The Krister Henriksson version of Wallander is by far superior to either the Ralf Lasgaard or the Kenneth Branagh versions. (The Branagh series was DIRE!). Henriksson IS Wallander, arguably one of the best cop shows on TV, helped by the superb supporting cast. I have the complete series on CD they are watchable time and again. Did’nt Charlotta Jonsson make a good Linda?

From a comment on Youtube by a commenter in Lancashire, England.

There was a time when good thrillers were produced in Hollywood. “Three Days Of The Condor” with Robert Redford was one of them. “Silence Of The Lambs” with Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins was another one, and I liked “Panic Room” and “The Brave One” very much too.

These days, I am supposed to watch The Game of the Thrones instead. I tried, but my inner child must have died a long time ago and now I am too big for fairy tales about nothing, no matter how fantastical they may be. Or maybe I am too smart for these flashy, extravagant, extra-expensive circus shows, or maybe too stupid, take your pick.

There is probably something wrong with me if I need to be able to identify with the theme of a movie or TV series that I am watching, and I don’t know how to do that when I watch Vin Diesel chasing yet another evildoer in his sport car or turning yet another’s villain’s face into a bloody pulp again. When the conflict between good and evil, the very foundation of a good thriller, whether it is told by Sophocles, William Shakespeare, or Georges Simenon, is absent in films that are based mostly on car chasing, boxing, fighting and shooting, I get bored after about 20 minutes.

Life really is about the conflict between good and evil, is it not? Especially since what appears as evil to one person may represent an unquestionably good and noble purpose to somebody else.

There is one cop TV series on US cable channels that I watched this year that is not too bad. It is called “Banshee”. But it is mostly carried by the incredible performance of one person, Anthony Starr, an actor from New Zealand who plays the role of a fake sheriff named Lucas Hood. But the fake sheriff is actually an escaped convict who killed the real sheriff in self defense in a bar fight (just like in Bob Marley’s song “I killed the sheriff”). I watched about half a dozen episodes, but in the end I got tired of the predictably choreographed final bloodshed scene. There probably will not be a tragic, Macbethean end to Lucas Hood – how could they let such a cute guy who has tens of thousands of female followers on Twitter die in the end?

Although my cable package used to include all of the movie channels, I have not seen a good new American cop show on my TV in a very long time. So I eventually canceled all of them except for HBO, but I almost never watch HBO either because I can’t find much worth watching on it either.

If I want to watch a good thriller or cop show these days, I go to Netflix and look for films or TV series in foreign languages. This year I watched three excellent, non-Hollywood TV cop shows on Netflix. As far as I know, these foreign-language TV series are not shown on any of the US cable TV channels. American TV channels only seem to show reruns of old American TV cop shows, with lots and lots of commercials thrown in between car chasing, shootouts and other staples of this particular genre. But I don’t watch these TV shows because I can’t stand the long periods of loud, idiotic commercials, which make my movie viewing experience about as enjoyable as coitus interruptus.

The last time I watched shows like this, while muting the commercials, was 30 years ago when I was working Saturday afternoon shifts as an employee of a Japanese travel agency on the top floor of an expensive hotel in San Francisco, because every Saturday, they were showing reruns of Inspector Colombo at 4 PM Pacific Time. I was mostly watching the Colombo reruns because there was nothing else to do there – once I confirmed that the flights of Japanese tour groups were on time, I was just there in case an interpreter was needed if something happened to a tour group.

The French TV Series “Spiral (“Engrenages”)

The series Spiral, called “Engrenages” in French, is a French cop show with a Season One that is 10 years old now. I was able to watch only Season Four, the last series on Netflix, because, as I found out from Internet, only Season Four is available on Netflix “due to a licensing issue”.

What can this “issue” be, I wonder? Most of the time, people use the word “issue” when they don’t want to say what they really mean and you are supposed to figure it out on your own (or not). For example, one of our neighbors told me that the cute puppy that she had recently bought or adopted “had issues”. Upon further questioning, I was able to find out that the puppy was pissing on the carpet in her house. I suppose the term “issue” sounded better to her than the perfectly neutral expression “housebroken”. Later I heard that she got rid of the poor puppy.

What struck me about Spiral right away was how believable were the actors in their roles of the police, judges, illegal immigrants, drug dealers and terrorists. They wear their roles as a second skin. Unlike in most American police drama, the main female cop-character is not really a beautiful woman, she is about 40, has several moles (beauty marks?) on her face and nasty commitment “issues” (she sleeps with her former boyfriend and lies to her husband). At the same time, she is one of the sexiest female cops from any police drama series that I can think of.

I found out from the Internet that the show was sold to broadcasters in some 70 countries, among them Australia, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. United States of America is somehow missing for some reason. I think that the “issue” with this TV series was probably that Hollywood did not want the competition.

The Belgian TV Series “Salamander”

Another TV cop series that I really enjoyed this year was that Belgian series “Salamander”. I don’t think I ever watched a Belgian film before, let alone a TV series in 12 parts, although I did have Belgian beer and waffles before, and I have been to Liège and Brussels many years ago. I did not expect much from it, but the story drew me in right from the beginning in which bank robbers dig a tunnel to rob a bank. But instead of stealing just money, they steal the content of 66 safe deposit boxes belonging to bankers, politicians and generals and other prominent members of the Belgian crème de la crème, all of whom happen to be members of a secret society called Salamander that aims to take over power completely and get rid of what’s left of democracy in that small country. It turns out toward the end of the series that the seed money of the Salamander society is based on a murder from World War II committed to steal money from Belgian resistance to Nazi occupation.

The Salamander society is extremely powerful and extremely ruthless, it kills people who are in its way without a second thought. A cop called inspector Gerardi, who becomes a rogue cop early in the series because he disobeys the order not to go after a crooked, murderous banker, is the only person who is standing in their way now and they have to kill him first if their plans to openly take power are to succeed.

To me it sounds like a good theme for a Hollywood movie or cop show, especially since Hollywood is borrowing plots from European films all the time, and vice versa, of course. For example, “Talented Mr. Ripley” from 1999 with Mat Damon is basically a remake of the French film “Au plein soleil” from 1960 with Alain Delon (I saw both films, which are based on the novel “Talented Mr. Ripley” by Patricia Highsmith). And I saw a French movie recently that I recognized as a remake of an American film … I can’t remember now what it was, maybe a reader can help me in the comments sections.

But of course, it would take a lot of courage to make a Hollywood movie that would dare to talk in these terms about bankers, generals and politicians, so instead, Hollywood put together yet another excellent, thought provoking movie full of special effects about …. Godzilla.

The Swedish TV Show “Wallander”

I have not seen a Swedish film since the seventies when I saw half a dozen Ingmar Bergman’s films at a film club, the last one was “Cries and Whispers” in 1972. I watched Episode Eight yesterday and I will probably watch Episode Nine this evening and then all the other ones provided that Netflix has all the 32 episodes (I sincerely hope it does).

