the financial reports to members – who understand much better than external auditors what certain projects or items cover. (External auditors can much better check formal compliance.) The financial report put forward by the treasurer needs to be approved by the general assembly of the association.

Internal and external checks and balances are complementary. Members and potential members rely extensively on external checks. If an organization is called an “association,” members and potential members take for granted that its registration has been fully approved by the authorities, it has obtained a legal personality, it has a tax number, it has bank accounts registered in the name of the association, etc. They assume that the possibility of financial checks by the tax authorities guarantees that the financial reporting obligations of the association are duly met.

Authorities, in turn, count on the general assembly of the association to ensure transparency, and if necessary, to exert pressure on the board of directors and the various committees to this end. Committees report their project spendings, the board provides a detailed list of costs related to representing the association, etc. Members of the association, whose membership fee is used to pay these expenses, are thus informed of how their money was spent and can question certain decisions. The verification and acceptance of the financial balance is a key part of the annual general assembly (and always precedes elections in election years).

To inspire further trust from members and potential members, many nonprofits voluntarily undertake external financial audits to prove their transparency. The results – as well as all relevant data – are readily available to members and potential members. This helps existing and potential members avoid the dilemma of whether they should risk the accusation of being distrustful or somehow acting in “bad faith” by asking for information that they are entitled to have access to. Likewise, national and local governments are obligated to publish key financial data for transparency and to answer questions from the public. This transparency facilitates the succession of power – without which the democratic functioning of the structure remains an illusion.

Setting up proper checks and balances in a professional association is a challenge that is crucial for its success but which many have ignored. Especially in the early days of an association, personal ties, charismatic leaders, a shared sense of mission and enthusiasm may lead the organizers and members to overlook many of the principles guaranteeing checks and balances. But, just like new nations that intend to establish democratic states, professional associations must have the vision to set up solid structures that go beyond personalities, friendships, and the fleeting emotions that impelled the creation of a new entity. Power cannot remain in the hands of the founding elite, but must be embodied in the structure and practices of the association, refracted through a myriad of intersecting, overlapping, balancing interests and perspectives. Functioning without external controls, such as formal government authorization to operate or financial oversight from tax authorities and auditors, undermines the legality of a professional association. Functioning without internal controls, such as transparency in the flow of information among the board, committees and members, shared decision making, or elections, endangers the association’s legitimacy in the eyes of its constituency. Officers holding power in a professional association cannot flaunt the need for checks and balances for long without being questioned by the authorities and its members. When such questions are finally raised, it is a healthy sign that those in power should welcome if they are truly committed to the association’s success and longevity.

I have written quite a few posts on my blog about a number of misleading terms and notions that have been custom-made for the general public and for translators in particular by the giant PR machine of what has become known in the twenty-first century the “translation industry”. Some turned out to be quite popular, some seem to have mostly fallen on deaf ears.

The very term “translation industry” is misleading because no distinction is made with this term between translators and interpreters, namely between the persons who provide translating and interpreting services, and brokers who buy these services from translators and interpreters in order to sell them to companies and individuals, i.e. the actual “translation industry”.

That is also why I try to discourage translators from using the term “language services provider”, or LSP, in online discussions among translators. This acronym, still a complete mystery to people who are not working in or for the industry, appears to have been designed by industry experts to simply make the profession of translator disappear into the numerous hungry mouths of translation agencies who would love to swallow us translators up by creating a handy abbreviation.

And it seems to be working because this is what is now in fact already happening with the help of our so-called professional associations, most of which work for the “translation industry” these days instead of working for translators.

If translators accept terms in their naiveté that have been recently invented and coined, especially for us by the “translation industry”, they may be galloping toward extinction within a few short decades, or perhaps even sooner.

The “translation industry” would love to turn translators into subservient, obedient drones who would be grateful to the mighty and magnificent industry for any kind of work at any level of compensation. And although this goal has been on the industry’s agenda now for at least two decades, not a word has been written about this taboo subject so far for example in the ATA (American Translators Association) Chronicle, which proudly and somewhat ironically calls itself “The Voice of Interpreters and Translators”.

