At its 58th Annual Conference, held in Washington, DC, on October 25-28, 2017, the 10,000-member American Translators Association adopted the following resolution with 87% of the votes cast:

“Whereas translators and interpreters are committed to promoting and facilitating communication and understanding between peoples, be it resolved that we, members of the American Translators Association, strongly oppose all forms of discrimination on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, country of origin, or sexual orientation, as well as all forms of expression of and incitement to xenophobia, racial hatred, and religious intolerance, and strongly favor welcoming qualified immigrants who, with their skills and knowledge, contribute to the wealth of our country or seek refuge here from war or persecution.”

It’s immensely gratifying (isn’t it?) that ATA is opposing “all forms of discrimination on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, country of origin, or sexual orientation, as well as all forms of expression of and incitement to xenophobia, racial hatred, and religious intolerance, and strongly favors welcoming qualified immigrants”.

Or could it be that this resolution is in fact just another useless and empty proclamation that almost nobody will read and that will not do anything to help a single refugee or immigrant?

Since most decent people are against all kinds of discrimination, which probably includes translators, I see the resolution cited at the beginning of my post today mostly as a useless, empty, self-serving and hypocritical gesture that is not very likely to help anybody.

Most associations of stamp collectors and mushroom pickers, or of professional dog groomers, or of cat fanciers are probably also against xenophobia, racial hatred, and religious intolerance. But for some reason they don’t seem to feel the urgent need to issue lofty resolutions on these subjects.

Instead, they publicly express their opinions on issues that have a direct impact on problems concerning their members, issues like declining monetary values of stamp collections, the health of mushrooms in our forests, information on treatment of ear infections of our dogs and on how to best help stray cats.

Why is the American Translators Association not following their example, which it could do by issuing a resolution that actually means something to its members?

What this translator and 10,000 other members of ATA would dearly like to know is what ATA’s positions are on issues directly affecting our work and lives.

Issues such as the ones that I will now dare to mention below, albeit only very briefly, because there are many issues that impact the lives of translators on which ATA does not seem to have any position whatsoever.

I am convinced that if ATA found the courage to take a position on any of the issues briefly mentioned below, and preferably more than just one such issue, it would be greatly appreciated by the 10,000 members of ATA and that many more translators would likely join the association.

The fact that the words 10,000 members have been frequently thrown around by ATA for a decade or two probably means that the association is not growing because it is losing its old members who are qualified, educated and experienced translators. The association now manages to survive by growing its membership base mostly thanks to newbies.

Most translators don’t care about ATA’s rhetorical positions on issues that it can’t influence much, facile positions that look good on paper, while they cost ATA absolutely nothing. Instead of ATA’s position on discrimination against new immigrants and refugees, I think most translators would like to know ATA’s position on issues that we struggle with every day in our work.

Does ATA have an official position for instance on the following three issues:

  1. Why are the rates paid by the translation industry to translators falling, and what can translators do about it?

In the last two or three decades, rates paid to translators have been steadily falling courtesy of so-called translation industry, as the translation industry has been and still is outsourcing its translations to low-cost countries where important and highly complicated translations of complex documents are often done by translators who are extremely cheap, but who lack the education, skills and experience required to work as competent professionals, and who have to use machine translations to hide the fact that they don’t really understand the information in the source language and are not really fluent in their target language either.

The result of this approach is of course garbage that is sold by the translation industry to clients as real translation, which gives a bad name to all of us.

Why is it that there has not been a single article analyzing the causes of this development, very unfortunate for hard-working translators, in the ATA Chronicle, the official publication of the American Translators Association?

  1. What is the general position of ATA on machine translation?

Why is it that ATA, as far I know, has no official position on what machine translation is and what it is not? Shouldn’t it have a position on an issue that is much more important to us, translators, than for example “racial hatred and religious intolerance”, something that ATA feels so strongly about that it felt necessary to include it in its latest resolution?

Is machine translation a legitimate form of translation, comparable or tantamount to human translation? That is how the translation industry sees it, although most translators see it simply as a tool, a very useful, clever and ingenious tool, that translators and non-translators alike can use for free, but that should not be mistaken for actual translation.

  1. What is ATA’s position on post-processing of machine translations?

Is post-processing of machine translations an advisable technique, or at least an acceptable technique for translating complicated and important documents, such as medical diagnoses, good manufacturing practice manuals, or procedures used for maintenance and testing of nuclear reactors?

The position of the translation industry on this particular technique, which would be highly profitable for the translation industry (if the industry could only make it work), is of course clear. As far as the translation industry is concerned, post-processing of machine translation is absolutely the way to go!

Judging from the propagandistic nature of many articles published in the ATA Chronicle over the last few years, which celebrate and recommend the use of translation technology to translators, it seems that as far as ATA is concerned, it is only natural that human translators should be used to assist machines, instead of the other way round.

Since no articles questioning the propaganda of the translation industry have been published in the ATA Chronicle, it seems to me that the position of ATA, though never stated publicly, is the same as that of the translation industry.

I think that “machines good, humans bad”, to paraphrase George Orwell, or good only for miserably paid, mind-numbing post-processing drudgery, would sum up quite nicely the position on this issue not only of the translation industry, but also of ATA. If I am wrong, can somebody please point me to an article that was published in the ATA Chronicle, which is officially called The Voice of Translators and Interpreters, that was a serious and credible analysis of this technique, instead of a propagandistic piece written for and by the translation industry to brainwash translators?

The translation industry loves numbers, algorithms and percentages. As far as the industry is concerned, numbers and algorithms tell the truth and nothing but the truth.

But the way the “translation industry” uses numbers, algorithms and percentages is again just commercial propaganda that means nothing. It means nothing because the “translation industry” does not understand that although the number of correct words in a sentence can be measured, the meaning of these words is simply not measurable.

A Japanese sentence saying “It is our expert opinion that the Fukushima Daichi nuclear reactor would be vulnerable to a disaster that could be caused by a big tsunami”, which could be easily mistranslated by an algorithm glitch as “It is our expert opinion that the Fukushima Daichi nuclear reactor would not be vulnerable to a disaster that could be caused by a big tsunami”, is about 97% correct.

Only a careful, qualified, well-paid translator who is not working on a tight deadline would be likely to notice that the machine translation is 100% incorrect.

I don’t think that a poorly paid post-processor of machine translations of nuclear reactor tests, who likely lives in a country where human labor is very cheap, much cheaper than in Japan or United States, who does not really understand Japanese all that well and who does not really know English that much either, would be likely to catch such a minute mistake.

Which is one reason why I really would love to know what ATA’s official position is on post-processing of machine translations.

I do appreciate ATA’s opposition to “discrimination on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, country of origin, and its concern about “xenophobia, racial hatred, and religious intolerance”.

As a former new immigrant who came to this country 35 years ago with all of 500 dollars in his pocket and a determination to make it here no matter what, and who eventually raised a family and built a successful translation business, mostly because he picked the right country for something like that, I myself naturally have a soft spot in my heart for new immigrants and refugees because I understand what they are going through. I too “strongly favor welcoming qualified immigrants who, with their skills and knowledge, contribute to the wealth of our country or seek refuge here from war or persecution”.

But I think that most Americans don’t need to be reminded by another self-serving resolution of the American Translators Association how they should feel about refugees and immigrants. It so happens that many Americans are either immigrants themselves as I am, or children of immigrants as my children are now, or grandchildren of immigrants as my children’s children will be one day.

I also think that most of the 10,000 translators, who in spite of everything still are members of the American Translators Association, would really appreciate it if  ATA let them know what its positions might be on some of the issues that have had a major impact on their life and work for several decades now.

