Corporations create jobs, we are told over and over by people who are paid a lot of money by really rich people to play journalists on TV, or to play the role of thoughtful and caring politicians representing “small businesses” such as yours and mine in an increasingly more and more absurd debating club called the US government, where 1.5 political parties keep pretending to be fighting over something or other, before they finally vote to increase my taxes and your taxes, and to lower them and create more loopholes for said rich people who will gladly take our money and then give some of it back to the same politicians for reelection.
The same principle can be applied to the translation business. We are told that big agencies create jobs for translators and if we, translators, work harder, faster and charge a little less, these agencies will be able to send us more and more work and everybody will be happy.
But rich people don’t really create jobs that much anymore, at least not in this country. They only create jobs to the extent that they need people to work for them because otherwise they can’t make any money. But the fact is that the great majority of jobs are generated by small businesses and by individual consumers because there are millions of small businesses and more than three hundred million consumers in America, not by rich people.
All of us create jobs. When I go to have a haircut, I create a job for a hairdresser who cuts my hair every few weeks. Which is why I make sure that I tip her well. When I go to a supermarket to buy groceries, I create a job for a cashier as long as I refuse to learn how to use automatic checkout scanners. Each and every one of us creates jobs for many professions.
Because I am freelance a translator, it is in my power to create jobs for other freelance translators and since other translators send me work as well, we create jobs for each other. Although I prefer to translate everything by myself because I am a control freak, every year I send work to at least a dozen other translators, mostly in languages that I don’t know, and at least half a dozen translators send me work every year from their clients in languages that they can’t translate themselves. No translation agencies are involved in these transactions, except that sometime I am the agency, and sometime I am the translator.
I much prefer to work for another translator than for agencies that are run by non-translators. Translators rarely ask me stupid questions about my translations because unlike monolingual agency coordinators, they understand what translation is about. I can usually get a decent rate from a translator, and I know that he or she will not let me wait too long for my money. In fact, when I work for a translator, I am usually paid within a week or two. When I work for an agency, it almost always takes a month, sometime two, before I see the money, because the longer they let me wait, the more they make on the “float” on the money that is “floating” in their bank account.
The fact is that rich people have been actually mostly killing jobs in this country for the last 20 or 30 years by sending them to countries where labor is cheaper than in the United States, first to Mexico and India, and now to China. As soon as they find a place where the labor is even cheaper, they will move the jobs there, whether it is Vietnam, Mongolia, or Moldova. Millions of blue color and white color jobs disappeared in this manner and as Bruce Springsteen sang in the eighties, “they ain’t coming back”.
Big agencies too have been pushing down the rates that translators can get for their work by looking for cheaper labor, mostly in all the wrong places. When they can, they go to a third world country, even if the resulting English translation looks like English that was created by a malfunctioning computer of a visitor to planet Earth from Mars. Eventually, they may have to come back to translators who actually know English, but then they will try to figure out how to get a third world rate from them anyway, for instance by forcing them to use Trados with obligatory discounts for “fuzzy matches”. Am I the only one who noticed that rates paid for translations have gone down instead of up in the last 20 years, while the cost of living went through the roof?
It’s all the inevitable result of globalization, machine translation, CAT tools, Internet “marketplaces” for translators such as Proz and all of the changes that were brought about by computerization and the Internet we are told. There is nothing we can do as translators, we are told, because only luddites would even try to resist modern technology.
Well, this is one translator who has been resisting mammoth translation agencies and fuzzy matches quite successfully for quite a while now. I don’t really think about my translations as words, a commodity that should be processed, normalized and thus improved with computerized tools.
I try to think of my translations sort of the way Antonio Stradivari must have been thinking of his violins. True, I am no Antonio Stradivari. But I do understand that just like violin makers of old times, as a translator, I am practitioner of an old art that has been a part of our civilization for centuries, and that it would be a big tragedy if we allowed this art to be replaced by software, hardware and managers who push human production units formerly known as translators to produce more and more words per day at a lower cost.
Most violins are probably produced quite cheaply now in huge factories where workers are simply assembling them from parts that have been produced, very quickly, by software-operated machines.
But that does not mean that I have to be one of those pitiful human factory robots who are operating smart machines to produce huge quantities of cheap and barely functional violins, just like some translators are assembling their translations from preprocessed computer files these days.