Posted by: patenttranslator | August 26, 2012

Attacks of Zombie Translators Are Unrelenting In a Horrible Economy

I know what I am talking about because every day I am attacked by dozens of Zombie Translators.

So far they have not attacked me personally, otherwise I would not be here to write about it. At this point, they seem to be content with their daily, unrelenting assaults on my e-mail box. But I wonder, how long can it be before the Zombie Translators start appearing at my doorstep?

How can one tell a Zombie Translator from a real one? For one thing, their résumés clearly show that they are not really translators. They think they can translate another language into English but their “English” is clearly the language of the Undead, not the kind of language that normal living people would use. I am pretty sure that most of them probably don’t understand the languages from which they want to translate very well either.

The sudden outbreak of the Zombie Translator pandemic is relatively recent. It started about 2 or 3 months ago when all of a sudden dozens of unsolicited résumés with the heading “Perfect Translation Skills Available” or a variation thereof began appearing in my e-mail. A real translator would know that his or her skills are not perfect and that there is no such thing as a perfect translation. Michelangelo knew that his paintings were not perfect. But Zombie Translators have no problem calling themselves “perfect”. That is because, tragically, Zombie Translators live in their own Zombie world in which they are indeed “perfect” in their distorted version of reality.

A couple of years ago I wrote a post on this blog about a phenomenon that I called “Subprime Translators“. Now, Subprime Translators should not be confused with Zombie Translators. There is a big difference between these two types of would-be translators. Subprime Translators are real, living human beings such as recent college graduates who have some translation skills and who may become real translators at some point. I was a Subprime Translator once too about 30 years ago.

However, it is impossible for Zombie Translators to become real translators because, sadly, they are the Undead without realizing it.

Undead Translators only think that they can translate, just like Zombies think that they are alive, although as the (Undead) variation of their name suggests, they are not really dead either.

And just like regular Zombies, Zombie Translators are usually very hungry.

So how do Zombie Translators find nourishment and sustenance in a horrible economy so that they could continue to “live” if we want to call it that? I am just guessing here because as mentioned above, so far they have not been appearing at my doorstep (knock on wood), and I have never had a conversation with them because I am too scared of them to reply to their e-mails, but I think that there must be a translation market segment that they are servicing. It is probably the market segment that is just one step above free translation, namely machine translation.

There must be customers out there willing to pay Zombie Translators for their “translations”, because what Zombie Translators produce is probably still for the most part usually slightly better than machine translation. My guess would be that Zombie Translators are paid between 1 to 4 cents per word, some possibly even slightly more. Unlike machines producing translations, Zombie Translators still do have brains, which is why the numerous mistakes that they make are usually less serious than what comes out from the silicon “brain” of a machine.

It should not be really surprising that Zombies are still in many respects superior to machines. For example, a Zombie who is in a relatively good shape can perform even complicated operations such as driving a car, while even the most sophisticated modern robots can’t do that yet. Robotics engineers are loath to admit it, but the fact is that the zombie-car interface works is at this point much better than the machine-car interface. The zombie-car interface works about as well as the drunk man-car interface, sometime even better because most Zombies don’t drive very fast as they are aware of their limitations.

Zombie Translators probably find nourishment and sustenance on so called online translation venues where they mercilessly compete against legions of other Zombie Translators as well as against many Subprime Translators for scraps of work that pays just slightly more than machine translations, which as I said are free. Many of them probably also work for translation agencies located in third world countries who pay incredibly low rates, low even by the standards of a typical translation agency.

Since I started writing this post, 2 new resumes from Zombie Translators appeared in my mailbox. (I check my e-mail frequently because like most translators, I suffer from the compulsive e-mail checking disorder).

I do hope that this sudden epidemic of Zombies with perfect translation skills will come to an end at some point. My hope is that these poor creatures will at some point get other jobs not requiring much if any translating, because that is the only thing that I can think of that would put them out of their misery, so to speak, while still making it possible for them to earn a living and live a semblance of a real life.

But in this horrible economy, it is probably just wishful thinking.


  1. You’re a comic writer, Steve! I laughed until tears came out of my eyes! But, apart from the humor, the same is happening down here in Brazil. We call them ‘grasshoppers’, meaning that they come and temporarily flood the market with their low prices and poor translations, then the clients never contract them again – and they go away for good.


    • The hungry locusts are currently moving from South America to North America.

      They left 6 e-mail messages for me so far this morning.


  2. Dear Steve, it is 5 am in Turkey, and i’m sleepless and translating a patent on “novel thioxanthine derivatives” and laughing. thanx.


    • I must apologize for disturbing your important translation with such an inconsequent post.


