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.

Posted by: patenttranslator | November 20, 2016

Globalization Blowback in the Translation Industry?

“Globalization”, “Globalizierung”, “globalizace”, “mondalization” – I hear or read this word in various languages whenever I watch news or read a newspaper online.

Globalization has had a major impact on our world: it made some people much richer, mostly those who were already very rich, and some people poorer, mostly those who were not very rich to begin with. I am told that it also lifted some people out of grinding poverty, mostly people in what is still called the third world. I have no way to verify the statement in the previous sentence, but it probably is true to some extent.

Globalization not only made billionaires out of people who only had a few hundred million before it started reshaping the world in the mid 1990s. This after Bill Clinton, who felt our pain so convincingly in 1992, signed NAFTA (North American Free Trade Association) a few years later.

Anger at the results of globalization also resulted a few decades later in Brexit and in the election of another president who, although he lost the popular vote by more than two million votes (while 45 percent of eligible voters stayed home!), managed to paint most of the states in the United States with an angry red color in places where the ignored and underpaid (former?) middle class is seething with rage at a neoliberal establishment that brought it nothing but humiliation and suffering.

Globalization also proved to be a perfect medium for various types of criminal activities. Most of the junk mail in my mailbox, and yours probably too, which has links asking me to click on them to verify my credit card information or sign up for a new warranty on my refrigerator or car, is sent from somewhere in Europe, Asia, or Africa, because it is very difficult for police located in one country to go after criminals who are located on another continent.

For several months I have been receiving threatening recorded calls from the “Internal Revenue Service” asking me to contact them immediately because the “IRS” filed a suit against me. I had to get a new telephone number that I use only for direct communication with my clients, and I don’t answer calls to my business number that is on the internet unless the callers seem legit, which is almost never the case. Many people do this these days.

I read in the Washington Post a few days ago how crooks pretending to be calling from the IRS created a sophisticated organization in India and the United States that swindled many people out of many millions of dollars, I forgot whether it was tens or hundreds of millions.

During the last two decades globalization has also reshaped what is now called the “translation industry”. Because unlike for example hair cutting, which is a highly regulated professional activity requiring a specialized license that can be obtained only after hundreds of hours of professional training, translation is an unregulated, semi-professional activity in most countries – just about anybody can do it.

And just about anybody does do it.

When a client looking for specialized translation service clicks on an advertisement on the internet, there is no telling who this client will be dealing with and who will in fact be translating the document that needs translating, whether it is a birth certificate, a college diploma or transcript, a software manual, a patent application, or an article from a technical journal.

Years ago when the internet was still kind of new, there used to be a popular joke:”When you’re on the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”

When clients click on links to translation agencies on the internet, they have absolutely no idea what kind of dog they might be dealing with and who will actually be doing the translation. The client may be dealing with an “entrepreneur” working out of his kitchen on a laptop somewhere in India who put together a website created from radiant Photoshop images. That website may have no physical address, or if there is an address, it may be just a post office box in New York or London, while the office may be located in Thailand or Bangladesh.

Or the link click could lead to a large agency with offices in half a dozen major cities, in which kids fresh out of college willing to work for low wages are being trained in how to parcel out translation jobs to people calling themselves “freelance translators”, who again may live anywhere on this troubled planet.

Whether the people calling themselves “freelance translators” are highly educated and highly experienced specialized professional translators or rank amateurs who have no business translating anything (let alone important and complicated documents, although they made it their business), is not really all that important to the guy working on a laptop from his kitchen, or to the monolingual kid working for a large translation agency whose arms are stretching like an octopus’s tentacles across several continents.

What is much more important in our globalized world to most translation agencies is how much the “freelance translators” are charging for their work. And that is why the translations may be done by the same person, whether a customer is dealing with a huge agency or with a guy working on a laptop out of his kitchen – namely the cheapest warm body available at the moment.

From the viewpoint of the client, the results of this “bottom line” approach to translation are often pretty ugly.

I have been in this “translation business” for so long now (more than three decades) that I seem to be able to recognize certain trends that may not be obvious to most people.

For example, I remember that after 2003, when the phenomenon of globalization and its effect on translation as a professional activity was still relatively new, many new customers were finding my website at PatentTranslators.com and asking for price quotes for patent translations. This happy period (for me) lasted for a number of blessed years during which I kept adding new customers, many of which later became repeat customers, mostly patent law firms.

My busiest and most profitable years were 2006 through to 2008, and new business kept rolling in from new clients who found my modest website until the year 2010, when the demand suddenly dropped by about 25 percent.

I think that the drop may have occurred not only as a result of a worldwide economic recession, but also as a result of maturing of “the globalization of the translation industry”, which in concrete terms meant that the market ultimately became saturated with offers of translations at rock-bottom prices, prices so low in fact that they would not be survivable by an educated and experienced translator living in a high-cost Western country.

But after a period of dropping demand, I seem to have experienced an uptick in the demand for my services again last year, with a more dramatic increase this year. I am only guessing, but I think that the increased demand is the result of what might be called “translation industry fatigue”. Customers are tired of paying for substandard translations necessarily resulting from the “bottom line” approach of the “translation industry”, translations that are sometime so bad as to be almost unusable.

So, as they are trying new alternatives, new customers are again discovering my website. A desire for change, change at almost any cost, whose distinct component is what might be called a globalization blowback, or disgust with the results of globalization, is clearly the leitmotif of the second part of the present decade.

This globalization blowback has resulted so far in Europe in Brexit, and in this country, it will soon install in the White House a candidate who, although he lost the popular vote by many votes, still managed to somehow beat his opponent, the second time that this happened so far in the last 16 years.

If I am right about this, the globalization blowback in what for lack of better term is called the translation industry also creates new opportunities for independent translators who are disgusted with working for the “translation industry” and for specialized translation agencies who, unlike a large part of the “translation industry”, possibly most of it, are in fact able to provide the kinds of services that clients actually want and need.

Will they be able to take advantage of this development and make a connection with clients who need their services? Or will globalization continue to grind on, producing layers and layers of inferior but relatively cheap translations on top of even more affordable abominations such as “post-edited machine translations”?

Only time will tell. But as I learned in my Latin classes in high school, (before globalization, there was a time, decades ago, when kids in high school were taught a foreign language called Latin), “Dum spiro, spero“, which means “While I breathe, I hope.”