If ATA wants to prove to us that it is really interested in representing the interests of translators and interpreters instead of those of the seemingly omnipotent “translation industry”, taking a position on the three issues mentioned in my post today, issues on which ATA to my knowledge never has taken publicly a position to this day, would be a good start.

Posted by: patenttranslator | January 1, 2018

There Is No Such Thing As a Stupid Patent

Although it is often said that there is no such thing as a stupid question, I wonder how anyone can say something like that with a straight face when we have all heard so many questions that can be only characterized as totally idiotic.

But personally, I have no doubt that there is no such thing as a stupid patent.

Sure, plenty of patents are weird and some are mostly useless too.

As we can see from this handy List of Crazy Patents! on the internet, there is for example a patent for a Light Bulb Changer – a huge, heavy and expensive machine for replacing a light bulb … when all you need, as the old joke goes, are two cops: one cop for holding the bulb, and one cop for turning the first cop around.

This list includes an Anti-Eating Mouth Cage patent for people who need to lose weight, a patent for a Method of Exercising Cat by moving the laser pointer beam around and around and having your cat chase it, a patent for a Pillow with a Retractable Umbrella, and as I found out when I ran a search on the European Patent Office, there are at least 633 patents for sliced bread, also known proverbially as the greatest invention of all time.

As far as I can tell, there is no patent yet for a cell phone with a built-in shower, but I have high hopes that someday somebody will invent such an immeasurably useful and convenient device.

I must have translated dozens of patents about mobile phones, which later became known as cellphones in United States. So many things have been added to these phones since the 1980s, but so far nobody has figured out how to include a shower in them.

I admit that I myself have come across many patents that made me chuckle when I was translating them, mostly from Japanese, because up until recently, I had been translating mostly Japanese patents.

I remember I once translated a Japanese patent for picking up dog poop comprising a stick provided with a plastic bag attached to one end of it. The tricky issue of which end it should be attached to was the subject of a sub-claim.

There are in fact hundreds of patents in different languages on the subject of how to best rid this world of dog poop because when I ran a search on the website of the European Patent Office, I got 636 hits for the key words “dog excrement” and 33 hits for the key words “dog poop” with enticing titles such as “Poop Scooper for Dog” (a Japanese patent), Dog’s Poop Collector (a Greek patent), or Dog Poop Destroyer (a US patent – in US, we like to destroy everything).

And that’s just one website! I could get many more hits for inventions about how to deal with the curse of dog poop also on the World Intellectual Property Organization website, or on the French Patent Office website or China Patent Office website.

From the viewpoint of Mad Patent Translator, none of these patents is stupid, as long as I get paid to translate them!

If somebody somewhere was motivated enough to pay me good money to translate a patent into English, how can anybody call such a patent stupid?

In addition to the Japanese patent about dog poop that I translated a few years ago, I remember quite a few other memorable patents that I had the pleasure of translating.

There was one interesting patent about practical and decorative patterns for shoe soles with shapes inspired by those that are used for Japanese seafood called “kamaboko“, such as these shapes. I remember that one because it was really hard to translate Japanese words that every Japanese person understands, but that very few people who are not Japanese would understand as well.

I also remember a patent about another practical and decorative pattern, this time for jewelry to be strategically attached to the lower part of woman’s skirt. The motifs for the patterns were based on ancient Chinese symbols such as yin and yang. That one was easier to translate because the symbols were shown in the figures attached to the patent application. That was a pretty smart patent, I thought. Unusual, but definitely not stupid.

Usually, I have no idea what exactly the people who are paying me for the translation are looking for, especially in old patents, which is to say what is the “inventive step” of the patent. Some of them are very old, I remember that the oldest one I translated from French was again a patent about shoes from 1893 – it was about ski shoes. I’ve also translated plenty of chemical patents from German that were at least a hundred years old.

The main idea behind each patent is supposed to be explained in the first claim. But if it is a long and complicated patent, “Claim 1” can be very long, and sometimes contains more than a thousand words. The “inventive step” may be hidden in only a few sentences at the beginning of this claim; the rest of it could be an explanation of the background.

Sometimes I wake up in the morning with the sudden knowledge that I used the wrong term for some widget in my translation the day before. I turn on my computer, look at the text in the original language and I see that, indeed, the translation is not very good and that a much better word to be used in this context was suggested to me, probably by a divine being, while I was sleeping.

When we sleep, our brain is going through what happened the previous day and sometimes, our subconscious will find the perfect solution for something we missed the previous day. Which is why every translation should be proofread the next day after a good night’s sleep!

As I said, as far as I am concerned, there is no such thing as a stupid patent. Provided that I get paid for translating a patent, the requirement of non-obviousness and an inventive step has been met. It is obvious to me that somebody must have invented something useful so that I could translate the patent to pay my bills and maybe even save a little for a vacation.

It better be the truth because if the patents that I have been translating for the last 30 years were in fact stupid, wouldn’t that make me a stupid patent translator?

Happy New Year 2018 – Year of the Dog in Chinese zodiac after February 16, 2018.


Posted by: patenttranslator | December 26, 2017

Some Things Are Impossible to Prove Or Disprove

Some things are impossible to prove or disprove.

The existence of God, for example is one of them.

Or so I am told.

On the other hand, some things can be easily proven or disproven with a simple experiment based on a small dose of logical thinking. One of them is the fact that human editing of machine translation is in fact more time-consuming than actual translation from scratch.

It is easy to design an experiment on the basis of sound and logical criteria to prove that human editing of machine translation, even of a relatively very good machine translation, assuming that there is such a thing, takes longer than an actual translation done by a qualified and experienced translator.

Take as an example a translation that you have just finished; in my case it could be for instance a translation of a German or Japanese patent, for example about three thousand words long.

Given that I have been translating patents for a living for more than 30 years, I will boldly assume for the purposes of this post that my translation would be very good and very accurate, ready for publishing on an official website of a patent granting authority, without even minor problems which often occur in most machine translation, but which are relatively easy fixed.

By relatively minor problems I mean for example things like when the software  program does not know how to translate a long German compound noun and simply keeps the long German word in the machine-translated text which is otherwise in English. If the software does not have the answer, it simply keeps the words in the original language. I see this all the time in machine translations of patents from many languages.

Although this is a flaw that is frequently encountered in machine translations of patents, this kind of problem, which may be impossible to solve by machine translation software, is easily fixed within seconds by a human translator who understands the German term and knows the equivalent in another language, without even taking a look at the original text.

But since we are starting with a translation that was obtained from an experienced human translator, the translation would not contain the problems that often crop up in machine translations.

Now let’s assume that in order to simulate one of the problems that could be introduced by machine translation, we would use the search-and-replace function of our word processing program and replace five correct terms in a flawless translation obtained from a human translator with incorrect but perfectly plausible terms.

Problems like this are much more difficult to correct because they can be verified by a human translator only in the context of the original text.

For example, let’s say that for the purposes of the experiment, a translator would replace “tall” with “small, “acceleration” with “deceleration”, “wet” with “dry”, “organic” with “inorganic”, and “is not” with “is”. The word “organic” can be easily mistranslated by machine translation if the software misreads the first letter of the word and the word “not” can be easily overlooked by a machine translation program in a sentence, especially since it is in different positions in the sentence in different languages. And so on and so forth.

If we don’t know where the problem might be hidden, the only way to fix the mistakes that have been introduced into an otherwise perfect translation by non-thinking software is to proofread the translation in the context of the original text, which is to say to painstakingly compare the translation to the original text if not word by word, then at least sentence by sentence.

