I have written several posts in the year and half that I have been blogging here on the differences between a translation agency and freelance translators and on the many pleasures and tribulations of freelance translators. Everything I wrote was considered mostly from the perspective of the translator.
But I wonder, what does the translation business look like from the perspective of our clients? What are they thinking when they end up on the website of a translation agency or translator?
I don’t really know much about different translation fields because I have been translating in the last 25 years mostly patents, both for translation agencies and for patent law firms and IP law departments of different companies and corporations. So I think I do know a little bit about the subject of patent translation.
Some translation agencies specializing in patents claim that they don’t really use just “translators” to translate patents. Instead, they use “teams comprised of specialists (mechanical engineers, medical doctors, pharmacologists, lawyers, etc.,) to achieve accurate translations of highly technical documents”.
Is it really true? Do clients believe these claims? Some probably do, most hopefully don’t. Perhaps it is possible that an unemployed mechanical engineer might consider translating Japanese patents for a translation company for a while, but probably only after having been unemployed for a very long time. But how many mechanical engineers are really fluent in Japanese and English and are at the same time experienced patent translators?
If I were a medical doctor, pharmacologist, or lawyer, I would be working in my chosen field instead of translating Japanese patents for a living. Why would doctors, engineers and lawyers translate instead of working in their field? If they are any good, they can make more money by doing what they studied instead of translating. Translating is really a very interesting occupation. But it is usually interesting only to those who actually are translators, not just “bilingual specialists” who somehow miraculously became “fluent” in two or more languages and thus apparently qualify as translators even though they never had any education or training in linguistics.
How did these “bilingual experts” learn their languages? Excellent knowledge of the Japanese language, for example, is about as difficult to achieve as a medical degree, and it takes even longer, at least 10 years by my calculation. How did an English speaker manage to become a medical doctor and learn perfect Japanese or Chinese or German at the same time, including reading and writing? If he is a native Japanese or Chinese speaker, is his English at the level of a native speakers of English? I have met a few people like that, but not too many.
Some of these translation agencies also claim on their websites that they actually have teams of highly educated and experienced engineers, doctors and lawyers who go with a fine tooth comb several times over every translation until it is absolutely perfect. How much would such a translation have to cost if you really had to pay three or four real experts every time to work on one patent? Too much, obviously. This claim is clearly nonsense as well.
In any case, if the person who translated the patent was a good and experienced translator, there would be no need for a team of “experts” to fight over the terms used in the translation anyway, would there? And if these experts were opinionated as real experts are wont to be, wouldn’t they kill each other over a minor disagreement? I think so. If some “expert” tried to change anything in my translation other than fix a typo, I would quickly lose my cool and start using extremely abusive language toward such a person. This claim is nonsense too. The result of several layers of a good translation by two or three or four levels of “bilingual experts” would most likely be a mangled translation reflecting the personal preferences of these experts rather than the original meaning of the text in the foreign language.
The people who write the propaganda that one can see on the websites of some translation agencies clearly have a lot of contempt for translators. So they make up stories about nonexistent “bilingual experts”. To these marketing types, translators are nothing but easily replaceable hired help.
To me, good translators are almost irreplaceable because the really good ones are very hard to find.
It takes time before you become a good butcher, baker or candlestick maker. And it takes time before you become a good patent translator too. About twenty years.
Bilingual experts, on the other hand, can be created instantaneously because they exist mostly in the imagination of marketing types who write advertising propaganda for various websites.