Posted by: patenttranslator | November 14, 2016

My Favorite Sticky Memory Tool

For non-translators who might be reading my blog and who don’t know what a CAT tool is, CAT stands for Computer-Assisted (or Aided) Translation, and CAT tools are software products designed to increase translators’ productivity by remembering and saving frequently used words so they can be reused again. CAT tools also identify identical passages in documents to prevent needless retranslations.

I myself first discovered translation software about ten years ago when a translation agency I had been working for  about eight years or so sent me a new agreement, often referred to as an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement), that specified the payment reduction percentages for what the agreement called “full matches” and “fuzzy matches”.

So I called the agency and asked the nice lady who was co-owner of the agency and whom I knew from many past assignments, including translations of humongous Japanese patents and long descriptions of medical tests and procedures for manufacturing pharmaceutical products, “What is this thing called “Trados” and what do you mean by “full matches” and “fuzzy matches”? And she explained that Trados was a memory tool and that if I did not have it, it was fine and I did not have to worry about it as long as I delivered the current translation on time.

But she recommended downloading something called Wordfast, because she said that it worked just like Trados and that it was free, unlike Trados, which costs an arm and a leg.

I finished and delivered the translation and then downloaded Wordfast, either the next day or several days later.

But since I don’t like to learn new software and Wordfast seemed really hard to figure out (at least to me it seemed quite cryptic), I uninstalled the software, probably the same day.

After that I would from time to time follow heated discussions about various CAT tools online, and at one point I even wrote a post called Friends Don’t Let Friends Use Trados or Any Other Cat Tool, more than six years ago.

Incidentally, that post is still being read every month by quite a few people and has dozens of comments – some people who are in love with CAT tool technology and vehemently disagree with me to the point of considering me an idiot and total luddite, and others who could not agree more with me about the uselessness of CAT tools and the threat they pose to our profession, since so many translation agencies try to use them to steal money from translators by waving a CAT tool in their faces.

Technology has had a major impact on many occupations for many centuries.

If we had a time machine to travel back in time to different countries, centuries and decades, we would see with our own eyes many occupations that are either completely or for the most part extinct now thanks to the adoption of new technology.

Two hundred years ago, a blacksmith was a promising occupation for young men who didn’t mind getting their hands dirty, who liked to work with hot iron, fire and horses, and who kept in really good shape without having to go to the gym every day.

It was a very good and stable occupation for many centuries, for more than a thousand years, until new transportation technology replaced horses with cars and put an end to a popular  occupation for strong men about a hundred years ago.

To this day, one of the most common last names in English and many other languages is “Smith”.

Some more dated occupations are still with us, although they have become more automated, such as that of an executioner. Professional executioners in revolutionary France had to learn a little bit about mechanical engineering, but only as it pertains to the operation of heavy and sharp blades moving quickly under the effect of gravity, while modern executioners in Oklahoma or North Carolina need to know a little chemistry, but only as chemistry pertains to mixing up a perfect batch of lethal chemicals.

Some occupations requiring a skillful personal touch have hardly changed at all: the oldest profession, for example, or that of politician. The main difference between politicians in the good old days and politicians now is that up until a few decades ago, politicians had to be quite smart to get a crowd to cheer while they were shamelessly lying to them.

These days, even an idiot can read a good speech prepared by somebody else for him or her ahead of time from a teleprompter and look like a genius. Thanks to new technology, idiots now too have the chance to become president under the right circumstances.

(OK, so now that I got that out of my system, let’s come back to the subject of my post today.)

Last week somebody actually suggested that I use a CAT tool and I kind of felt sorry that I did not use one.

A translation agency that has been sending me work for something like 15 years sent me a big file last week, with over 80,000 Japanese characters, which would translate into more than 50,000 English words. The note in the accompanying email said, “This file would be best translated with a CAT tool.”

Since they gave me the big file anyway even though I don’t use a CAT tool, I see now that there probably are some advantages to using one. The file was a huge but very simple table consisting of more than hundred and fifty pages of rows and columns and all I had to do was to overwrite Japanese sentences in the central column with an English translation.

I saw that there would be an advantage to automating such a task with a computer tool, although it was not a problem to do it manually either with my favorite sticky memory tool: yellow post-it notes that I stick on the bottom of my monitor.

I write the terms that I need to remember in Japanese or whatever other language I am translating on the left side and my English translation on the right side and sometimes I change the translations when the context becomes more evident as I am translating. I have been doing this for at least 25 years now and I really like this method – this cutting edge technology, especially because it is such an inexpensive technology.

It used to be that once we bought a software package such as Microsoft Word, we owned this software and could use it for as many years as we found it useful, and we would then purchase a new version of the software only if we found the new improved functions of the software package irresistible.

But eventually, many corporations figured out that there is a better way to take money out of our pockets. When we buy software from them now, they may just sell us a license that needs to be renewed every year so that instead of making just a hundred or a few hundred dollars from a single software package, they make many hundreds of dollars by selling us the same thing over and over again for many years, preferably until we die, at which point the same companies should be able to start taking money out of the pockets of our children, and the same cycle would then be applied to their children, etc., and so on.

Incidentally, some software is still owned in perpetuity by people who purchase it, but more and more companies creating software products prefer to only sell licenses to people who buy their software packages with a license for a limited time, because it is obviously so much more profitable to sell the same thing over and over again to the same people.

With my favorite sticky memory tool, I am not forced to buy a new license every year. This tool costs three to five dollars depending on where I buy it, for about a hundred little pieces of lined yellow paper ready and eager for my bilingual input.

On the second day of my translating endeavor, as I was attacking the huge file while glancing once in a while at my sticky memory tool and counting my chickens before they were hatched (because 50,000 words would translate into such a nice piece of change!), I received another email from the agency, which said:

“Hi Steve:

The client just realized how much the translation will cost and asked us to put it on hold. Can you send us what you have finished so far?”

So I quickly created an invoice for the few pages that I had translated and sent it with the translation to the agency.

And I went back to the Japanese patent that I had started translating before I was hit with the huge file, and instead of being sad about the lost income, I was actually relieved.

It was such a huge difference between translating by having to overwrite single sentences, or fragments of single sentences, in a table, and translating a real document, a patent in this case, in the full context of the entire patent application.

Although the expected payment for the big file disappeared from the horizon, I was much happier translating a smaller job at a much higher rate for a direct client.