And as every translator knows, something like that is very time consuming.

Such a comparison, when we know that the translation is likely to contain problems, but don’t know where and what the problems are, would take much longer than if we proofread a translation that was done by a competent human translator, or by ourselves, and we are looking only for minor problems such as omissions and typos.

The “translation industry” likes to pretend that editing of machine translations is a logical next step and a straightforward process that can be easily used to fill in the gaps left in the approach that used machine translation to lower the cost, in conjunctions with humans who are supposed to quickly and in an inexpensive manner fix and clean up the machine translation output.

That is why the “translation industry” generally pays very low rates for proofreading, and the result is that with some exceptions, mostly just “newbies” are willing to do proofreading, even when it comes to translations that were done by human translators.

But the thing is, proofreading is a relatively painless and straightforward procedure only if the mistakes in the human-translated or machine-translated texts were so obvious that we would not need to compare the machine translation to the original, or if such a comparison could be made quickly and relatively infrequently.

Most “post-processors” of machine translations are probably working very quickly and without comparing the machine translation to the original text much for one simple reason: they get paid so little for their mind-numbing drudgery that they can’t really afford to do much more.

The fact is that even if a machine-translated text is post-processed by a human “almost translator” and even if the post-processed result looks a little bit better than a machine translation, the actual mistakes in the machine translation can be discovered only if the human post-processor compares the machine-translated text to the original text sentence by sentence, if not word by word.

As I have said in the introduction, I don’t know whether God exists, because that is something that can be neither proven nor disproven. Generally speaking, I don’t think God exists because it makes no sense to me. There are days when so many good things happen that I kind of have to wonder whether everything has been planned in advance by a benevolent higher power. And there are days when it is obvious to me that everything is controlled by Devil …. which in a way would also be a sort of a proof that God does exist, I suppose.

Call me an agnostic rather than a non-believer.

But one thing that I do know for sure is that post-processed machine translation that are “almost as good as human translations” as the “translation industry” likes to put it do not exist, because that is something that can be proven very easily with the simple test that I have proposed in my post today.

Post-processed machine translations are much more likely to be a poison rather than a cure for the problems that are unavoidable with machine translations.


Posted by: patenttranslator | December 15, 2017

Industrialization of Translation and What Can a Translator Do About It

As I keep liquidating and recycling old documents, mostly invoices and correspondence with clients and translation agencies (I am printing on the other side of the documents to save a few trees), I found a letter I received in 2008 from a small translation agency that kept me busy at that time for a few years.

The letter was announcing the sale of this tiny agency to a much bigger translation agency located in a different city. The small agency was run by a husband and a wife team – a common occurrence for decades before translation, something that used to be understood to mean an occupation or a small business, became what is now called the translation industry.

This is how the letter begins:

“As you may recall, in January 2007 we conveyed to you the news that we were actively pursuing the sale of [our translation agency] with the eventual goal of retirement. We have arrived at the successful completion of our efforts, and with mixed feelings we announce that our last day as owners of this company is March 20, 2007”.

I saw that in one of the invoices I sent them on September 3rd, and which they paid on September 20th, I charged them $1,971.36 for 8,214 words for a translation of medical device test results from Japanese to English at 24 cents per word.

It was a rush translation and back in 2007, better agencies still paid freelance translators for rush work the same as employers used to have to pay by law to employees in the United States for work on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, which is to say time and a half of the usual rate.

I did not know it then, but I do know now that the year 2007 or 2008 was the beginning of the demise of an era when many translation agencies were still very civilized businesses, an era when small and tiny translation agencies would team up with translators they considered top in their respective niches and the translators would then stay with them for decades because they were paid well and treated like professionals by people who understood the profession and valued their work.

So for me personally, 2007 marked the beginning of the end of the civilized era and the beginning of the new era of “translation industry” – a term that I usually put in quotation marks, because I still see translation as a profession rather than an industry that is based on buying and selling.

Although I probably should see it is an industry.

When everything is an industry, including war, religion, music, and art, it’s only logical that intellectual activities, including translation, represent just another industry, and the only purpose of all of these industries is to maximize the profit for the people on the top of the pyramid, the people who are rightfully called owners because they more or less own the people working for them and are doing the dirty work called translation in various layers of the industry.

Since the beginning of the era of industrialization of translation, which in my case started with the letter excerpted above, I lost pretty much all the decent translation agencies that used to keep me busy for many years in the pre-industrialized phase.

It took me a while to realize it, but I now understand that most of these agencies really did not have much choice but to adopt the cutthroat techniques of the translation industry, lowering rates paid to translators as much as possible to remain competitive in the new industrialized era. This was and still is a key ingredient of the business strategy in the “translation industry”.

Which meant that the agencies of the now bygone civilized era eventually either had to replace their most experienced translators by newbies in countries like China or India, or go bankrupt … or retire.

Fortunately for me, I have been working mostly for direct clients for many years, and it took a few more years before some of my direct clients started imitating what was going on in the “translation industry”, but eventually I lost quite a few of them to greener pastures of cheaper labor as well.

Capital always follows cheaper labor, and since we translators are basically seen as mere laborers, there is not much we can do about it, is there?

Well, I believe that there is something that mere translators can do about it. Although we have to compete with the new form of industrialized translation industry, we don’t really have to work for it at all if we are able to devise a strategy that works well for our businesses – using business models that are completely independent of the translation industry.

The strategy that has been and still is working for me personally can be best described as a three-pronged strategy that is based on the following principles.

  1. To save myself a lot of headaches and not to be forced to work for peanuts, I completely stopped working for large corporate translation agencies about a decade ago. It was really a no-brainer: the big agencies now pay such low rates that it really made no sense for me to continue working for them.

I still work for a few small translation agencies, but generally only on small projects, and at higher rates than what large corporate agencies would generally want to pay me.

  1. Because the Japanese patent translation market was very severely affected by outsourcing translations to China, I switched to translating mostly German patents.

Although Japanese is very different from Chinese, unlike translators in western countries or the United States, translators in China can read Japanese characters without any problem and they are now translating Japanese patents into English, which was what I used to do for more than 20 years. There must be thousands of people like that who can create usable translations with the help of machine translation programs.

These translations from translators in China probably contain many mistakes if the Chinese translators don’t really understand Japanese as well as they should, which is almost certainly the case, while their English is limited too. But they are cheap and that is basically the only thing that matters to the translation industry, because cheap translations can be bought at a low price and then sold for a high profit margin.

Fortunately for me, German is quite a complicated language and since it is not widely spoken or understood in countries with an abundance of cheap labor, the rates for German patent translations have not been ruined, at least not yet, by competition from such countries.

  1. Because my ancient website still works quite well and is pretty high up in search engine rankings for key words specific to my type of work, namely patent translations, every now and then I land a few direct clients who still pay much better rates than translation agencies, and these new direct clients sometime stay with me for quite a few years, although some of them eventually also defect to greener (read cheaper) pastures.

I believe the third prong of my business strategy, a website designed for a very narrow translation niche so that it could be found by search engines, is crucially important for every translator who wants to become independent of the translation industry.

So after three or four years of steadily falling income, I am happy to say that this year has been very good for me again.

I think that my experience proves an old truth, namely that if you can deliver a product at a much higher quality level than what your cheap competition is offering, you don’t have to lower your prices.

I also think that in the highly industrialized environment of the translation industry, translators, no matter how good they are and how hard they work, will be able to live in relative comfort and enjoy their demanding but rewarding work only if they can become independent of the toxic environment of the translation industry.