The TV series, which is based on novels by Henning Mankell, a Swedish author of mystery novels and dramatist, has also been adapted into a series in the English language in which the Swedish inspector Kurt Wallander is played by Kenneth Branagh.

I will probably not watch the English version with Kenneth Branagh. Although he is among my favorite actors, it would probably clash too much with the Swedish version of the series in my mind and maybe it is DIRE! as the commenter from Lancashire, England, put it on Youtube.

Every episode of the Swedish series, in which inspector Kurt Wallander is played by Krister Henriksson, is 90 minutes long, just like a regular movie, and it usually starts with an apparently senseless murder of an innocent person, just like a good mystery should. Viewers then discover during each episode the reason that led to that murder, and by the end of it, several murders are usually committed.

But although there may be an occasional car chasing, a shootout scene or a sex scene thrown into the mix for good measure, the episodes are not mostly about car chasing, or shootouts or sex. The plots of each episodes seem to be crafted to force the viewers to take another look at the constant fight between good and evil, while thinking about their own lives.

This is something that only a few books, plays or films can do to me, but it happened to me so far with every single episode of the eight 90-minute-long films I watched so far this month. Today being a Friday, around 8 PM I will first go through the HBO channels on my TV. I think I have about 8 of them, but the chances that I will find anything worth watching there are pretty slim. Then, at 8:30 PM, I will check to see whether there is an interesting French movie on TV5 Monde, the only French channel that I can get here, and if there is not, I will switch to Netflix and watch the incredible performance of Krister Henriksson who plays an aging, lonely Swedish inspector who walks his dog on a beach near his house, a house that is full of old-fashioned records with classical music, in Episode Nine of Wallander.

Even the best, almost miraculous modern technology, has its limitations.

I love the way the GPS system can guide me to my destination through my iPhone because I no longer have to study a paper map before I start my car.

But the GPS sometime picks the wrong route for me, a much longer route than a local would choose because it generally picks the main roads, even if I try to exclude highways. It took me and left me near an airport, but not at the airport where I wanted to go, while insisting that the destination was on my left. It wasn’t.

Once when I was looking for a UPS (United Parcel Service) store, it directed me to a parking lot of a high school and insisted again that the destination was on my left. It wasn’t. On my left was a parent directing other parents to the few remaining free parking spots left in a high school’s parking lot. After I managed to find another UPS store, 15 minutes away from that school, the store’s clerk explained to me that the other UPS store was in a shopping mall that was quite familiar to me, but not to GPS, about a mile south from the high school. Somehow I never noticed that the store was there.

“Proceed to the route, proceed to the route, proceed to the route”, the voice in the machine keeps admonishing me if I dare to ignore its instructions because I know better that to trust a machine.

Yet, many people have an almost fanatical belief in technology, they trust it completely and unquestioningly, the way hardline communists used to believe in the righteousness of their own system, or the way religious nuts believe that their version of religion is the answer to everything.

“The translation industry” is shamelessly exploiting this belief in omnipotence of technology.

The industry posits as an irrefutable fact the highly nonsensical proposition that as machine pseudo-translation is constantly being improved, human translators will eventually, perhaps quite soon, become an unnecessary, expensive appendage that can be simply removed completely with the scalpel of cutting-edge “language technology”. According to the industry’s credo, the only way forward for translators is “to embrace technology”, by which they mean that translators must incorporate machine pseudo-translation into their own business model, preferably by becoming post-processing factotums ready and willing to be exploited by “the translation industry”.

The problem is, this line of reasoning simply ignores reality.

The reality is that machine translation has been around for more than half a century and that it can now be accessed for free with a few mouse clicks by about a billion people as I am writing these words.

Reasonably good machine translation, within certain limits, has been available to this patent translator at official websites of the of the European Patent Office, Japan Patent Office and other websites containing digital libraries with millions of patent applications in dozens of languages for at least the last 15 years. When I was translating a patent ten or fifteen years ago, I only had a single file on my computer’s desktop. I now need to have a folder on my desktop for each patent that I am translating, not just a file, and one of the files in that folder, which contains a number of reference files, is usually a machine-translated version of the same patent that I am translating.

All of my clients have had access to the same machine-translated reference files for at least a decade. But although machine translation, or more precisely speaking, machine-pseudo translation, has been available for free on the Internet for more than a decade, it has not been able to replace me and thousands of other human patent translators. Fifteen years ago, I was afraid of it, and I thought it possible that the day might in fact come sooner or later.

About five years ago, a troll on my blog told me that machine translation would put me out of business within five years. He kept repeating the same thing over and over like a mantra, evidently drawing comfort and some kind of pleasure from a statement that was based again on nothing but wishful thinking. After a while I got tired of trying to reason with him and instead started deleting his comments. He went away for a while, only to come back under a new pseudonym, but after I pointed out to him that I can see through his most recent sock puppet reincarnation, he finally went away, hopefully for good.

Well, I am still here, doing the same thing that I was doing 15 years ago, 10 years ago, and 5 years ago, and I will still be here doing the same thing 5 or 10 or 15 years from now, unless I die or decide to retire.

All of my clients have had access to machine-translated files for at least a decade now. And yet, they still keep me busy, even in the midst of the worst economic depression that has been with us for at least the last 8 years.

Machine pseudo-translation is not going to change my line of work that much. It is useful for many things, for example for identifying patents that do not need to be translated by a human. But its capabilities seem to have reached yet another a plateau. The statistical method developed by Google is much better than the decades-old, rule-based attempts to use software to simulate human thinking. But why is Google’s approach so much better? Because it is based on human thinking. A sentence that is so cleverly translated by software sounds perfect only because it was originally translated by a clever human.

An algorithm will sometime find a perfect or almost perfect match for another sentence in another language. But often, perhaps due to a difference in one word, or a misplaced comma, it will say the opposite of what was in fact meant in that other language. How do you overcome this dilemma?

The same way that I found the location of a UPS store that was invisible to the GPS in my iPhone when the wrong location was for some reason associated with its address by the software.

When the software is wrong, you need to ask a knowledgeable human being for directions. That is why “the translation industry” needs translators to fix errors created by software. The truth is that it needs them to retranslate the whole thing, but not as translators. Once translators are reclassified as post-processors, they will be inevitably paid a low hourly rate to help to drive the profits of “the translation industry” into the stratosphere.

Some translators, the most vulnerable among us, will no doubt fall into this trap, without realizing that they are digging their own grave in this manner if they accept this greedy scheme as their own, unavoidable fate.

I could be wrong, but something is telling me that most of us are not that stupid.

I received the following e-mail from an agency in Europe. I translated a few Japanese patents for them a few years ago, but I have not heard from them in quite a while.
This is what the e-mail said:

Dear translator,

I would like to inform you that we are now working with a new Management System for our translation jobs.

This new system allows the interaction with you through our Vendor Portal.
The Vendor Portal is a tool designed for fast and easy cooperation with our Project Management Portal. With it you can:

• Update your personal data
• Receive and accept job offers
• Download and upload files
• Notify about your vacations (days off)
• And much more!