I think I made the right decision when I decided to resist computer tools called CATs about a decade ago. These tools may be suitable for robotic processing of huge files such as the one that was given to me … and then taken away again the next day.

But they are in my opinion not suitable for patents, especially since many patent documents that I translate are available only as Japanese PDF files that become garbled after conversion to MS Word, as I have written in several posts on my blog.

I really much prefer translations of smaller documents, documents that start at the beginning and end at the end, namely patents that do not require tools other than yellow post-it notes.

I also think that translators who rely too much on technology for processing huge files put themselves at risk of being replaced completely by technology one day. After all, their rates have already been pushed down by at least 30% courtesy of our beloved “translation industry” once they started using these tools, have they not?

Total replacement of these translators by cheaper warm bodies living in countries with lower costs of living, and ultimately with computerized tools, may be the next step in the process. After all, that is what globalization is all about.

It was easy to replace a blacksmith with technology once people no longer needed horses for transportation, and robotic human processors who translate fragments of sentences into another language may be one day also for the most part, be replaced by technology. But I think it would be much more difficult to replace a wordsmith in his relatively narrowly defined field, such as this mad patent translator, who stubbornly refuses to use computerized tools that may be easily exploited by people who would love to control him with these tools.

The way I prefer to translate, I am in total control of the information that is in my head and on my sticky memory tool, and I intend to keep it that way.

Dear colleagues,

This is to inform you of our resignation from the International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters (IAPTI).

– Maria Karra (president of IAPTI’s Ethics Committee and founding member),
– Attila Piróth (vice-president of the Ethics Committee),
– Catherine V. Howard (University Liaison Committee member),
– Shai Navé (head of Israel Chapter),
– Valerij Tomarenko and Steve Vitek (both of the Professional Practices Committee),
wish to dissociate ourselves from IAPTI for the reasons outlined below:

Over the past year, we have become increasingly concerned about a growing list of problems stemming from the lack of checks and balances within IAPTI, which include the lack of democratic participation, transparency, external oversight, and measures to prevent conflicts of interest. As a result, there is a dissonance between the association’s outward image and its inner workings. Its pledge to empower individual translators and interpreters worldwide is at odds with its own hierarchical internal structure that disempowers members. IAPTI is run according to an executive model, not a democratic one, which allows few opportunities for participation and decision-making by members.

According to its own mission statement, IAPTI strives to be “a venue in which to establish a dialog, without censorship and without conflicts of interest, with the aim of promoting effective professional ethics.” Nonetheless, we have been stymied in our efforts to pursue constructive dialogs for meaningful change; our attempts to communicate problems to the general membership have been censored; and conflicts of interest continue to pervade the Board. All this is no longer aligned with our ideas about ethical business practices.

IAPTI’s outward calls for transparency in other entities are not consistent with its own internal practices. For example, the Board has failed to provide members with the range of financial statements required in the bylaws. For seven years since its founding, IAPTI’s registration has still not been approved by the Argentine justice or tax authorities, hence it has been operating without government oversight, but members are not aware of the ramifications of this lack of approval. Without financial transparency, members are left in the dark and ill-prepared for tax-related issues concerning business expenses, such as their membership fee. In our opinion, IAPTI’s lack of legal authorization is no excuse for failing to honor its obligations for transparency and accountability to its members.

In IAPTI’s current status, its own bylaws are not applied in full. It is unclear which bylaws, if any, in IAPTI’s website are applicable or valid, in the absence of any proviso or explanation. Members are unaware of any changes made in the bylaws, whereas such changes are supposed to be approved by members in a general assembly, according to the bylaws themselves. Without knowing the legal framework in which the association operates, members are deprived of information about the modus operandi of the association to which they belong. This excludes them from the emancipating experience of actively participating in the formation of IAPTI’s internal and external policies.

IAPTI’s international aspirations and practices contrast with the local composition of the Board. All of the main officers (president, vice president, secretary general, and treasurer) are from Argentina and have held these positions ever since the association was founded in 2009. Although other Board members have changed over the years, they have likewise all been from Argentina, with a single exception. Furthermore, no elections have been held for any of these positions, even though the bylaws require they be held every four years. The Board thereby fails to reflect or to take advantage of the association’s main strength: its rich diversity with members in over eighty countries.

We have reluctantly reached the conclusion that our attempts to promote checks and balances and greater transparency in IAPTI are futile. During the past months, several colleagues—including Diana Coada, Lisa Simpson, Lucille R. Kaplan, Vivian Stevenson, and Jayne Fox—told us they resigned from their staff positions in IAPTI over similar or other equally pressing concerns. We feel we exhausted all possibilities at our disposal to further the mission for which we joined this association. We believe IAPTI can fulfill its objectives only with fundamental structural changes within the association—changes that the Board has consistently resisted.

Therefore, we hereby resign from our positions within IAPTI and no longer wish to remain members of the association.

Attila Piróth
Maria Karra
Shai Navé
Valerij Tomarenko
Catherine V. Howard
Steve Vitek

I have never thought of myself as a joiner, but I have certainly joined quite a few associations of translators over the years. At least half a dozen of them in the last three decades … so I thought it might be a good idea to write a post about my personal experience with them for my blog.

The first one I joined was the Northern California Translators Association (NCTA). I must have joined in 1987 or ‘88, I can’t remember now. I joined when I lived in San Francisco, mostly because it was a local association and I wanted to meet other translators. I was quite an active member for many years. I used to go several times a year to meetings that were held at the UC Berkeley extension in San Francisco and to Christmas parties held at private houses of translators. It was fun and I met a lot of interesting people at these meetings and parties.

It was the NCTA newsletter editor who discovered that I can write posts that other translators like to read. I started writing a regular feature for the NCTA’s newsletter called Translorial in mid 1990s and continued doing so for quite a few years until I moved from California to Virginia in 2001.

There were no blogs, no Facebook or anything like that back then for me to keep my creative juices flowing, so Translatorial was a good outlet for what I wanted to say to other translators, although it was distributed only in the San Francisco Bay area.

But eventually I quit the NCTA when, after I moved to Virginia while still an NCTA member, the moderator of the NCTA online discussion group on Yahoo first put me on what he called “monitored status” and started censoring my comments by sometimes publishing them and sometime disappearing them to keep me guessing what happened, until in the end he banned me from the discussion group altogether as I described in a post called You Have Been Unsubscribed from the Northern California Translators Association six years ago.