Otherwise, they will be relegated to the role of cheap, easily replaceable, anonymous and insignificant cogs in a machine designed to maximize the profit of whoever owns the big bad machine, including all of the easily replaceable cogs that make the machine work.

Posted by: patenttranslator | December 8, 2017

I Love the Beatles, but This Version Is Terrible

“Amo a los Beatles pero esta version es terrible. Fuera de tono y fuera de ritmo, Es un insulto para nuestro idioma. (I love the Beatles but this version is terrible. Out of tune, and out of rhythm. It is an insult to our language).

From a recent comment on Youtube on Bésame mucho as sung by the Beatles.

In a legendary fiasco, the Beatles failed to impress the talent experts at Decca Studios on January 1, 1962 – in what is considered the biggest fiasco in pop music history, when the Decca label turned them down.

There were actually two major fiascos that occurred on that fateful day, the very first day of 1962:

One fiasco was a big but temporary setback for the Beatles. The other fiasco, when Decca failed to recognize the potential of the group, caused much more permanent damage to the label, which as a result lost an enormous amount of money over a period of many decades, and I believe it continues to lose this money to this day, when it turned down four young lads who in a few months would go on to become the most popular group in the history of rock-and-roll (after drummer Pete Best was replaced by Ringo Star).

Some of the songs that were recorded back then for the audition were available only as bootleg recordings until they were officially released on the Beatles rarities Anthology 1, a set of two CDs in 1995.

I remember buying that set of CDs in 1996 and how I tried to listen to the old songs on a flight from New York to Prague in 1996 over eight or nine hours, depending on the wind (shorter coming back to America). But despite my enthusiasm for hearing something by the Beatles that I had never heard before, I could stand listening to the Beatles Anthology CD for only about 20 minutes before I switched to a new Madonna CD called Something to Remember, which I also purchased when it was issued in 1995, back when people were still buying CDs.

I loved the Madonna CD instantly and played it twice, which helped me forget for about two hours how uncomfortable it is to be sitting in a plane seat during a long flight.

I now know that one of the songs that the Beatles unadvisedly chose for the audition was Bésame mucho, in English translation. You can listen to the song as it was sung originally by its author in Spanish at the beginning of my silly post today, and as it was sung by the Beatles at the end of my post, before the Beatles became a worldwide phenomenon.

It’s hard to believe that this beautifully melodic Mexican song, which was composed in the 1940s and which I heard for the first time around 1965, even is the same song as it is sung in the English version by the Beatles.

And yet, these are the same Beatles who wrote songs that are still instantly recognized by so many people on this planet as some of the most beautiful love songs in the history of popular music, songs like Yesterday, or Girl.

Bésame mucho may very well be one of the most beautiful love songs in the Spanish language. But in the version sung by the Beatles, the Mexican song really does sound terrible. When I hear their “chacha-boom” improvement on the original version of the song, it feels like somebody is hitting me over the head with a two-by-four (a piece of lumber, supposedly two inches by four inches, generally very hard).

A song like Girl, on the other hand, has an indescribable power to move me and probably at least another hundred million people every time we hear it, even though we may have heard it a hundred times. The voice harmonies are sublime, and the guitar accompaniment could not possibly be more perfect.

Although I still don’t understand what these lyrics actually mean:

“Was she told when she was young that pain would lead to pleasure?

Did she understand it when they said

That a man must break his back to earn his day of leisure?

Will she still believe it when he’s dead?”

Having had half a century to think about it, I have my theories about what they could mean.

This may very well be the best love song in the English language, just like Bésame mucho may very well be the best love song in the Spanish language.

Depending, of course, on who is singing these songs and how the singers go about it.

Malcolm Gladwell said in his book Outliers that nobody is born a genius. He actually uses the example of the Beatles to make his point by positing that the Beatles had to practice in daily eight-hour gigs for 10,000 hours in a club in Hamburg before they were ready to invade and conquer the world.

Though there may be exceptions to Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule, he himself said that most people misunderstand what he was trying to say.

Some people don’t need as many hours. A few centuries ago, Johann Sebastian Bach put it like this: “It’s easy to play any musical instrument: all you have to do is touch the right key at the right time and the instrument will play itself.

Yeah, it’s easy when your are J.S. Bach. But even musical geniuses such as Bach or Mozart probably needed a few thousand hours before the instrument started playing itself. To say “the instrument will play itself” is just an exaggeration that Bach clearly used for dramatic effect.

Personally, I am very thankful that the Beatles did not become discouraged after the 1962 fiasco and eventually found their own style, without the “chacha-boom” part that clashed so horribly with the mood of the song.

I still remember when I heard them for the first time.

It was a sunny Saturday morning in 1963, and I was 11 years old, riding my bike in a park in Český Krumlov, a town where I lived and considered my hometown until I moved to Prague, which then became my second hometown, until I moved to San Francisco, which then became my third hometown … until I moved to the vast American suburbs that have no downtown, where love goes to die, as the saying goes.

Anyway, in 1963, I was riding my bike in a beautiful park rimmed by the River Vltava. There is a big, old hotel called Hotel Růže [Rose] on the other side of the river, which was originally a Jesuit seminary if I remember correctly, see the photo of  Hotel Růže below.

Hotel Ruze dnes

That hotel has a terrace high above the river, overlooking the park where I liked to ride my bike, and somebody put big speakers on top of a table on that terrace to play From Me To You, the first song by the Beatles that I heard and that made me wonder about who these people singing the song might be.

So soon after having failed a very important test, the four youngsters from Liverpool regrouped and found themselves in their own music and their own style, and by doing so changed pop music forever.

Let it be a lesson to us all!

Posted by: patenttranslator | December 2, 2017

Our Incomplete, Diluted and Fluid Linguistic and Cultural Identities

It was the multilingual monarch Charlemagne who supposedly said more than 12 centuries ago, or in the early Middle Ages, so different in their backwardness from our enlightened time, “to know two languages is to possess a second soul”.

There are proverbs in several languages that say very similar things. For example, a German proverb says “Je mehr Sprachen du kanst, desto mehr Mensch du bist” (the more languages you know, the more you are a human being), which happens to be an almost exact copy of a Czech proverb (Kolik jazyků znáš, tolikrát jsi člověkem) and also of a Slovak proverb (Koľko jazykov vieš, toľkokrát si človekom.)

Having a multilingual identity, one for each language, is not quite the same thing as having several souls, or several lives. is it? Having several identities is incidentally also a psychiatric disorder called a multiple personality disorder (MPD).

Or was that what Charlemagne really meant? Unfortunately, there is no way to ask him, so we’ll never know.

I think that we can probably have at least two identities (maybe more when it comes to the languages we speak), without being seriously demented … or at least I hope so, because otherwise, I’m in big trouble.

I say that with the full knowledge that my own linguistic identity, (unlike my gender identification, for example, a common dilemma these days), is at this point so messed up that I would not even know how to measure or determine the different variables contained therein, or which way these variables point.

Up until the age of 27, I spoke Czech and thought in Czech almost exclusively every day of my life – except when I was trying to learn a foreign language at school. So that was clearly my linguistic and cultural identity back then.

But gradual dilution of my original language started when I became a refugee in Germany in the early 1980s, because at that point I started speaking and also sometimes thinking in German, a language that I had been studying for quite a few years prior to coming to Germany. To make things worse, at that point I felt inspired to also start speaking somewhat butchered Polish.

This was because most of my friends were Polish refugees who just like me were waiting for a visa to emigrate: to the United States, Canada or Australia, so I tried to speak their language with them because I knew they appreciated it, since they could then understand me better, despite my funny accent and the horrible mistakes I was making in that complicated language.