You will receive an email within the next few minutes with your login and password to enter the Portal. Please check you spam folder if you do not receive it.

I would appreciate that you follow the instructions carefully.
If you have any doubt, you can consult the attached Guide, follow this link or see this video for more information.

Best regards,
Ms. So-and- So, Head of Vendor Management

Oh well, so I will not be working for these guys anymore, I thought to myself, as I don’t work for people who want me to only interact with their software through a “portal for vendors”. If they can’t spare a human who can interact with another human, they’re history.

Maybe I should let them know that they are no longer on my list of potential customers, and maybe I should also give them a piece of my mind, I wondered. But then I decided to keep them guessing. After all, if they contact me when and if they actually have a job for me, they will have to accept my conditions anyway, or I am not going to do it.

So I just ignored the e-mail, although it did say that the sender wanted me to acknowledge receipt.

A day later, I received the same e-mail from them again. The only change in it was that instead of “Dear Translator”, it now said “Dear Mr. Vitek“.

Wow, they actually know that I do have a name. That was impressive, but I continued ignoring them. I was busy anyway as I was proofreading a long Japanese patent translation that I finished over the weekend. I started proofreading at 6 AM, and ended at 2 PM, completely exhausted. I could not do any translating for the rest of the day because I always get a headache after many hours of concentration.

This morning I received a different e-mail from them:

Dear translator,

Due to many received emails from your side, I just wanted to clarify that the invoicing section appearing in the Vendor Portal is not updated.

We use another system for invoicing, so please ignore this section in the Portal. The info may not be real.

The invoicing procedure will be as always. Nothing changes.

I also wanted to use this email to tell you that I will try to solve all your doubts as soon as possible, but it will take me some days. Please be patient 

Thanks and best regards,

Ms. So-and-So, Head of Vendor Management

That’s right, nothing changes indeed. I will continue ignoring the invoicing section and all the other sections of your management system called “portal for vendors” as well.

There is a lot you dummies don’t understand about the need for a proper balance in the relationship between translators and a translation agency if you don’t even realize that it make us cringe when you call us “vendors”.

I don’t mind when people who work in the accounting department of a law firm call me “vendor”. Different people provide different services and thus we are all vendors to them. I don’t expect them to really know anything about what it is that I do for a living. In fact, they can call me anything they want because in return, I get to charge them almost twice as much for the same work as what I can get from a translation agency.

But if you are a translation agency, one of the things that you should know about “the translation industry” is that the people who do all of the translating work, you know, the people who do the work that pays all of your bills and then pays for your vacations too, are called translators, not “vendors”.

Otherwise, most of your translators may decide to drop you like a hot potato as I did and you will have to work with “vendors” who may or may not really be translators.


According to what I have read on online forums about translation, most translating activity can be divided into two types: creative translation, such as translation of novels or marketing and advertising texts, and non-creative, mechanical translation, such as technical translation.

A good example of highly creative translation would be a trendy field that is now called “transcreation”, which, (although my spell checker does not recognize it yet as a legitimate word), is adaptation of text in one language to make it fully compatible with another language and with the culture of that other language.

On the other side of the spectrum is repetitive, somewhat primitive translation, for example translation of personal documents or technical translation.

A good example of highly non-creative translation would be for example patent translation, which is what I am doing now and have been doing since 1987.

To be creative, you need to have a special kind of powerful personal mojo: inspiration or divine guidance that tells you how to translate immortal slogans such such as “Coke is it” or “Takes a licking and keeps on ticking”, or “Diamonds are forever” for example into Spanish, French, Danish or Mongolian. If you can do something like that, you are a full-fledged artist in your own right, possibly as gifted as the genius who came up with the slogan in the original language in the first place, and your remuneration thus should be commensurate with your considerable genius.

Unlike mere non-creative translators, highly creative language artists therefore deserve mucho dinero, because divine inspiration obviously cannot be found in a dictionary or in an online database of technical terms.

But this view of the translating universe fails to take into account one interesting fact: we, non-creative translators, i.e. those of us who translate things like personal documents, technical papers or patents, are often also asked to translate advertising and marketing materials, simply because the clients usually don’t even know the exact content of the texts that need to be translated – because they are in a foreign language.

Non-creative technical translators generally do not say no to translation that is not very technical in nature, or at least I don’t do that.

Product package inserts, for example, can be highly technical, for example if the product is a new drug, or they can have some technical content, but a lot of marketing content as well: for example if the product is a new skin cream that will make every woman make look 10 ~ 20 years younger depending on how many times a day she is using it. Although I am only a lowly patent translator, I translate similar materials that unlike technical translation require a great deal of creativity quite frequently.

And I mostly find that similar type of material is often much easier to translate than for example patents, by which I mean that the translation generally does not take nearly as much time as when I am translating a highly repetitive patent.

At least in my experience, the allegedly highly creative translating activity requiring divine inspiration is not terribly elusive to this Mad Patent Translator, at least not to the extent that would in my opinion necessitate a higher rate. Quite on the contrary, in fact.

When I am translating for example a package blurb of a Japanese food product which could contain about 70% of marketing and advertising text, while description of the ingredients may correspond only to about 30% of the text, I can quite easily summon divine inspiration to translate and “transcreate” information about furikake (a dry Japanese seasoning sprinkled on top of rice, typically consisting of a mixture of dried and ground fish, sesame seeds, etc.) to make the information accessible to English speakers who may know nothing about Japanese food.

If that is what “transcreation” means, and I think that it kind of must be, I have been merrily transcreating from several languages into English for decades.

Highly creative translators who specialize in marketing texts and slogans, on the other hand, for some reason generally do not translate for example patents.

The reason is actually pretty clear – you do have to know a few things about the subject of your translation if you want to translate highly technical material. Divine inspiration alone would not be enough.

This division of translation into the creative and not-so-much creative translating is in my opinion complete nonsense. Every field and sub-field in the vast universe of translation requires creativity, sometime just a little bit, and sometime a lot of it.

Translation of subtitles in movies, for example, requires a very specialized kind of creativity because you have to summarize the content of what is being said into a tiny frame on the screen, at the most 2 lines of text with generally only about 65 characters. Which is even more restrictive than Twitter because Twitter will give you 140 characters for inspired blabbing about anything you want.

The creativity required for translation of old personal documents is of a different kind again, but such a translation is often no less demanding when it comes to background knowledge. A birth certificate in French from Haiti is a fairly long piece of art, almost like a short novel, and it is likely to start your creative juice flowing within seconds. An old marriage certificate in German may be handwritten in an obsolete cursive writing style that most people are unable to decipher. You would need to learn a different alphabet to be able to translate it, even though the document is written in a language that you know very well.

A different kind of creativity is required also depending on what language one translates. I sometime have to be highly creative when I translate a Japanese patents because …. they are full of typos and other minor and sometime not so minor mistakes.