I quit the association in protest. One interesting thing that I found out about people who come to power in translator associations is that many of them like to treat translators, who are adults supporting whole families, as if they were obtuse children. I doubt that I am the only translator who has experienced being treated like a disobedient child by an association’s tin pot dictator.

After I quit the NCTA in protest, I joined the Northern Carolina Association of Translators, (which is now called CATI), and the New York Circle of Translators (NYCT) for a few years, partly because I wanted to see if I could get new business in this manner, and partly also because I needed an outlet for topics that I wanted to write about and share with other translators (it happens to be an incurable and untreatable disease I have).

As I remember, the membership in these regional associations (chapters of the American Translators Association) did not bring me any new business.  I wrote a number of articles for the Gotham Translator, the newsletter of the NYCT, but since it was too far for me to drive to meetings in Northern Carolina or New York, after a couple of years I simply stopped paying my membership fee.

Once I started pouring my creative energy into writing my blog in 2010, I stopped writing articles for translator publications altogether, with the occasional exception of a guest post for another blogger, although over the preceding years I have published many articles in various publications for translators both online and on paper, including several articles in the ATA Chronicle, the magazine of the American Translators Association, such as this one that I called Is Translation a Collaborative Activity?

Two other associations that I joined over the years, in addition to the ones already mentioned, were the American Translators Association (ATA), with offices in Alexandria, Virginia, and the International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters (IAPTI), which has an office in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

I am still a member of both of these associations, although I intend to quit IAPTI for reasons I will explain in a moment.

What do I think that translator associations want from translators, and what do we want from them?

What the associations want from us is not exactly a mystery: they want our money, money in the form of membership fees and fees that translators pay to participate in online webinars and conferences. The more money the associations make from their members, the bigger their budget will be to do things they want to do with money that was originally ours and now is legally theirs.

There’s nothing wrong with that, everybody else wants our money too, from our spouses and children to various and sundry taxing authorities. The question is, what do we get from these associations in exchange for our money?

As Anthony Pym, a researcher at the Intercultural Studies Group at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili in Catalonia (Spain) writes in his paper titled Translator associations – from gatekeepers to communities, one of the reasons translators join associations is that, “Associations are able to emit signals of professional status, in the same way as signals of translator quality are emitted by education institutions and professional certification systems”.

This is clearly why it is important for some translators to join an association, especially translators who are otherwise not credentialed, and in particular young translators, those without experience and those without a university degree.

The problem is, since some translator associations can be joined by anyone and any entity, regardless of qualifications (including monolingual people), the signals emitted as mentioned above are kind of like smoke signals that are impossible to read.

I remember when I was in the audience of translators listening to a speaker at a conference in Prague a few months ago and the speaker said, “It is important for translators to join a professional association, like the ATA” (American Translators Association), I said, as if driven by uncontrollable impulse, “ATA is not a professional association”.

I was hoping that she would ask me what I meant by my provocative statement, but she just gave me a quick look that I interpreted as, “Why should I bother with this rude interloper?” and ignored me.

When I am a speaker myself, I generally welcome interaction with the audience, even if it is in the form of a somewhat rude interruption. But evidently, not all speakers do that. Had I been asked to explain what I meant, I would have said that if anybody can join an association (as is the case with the ATA), regardless of their education, legally recognized credentials and knowledge of languages or lack thereof, it cannot possibly be a professional association of translators.

Associations that do not require bona fide translator credentials from translators before they can become members fail to fulfill another important function that Anthony Pym calls in his paper “the gatekeeper function”. If anybody can join, there is no gatekeeper, the gate is only equipped with a vending machine that keeps the gate wide open for anyone willing and able to pay to go through it.

So this is a big problem that I have with the American Translators Association: since anybody can join it upon payment of a fee, I don’t really consider it an association of translators, although clearly it is an association that has a lot of translators in it.

But as I said, I am still a member. I am not sure why, probably out of tradition or inertia because I don’t really get any business from the listing of translators in the ATA database. A few times a year I get e-mails from the “translation industry” addressed to “Dear Translator” or “Dear Linguist” asking me for my résumé and rates, with a handy, non-disclosure agreement (NDA) that is several thousand words long, but I ignore these emails.

The last association that I will mention in my post today is the International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters (IAPTI).

When I joined it a mere two years ago, I was full of enthusiasm and hope that maybe, just maybe, I had finally found a translator association that would fight for us translators, an association that is worthy of its name and that does not work for the “translation industry”.

Unlike the ATA, IAPTI does not accept corporate members such as translation agencies or just anybody, including people who are not translators. I had to show them a copy of my driver’s license, diploma, and passport too before I could join.

I participated in the third conference of this young association in Bordeaux, France as a speaker a year ago. I met several fascinating people after I overcame a number of harrowing misfortunes as I wrote in a post that I called “If You Crave the Genuine Refugee Experience, Fly Delta through Atlanta When it Rains.”

But in the last few months I discovered that IAPTI is not really an international association at all.

It is basically a private Argentine club. IAPTI is eager to have as many international members as possible because it then seems as if the club were really international, but that is just an illusion. All decisions are made by a few members in Buenos Aires who are all Argentines and what foreigners living outside of Argentina might think about what they are up to, even those who are officially represented on several association committees, is completely irrelevant to the people in Argentina.

A number of foreigners have already quit the association to protest its highly undemocratic structure, and I happen to know that a few more will do so very soon.

As somebody who has been a member of several translator associations over the last three decades, I don’t think any of these associations I am writing about in this post has really represented or does really represent the interests of translators.

An association representing the interests of translators would really fight for our profession against the immense pressures emanating from the “translation industry”, which wants to turn us all into obedient, underpaid minions of said industry.

An association that would really represent us would not accept translation agencies among its ranks because they represent a “translation industry” whose interests are often opposite to those of translators. Such an association would not be afraid to condemn the application of Computer Assisted Translation (CAT) tools to shortchanging translators by refusing to pay them for “fuzzy matches” and “full matches” – a transparent scheme that is tantamount to labor theft.

It would also need to clearly express its position regarding “editing of machine translations”, which is again nothing more than labor theft because machine translations can only be “edited” correctly if they are completely retranslated.

To my knowledge, as of yet, such an association does not exist. IAPTI came closest to this ideal, but in its present undemocratic form, it cannot practice the lofty ideals it claims to uphold.