After that, I started speaking mostly English after emigrating to America at the age of 30. Except that this linguistic identity soon enough has also come under a ferocious, frontal attack by the Japanese language, ever since I married a Japanese woman 33 years ago.

I could have probably kept my English language identity intact and safely separate from all the other languages that I have been trying to learn for decades, with different degrees of success, including keeping it separate from Japanese, if my wife spoke to me only in Japanese, just like I have for the most part managed to keep my Czech identity separate from my American identity, at least as far as the linguistic aspects of these very different identities are concerned.

But the problem is, for the last 33 years, she has been insisting on speaking both languages indiscriminately and at the same time, often starting a sentence in one language and finishing it in another. “It’s all 中途半端” (chuto hanpa), as she might put it, by using two languages in one sentence, no doubt to keep me in deep, perpetual confusion.

The words “chuto hanpa” can be difficult to translate, depending on the context. One possible translation into English would be, “half way through”, although I like “incomplete” better, if only because it is much shorter.

Another blow to my linguistic integrity, which caused me major financial pain, as well as confusion, was that after I have been translating mostly Japanese patents to English for more than 20 years, the demand for translation of Japanese patents to English started decreasing considerably about seven years ago. There are probably several reasons for this phenomenon, I will deal with these in a separate blog post.

This phenomenon was obviously very unfortunate for somebody who was educated and trained to become a teacher and translator of Japanese, since after a few years, I was for the most part out of a job.

Fortunately, I was able to fall back on a few European languages that I can fake almost as well as Japanese, and in some cases better than Japanese, which eventually saved my translation business.

As far as I can tell, there is as much demand for translation of German patents to English, at least in the fields that I translate for my clients, as there was for translation of Japanese patents to English some 20 years ago when I was flying high as a translator in that particular language combination.

To me, the real moral of the story, which in this case happens to be the story of my life, is that whether or not one can have several souls, or be a human being several times over, or have several separate linguistic or cultural identities, is not really the question here except perhaps for graduate students in linguistics who might be able to write an interesting dissertation on this topic.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s fine to have one’s original linguistic identity diluted, distorted and degraded after living in different countries where one does not get to use one’s original language at all!

It’s not a problem when your spouse is talking to you for decades “chuto hanpa” (in a funny mishmash of two languages at the same time)! Lots of people do that, and most of them are not crazy!

Nor do I care too much whether my efforts to learn several languages over so many years are a clear sign of a multiple personality disorder, or of some other serious psychiatric symptom pointing to dementia!

Things change so fast in this world that as a result of the “destructively creative effect of technology”, for example, we simply have to be ready to jump on a new bandwagon, professionally speaking, when, or preferably just before, the wheels fall out of the bandwagon that we were so successfully riding while the original vehicle was still in good working order.

This is true of every profession. And it so happens that when you are a translator, to know more than two languages, and the more the better, is like having an iron reserve of funds accessible in the bank just in case they become needed.

Posted by: patenttranslator | November 19, 2017

Intolerance of Others on Social Media Is a Sign of a Small Mind

Unlike most of the posts on this blog, today’s post will not be about translation, or only marginally so.

Instead of creating another ferocious diatribe against the translation industry, I thought it might be a good idea to write a post about the music videos I put at the beginning and end of each post.

Some people really like my videos and even thank me for the art accompanying my posts. But some people don’t understand why I have videos accompanying my posts. Quite a few, actually. And some react to the music videos with aversion bordering on disgust when they don’t like either the music or the content.

Some people look for connections between the videos that I use and the things I say in my posts. We can find connections between almost anything in this world. But since I have about 600 posts on this blog, there are links to about 1,200 YouTube videos, and the connections that we may form in this manner are mostly in our minds.

Which is as it should be. People who read poetry also create connections and associations in their mind with the words on paper, and every single one of them will be different from those of other people.

“Why does he uses videos, when his blog is supposed to be about translation?” some people ask.

My blog is not really about translation, or at least not only about translation. The name of the blog is Diary of a Mad Patent Translator, and mad as I am, my daily thoughts are naturally not only about translation, but also about all kinds of other things – some of which I keep to myself because I have not gone completely mad yet – and some of which I share with people who read my blog.

As a patent translator, I have no choice but to spend many hours per day sitting in front of my computer and translating patents. Some people might find my life boring, but daily translation has been the rhythm of my life for about three decades now. I have gotten used to this rhythm and for the most part I like it.

It’s an easy way for me to pay my bills, and as those of us who are not trust fund babies know, to find an easy and at least semi-enjoyable way to pay the bills is the most important thing in life, right after good health.

One privilege that we translators have, unlike most people who do something else for a living, is that we can listen to music when we work, basically as much as we want to. So listening to music when I translate is a special perk that has been another part of the rhythm of my life for about three decades now.

Just like I want to share my thoughts about translation with other people and anything else I want to write about, I also want to share music videos that I like with people who read my blog.

You can disagree with what I am saying, and if you have something worth saying and discussing, you can leave a comment, and I will either respond to it, or let other people respond, if they so choose.

But I do not believe that anybody has the right to call what I am saying “inappropriate”. And by the same token, nobody has the right to call the videos that I like “inappropriate” either.

Did somebody make you the king of the world? Who gave you the right to decide what is and what is not “appropriate?”

You are free to ignore the thoughts and music videos that I share with my blog’s audience. Simply don’t click on the videos. And if their content, or even the very idea that a blog that in your opinion should be only about translation uses music videos upsets you, why don’t you only read blogs that have no videos?

You can decide which videos are “appropriate” and “inappropriate” for your children to watch (although they are not very likely listen to you.) But I am not your child, so stay out of what is only my business and none of yours.

I have noticed how intolerant many people are of other peoples’ opinions who they might disagree with, often on Facebook, but also on blogs, if these opinions do not follow precisely the groupthink du jour. Intolerance of others, a sign of small-mindedness, is a disease that is also very visible in some translator groups on Facebook.

Some translators consciously try to form cliques of people who enjoy fighting against other groups, not always because they have much to disagree with, but sometimes simply on principle, to show whose side they are on.

It can be entertaining to watch these fights, which often turn into a feeding frenzy, similar to what happens when hungry sharks attack a tasty, injured fish. But the problem is, entertaining though the spectacle may be, this kind of trolling makes it impossible to discuss anything, when even a minor disagreement with another person’s opinion or taste is interpreted as a horrible attack ad hominem that must be responded to in kind.

In North Korea, the police have the right to inspect the cell phones of North Korean citizens to make sure that they don’t have any South Korean or Western songs stored in their phones. Only North Korean songs, proclaiming the genius of the Chubby Leader, are “appropriate”, everything else is “inappropriate.”

Watching movies that are not officially approved as “appropriate” (for example South Korean and American movies), is considered so “inappropriate” in North Korea that people who are caught doing so are sent to labor camps for reeducation.

Those among us who think they have the right to determine what discussions or videos are “appropriate” and “inappropriate” for a translation blog are in my opinion creating an atmosphere of intolerance that is more suitable for North Korea than for thoughts and videos that can be freely shared on social media among translators living in free countries.

Relative newcomers to what is now called the translation industry may not realize that what used to be thought of simply as “translation” or the “translation business” rather than the translation industry has been turned upside down and inside out in the last two decades, especially after the 20th century turned into the 21st century.

By relative newcomers I mean people who have been translating for a living for less than two or three decades, because that is how far back in time one would need to go to be able to make a meaningful comparison between what freelance translation used to be in the pre-industry period, and what it is now.