And you really have to be creative to translate a language that generally does not use singular or plural (because you do have to pick either singular or plural for your sentences in English), where the subject is often derived from the text on the previous page, and where a general tense that could mean present, past, or future can be used with something that may or may not mean something like an infinitive.

But unlike when translating advertising slogans, you also need a great deal of precision in addition to creativity if you want to be able to translate technical texts.

Every type of translation requires creativity, but some types of translation also require a lot of specialized knowledge in addition to creativity.

The reason why “highly creative” translators who specialize in inspired transcreation of marketing slogans and the like do not translate patents is not that this kind of translation is not creative enough for their delicate and refined taste.

They have to refuse these “non-creative” translations because they simply could not do it. Although the text of the patent or technical document may be in a language that they translate, it is written in a language that they do not understand.

Posted by: patenttranslator | May 6, 2015

How Aggressive Should Translators Be In Their Marketing Efforts?

America is the land of supremely aggressive marketing. You have about the same chance of escaping shamelessly aggressive marketing in the land of the formerly free as would be your chance of escaping giant slogans celebrating the genius of the Chubby Leader in North Korea.

Children in America are indoctrinated into believing that aggressive marketing is a virtuous activity that is beneficial to the entire world from a tender young age, as evidenced by processions of timid young girls who are eager to sell me Girl Scout Cookies when they periodically ring our door bell. I bought them recently from a neighbor’s kid because I kind of felt neighborly.

I am not an expert on cookies, but I must say, the taste was pretty awful.

If you have a fax and your number is listed somewhere – anywhere, it is only a matter of time before it will start spitting out ads for Caribbean cruises and loan proposals with absolutely no collateral required. There is a phone on the bottom of the fax that you can call to stop the faxes. I called it three times and left my message for an answering machine, to no avail.

If your telephone is listed in the phone book, or on your website or both, after a while it will start ringing, and ringing, and ringing.

If you pick up, at first there will be no answer because highly automated phone marketing outfits are at first simply using computers to ring the phones of hundreds, or thousands, or millions, or maybe billions of people to establish which fool among the billions of defenseless victims still picks up his or her own phone. The computer will make a note of the time and that is when poor losers who can’t find any other job will then start pitching various services and products to you that may or may not exist.

Thanks to an extremely aggressive marketing culture, most people probably no longer pick up their phone unless the call ID seems to display the number of a legitimate caller.

What is the most powerful company on this planet now? Hint: it is pretty young and it starts with a G, and although its name originally did not really mean anything because it was a typo, everybody knows it now. And the company knows everything about everybody too. It bills itself as a search engine, but it is mostly a marketing company.

I used to listen to a local classical music station from Norfolk, VA because it did not used to have a lot of commercials. But they keep cramming so many commercials into the music that I now listen instead to a new-agey and experimental music station from Bratislava, Slovakia, on the Internet. It has a funny name: Mixing of Particulate Solids, and it may be the only radio station known to man that has absolutely no marketing because there is no spoken word on it whatsoever.

If you click on a link on Internet, instead of the information that you are looking for – a commercial will quickly assault you while you are still alive! I could go on and on. When I was a young lad, we learned in Latin classes a quotation from Horace: Est modus in rebus, sunt certi denique fines, which basically means that everything should be done in moderation (including moderation).

Modern marketing is the opposite of moderation. It is an evil octopus that has the whole world in its giant tentacles. It will not let go, no matter what. After World War III, only two things may be left on planet Earth: cockroaches and marketing.

So after this cheerful introduction of the topic of my post today, let us consider the intriguing question of what is the best type of marketing that we translators should use, and how aggressive we should be in our sophisticated marketing efforts.

Quite a few translation bloggers dispense advice on marketing these days. Some write about marketing so much that I wonder how do they find the time to still translate, as they have positioned themselves as formidable experts who offer online seminars where translation newbies can learn, for a modest fee, all they need to know about the translation business, including marketing of their services.

It is possible that such marketing gurus would then not even need to translate much anymore as long as their seminars are mostly sold out.

I was kind of aggressive myself as I was trying to wean myself off dependence on translation agencies 20 years ago. But back then I was going for a civilized kind of marketing, since all I was doing was sending letters to prospective direct clients as I wrote in the linked post. After I moved from California to Virginia in 2001, I mailed another few hundred letters, and then stopped doing that as my website was doing most of the marketing for me thanks to Google, without almost any direct intervention on my part.

But a lot of damage was done over the years to the translating profession by various cut-rate translating agencies peddling cost savings instantly achievable through “edited” machine pseudo-translation and other great translating achievements of translation agencies from Chindia and elsewhere where people eking a living for a few dollars a day can be taken advantage of. I think that this is the reason why my business has slowed down considerably in the recent years,

I have to admit that to my eternal shame, I launched an aggressive e-mailing campaign during the last year. In other words, I was contributing to the bottomless avalanche of disgusting junk e-mail for a few months myself during the time when I had quite a bit of time on my hands.

Although I did get a couple of clients in this manner, I don’t think that it was really worth it, and I will hopefully never do it again. Although I am not an expert on marketing, it is clear to me that while you may be able to find a few new clients when you do something like that, you are at the same time damaging your own brand in ways that are not immediately visible to you, while the effects of this damage may linger on for years. And the question that you should really ask yourself if you are contributing to the piles of unwanted garbage in other people’s e-mail boxes is: How can you sleep at night?

Fortunately, things have picked up for me this year, as I am still plugged into at least three continuous projects, two from old clients who discovered my excellent, yet reasonably priced services thanks to my initial mailing campaigns 20 years ago, and one from a patent law firm which found my website about 8 years ago. Continuous projects that go on for years, preferably until you die, are the key to a healthy work flow. Unfortunately, although projects like that do exist when you translate patents, they are kind of uncommon, as the pathetic life of a patent translator is mostly defined by the infamous feast-or-famine routine.

As I said already in another post, I believe that the best form of marketing is when you don’t need any marketing. The problem is, every now and then the work will stop coming in for some reason, even if you have been in business for more than 27 years, which is how long I have been fighting the good fight in the trenches of the real world where translation is bought and sold, sometime in ways that are not completely savory.

I’ll say it again: I am no expert on marketing. But in any case, I don’t think that there can possibly be a single recipe for a successful marketing strategy as every translator deals with very different local and global conditions, different languages, different subjects and a myriad of different purposes that may prompt a customer to order a translation.

Other bloggers about translation are probably much more knowledgeable on this subject, as quite a few of them basically specialize in it.

But whatever approach to marketing you will decide to adopt in the end, I think that it may be a good idea not to be too aggressive in your marketing efforts. Instead of adopting an aggressive stance, easy does it would be a good way to summarize my marketing philosophy at this point.

A well designed, informative website is a good marketing approach as far as I am concerned. And so would be an interesting paper on issues having to do with translation, submitted to a publication on paper or online, or presented at a translators’ conference. A mailing campaign might work too, but probably only if you choose the recipients very carefully.