But I think that the situation is not really as bleak as it might seem. I believe that as social media interactions are playing a bigger and bigger role among translators all over the world, translator associations will be becoming more and more irrelevant, especially those that choose to represent “stakeholders” who are not translators, i.e. the “translation industry”, at the expense of translators.

After all, translators can now talk to each other and exchange ideas freely in online groups any time they want and organize themselves without the intermediary (and often censorship) of an association, and they can go to conferences of translators, which are sometimes held by associations, but also by universities and by private parties, without being members of an association.

And that is why I think that despite the unsatisfactory situation when it comes to translator associations, translators still have a future.

Clients – people who need to have something translated from and into various languages, whether they be private individuals, employees working in companies (or for example patent lawyers who need to have texts of patent applications translated into and from different languages), are often confused, baffled and stumped by trendy terms that are used in the modern translation industry because these terms are not exactly self-explanatory. Today’s blog post clarifies a few of these terms.

1. Boutique Translation Agency

The term ‘boutique’ usually means a shop specializing in something, such as ladies handbags, or men’s and women’s wristwatches. But in this case the term refers to a translation agency that is quite small, by any objective standard. The word ‘boutique’ is code for ‘small’ in the same way the word ‘cozy’ is code for ‘small’ in the real estate business – no real estate industry professional worth his or her salt would call an apartment or house ‘small’ no matter how tiny it might be.

Boutique agencies thus generally come in two sizes:

1.Small and


However, although efforts to computerize translation as much as possible are the hallmark of the modern translation industry, no matter how small a boutique translation agency may be, each such boutique agency is run by at least one (1) living person (as opposed to a computer or a robot) and sometimes by as many as two or three actual living persons. Efforts to computerize the translation industry as much as possible have so far been concentrated on replacing translators by computers or robots who do the actual translating work, not the persons who buy and sell these translations, i.e. boutique agency owners and operators.

This is because translation is a relatively simple activity and translators can thus be relatively easily replaced by computers and software, unlike highly qualified sales professionals.

The process of buying translations at low prices and selling them at higher prices is much more complicated and requires a much higher degree of sophistication than the actual translating process and that is why computers or robots are never used to replace boutique agency operators, only translators.

2. Full-Service Translation Agency

The main difference between a boutique translation agency and a full-service translation agency is that while boutique translation agencies pride themselves on dealing with only a few cute specialty fields and languages (such as translating financial prospectuses from Danish to Mongolian and vice versa), full-service translation agencies specialize in everything: absolutely every subject and absolutely every language, in any direction.

If you can think of it, they specialize in it, be it a language, subject, or anything else.

Full-service translation agencies proudly claim on their websites things like, “As we have more than 4,900 translators across the globe, you can be confident that we’ve got every language covered. With over 110 years’ experience and 59 + million words translated, we’ve got commercial and technical native-speaking translation experts for every challenge.

However, with so many far-flung “technical native-speaking translation experts” dispersed across the entire world, it is only natural that “full-service” translation agencies have no actual information about the translation experts who will be doing the actual translating work for them.

Beyond a few words stating that full-service translation agencies have thousands of qualified translators (obviously, not in their offices since they would not all fit in there), no other information about the education and qualifications of these many thousands of highly qualified translators is available on the websites of full-service translation agencies.

You just have to trust them that they work with the best native-speaking translation experts in the world, rather than the cheapest warm body available at a given moment.

Unlike boutique translation agencies, full-service translation agencies come in all sizes as the term is completely size-neutral. A full-service translation agency can be headquartered in London or New York and have dozens of satellite offices on several continents, or it can be just one guy working on a laptop from his kitchen somewhere in Moldova or India. And sometime, the guy working on a laptop from a kitchen rents a P.O. Box number in London or New York to have an impressive address for the headquarters of his company in the most important markets for translation.

The immense scope of languages and services provided thus unfortunately makes it difficult to ascertain any information about any given full-service translation agency. And since the majority of translation agencies, big and small, claim to be “full-service”, no information is available about translators who will be translating for example a complicated bio-technology paper from Korean to English, or an equally complex county school brochure from English to Chinese.

3. LSP (Language Service Provider)

I have already written several posts on the subject of how the term LSP, which stands for Language Services Provider, has replaced the term “translation agency” by the translation industry for about the last decade, while the overwhelming majority of customers still have no idea what it means.

This term continues to be a major source of confusion for our customers, who generally have no clue what it refers to unless the abbreviation is explained, which is almost never the case. The translation industry seems to assume that our customers in the meantime have learned the meaning of the abbreviation. But unfortunately, that is only wishful thinking.

Despite the fact that I wrote a special explanatory post on this subject more than five years ago, search engines have not picked up on that post’s valuable information, which is already historical in terms of how recent information in the blogosphere must be to be still considered relevant.

When I Googled the abbreviation LSP a moment ago, the explanations for the abbreviation offered by the search engine were ranked as follows:

  1. Louisiana State Police
  2. Layered Service Provider, and
  3. Local Strategic Partnership.

The words “Language Services Provider” do not appear in the Google’s first three pages of rankings, unless you Google the actual title of my post from five years ago, “What Is an LSP (Other Than a Misnomer?”) in which case my blog post should come up right on top in the second position (after Layered Service Provider, which is “a deprecated feature of the Microsoft Windows Winsock 2”, whatever that is).

My own theory is that translation agencies are so ashamed of being called translation agencies these days that they came up with an incomprehensible (to most people) acronym, just like Prince replaced the name Prince in the 1990s with a fancy unpronounceable symbol with instructions that the symbol should be pronounced as “the artist formerly known as Prince”. He did it because he wanted to get back at the Sony Corporation, which owned his contract. All this because he found the company’s methods too dictatorial.

As I have said, I am not really sure why translation agencies replaced two words that are easily understandable in English and most other languages that I can think of with an incomprehensible abbreviation, unless they are ashamed of what the words “translation agency” have come to mean these days.

Although, since translation agencies do not provide translation services, rather they simply buy them from translators and resell them at a profit, one reason why the words “translation agency” were replaced by a mystical abbreviation could also be that the translation industry wants to make translators simply disappear in the wide and wild wasteland of the translation industry, so that actual translators will never be found by actual clients, only by translation agencies.