As far as the ATA is concerned, we are all one big happy family because both translators and translation agencies are “stakeholders” pursuing the same noble goals. To say that our interests are in fact often opposite would be blasphemy, which is why no criticism of the industry is allowed on the pages of the ATA Chronicle.

Fortunately, we have blogs and social media where a lot of information is available for those of us who want to understand what is happening and how and why things are changing for translators.

If most younger translators don’t know at this point that some 15 years ago, there were no “LSPs” or “language services providers”, only translation agencies and translators, it is quite possible that 15 years from now most younger translators will not know that the notion of “post-editing of machine translation” was at one point a practice that was disparaged by most translators because it was literally killing them, both intellectually and financially.

After more than half a century of impressive, albeit very slow and only incremental progress, the fact remains that machine translation, no matter how much editing is wasted on it by pitiful persons formerly called translators and recently renamed “post-processors”, is an exercise in futility and will always result in slightly less repulsive garbage instead of resulting in real translations equivalent to the translation humans do.

Machine translation kills the spirit of human communication. It does so by default because machines do not have the capability to understand the concept of communication among humans and an algorithm will never be a suitable substitute for human thinking.

And because machines are not very likely to grow a brain inorganically, on silicon, the “translation industry” needs to appropriate the brains of persons formerly called translators whose formidable task would be to revive the spirit of human communication that has been mercilessly put to death by an unthinking machine.

Google Translate has attempted to circumvent the carnage that “rules-based machine translation” can inflict upon translation of communication among humans by identifying previous human translations that are very close or almost identical to new texts that need to be translated.

It is a very clever idea and this approach indeed works much better than the older approach that is based on marrying dictionary definitions of words with rules and myriads of exceptions in the grammar of various languages, because such an incredible witches’ brew is created from these rules and exceptions that only a human brain can make sense of it.

However, the problem with the approach of Google Translate is that a translation that was previously supplied by human translators and that seems to be almost identical to another document in a foreign language may in fact be completely inaccurate, although it may seem to be perfect.

If for example the closest translation of a text about a real estate transaction says, “The property on 1234 Sunny Lane is definitely not worth one million dollars”, reflecting the considered opinion of an expert on real estate values from the previous year, but the current expert opinion of the same person says, “The property on 1234 Lane is definitely worth one million dollars”, Google Translate could easily substitute the old expert opinion for a new translation … because it is the closest existing human translation and a new translation has not been provided by a human brain yet. And it may appear to be a perfect translation.

I happen to know that this kind of thing happens all the time with Google Translate.

Very often when I print out a machine translation of a patent I am translating for a client, the machine translation is impressive and looks almost like a real human translation, while it seems to contain only a few blemishes here and there.

But then, when I compare it to the text of the patent application that I am translating, it sometimes has for example a different number of claims and other differences, which means that it is not really the actual translation of the text of the patent application, but instead only something that is very similar.

But very similar is not the same thing as … the same thing.

To file a machine translation of a patent that looks perfect, but says something different from the original document could lead to disaster. To rely in court on a machine translation that looks perfect, but does not correspond to the original document, would also likely result in disaster.

Let me try another dramatic example.

If an intercepted command from Army Headquarters issued by a general from an enemy’s underground bunker from ten minutes ago was translated by a human as, “We must not launch a nuclear strike at this time”, but since no human is available on the spot, a Google Translate substitute is used instead of a human translation for a new command intercepted that only a minute ago said, “We must now launch a nuclear strike…” there could be a minor problem if the machine translation was used to take or not take action, instead of a real translation.

Nevertheless, similar is good enough for the “translation industry” and the industry simply loves the concept of selling machine translations, “post-edited” or not, because it could be an extremely profitable line in the “translation business”.

If the industry could make its concept of post-editing of machine output by humans really work en masse, translators could be reclassified as workers who are simply processing and replacing words in the same manner as the many thousands of “freelancers” called “Mechanical Turks” who work for a dollar or two an hour.