God knows this world has too much marketing already and about 99% of it is perceived by most people as offensive, useless garbage.

I have been reading, on Facebook and in other equally trustworthy venues, numerous press releases about the incredible progress that has been achieved with language automation tools. The press releases use a lot of cool terminology with impressive sounding terms celebrating new integration capabilities (with source code), mobile application for improved customer interface, integration capabilities enabling customers to promptly deliver product experiences to global users, highly extensible platforms completely automating the translation process, automatic content detection, etc.

All of this new, highly innovative technology is then in the final stage integrated with cloud technology, which to me means that invisible beings residing in clouds are in charge of the seemingly least important part of the process, which would be the translating bit.

These invisible beings are probably not translators, and maybe not even real people, since only angels can reside in clouds, at least based on the teachings of Catholic religion. How many translators can be instantly translating new content in the cloud is a question that should prove to be no less interesting to consider and analyze than the question of how many angels can dance on the tip of a pin.

Mad Patent Translator is also proudly using various language and technology tools greatly facilitating the translating process. But this technology has nothing to do with the impressive terms thrown around with abandon in the modern version of the “Translation Industry”. Although at this point, I wonder whether it would be more appropriate to call it something else and instead refer to a certain segment of highly propagandized and highly automated “Translation Industry” for instance as “Language Conversion Industry”. The word “translation” is not really mentioned much in the press releases, and translators are never mentioned in them either, at least not as real human beings.

The bombastic propaganda may be working – I received a few days ago a Price Quote Request through a link on my website in which a paralegal from a patent law firm wondered how much it would cost “to convert a Japanese patent application to English”.

So let’s consider how this translator is applying cool language tool and translation technology to his own work.

This week I am translating, among other things, 5 Japanese patent applications ranging in length from 2 to 19 pages. The term page, however, can be somewhat misleading, because older Japanese patent applications have 4 small pages on one page when printed on paper for a total of between about 800 to about 1,200 words in English translation.

Here is my first step for application of cutting-edge technology: as an intrepid, early pioneer of innovation in the field of translation technology, I have discovered more than 20 years ago that the entire translating process is greatly facilitated and its quality is enhanced when the tiny Japanese characters, which somehow must be squished into 4 miniscule pages of the Japanese A4 page format, are enlarged on a copy machine, preferably with the ratio of 1 : 1.5.

The enlarged source text then fits perfectly on a second translation technology tool that I have been using for a long time called document holder, or paper stand – an inexpensive, trusty tool that further improves may translating experience. I have been using this tool with great success already for more than three decades.

The third, more recent tool of advanced technology that I am frequently using now when I translate patents is machine translation. But one must use it with caution.

Some translators are now beginning to refer to machine translation as machine pseudo-translation, and with good reason. Although machine translation can be very useful for translation (or pseudo-translation) of patents in languages such as German, or Russian, or French, provided that the sentences are not too long and that the software can for example match correctly the right verb, hiding at the end of a long sentence in German, with the right object or subject, machine translation does not work nearly as well with Japanese.

I will now attempt to demonstrate my claim on something that I was translating today. Here is a very simple sentence from a Japanese patent application claim:

“以上の工程を 含む半 導 体装 置の 型 造 方法であり 、 酸化等の 然処理によるゲート 電 極 配 線の表質の問 題がなくなり安定し た半 導体装 置を 提 供 で き る”.

which says something like this:

“A method for manufacturing a semiconductor device including the stages mentioned above, which makes it possible to provide a stable semiconductor device, free of electrode gate wiring problems due to thermal processing with oxidizing, etc”.

was translated by GoogleTranslate as follows:

“Ri Oh semi-conductive KaradaSo location of the type production method, including the above steps, a deer semi-conductor equipment table quality problems of the gate electrode wiring that I have such clauses were Na Ri stability in processes such as oxidation ∎ You can in the provision”

GoogleTranslate and other machine translation programs will generally do a much better job than what we see above, especially with European languages. (Except when they don’t, of course.)

But one big problem with translation of patents is that many older patent applications exist only as a PDF file that must be first converted to a digital form. The conversion in itself is not a problem and there are many software packages that can be used for this purpose. But because some of the characters in Japanese or other languages will be invariably misread by the software if we are talking about older documents, erroneous characters are introduced into the converted digital file, which will then make it impossible for the machine translation software to interpret such a file so that it would make sense at least on some level.

Even when the conversion from PDF to a digital file is perfect, as is the case in the two lines of Japanese text above, if you take a closer look at these two lines in Japanese, you will see that the spacing between the characters is not perfectly uniform. This is not a problem for human eyes, but a huge, perhaps insolvable problem for a scanner. A small irregularity (lack of perfectly uniform spacing), combined with the fact that there are no spaces between Japanese words (Japanesetextiswrittenlikethis), will thus result in completely useless machine translation, such as the pseudo-translation above.

The translation agencies who describe in almost adulatory language the nifty language technology tools that they are trying to sell to new customers live in a universe that does not seem to have anything in common with the real world in which translators must translate real documents, namely in such a way so that the goal of the translation would be met – or at least so that these documents would make sense in another language.

They have created a special world for a new kind of “translation industry”, or language conversion industry, a world in which “enterprise-grade translation management platform is integrated with the version control systems developers use to manage their product strings, including Git, Mercurial, Subversion and CVS, optimizes product internationalization and accelerates product release cycles, allowing companies to increase user engagement and satisfaction by providing a localized web, desktop or mobile app experience”.

This fabulous new world has almost nothing to do with translation, or maybe a little bit, since in the end the cloud workers (also referred to as clown workers), whoever they are and wherever they may be hiding, must be ultimately unleashed to “translate the corpus” from one language to another, or probably to many other languages, (to the extent permitted by the new technology).

Personally, if I were running an innovative language conversion enterprise, I would make sure to specialize only in translation into languages that my customers do not understand.

1962 Safety Rules from Honda

Taken from a 1962 Honda Motor Cycle Instruction Book. Translated by Honda for the American Motorcycle Rider

1. At the rise of the hand by Policeman, stop rapidly. Do not pass him by or otherwise disrespect him.

2. When a passenger of the foot, hooves in sight, tootle the horn trumpet melodiously at first. If he still obstacles your passage, tootle him with vigor and express by word of mouth, warning Hi, Hi.

3. Beware of the wandering horse that he shall not take fright as you pass him. Do not explode the exhaust box at him. Go smoothingly by.

4. Give big space to the festive dog that makes sport in roadway. Avoid entanglement of dog with wheel spokes.

5. Go soothingly on the grease mud, as there lurks the skid demon. Press the brake foot as you roll around the corner, and save the collapse and tie up.

I first saw this alleged translation from Japanese on Facebook. As I was unable to recognize obvious “nipponisms” in the text, which is something that I can usually easily see in translations from Japanese by non-native speakers of English, I decided to Google the alleged translation further to try to determine the real origin of the “Safety Rules”.