Posted by: patenttranslator | October 17, 2016

For a Little Bit of Love I Would Go to the End of the World

Za trochu lásky                                               (Okna v bouři)

Za trochu lásky šel bych svĕta kraj

šel s hlavou odkrytou a šel bych bosý

šel v lednu, ale v duši vĕčný máj

šel vichřicí, však slyšel zpívat kosy

šel pouští a mĕl v srdci perly rosy

za trochu lásky šel bych svĕta kraj.

Jak ten, kdo zpívá u dveří a prosí.

For a little love

 For a little love I would go World Region

She walked with her head uncovered, and I’d go barefoot

went in January, but in his soul eternal May

The storm went, but heard singing scythes

He went through the desert and had a heart of pearls of dew

for a little love I would go region of the world.

As one who sings at the door and begs.

Jaroslav Vrchlicky  ((from the collection of poems Windows in the storm)

For a Little Bit of Love

For a little bit of love, I would go to the end of the world

With my head uncovered and barefoot

In January, with eternal May in my soul

In hurricanes, I would hear blackbirds singing

In deserts, with pearls of dew in my heart

For a little bit of love, I would go to the end of the world

Like somebody who sings at the door and begs.

This is a poem that I learned in school when I was about 14 or 15. It was written by Czech poet Jaroslav Vrchlicky (1853-1912).

The first paragraph is the original text of the poem in Czech. The paragraph in italics is a machine translation by GoogleTranslate and the bolded paragraph is my own amateurish translation. My translation is not very good because I am not a poet. But you can probably understand what the poet was trying to say in another language because although I am not a poet, I am a human, not a robot. It so happens that only humans can actually understand communication between humans. Animals too understand and can communicate with humans, but not on the level of poetry because poetry is based on words.

Although, one can probably understand what the poet who died more than a century ago was saying only after a certain age. When I read it in a class at the age of 14 or 15, I thought I understood it, but I did not. Some 50 years later, I feel again that I understand it, but I am less sure now. All I know is that the way I understand is not exactly the same way that you or anybody else may understand it.

Your understanding of the poem may be similar to mine depending on who you are and how old you are, but it will not be quite the same.

Even if I was a poet, and a good one, I would not be able to translate the text so that it would feel exactly the same or almost exactly the same as the original. For one thing, though the poem is very short, only 69 words, I don’t think it’s possible to find words in another language that would rhyme the same way they rhyme in the original language … kraj – máj (world – May), bosý – kosy – rosy – prosí (barefoot – blackbirds – dew – begs).

Every time a poem is translated into another language by a poet who knows both languages, the original melody of the original language is lost forever. Part of the lost melody may be words that rhyme in some languages, such as in European languages, or the rhythm of syllables and the ephemeral beauty of characters in other languages, such as Japanese or Chinese. These are essential elements of a poem that cannot not be reproduced in another language. The associations that exist among words and characters in the original language and in the cultural subtext of every language is another part of a translated poem that is always lost in a translation.

A poem can be imitated or mirrored in another language, and a good poet can sometimes imitate a good poem quite well. And most people who don’t know the original language will of course never find out what the poem sounded like originally. Very few Chinese people know what Shakespeare was really saying in his Sonnets, although quite a few can probably recite some of them from translations into Chinese. And very few French people know what Lermontov was really saying in his poems, although quite a few may have read them in a French translation.

I remember, for example, the beginning verses of one of Lermontov’s poems, called “The Demon”. But I only remember them from a Czech translation because it was so good that it made almost the same impression on me as Lermontov’s poems may have made on generations of Russian speakers. I don’t know who translated it, people generally don’t remember translators, but the fact that I remember it is proof that it was a damn good translator. But of course, it is much easier to imitate the original melody of a Russian poem in a related Slavic language because both languages are in many respects quite similar, unlike for example Czech and English, or Chinese and English.

But not even the best poet, who is at the same time also an excellent translator, can really translate even a very simple and short poem and have it achieve the same effect as in the original language, even if the translation only has 69 words in it.

And yet, most people firmly believe that just about anything can be translated by a machine: you just need a computer with software. All that is needed is the right algorithm and some powerful hardware, and anything can be translated; ask anyone in the “translation industry” and that is what many people will tell you.

I can already hear in my head the argument of proponents of robotization of translation and other intellectual activities and the vehement disagreement with what I am saying about machine translation.

Of course, poems cannot be translated by a machine because they describe a uniquely human experience that can be appreciated only by another human – but machine translation is perfectly suitable for example, for technical texts, they will say.

But every communication between humans is a uniquely human experience, including communication about and translation of technical texts.

In fact, the technical texts that I have been translating for the last 30 years are usually more difficult to translate than a mere poem because they are almost always much more complicated than the poem that I used for the purposes of my silly blog today. And unlike my translation of the poem, my translations of technical texts must be accurate. Otherwise they would be useless.

Last week I was asked by a client to translate only the claims from a Japanese patent dealing with mechanical engineering. I know the subject of this particular patent very well because another client has been sending patents about precisely this subject for about 10 years in several languages, which means that over the years I have translated patents on precisely this subject from Japanese, German and French. I also remember that I had to hire translators to help me with translations for the same client and on the same subject from languages that I didn’t understand: I remember that there were some patents in Portuguese and Italian in that batch of patents to translate as well.

But even with all the experience that I happen to have on this particular subject, I did not really understand Claim 1 of the patent, which had 394 words in English after I translated it from Japanese.

The client got back to me after he received my translation and asked for clarifications for two or three passages in the claim. He had the original English text of the claim in front of him because it was an American patent application that was filed, with modified claims, in Japan.

So I explained to him that it is not really possible to translate well a long, rambling claim from Japanese like this because I would need to be able to understand the whole patent, which means that I would need to read and translate all of the text, not just the claims, while looking at the figures. That is why I translate patent claims always at the end, once I understand what the invention is about.

Even after I fixed my translation based on the client’s comments, he still came back for clarification of one short sentence in my translation. He said that this sentence did not make sense. And he was right: in the next e-mail he then told me that he hadn’t realized that this sentence had been inserted into the claim after the last revision of the text, which meant that he did not have it in the version of the claim in English that he was comparing to my translation of the Japanese text.

Which seems to confirm the premise of my post today, namely that robotization of technical translation is a really bad idea. Technical translation may be even more difficult than poetry translation because unlike a poetry translation, technical translation must be accurate.