The concept of mechanical Turks describes humans who are often located in impoverished countries and who work for large corporations such as Amazon or Microsoft in part-time jobs as I wrote in a post titled “How Many Translating Turkers Are Hidden Inside a Box of Language Tools?” eighteen months ago.

The difference between the concept of the “crowdsourcing mechanical Turk workplace”, to quote Wikipedia, and the concept of a crowdsourcing workplace for translators who would be replacing words or even sentences at a very low rate, hopefully for free for the sheer fun of it, for the mighty industry, is that people who look for example for mismatched numbers or mismatched colors in an Amazon order do not need to have any substantial knowledge of anything.

They only need to have a pulse and a human brain that works reasonably well.

But translators looking for mismatched words in machine translations need to know at least two languages as well as a lot about the materials that need to be translated. In fact they need to know so much that only those who have not only a very good knowledge of more than one language, but also a degree in a certain field of human knowledge, are likely to produce good work.

Good translators of literary works need to have a flair for creative writing. Good legal translators usually need to have at least some legal education and good patent translators usually have technical education. It is possible to become a good legal or technical translator without specialized education, but it usually takes several decades of hard work to overcome the handicap of lack of education.

But educated and specialized, highly experienced translators, that is not exactly what the modern “translation industry” wants or is interested in. That was so twentieth century!

The modern version of the “translation industry” in the twenty-first century is much more interested in figuring out how to get newbie translators to post-edit machine translations.

After all, how hard could it be to replace a few misplaced words by a few other words that would sound better?

Posted by: patenttranslator | November 28, 2016

The Just-in-Time Translation Production Method

The so called just-in-time production method is a well known method that was originally developed for manufacturing products in the 1960s in Japan. It was used to reduce inventory costs by creating a continuous flow of materials required for producing goods without having to keep surplus goods and raw materials in storage for a long time because this is costly and the quality of the raw materials kept in storage is likely to deteriorate over time.

This method in its many different versions and permutations has been used in many countries for many decades. (I translated several books from Japanese on Japanese management methods dealing with this production system, that’s how I know about it.)

So I thought it would make sense to ask whether there is also an efficient method for just-in-time production of translations. Unlike perishable products, translations can be kept on a recording medium such as a hard disk indefinitely, which is an advantage that translations have for example over cakes, eggs or sausages. That may be why so many translators do not seem to realize how important it is to supply a translation precisely at the right moment, which means not only not too late, but also not too early.

Timing is everything not only in life, but also when it comes to delivering translations. Moreover, to determine the perfect timing for delivering a translation to a customer at the right, most opportune moment, we have to understand what kind of customer we are dealing with and realize what we know about this customer.

There are two basic types of customers:

  1. translation agencies and
  2. direct clients.

Just-in-Time-Delivery to Translation Agencies

While there is a big difference between translation agencies and direct clients and it could plausibly be argued that a translation agency (or an LSP if you like silly, propagandistic and slightly moronic acronyms), is not really a customer, but only an agent, broker, reseller, etc., both translation agencies and direct customers will be considered “clients” for the purposes of my post today.

An inexperienced translator might think that a translation ought to be delivered to a customer as soon as possible once it has been completed and carefully proofread. While this may be a good policy with some customers, it is in my considerable experience of almost 30 years definitely not advisable to apply this policy uniformly and blindly to all customers.

For example, if I translate a patent for a translation agency that I suspect knows nothing about patents, (which happens quite frequently because very few translation agencies know anything about them), I always deliver my masterpiece based on my just-in-time production system,  which is to say just before it is due to try to protect myself against ignoramuses.

The reason is simple: the less time a translation agency that “translates all subjects and all languages in any direction” has to try its hand at editing my patent translation, the less chance there is that the translation that is so precious to me and dear to my heart will be inadvertently and quite stupidly butchered beyond recognition, often in the most important passages.