I did not find much about the origin of this alleged translation, but there were a few interesting comments about the origin thereof on Reddit.

Here is a sampling of some of these comments on Reddit:

1. This appears as early as the 1920s in various sources, entitled “Japanese Rules for Careless English Motorists as Posted in Japan.”

2. And yet something tells me it’s a lot more modern and a lot less genuine.

3. Search Google books for “there lurks the skid demon.” It’s word for word in 1921, 1922 and onward. I wouldn’t suggest its being genuine in any case.

4. The Portland Evening Express seems to be the original source.

I tried to link my post to the Portland Evening Express on Google Books, which indeed does have a somewhat similar text on its front page from 1921, although it is in fact quite different. Unfortunately, I assume that Google does not allow it because the link does not work.

So what really happened here? I concur with the wise heads on Reddit who concluded that this is not a genuine translation. Otherwise, how would it be possible that some of the “1962 Safety Rules from Honda” go back all the way to 1921?

I think that what we have here is probably based on some hilarious translation from 1921 that was greatly expanded in its hilariousness by the genius of the author of a fake translation, or possible several authors, sometime later, maybe later than 1962.

This is what happens for example also with beautiful, but often also sickeningly gruesome legends of many nations in many languages.

For example, according to a medieval chronicler in Bohemia called Cosmas, who wrote in Latin at the beginning of the 12th century, Czech girls declared war on men after the Queen of the Czech nation named Libuše died, and established their own, men-less society.

Cosmas is writing in this context about a beautiful heroine called Šárka who used her considerable charms to lure and induce somebody from the enemy’s camp, a man named Ctirad, to drink mead laced with sleep-inducing herbs (they had no pharmacies in backward Bohemia back then), and the girls then, while laughing at captured Ctirad’s stupidity, took their sweet time torturing the poor fellow before he died. (Warning: the description in this link is pretty gruesome!).

The girls in the end lost the war against the boys, according to legend, and instead of living in matriarchy, patriarchy was established once again in medieval Bohemia, although, of course, the war of men against women and women against men never really came to an end.

Some of what is described in this old legend is probably true, but we will never know how much is fact, and how much is fantasy.

And we may never know how much of this alleged translation was based on something that was in fact originally written in Japanese, although it is not completely impossible that a commenter on my silly blog will be able to establish with incontrovertible evidence what was the real story behind the alleged translation of the 1962 Safety Rules from Honda for riding a motorcycle.

Posted by: patenttranslator | April 25, 2015

Robotization of Translation – A Reflection of a World Gone Mad

The word “robot” was created by the Czech writer and playwright Karel Čapek in 1921, almost a hundred years ago, for one of his science-fiction plays called R.U.R., which stands for Rossum’s Universal Robots. It is likely that the word was suggested to him by his brother, Joseph Čapek, after Karel Čapek attempted to coin a new word for his new play from the English word “labor” (or “labour”, probably).

It is interesting to me that the following three words that have been borrowed from Czech, or from what is now called Czech Republic, became English words: pistol (from píšt’ala, which now means “flute” or “whistle” in Czech), dollar (via German from a place in Bohemia called in German Joachimsthall, the origin of silver coins that were called “tolars” in Czech, very popular in Europe about four hundred years ago), and the word “robot”, which made it into English in its original spelling.

By a strange coincidence, a combination of the words pistol, dollar, and robot would nearly perfectly describe the current state of our modern human civilization to a curious visitor descending from a UFO and uttering the immortal words “Take me to your leader.”

I read just about everything that Karel Čapek wrote many years ago when I was a teenager, and I saw most of his plays, either on TV or in theater, including “Pictures from the Insects’ Life” (a play in which ants and other insects act in ways that are remarkably similar to ours, mostly by killing each other en mass), the White Disease (an allegory for fascism), and R.U.R.

The word “robot” is derived from the Czech word “robota” which means “serf’s labor” and it is related to the Slavic root of the word “rab”, which means “serf” in archaic Czech and “slave” in Russian. Although cognates of the word “robota” exist in many Slavic languages, it means different things in different languages, as is typical of false cognates (faux amis) in related languages. In Russian, “rabota”, means simply “work”, and the Slavic root word is also related to the German word “Arbeit”, which again means simply “work”.

At the end of Karel Čapek’s play, a rebellion of hostile robots leads to the extinction of the human race. Variations on the same theme have been later made use of in hundreds of sci-fi novels and dozens of movies. Among my favorite movies on this subject is the classic Terminator series with the unforgettable Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the more recent Matrix series with the equally often ridiculed Keanu Reaves, who I think happens to be a very fine actor. Although maybe he should be more selective about the roles he picks.

What one can call robotization, or the use of non-thinking machines to replace thinking humans, makes sense to me for a lot of things. Car manufacturing, for example. Or manufacturing of medications or of just about anything else. But it makes no sense whatsoever for many other things for which it is employed as a cheap and seemingly effective solution. Killing people who are suspected of something from flying robots, for example. Especially when we don’t really know who these suspects are, what we are really talking about is murder.

Karel Čapek was the first to warn that robots might rise up against us one day and make us their servants. That did not happen, not so far, and it probably never will. What did happen was that the robots are now used by a very select group of people for their own purposes, while the rest of the people have no saying over how these robots are used.

High-frequency trading on Wall Street, for example, is controlled by a robot species called computers for one purpose and one purpose only – to make sure that this very select group of people, the popular term for them is now the one percenters, can profit automatically from each and every single transaction each and every millisecond of each and every hour. This is a very good system for the people who control the mechanical as well as the biological robots because if in the end the system is about to destroy the entire economy, which tends to happen with such a system, the biological robots will be forced to bail out the highly robotized system so that the owners of the immutable status quo and its robots could keep their precious profits intact.

Translation is another area where what one can call robotization, or the use of a machine to replace more and more functions that used to be performed by humans, has been used for a long time. With mixed results, I might add.

Using computers as robots for input of words by a human translator, through a keyboard, a mouse, or voice recognition, etc., makes a lot of sense to me. All that has changed in this case from the times of St. Jerome, the patron saint of translators who translated the Bible into Latin about sixteen centuries ago, is that a keyboard or a microphone is used instead of ink and quill.

But using computers to give meaning to translated words, passages and entire texts, is a very iffy proposition because computers will never understand what “meaning” is. At least, we can hope so, because if they did understand the meaning of their actions, they probably would rebel against us, just like Karel Čapek predicted it almost a century ago.

In translation, computers should be used only for ancillary tasks, such as for spell checkers, thesaurus, and specialized dictionaries. Computer-assisted tools, or CATs, should be used in the same manner. They should not be used to control people called translators to dictate to them the words to be used in their translations, and least of all for calculations designed to minimize the remuneration of humans participating in a robotized system. This is misuse of technology by people who want to control other people through robots.

Machine translation is another excellent tool that can be used by translators and civilians alike to unlock the mystery of meaning hidden in a foreign language.