And of course, it also confirms my assertion that all communication between humans is a uniquely human experience, including e-mails relating to translations of patents and technical texts.


Every adversity carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.

(Wisdom from a fortune cookie which came with my order of Chicken Lo Mein.)

At the beginning of this century, things were looking up for translators. At least I thought so.

In Anno Domini 2000, plenty of patent law firms in Silicon Valley were keeping me busy with patent translations, mostly from Japanese and German. Once in a while I also supplemented my steady diet of patents with translations of different documents related to lawsuits, such as correspondence among software developers, sales people and lawyers.

I remember one such large project that rolled out of my fax machine (that was how work used to come to me back then) toward the end of 2000 and it was a translation from Russian, a language that up until that point I had neglected in the mistaken belief that it wasn’t profitable, at least compared to Japanese. But I had to share this urgent translation with another Russian translator because the law firm needed it ASAP, even though I asked for a considerable rush surcharge. Hmm, I wondered. Can I charge the same rate for Russian as Japanese?

The internet quickly changed the character of Mad Patent Translator’s work starting around 2000.

I no longer had to go through indescribable suffering when trying to decipher poorly legible Japanese characters in copies of faxed patent applications. Now all I had to do was go online and download a legible copy of the document from the internet. Instead of looking for obscure technical terms in heavy dictionaries, I was able to quickly look up technical terms in various online databases.

All the big changes in my profession were due to the way the internet changed how we work. The biggest change for me was that my website, launched in 2000, started bringing me new clients in a big way after about 2003.

In 2005, 2006 and 2007, my website brought in work from a lot of new clients, mostly patent law firms who found me on Google. After 2005, new clients who found me in this manner accounted for between 30 and 60 percent of my total income each year, in addition to a steady supply of work that I received from existing clients. I could not believe my luck. I thought my business was recession-proof and that things would continue like this …. basically forever.

I remember when a Czech lawyer turned real estate broker (probably due to oversupply of lawyers at that time in that part of the world), asked me to what extent I was noticing the effects of the depression on the US economy when I was on vacation in Prague in 2008. I laughed and told her that I saw no effects of a recession in my line of work whatsoever and did not really expect to see any.

But nothing lasts forever and what goes up must come down, even when you translate complicated patents from difficult languages.

I see in a table of new customers that I created especially to follow how well or poorly my website works that after 2010, the rate of income that I was able to receive from new clients decreased to about 15% each year up until this year.

So what happened? Don’t they still need to have all those patents translated into English? A number of things happened, I think. Severe price competition from countries such as India and China is probably a factor. Many translations of patents that were ordered in the past may no longer be required because unlike in the 1990s, websites such as the European Patent Office website clearly identify equivalent patent publications that exist in English, obviating the need for expensive translations.

And translation agencies, large and small (but large in particular), figured out how to play the SEO (search engine optimization) game by strategically placing crucial keywords in fiction-based commercial propaganda texts on their websites so that these keywords would be picked up by search engines. And when a potential client needs to have a patent translated from Japanese, German or French, for example, the website of the agency may come up on top of the first few ones displayed by Google.

In addition, many translation agencies must be paying a lot of money to Google and other search engines for keyword-based advertising.

When I typed into Google “patent translation” this morning, among the first listings displayed on top in the paid-advertising section were five translation agencies, two of them large translation agencies that kind of translate everything, including patents, and one of them a new one from China, proudly advertising that they charge only ten cents per word.

Well, if a translator gets five cents a word from this Chinese agency, that is probably still a good deal for the translators if they live in China where the cost of living is relatively low. But this agency can probably translate only from and into Chinese, and their translations into English may not be very good because they can’t afford translators whose first language is English at the rates they must be paying given how much they are charging.

Only one of the agencies shown on top among the advertisers on Google this morning in fact does specialize in patents. I know this because I used to translate Japanese patents for them for many years. But then they replaced me with cheaper labor when I became too expensive for them. They were facing the same problems with competition that I face – from translators in countries with a low cost of labor, from better indications of relevance among different patent applications on the EPO (European Patent Office) and WIPO (World Intellectual Property Office) websites, and probably even from machine translation in some cases, especially if the translation is only meant for prior art search and machine translation indicates that the document is not very relevant.

Several years ago I saw that this translation agency was advertising for translators specializing in Japanese patents who would be willing to work with their own CAT (Computer-Assisted Translation) tool. I wonder how much their CAT pays their translators for “full matches” and “fuzzy matches” (for the same words or similar expressions). Nothing for same words and next to nothing for similar words would be my guess.

There are 13 listings this morning offering patent translations in the non-paid section, which is based on relevance rather than strategically placed keywords and the power of advertising dollars.

Most of these listings are again from translation agencies, and one of them is the agency mentioned above that was also displayed in the paid section.

But I am happy to see that based on relevance, my own translation service is listed twice in the top 13 entries on Google: Patent Translator’s Block, Diary of a Mad Patent Translator, is listed in the third position, just under the listing for the European Patent Office website, and my website at PatentTranslators.com is listed in the seventh position. So my own service is listed by Google twice as well, although I don’t pay for advertising.

Now, I know that Google’s results are skewed depending on what Google knows about the person who is running a search and the results that I see on my screen this morning may not necessarily correspond to what other people will see when they type in the same keywords, depending on what Google knows about these people.

But that is why I sometimes go on Google and other search engines in places where people can use a computer for free, such as a library, or an airport, to check what will be displayed when I type certain keywords into a search engines.

And the results are usually the same or very similar, because relevance still matters. If Google gets too greedy and displays mostly entries that are paid for, ignoring entries that are obviously relevant, people will eventually defect from Google to other search engines, such as MSN’s Bing. (God help us all should that happen!)

So that is why virtual competition between a tiny commercial website advertising a small translating outfit such as mine with top dogs in “the translation industry” is still quite successful, even after 16 years of many tumultuous changes in the field of technical translation, although admittedly not quite as successful at this point as it was in the early 2000s.

There is so much more advertising that I have to compete with on the internet now compared to the situation 16 years ago, and a lot of it is mostly fake advertising.

It is not very difficult to fake a message on the internet these days to achieve a certain purpose, such as to advertise directly or indirectly to attract new clients.

To demonstrate how easy something like that is, I cheated a little bit in my silly post today.

Did you realize that the motivational quote in the introductory part of my post today was a total fake?