That is what I have been trying to do in many of my posts, although some people might say that what I am trying to talk about in posts in which I doggedly criticize the current practices of the translation industry is pretty useless and mostly a waste of time because I am fighting an 800 pound gorilla. And up to a point, I would have to agree with them.

My posts are not going to make any difference to how the current translation industry model sees the role of translators. The industry sees us as unimportant and interchangeable busy bees whose job is to keep bringing more and more sweet honey in the form of translations to the industry, which is in the role of a beekeeper who consumes the honey.

The more honey we bring to the beekeepers, the better for them, and any method the industry can think of and that can be used to achieve the goal of “higher productivity” is thus obviously legitimate, especially since all of the new tricks in the industry’s book are in the end obediently legitimized by translators’ associations (such as the ATA, but not only the ATA).

The illegitimate methods popular in the current version of the translation industry include industry tools such as so-called confidentiality agreements, now often stuffed with illegal clauses, which include illegal and disgusting conditions, such as that the industry has the right to install spying software on our computers to take advantage of technology that makes it possible to better control the busy bees, just in case the bees might be getting improper ideas.

There are many other immoral and illegal tools the translation industry uses to keep more of that sweet honey away from hungry, hard-working bees, with a greater share for itself, even if it means the bees doing the work starve to death. These new tools include “full and fuzzy matches”, i.e. full and partial repetitions, for which only partial or no compensation is to be provided to translators who do the actual work based on fuzzy thinking prevalent in certain segments of the translation industry.

Another “tool” the translation industry is currently pushing is post-editing of machine translations.

Although the translation industry is very excited about this new tool, most translators for some reason keep refusing to use it.

I see machine translation as a powerful and very useful tool, especially since it is available for free to translators and non-translators alike.

But the fact that the translation industry is incapable of understanding the difference between a tool (machine translation) and a product (actual translation) shows how little the industry understands translation, which is what it is supposed to be producing.

Translation as a product has been with us for many centuries, long before tools such as pens, typewriters, the internet, and machine translation were invented.

But up until now, the tools that can be used for writing (and translation is just a special subcategory of writing), have not been mistaken for the actual product, i.e. writing or translation. It took the chutzpaw, so typical of the modern translation industry, to attempt to erase the difference between a tool like machine translation and a product of the human mind called translation.

New tools are created all the time. Especially in the last few decades, many powerful new tools have been created that are very useful for translators.

For the first 10 years in my freelance translating career, I was working without the tool called the internet, although I can no longer imagine working without it.

For the first 15 years in my freelance translating career, I was working without the tool called machine translation, which is alternately available and not available to me.

I don’t see the fact that translators use this tool as a dirty secret that should be hidden from prying eyes.

As I wrote in my last post, I recently read a corporate blog in which the author of the blog post said that post-editing of machine translations is “something that everybody is doing … the dirty secret that nobody wants to talk about.”

It is true, as the post says, that everybody is using machine translations. The translation industry is using it, and individual translators are using it too, including myself. But it is not true that, as the post says, everybody “is doing some sort of post-editing” of machine translations.

Translators for the most part stopped using dictionaries in the form of expensive and heavy books that are already obsolete by the time translators pay for them, and replaced these books with online databases and machine translation. Although I have more than a hundred specialized dictionaries, I generally use them only a few times a day, and I have not bought a new one in more than a decade.

The fact that translators have been using machine translation programs instead of dictionaries for some time is not exactly a secret, let alone a dirty secret. Many posts on my blog are dedicated precisely to this subject.

The fact that the translation industry claims that everybody is “doing post-editing of machine translations” and considers this claim a dirty secret is another piece of evidence as to how little the translation industry understands its own product, i.e. translation.

I do not doubt that the translation industry does a lot of post-editing of machine translation by using translators, probably newbies or “bilinguals” who are preferably located in countries where labor is very cheap, who edit the machine translation detritus for the equivalent of 1 cent per word or something like that.

The industry either does not understand, or if it understands it, simply does not give a damn that editing machine translation is in fact an impossibility. As long as the text to be translated is at least moderately complicated, it needs to be retranslated to remove major mistakes that machine translation creates, regardless of how good the software might be.

Machine-translated texts can be used by a translator as an excellent source of information. But because editing such a source of information is so laborious and time-consuming, and no amount of editing is likely to remove the mistakes that mechanical processing that any type of machine translation is based on, I doubt there are many actual translators whose work includes post-editing of the product of a software package.

Machines will never be able to understand the source text, only humans can do that. Would it make sense to post-edit a poorly written book? I don’t think so. Although some parts of the plot might be reused, it makes much more sense to write a new book, and the same is true for translation.

No software or computer is capable of what is a simple act for a human mind, but an impossibility for artificial intelligence: actually understanding anything other than how to carry out instructions based on mathematical formulas.

Although the translation industry is very aggressively pushing the idea of post-editing of machine translations by slave-like quasi-human translators, and will be probably doing this for many years to come, I think that a strategy based on greed and misunderstanding of what translation actually means is bound to backfire.

The industry assumes that its clients are so dumb that they can’t tell the difference between what it calls “the dirty secret that nobody wants to talk about”, and the result of post-processing of machine translation, and a real translation, which can only be created by a real human translator, as opposed to what is created when an underpaid post-editor who tries to save what has been generated by a machine using software, so that the industry can then sell it as real translation.

For some purposes, such a product might be good enough, especially since it is significantly cheaper than real translation.

For some purposes, unedited machine translation is already good enough, especially since it is free.

But for most purposes, neither edited not unedited machine translation is good enough. One purpose for which machine translation cannot be used is patent translation, especially of patents for filing, which is mostly what I am doing now.

The industry’s clients are not happy with what the industry is trying to sell them. That is what I hear from recent clients, mostly patent law firms, who don’t understand why the quality of translations is suddenly so poor now, in part probably because they don’t know about a “dirty secret that nobody wants to talk about.”

The generally low quality of translations characteristic of the current form of the translation industry thus creates an opportunity for highly specialized and experienced translators who are able to offer real translation in specialized fields to clients who need it, but only if we are able to bypass the translation industry and connect directly with the actual users of our service.

Since I don’t work for the modern form of the translation industry, I am very fortunate to have been able to take advantage of this opportunity for quite some time.

I think that the fact that I have never been as busy as I am now is is not a coincidence. I think it is due, at least partly, to the fact that the translation industry is mistaking a tool – machine translation, for the product – real translation.

The more the translation industry continues trying to push its “dirty secrets” such as edited machine translations to sell them as real translations, the more work there will be for specialized translators who can provide what the clients really want.

In its ignorance and greed, the translation industry is thus creating new opportunities for those of us who refuse to work for it and who are able to sell our skills directly to the people who need them.


Posted by: patenttranslator | November 3, 2017

Don’t Let Anybody Know If Your Productivity Is High

My post today is about why rates for translation are stagnant or falling despite increasing translator productivity.

Translators are hardly the only workers who have not been able to earn higher incomes as a result of higher productivity enabled in the last few decades by relatively new technologies (computerization, quick access to information on the internet, and most recently, machine translation.)

For most workers, real wages have barely budged for decades. Even though worker productivity has risen dramatically since the 1970s, people are now making less than they used to about half a century ago.

In the United States, a high-school education and the single income of one worker per family generally guaranteed a decent standard of living in the 1950s and ‘60s, up until the ‘70s.

But things changed for the worse for the people doing the actual work. Workers in many professions now have to work harder, faster and longer, only to make less money than they used to half a century ago.