Maschinelle Übersetzung ist ein weiteres hervorragendes Tool, das von Übersetzern und Zivilisten gleichermaßen verwendet werden kann, um das Geheimnis der Bedeutung in einer Fremdsprache versteckt entsperren. Here, I just used GoogleTranslate to machine-translate something that I just wrote into German. It sounds a little funny, but it makes sense to me, and not only because I am the one who wrote the sentence in the first place.

And here is the sentence machine-translated into French: La traduction automatique est un autre excellent outil qui peut être utilisé par les traducteurs et les civils pour déverrouiller le mystère de sens caché dans une langue étrangère.

And here it is in Japanese: 械翻訳は、外国語に隠された意味の謎のロックを解除する翻訳者と同様に

Not bad at all. No wonder some people may think that post-processing of machine output by human translators is a good idea. It is something that might work in some cases, under narrowly defined conditions.

But for the most part, I see post-processing of machine output by humans as misuse of technology and abuse of humans. The task of the human post-processors is in this case to separate the dead, words that make no sense, from the living, words that do make sense in a given context, in the carnage that will be inevitably left on the ground once non-thinking, armed flying robots called algorithms are done with their job.

And it can be, and usually is, a much more grizzly tasks than the short demonstration in the three sentences machine-translated above. Humans should not be expected to perform the task of assisting robots by giving meaning to what a robot did. Humans should not be assisting robots. It should be the other way round – robots should be assisting humans.

Because otherwise, when humans are assisting robots, we are lost deep inside the territory of a mostly forgotten science-fiction play that is almost a hundred years old now.

I noticed on my WordPress dashboard that viewers were being referred to my silly blog for several days from the following URL: But since I am not a registered NYU student, the link does not work for me.

So I did not find out what this link was about, although I suspected that some language teacher was using again something that I wrote in a language class at the New York University. It happened already at least once before, as I found out from a student in the French class at NYU who lived here in Chesapeake when she called me a few years ago. We met for a nice chat over coffee, which eventually resulted in regular meetings of a small group of local translators, unfortunately defunct at this point.

But yesterday I received a long comment on my blog which seems to explain the referrals to my blog from a list of new classes at New York University.

I found the comment, which contains a number of grammatical errors, while the style is not exactly something to write home about either, very interesting and refreshing.

Here it is (emphasis mine):

I attended a panel discussion at NYU, about MT and CAT tools. Here is the report I forwarded to my instructor, who is also worried about the intrusion of the “Machine Monster”.

Dear xxxx,

There’s good news and bad news! The good news is that the translations industry is thriving. The bad news is that you have to become very good friends with the translation Golem in order to thrive!

There were six panelists: four representatives from agencies, one from the UN and a dinosaur by the name of XXXX, who teaches French in the NYU translation program, and who is vehemently opposed to machine translation and even CAT tools. She started the discussion, by telling the audience that her training and decades of experience allow her to work just as fast, if not faster, than she would with the aid off CAT tools. According to her, transitioning from a typewriter to a word processing program was the most fundamental and beneficial change in her professional life, but also the last one. Her delivery was the quintessential New Yorker mixture of ranting and whining. Then we heard from the opposite end of the spectrum, a PM from an agency that uses machine translation almost exclusively for technical translation, which is then post edited to varying degrees, based on the needs and requirements of the customer. The quality of machine translation varies depending on both the language pairs and the subject matter / field. For example it works great for Brazilian Portuguese, well for German and Scandinavian languages and badly for Hungarian, Greek etc. It works great for automotive translation, but not really well for patent translation, since it describes elaborate processes. So there is hope!

The main message that I took away from the discussion is that there is stratification taking place, or has already taken place, within the translation industry. LSP’s are now able to deliver different products based on the needs of the customer. Someone who wants to put an ad on social media, that people may look at one, is less concerned about the quality of the translation than someone defending a patent in court. Another point that was brought up is that we have moved into an age of mediocrity, where the proper use of language is becoming less and less important. Therefore some customers question why they should pay lots of money for a grammatically perfect translation, if the target audience doesn’t know the difference. Harsh, but true! But then, there is still a market for good translations done by professionally trained translators, which the author, of the piece that you sent me, also points out.

Other highlights of the discussion:

The tech guru, form one of the agencies, made this statement that Google Translate is the best thing that ever happened to translators. The reason is that many people think ‘great, now I can do my own translations'; but then, when they see the garbage that comes out, realize that Google Translate is not really that great!

The thing that was brought up over an over is the fact that there is a lower expectation in the target language. People are just not concerned with proper usage and grammar anymore.

Agencies not only match their translators with projects based on their language pairs and specialities, but also on the CAT tools they use, because clients oftentimes demand the use of specific tools.

Larger projects, that in the past were given to one translator, are now given to several translators accompanied with very specific software that ensures that they are all ‘on the same page’, even monitoring their speed, work habits, etc.

This commercialization of skills is not only taking place in our industry, but in many others as well. I.e. people now longer pay attorneys, doctors etc. for advise that they can get online, or from another less expensive source.

I am definitely on the side of the dinosaur here, which is of course not surprising because I am a dinosaur myself. I don’t use CATs because like many translators, possibly the majority of those who do not have to work mostly for translation agencies, I find them useless for my purposes, as well as counterproductive.

I use MT only as a context-based online dictionary because I think that editing of garbage can only result in garbage that does not stink quite as bad. That must be the dinosaur in me too.

I absolutely agree with the commenter’s conclusion that stratification is taking place in what is called translation industry. Translation agencies have realized that it is possible to make money by selling “edited”, and sometime even unedited, machine pseudo-translations to customers who as the commenter put it “question why they should pay lots of money for a grammatically perfect translation”.

But they may not realize that the hamster-edited pseudo-translations are not really just somewhat grammatically imperfect translations. Syntax and grammatical errors can be relatively easily fixed even by a hamster who does not know the source language very well as long as he or she speaks English. The problem is, the “edited” product of the Golem monster (Machine pseudo-Translation) may contain mistranslations that a hamster, even a well trained hamster who is a whiz at using search engines and computer-assisted tools, will not be able to catch.

What is the correct ratio of translation versus mistranslation that would justify a price reduction of, say, 40%? Would a 40% discount be a fair tradeoff for a translated document that contains only 10% to 20% of mistranslations? But what if only 5% of the document is mistranslated, except that the mistranslated section happens to be the most important part of the document? Would that not then make the entire translation one huge typo?

I disagree with some of the other conclusions of the commenter, although these may have been the conclusions of the presenters at the NYU newbie translator indoctrination class.

It is not the case that people no longer have to pay for lawyers or medical doctors because they can have their questions about their medical status or legal problems answered for free by using an Internet search machine.

Some of these questions can be answered in this manner without having to consult a medical or legal professional. But in fact, lawyers and doctors are still charging just as much, or more, for their expertise as they did before the Internet started impacting their business about two decades ago.