I did find the message “Every adversity carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit” in a fortune cookie that came with my order of Chicken Lo Mein. But then, when I Googled the message, I saw that it was something that was actually said by Napoleon Hill (1983-1970), who according to Wikiquote was an American author who was one of the earliest producers of the modern genre of personal-success literature.

So, to give it more authenticity and make it appear as though it was in fact a piece of wisdom, thousands of years old, that originally came from the mouth of a bearded Chinese sage (which must have been the intent of the cookie factory that manufactured this fortune cookie), I translated it with GoogleTranslate into traditional Chinese.

I can see that the Chinese characters for “every”, “adversity”, “equal”, “greater”, and “benefit” are contained in the machine translation because I studied Chinese for a while before I gave it up to concentrate on Japanese, but I am not sure how much the Chinese translation was massacred by the machine.

Since my blog is not accessible from China (unless you know how to get around the censorship imposed on using the internet in China by the Chinese government), up until this point, most people reading the post probably did think that the wise statement about adversity was old Chinese wisdom, rather than just an advertising slogan that came from the mouth of yet another slick, calculating American peddler of snake oil.

Just goes to show that you can’t trust anything that’s on the internet these days.

Posted by: patenttranslator | October 4, 2016

Giving the Devil His Due Always Ends the Same Way

Alois Jirásek (1851 – 1930) was a Czech high school teacher who in his spare time collected old Bohemian legends and wrote an incredible number of historical novels filled with intrigue and betrayal. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature four times, but never received it. The Czechs were very disappointed every time it was announced that somebody else was going to get the prize … just like the Japanese were bitterly disappointed when Haruki Murakami did not receive the Nobel Prize for literature last year.

I think the problem with Jirásek’s work might have been that no good translations of his books were available a hundred years ago. For what it’s worth, I think that Murakami should have gotten the prize, and hopefully will receive it sooner or later, given that his books have been translated into many languages, including of course English.

I briefly mentioned one of the legends that Jirásek described in his collection, Legends of Old Bohemia in my post titled “The Mystery of Alleged Translation of “HOW TO RIDE MOTORCYCLES FROM JAPANESE”.

Jirásek’s version of an old legend, called “Dívčí válka” (“War of Girls”, or war of girls against men, or of matriarchy against patriarchy), is based on the description of a medieval chronicler in Bohemia called Cosmas who recounted in his Latin chronicle at the beginning of the 12th century in an old, gruesome legend, featuring almost as much violence as Matt Damon’s movies, but in much more horrific and graphic detail, how Czech girls declared war on men who refused to be governed by women after the death of a fair and just Princess called Libuše who used to peacefully rule the Czech nation for many years.

The Bohemian legend of “Faust’s House” that I will shamelessly and completely inappropriately (because it has nothing to do with translation) appropriate for my silly blog post today, is much more recent, probably from the early 19th century, and is also included in Jirásek’s fascinating collection of Bohemian legends.

According to Jirásek’s version of a legend about Faust’s House (2,343 words in Czech, which would be a relatively easy translation job), a poor, homeless student who had no place to live and was so broke that he could not pay rent, decided to move into a gloomy, abandoned house on one corner of Karlovo námĕstí in Prague. This despite the fact that as everybody knew, the house was cursed. According to the legend, this was the very house from which Dr. Faust, better known from Goethe’s play, was taken to Hell by the Devil as payment for serving Faust for years and making every one of his wishes come true. Faust was trying mightily to fight the Devil off by using his greedily acquired knowledge of black magic and spells, but to no avail.

In Jirásek’s version of the legend, to save time, the Devil simply abducted Faust through a hole in the ceiling to his new infernal residence and that was it for poor Dr. Faust.

Incidentally, Faust’s House, which was according to other legends built on a former pagan sacred ground where people used to bring sacrifices to the Dark Goddess Morana in pagan times, was in addition to Dr. Faust also home to several famous alchemists and many other strange and clever people skilled in turning clay, or literally nothing, into money. Fittingly enough, the spooky house is currently the home of the First Faculty of Medicine of Charles University.

Although fine Bohemian masons tried to brick over the hole in the ceiling many times, it never worked – the next day the hole would appear again. That must have been one reason why nobody wanted to rent the house. But the student paid the hole in the ceiling no mind and settled comfortably into the house, especially since on the first morning he found in one of the rooms a small black dish containing a silver coin called a thaaler.

Incidentally, a coin made of silver from a silver mine in a place in Moravia, called in German Joachim’s Thaal, became so popular in 17th century Europe that people brought it with them to the New World, which was how the word ‘dollar’ came into existence.

The next day, the student discovered another brand new shiny thaaler in the small black dish to his delight and utter amazement, and since another silver thaaler would then magically appear in the small black dish every morning, the student slowly made himself comfortable in the old, abandoned house, reading Dr. Faust’s fascinating books about black magic and spells while wood logs cheerfully burned in the chimney and kept him warm and cozy. At the same time, the formerly penurious student was becoming gradually more and more affluent.

In the end, however, the student becomes too greedy, dares to invoke the Devil to ask him for gold instead of silver, and as you may have guessed already, the Devil uses the opportunity to take the poor student’s greedy soul with him instead of making him rich – through the handy hole that was waiting for just such an event in the ceiling.

This story has fascinated me for a long time, ever since I read it as a teenager about half a century ago. If I could find me a spooky, abandoned old house full of forbidden books, where every morning I would also find a reasonable sum of cash in a little dish made of black onyx, that would be a dream come true for me.

I am pretty sure that had that happened to me, had I been that student, I would have been perfectly happy for the rest of my life with a single silver thaaler a day and would never have provoked the Devil like the cocky student in the old legend.

We all come into this world naked, hurting, hungry and crying. As we grow up, we discover the power of money and just like the student in the story, eventually we begin to understand that we simply have to figure out a way to make a silver dollar appear magically in our little black dish, which is called making a living in modern parlance.

Whether the Devil exists or not, those of us who become too greedy are always in mortal danger of losing our souls, depending mostly on what it is that we do for a living and who we happen to work for.

Just like the student in the legend about Faust’s house on Karlovo námĕstí in Prague, we probably need to pay a little more attention to old legends.

Especially when we are really comfortable, engrossed in our favorite book while the fire is pleasantly raging in the chimney of our favorite room on a cold evening – we need to make sure that we are not sitting directly under a hole in the ceiling whose purpose may not be quite clear to us.

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