There are many reasons for this, of course. Distribution of income has never been more unequal than it is now in the United States, and whether the Ds or Rs are nominally running the country has made no difference, since both parties are controlled by the same money.

As the late, great Gore Vidal put it, “There is only one party in the United States, the Property Party . . . and it has two right wings: Republican and Democrat. Republicans are a bit stupider, more rigid, more doctrinaire in their laissez-faire capitalism than the Democrats, who are cuter, prettier, a bit more corrupt – until recently . . . and more willing than the Republicans to make small adjustments when the poor, the black, the anti-imperialists get out of hand. But, essentially, there is no difference between the two parties.”

How much did healthcare cost half a century ago? It costs so much more now, at least in the US, that even those of us who make a decent living may not be able to afford it anymore.

This is how Pew Research, a highly respected a nonpartisan American “fact tank” (even I respect it, and I don’t see much to respect around me these days), based in Washington, D.C., put it in a recent article:

“After adjusting for inflation, today’s average hourly wage has just about the same purchasing power as it did in 1979, following a long slide in the 1980s and early 1990s and bumpy, inconsistent growth since then. In fact, in real terms the average wage peaked more than 40 years ago: The $4.03-an-hour rate recorded in January 1973 has the same purchasing power as $22.41 would today”.

One major reason why translators are among workers who make much less money in today’s economy than they used to, is the insatiable greed of the translation industry.

The translation industry already pulled off a major coup d’état in the last decade when it comes to how little the industry now pays to translators thanks to the creative invention of the concept of “full matches” and “fuzzy matches”, a greedy concept that is nothing more and nothing less than illegal wage theft that should be vigorously prosecuted and banned in a society that is ruled by the law instead of by greed.

But the translation industry is not done with cutting our wages yet. Far from it. This is what the corporate blog “matecat” expressed in June of this year on the industry’s expectations of how quickly translators should be translating and at what rates (the blog is not about mating cats, or how to make cats mate as the name suggests. Cats generally need no encouragement for what is a favorite pastime of theirs – the last three letters that spell out the word CAT are the keyword here.)

“700 words per hour is actually the norm nowadays in many sectors. There’s no need to wait for 2022. It would be pretty difficult to run a profitable freelancing business with less than 500–700 words per hour. For most common European language pairs, the average rate per word is around €0.05. To make a decent €30–35 per hour, a translator needs to reach (and exceed) the 700 words per hour threshold.”

So if we want to make an equivalent of 35-40 US dollars per hour while working for our bosses in the translation industry, we would have to bang out at least 700 words per hour. After taxes, we would have some 20 dollars left to splurge on things like rent, food and utilities. This of course without any guarantee that we will have work at all if the industry’s leading thinkers are able to find somebody willing to work for them for a few dollars less (preferably for quite a few dollars less.)

It is in fact impossible to run a profitable freelance business for translators living in Western countries who work for today’s version of the translation industry, regardless of how fast we are able to translate. Even if we were able to double, triple or quadruple our output of words per hour, (I don’t want to call something like that “translating”, because translation is not the same thing as continuously spitting out a record number of words in the shortest possible period of time, in fact, this has little to do with translating), we would still not be able to run a profitable freelance translating business as long as we were still working for the translation industry.

Even if we were able to translate for example 1,500 words per hour, the leading minds of the translation industry would simply come up with another fuzzy scheme, similar to “fuzzy matches” and “full matches”, that would make it possible to knock our income way below the level of even US$30-40 per hour.

After translating daily as a freelance translator for more than 30 years, I can sometimes translate at the speed of about 700 words per hour, without using any other tools than my computer, the internet, and my brain.

But I can do that only if I am in an inspired state, called  translator’s high, in which I finally perfectly understand everything I am translating, and I can translate on an auto-pilot as if I were taking dictation from God. It generally happens to me a few times week … although there are no guarantees.

But there are also many less productive hours when I am too tired to translate at such a high speed. I know I will make mistakes if I keep pushing myself to crank out more words, so I generally take a break. And like every translator, I have to spend considerable time researching terms and concepts I am dealing with in specialized databases on the internet, including consulting machine translation programs, which to me represent just another specialized database available for free on the internet.

But I have to be very careful when it comes to how I use so-called language technology, because most of my clients would dump me if they thought I used CATs or edited machine translation to translate the patents and patent-related Office Actions that I translate for them. For some reason, they are only interested in actual human translation. Maybe they are Luddites, which is the term the translation industry hurls at translators who for example refuse to participate in “post-processing” of machine translations.

In this and other respects, my direct clients, who are mostly patent lawyers, are very, very different from the great thinkers in the translation industry.

The other respect in which they are different from the “translation industry” is that they pay me on average four times what the translation industry would pay me for the same work, and still more for rush translations. I’m sure they would not mind at all paying me the same as the translation industry, but they know I would not be willing to work for them for less.

Here is what I think about the idea of increased productivity: unlike the great minds in the translation industry, I don’t think that increased translation speed is the same thing as increased productivity for translators.

Increased productivity to me means making more money, not cranking out more words per hour, until my brain can no longer process the words I see on a computer screen and on a sheet of paper.

In any case, I don’t think the magic number of how many words a translator can produce per hour is a measure of productivity when it comes to translating, or a measure of accomplishment for individual translators.

There are so many different variables hiding behind this magic number.

When I start translating a patent, my speed is quite slow because at that point I am still trying to establish the terminology I will be using and this can be quite time-consuming.

When I am translating the claims at the end of a patent, I can fly … or I believe I can fly, as the song says. But even though at that point I understand everything, I have to make an effort to slow down and pay close attention to the details in my translations, like numbers, or I will be making stupid mistakes.

So I have to try not to go too fast. Flying through translations at a high speed can be very dangerous.

One thing’s s for sure: to increase my productivity, instead of increasing the number of words I translate per hour, I need to keep working on my ability to find and keep clients who appreciate what I do for them and pay me accordingly.

And most importantly, increasing my productivity means staying away from the translation industry.


Posted by: patenttranslator | October 29, 2017

What Would I Do If I Were ATA President

It came to my attention two days ago, (via Facebook Messenger), that somebody penciled me in for ATA treasurer at the ATA (American Translators Association) Conference in Washington, D.C.

Ha, ha, ha, it ain’t gonna happen, I thought to myself and had a good laugh. But I wondered, who might have committed such a rebellious act without running it by Mad Patent Translator first?

I am just guessing, but I think that what prompted the Unsub (UNknow SUBject, an abbreviation familiar to viewers of crime shows, frequently used by detectives who are trying to identify a shadowy criminal who despite their efforts remains at large), to nominate me at the ATA Conference that was taking place in Washington, D.C., was the shared memory of a post that I wrote a year ago, called What Do Translators Associations Want from Us and What Do We Want from Them.

It might be a wee bit presumptuous of me, but I think that the Unsub penciled me in because he or she agreed with the silly post linked above. It was only after I took a better look at the picture of the votes received at the ATA Conference in DC that I saw that I was proposed (presumably by the same Unsub) for three positions, not just one: ATA President, ATA Secretary, and ATA Treasury.

I am not very good with numbers, so I would probably not make a good Treasurer.

I don’t think I would make a good Secretary either – too independent …., some people might even call me too wacky, or worse.

But I believe that I would make a damn good President, if I say so myself. After a year or two, the ATA would be unrecognizable.

Here are a few basic, and in my view very necessary changes that I would propose if I had the bully pulpit of an ATA President. I would use the position to try to change this august organization in meaningful ways that would be in my opinion helpful to our profession, if I still dare to call it that after so much damage has been done to our profession by the “translation industry”, while the ATA either stood silently by, or even actively supported the pernicious agenda of the “translation industry” by allowing the industry to publish its propaganda materials in the ATA Chronicle.