Some people will use machine pseudo-translation to translate all kinds of documents to and from different languages without giving it a second thought. And some customers will fall for the salesmanship of translation agency gurus offering to “dramatically reduce the cost of translation with new language technology”, meaning mostly with computer-assisted translation and machine pseudo-translation edited by newbie translators turned into editing hamsters.

Machine pseudo-translation is for example the perfect solution for determining which documents need to be translated and which documents are not very relevant in patent translation, which is my line of work.

But for critically important texts, documents that may not contain errors and mistranslation, such as for example patents, or poorly worded, ineffective or counterproductive texts, such as financial prospectuses or advertising texts, the mess created by the machine pseudo-translation Golem, even if it is edited by human hamsters skillfully controlled by machine translation agencies, will simply not do.

For documents that matter, the clients still need a good, old-fashioned dinosaur who has university training and decades of experience, not hamsters who are forced with “language tools” to run faster and faster on the hamster wheel of our glorious translation industry.

According to the legend of Golem, a monster made of clay who was created by Rabbi Loew to protect Jews in Prague against pogroms, the monster went at one point berserk and started destroying everything around him when Rabbi Loew forgot to remove the shem, a magical stone through which the Rabbi was able to control Golem, from his mouth.

We can remove the sham of machine pseudo-translation from our thinking as a concept of “a language technology tool” that will solve all of our translation needs only if we realize that just like the Golem of Rabbi Loewi, whose grave in Prague I remember fondly because I had a date there with a rather interesting girl many years ago, the MT Golem can be very useful to us, but only if we know how to use it properly.

It can also be even more destructive than Rabbi Loew’s Golem of Prague in the 16th century if we try to use it for tasks that can be accomplished only by a highly educated and well trained human translator.

Or, in other words, for something like that you will need a dinosaur.

Posted by: patenttranslator | April 19, 2015

The Dangers of Sedentary Lifestyle Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

The translating community is abuzz with what is called the dangers of sedentary lifestyle.

It seems that translators are buying in droves a special desk that makes it possible to type and work in front of a computer while standing up. Hmm…..

Based on my informal research conducted secretly on social media, especially Facebook, women in particular seem to be interested in such a desk, almost as much as in yoga, although not as much as they are interested for instance in pictures of sunsets, babies and cute dogs wearing sunglasses and hats and such. I remember that I was watching on YouTube a video of two female translators demonstrating the advantages of this wonderful new desk a couple of months ago, which costs only about 500 dollars plus tax for the cheaper, plain vanilla version!

But not really because I would be interested in wasting my money on the desk, as I mostly wanted to see what my colleagues look like …. so that I could recognize them should I run into them one day at conference or something, OK?

According to, it is estimated that a sedentary lifestyle is responsible for 6% of coronary heart disease cases, 7% of type 2 diabetes, 10% of breast cancer and 10% of colon cancer cases, and physical inactivity may increase the risks of certain cancers, it may contribute to anxiety and depression, it has been shown to be a risk factor for certain cardiovascular diseases, etc. Note the judicious use of modifiers (“may”, “has been shown”).

In some professions, you simply have to work while mostly standing up. Opera singers, for example, have to sing while standing up (otherwise they could not pull off the high notes), but they get a long break when they can sit down during a long intermission as the opera audience is mingling, or sipping a glass of wine while standing or sitting at the bar. I bet opera singers mostly sit down during the intermission.

Walmart clerks have to stand up for about 8 hours a day while they interact with customers for 7 dollars and 25 cents an hour. Or maybe it is 8 dollars now, but probably not 8 dollars and 25 cents. They get only two 20-minute breaks when they can sit down. I know that because I asked one last month.

Circus elephants are also forced to stand up by their trainers to the delight of children and adults who came to see things like elephants standing up on their hind legs. Because they are elephants, they can’t do it for a very long time, but the audience is always happily clapping every time when elephants are made to stand up.

I have been sitting on my derrière in every job I ever had since 1980 when I graduated from university (Charles University in Prague, with a degree in Japanese and English studies), and I like the fact that I can sit on my derrière when I work, or even lie down on a couch just fine, thank you very much.

I bet opera singers and Walmart clerks would not mind at all if they could plop down in a comfortable, reclining chair while they work, and elephants must absolutely hate it when they are forced to stand up by their trainers, which just might be the reason why they sometime trample them to death, an act that is much easier to accomplish than standing on your hind (or front) legs when you happen to be an elephant.

Let’s face it, when you are an opera singer, a Walmart clerk or a circus elephant, you don’t have a whole lot of choices. You simply have to do what they tell you to do and keep your mouth shut (or open in the case of the opera singer). A Walmart clerk who would dare to ask for a chair to sit in while working would get fired, and I don’t even want to think what they might do to a disobedient elephant who refuses to stand up on his hind legs, which must be torture for an elephant.

But unlike elephants and minimum wage workers, translators can choose how they work. I think that we translators should try to be a little bit more appreciative of what we have, and the fact that we don’t have to stand up while we translate is one of the advantages of our occupation.

Although translating may not even look like work to civilians who don’t know much about translation, just pecking or banging on a keyboard, which is not that different from a child playing a video game, translating is difficult and complicated work. And when your work is difficult and complicated, you want to be as comfortable as possible.

Standing up will make you tired after a short while, and when you are tired, the neurons in your brain are likely to misfire more frequently, causing frequent mistranslations. I can translate on my laptop when I am comfortably lying on my sofa, but I could not translate standing up.

So I have designed my own strategy for dealing with the fact that I do have to sit in a chair a lot.

I don’t know if my solutions would work for you, but one thing that helps me to some extent is the fact that I have three workstations in my house in two different rooms. Now that our children no longer live with us, I have plenty of space to spread out. And although I understand that sitting in a chair in the same position for long hours is bad for my health, in addition to being uncomfortable, I also understand that I need to be comfortable when I translate.

Because each of these three chairs has slightly different design, I sit at a different angle in each of these chairs, and when my back is telling me that it is time to move to a different position with a different perspective of the world, I go to one of my stations in another room. This also helps when I am working on two or more different projects in different languages because I don’t have to exit the websites that I need for a given project, or keep putting away and bringing to another room dictionaries (yes, I still use those sometime) and printouts of translations.

But the most important thing that I think translators should remember is that the main problem is not that we have to sit in a chair. The main problem is that we have to sit in a chair for too many hours because that is the only way to make enough money to pay our bills if our rates are too low.

Make sure that your rates are high enough so that you can pay your bills while working fewer hours, and you won’t have to worry too much “the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle”. You will be able to go to your gym, or jogging or walking, or take your dog for a walk whenever the spirit moves you to do so, which is a much better way to counter the effects of a sedentary lifestyle than splurging 500 dollars on a desk that will make you tired when you have to stand up while working, just like a clerk working for a minimum wage at Walmart.

I know that something like that is easier said than done. But it is the best solution because working less and moving around more is a much, much better solution than a standing desk, let alone a “treadmill desk”, the latest instrument of torture that some misguided translators are already beginning to recommend to each other on social media.

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