This can easily happen for example when a long patent claim, usually claim 1, is divided by a proofreader into several clauses because a proofreader who may be extremely clear about the crucial and all-important difference between the usage of “which” and “that” and who works part-time for the agency to supplement her meager Social Security Payments does not know that one claim must correspond to one sentence in every patent application in every language, regardless of how ridiculously long such a sentence might be.

After all, if a monster sentence is divided into two sentences, it reads much better and is much easier to follow, isn’t it? It’s a no-brainer!

Of course, many translation agencies, especially inexperienced ones, can kill any kind of translation through their misplaced editing efforts with this kind of kindness and inexpert expertise, and not just patent translations.

If I work for a translation agency that I know well and that I know has a lot of experience with patents, I may normally deliver my translation early, especially if the agency pays quickly … but I don’t do even this very often because other important considerations regarding the just-in-time translation delivery principle still apply.

It is well known that most translators turn out on average two thousand words per working day, including the time required for proofreading, which should be ideally done the next day after a good night’s sleep.

But if the translation agency discovers that unlike most people, you can usually translate three thousand words per day, or even more when the spirit moves you, you may eventually find that your deadlines have suddenly shrunk by an amount of time eerily corresponding exactly to the excess capacity of words that you are able to translate per day. This is of course not desirable, especially in view of the fact that a correspondingly longer period of time would then be made available for potential butchering of what is a very good translation that should definitely not be touched by a translation agency’s novice (cheap) proofreader.

Just-in-Time Delivery to Direct Clients

When we work for a direct client, such as a patent lawyer, other considerations applicable to the general just-in-time translation delivery principle, to which I am personally partial, suddenly become important.

Lawyers are often in a hurry to have important documents available to them ASAP and of course, I am eager to accommodate them by offering a deadline that is as short as possible, let’s say by tackling about three thousand words per working day instead of a mere two thousand.

But since of all people, lawyers know so well that “timing is everything” and “time is money”, I always ask for a significant surcharge for what I call “rush translation”, as opposed to regular turnaround time. Let’s say that on a document that has about ten thousand words, regular turnaround time would be about five days (or six to be on the safe side), while rush turnaround time would be only three days (or four to be on the safe side).

Most of the time, a fiscally prudent direct customer will choose the less expensive option, which is what I prefer anyway because although I make less money, I don’t have to be killing myself working long hours and over the weekend. And if another client hits me at the same time with a real rush translation, I may still have time to fit in a shorter rush translation while I am still able to finish the previous translation within the deadline.

The magic words in determining how long a non-rush translation will take are the words “up to”.

My estimate for the two options that I generally offer to clients (usually only to direct clients because while agencies usually want you to hurry,  they don’t want to pay extra for it) would thus look as follows:

Non-rush translation = 10,000 words times x cents per word =X dollars, turnaround time up to 6 working days

Rush translation= 10,000 words times y per word (where y is 40%  higher than x)= Y dollars, turnaround time 3 working days

As I have said, the non-rush option is most often selected, which works for me. But when the customer really is in a hurry, it works for me too because I make more money for basically the same work.

Just because I quoted six days does not mean that I will in fact let the customer wait the whole six days every time for the translation. Especially if it is a customer who pays on time and has a lot of work for me, I may send the translation in three or four days instead of six. But I can take the whole six days if I need to do that.

If I need to translate too many documents in a hurry, something that I might not be able to do on my own, the rush rate makes it possible for me to hire other translators to help me to finish a sizable job on time. Unlike many translation agencies, I can actually tell for example which Japanese patents are on the same or a similar subject and which ones were written by the same bengoshi (Japanese patent agent), so I make sure that the same person translates those patents (usually moi) to ensure consistent terminology.

My just-in-time translation delivery method works very well for me most of the time because I designed and developed it as an optimal method for delivery of patent translations and most of the time I translate patents and patent-related documents.

In other words, my method is suitable for patents translations, but that does not necessarily mean that it is equally suitable for other translation fields.

If you have a translation production and delivery method that works best in your translation field, although it differs significantly from mine, I hope you will care enough about your fellow translators to share your ingenious method with them on my silly blog.

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