  1. I would make it more difficult to join the ATA.

Currently, anybody and their grandmother (and possibly even her pet rabbit) can join the ATA upon payment of the membership fee of US$190. How can it possibly be called an “association of professional translators” if anybody can join it without having to show any credentials or evidence of anything relating to translating or interpreting experience?

What has happened over the years, partly due to this policy of doors that are open to anyone who is willing to pay, is that the ATA membership is now mostly valuable to “newbies” who may find it difficult to get any work if they have no experience, no university diploma or specialized certificates, etc.

At present, ATA has these main membership categories:

  1. associate member in good standing, and
  2. ATA-certified translator.

Based on the current ATA policy, “ATA Membership is open to anyone with an interest in translation and interpreting”.  This means that anybody can become an ATA member in good standing by paying $190, no questions asked. On the one hand, it is a good thing for budding new translators. But on the other hand, it is clearly also a bad thing when anybody can call himself “professional translator” or “professional interpreter.”

I would create a new category for newbies who have no college diploma in translation, or credible evidence of translating or interpreting experience. Perhaps it could be called a “candidate category” instead of the current category of “associates”, (which is incidentally the same term that is used to describe Walmart greeters), so that the ATA candidates would be able to be promoted to a better sounding category later, for instance if they received a university degree, or if they could prove relevant experience in translating and interpreting, obtained for example during the course of at least two years. The details would need to be worked out and I would be open to suggestions.

I do believe that newbies are entitled to receive help from ATA and guidance from its generous members, but I don’t think it is a good thing when ATA currently makes no distinction between members who have advanced university degrees and decades of experience, and total beginners who don’t know anything about anything …. yet.

After all, we were all total beginners at first.

ATA has some sort of an examination that is supposed to validate a member as a translator. If you are an ATA member, show up for a written exam during which you prove that you are able to translate several paragraphs of a text from or into a foreign language, and an ATA proofer says that you did a pretty good job, you become an ATA-certified translator, regardless of your diplomas and/or certifications and experience, or the complete lack thereof.

I would propose to keep this ATA exam, suitably tailored for specialized and clearly specified fields such as literary translation, or financial or patent translation, because it is arguably better than nothing. But again, the exam is probably useful only for people who have nothing else as proof that they are in fact what they say they are, i.e. translators.

On top of that, the ATA certification remains valid ONLY if you continue paying ATA membership fees and participate in further ATA-approved seminars and educational activities. The seminar can be given for example by somebody who looks and sounds like a teenager and imparts wisdom to seminar attendees seeking what is called “continuous education points”, for example on the subject of how to use Facebook or Twitter to find new clients.

If you attend an ATA conference, you have basically satisfied most of the requirements for maintaining your ATA-certified status.

Although I have not gone to an ATA conference since 1998, I am sure that one can find a lot of useful information at every single one of the ATA conferences, not to mention the opportunities for networking and meeting new and old friends.

But given that attending the yearly ATA conference will set a translator back at least $2,000, probably more if one includes airfare, hotel and a very high conference fee, especially if you wait until the last moment because your finances are kind of shaky, I  would try to get rid of this extortionary requirement.

I believe that translators should attend a conference because they want to do that, not because they will be awarded points for it.

The real purpose of the requirement for maintaining the ATA-certified status is so evident that I don’t want to waste any more time on this subject.

So I would get rid of these requirements. Either the ATA exam can stand on its own as proof of some sort of an achievement, without demanding more and more money for it every year from translators who take it, or it’s a joke.

I received my diploma in Japanese and English studies (from Charles University in Prague) in 1980. The diploma, which is is still valid, prepared me quite well for a long and fairly successful career in technical translation on three continents over the course of more than three decades, and I never had to pay my old Alma Mater another penny for it after graduation.

  1. I would propose that only actual translators be eligible for membership in ATA.

This means that translation agencies, the CIA, the NSA, the FBI and other alphabet agencies would no longer be able to join ATA as “corporate ATA members”. I am sure that there is no shortage of other associations for corporations that non-translators can join, for profit and companionship.

An individual representative of a translation agency or of one of the alphabet agencies would still be able to join the ATA under Mad Patent Translator’s presidency, but only as an individual translator. A believe that monolingual people who know nothing about foreign languages or translation should not be members of the American Translators Association, just like people who know nothing about accounting cannot be currently members of the Association of Certified Public Accountants.

  1. I would propose that ATA start issuing publicly its official positions on issues that are important to translators, such as post-editing of machine translation, obligatory discounts for “fuzzy matches” and “full matches” and other creative inventions of the “translation industry.”

I know that ATA frequently issues its positions on numerous issues such as gender discrimination, or the plight of refugees. And why not, it does not cost anything, and it looks good on paper?

But does the ATA believe, for example, that post-editing of machine translation is the way of the future and that it is a “useful tool” that its members should add to its inventory of professional tools?

I am not sure, but from reading articles published over the last five years or so in the ATA Chronicle, it would seem that it does. All the articles in the Chronicle that I have read were written by proponents of post-editing of the machine detritus, so as to lick it into a shape that would almost resemble a real human translation.

It must be a mere coincidence that all of these articles were written by representatives of translation agencies. Although some of the articles written by these representatives of the “translation industry” who were former translators, not a single one was written by a current translator who would dare to propose a different view, namely that post-editing of machine translations is just another greedy scheme, which in addition to further lowering our rates, (generally miserable rates that have been lowered by the “translation industry” already by at least 30 percent in the last decade or so), can only result in clearly inferior translations and further destitution of translators.

Not to mention that forcing translators to have to do something like that is tantamount to inflicting cruel and unusual punishment on humans who have committed no crime.

That is my position, and I have been very public on what my position on this issue is.

But if ATA really believes that post-editing is the way to go as the articles in the ATA Chronicle suggest, it should issue its official policy statement on an issue that is very frequently discussed by actual translators on social media.

  1. I would also propose that ATA issue its official policy statement on the subject of “fuzzy and full matches”.

Does ATA have an official policy on the legitimacy (or illegality) of a scheme that the “translation industry” calls “fuzzy and full matches”, which means that for some words and/or formulations, translators are paid much lower rates, or nothing at all, if these words or formulations have been used previously in the text of a translation.

Sadly, unlike when it comes to ATAs position on discrimination based on gender, I don’t know what the opinion of the ATA board is on this issue either. But if I were ATA president, I would try to push ATA to adopt an official policy on “fuzzy and full matches” too. Of course, if it were up to me, I would call it as an ATA President a transparent scheme at wage theft by the worst elements in the “translation industry”, which, as well all know, has a lot of pretty bad actors in it.

Just imagine what would happen if I were to tell the guy who does my taxes that I will reduce the amount I pay him for “fuzzy numbers” (numbers on my tax return that are similar to numbers that he was working with last year), and nothing for numbers that he just copied from the last year.

He would have a good laugh at my account and I would have to look for a new tax accountant.

But although this is precisely the logic that the “translation industry” is applying to translations, as far as I know, the American Translators Association” has no problem with this kind of fuzzy thinking, and no official position on this issue either.

If I were an ATA president, these are some of the changes that I would be fighting for. Therefore, there is  clearly no chance that somebody like me could become a president of the American Translators Association, at least not at the current stage in the pretty long history of the American Translators Association.

Which may be the actual reason why somebody in frustration penciled me in, instead of voting for one of the officially sanctioned candidates.

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