  3. Hi Steve! This post is a real masterpiece! Thank you for sharing it 🙂


    • Sharing, caring, that’s what distinguishes humans from zombies.


  4. […] I know what I am talking about because every day I am attacked by dozens of Zombie Translators. So far they have not attacked me personally, otherwise I would not be here to write about it…  […]


  5. […] There must be customers out there willing to pay Zombie Translators for their “translations”, because what Zombie Translators produce is probably still for the most part usually slightly better than machine translation.  […]


  6. Funny article and very true. But let me play the devil’s advocate and say that, first of all, there are many clients out there who cannot tell what quality is, and second, many of them are happy with a sub-par product. Let’s face it, not all of drive a BMW. Some of us are happy with a taped-together Lada from 1985 to get us from point A to point B. I think that a lot of clients are the same way, happy to just “get there” and save money, and cheap, bad translators help them do that.


    • Steve, I subscribe to John’s standpoint. That’s true for the Brazilian market as well. Another side of the coin.


  7. @ John Bunch and Vanessa Tomich:

    “Let’s face it, not all of drive a BMW. Some of us are happy with a taped-together Lada from 1985 to get us from point A to point B. I think that a lot of clients are the same way, happy to just “get there” and save money, and cheap, bad translators help them do that.”

    True, most customers probably subscribe to the “happy to just get there in a piece of junk” principle. And sometime it may work that way.

    But often it does not. A taped up piece of junk will not get you there if it refuses to start,or worse you may end up dead if you have an accident.

    The problem is, most people understand that a new car is much safer to drive than a piece of junk but they don’t see the kind of damage that may be caused to their business by a cheap translation, especially a translation into a foreign language.


  8. […] suspect that what I am describing above did in fact happen. After all, even people who I call Zombie Translators in this post and people who I call Subprime Translators in this post would probably charge more for this […]


  9. […] Roadblock to Using a TM …and the Profession? (The Impact of New Technology on the Translator) Attacks of Zombie Translators Are Unrelenting In a Horrible Economy Interview with Barry S. Olsen & Katharine Allen of InterpretAmerica The Man Who Could No Longer […]


  10. […] unfortunate beings who seem to be neither dead nor fully alive, which is why I started calling them zombie translators in this post, spam that I have to keep deleting from my e-mail every few hours, is that a large percentage of […]


  11. […] translators such as this mad patent translator, as opposed to translation produced by subprime or zombie translators. I don’t think that prices will go down for similar types of relatively expensive […]


  12. Brilliant description! I have been trying to figure out if the “fluent in English” claim that is so often refuted by the quality of the prose in the zombie’s message is fraudulent or just naive. Any idea as to where the dividing line might lie? In other words, how can you tell the difference between a zombie who genuinely thinks s/he can write good English (or whatever language) and one who knows he can’t but still says he can?


  13. One Brazilian translator called the unfortunate beings that I call zombie translators “hungry locusts”.

    I believe that hungry locusts probably don’t spend much time trying to determine whether they really are fluent in a certain language given how hungry they are.

    The problem is that e-mails from non-zombie translators will be lost in the avalanche of “translators” that I call zombies. So in answer to your question, it is next to impossible to make this determination.


  14. […] People who I call zombies will probably stay zombies forever. But some subprime translators may eventually reach their prime, and as I already said, most of us probably started as rogue translators. […]


  15. […] that you yourself may be one of them, that you too may be slowly becoming a zombie translator? Zombieism is a disease that is taking over body and soul slowly and in stages, and the one thing that all zombies have in common is that they don’t […]


  16. […] me to work for them for 12 Euros or 15 dollars per hour, in 15-minute increments, to proofread work done by Zombie translators for next to nothing in third world countries. For comparison, the patent lawyers that I work for […]


  17. […] Good, honest and experienced translation agencies, who really specialize and know their job very well, generally work only with a few translators who are known to them as the best in a given field, because this is the best guarantee of a good translation. They know that one would need to have (3, 4, up to 10) thousand translators listed in a database mostly in order to zero in on the rock bottom prices which are often offered by zombie translators whose product is only slightly better than the product of machine translation as I wrote for example in this post. […]


  18. […] by which I mean the corporate type of translation agency. I called them subprime translators and zombie translators, and now I am calling them also […]


  19. […] Las agencias de traducción de calidad, honestas y experimentadas, que realmente se especializan en un rubro y conocen la profesión de verdad, generalmente se limitan a trabajar con unos pocos traductores que destacan en un campo determinado porque esa es la mejor garantía de obtener una buena traducción. Saben que necesitarían una base de datos de 3000 (4000 o hasta 10 000) traductores en la cual hurgar para buscar las tarifas ínfimas que suelen ofrecer traductores zombis cuyo trabajo no dista mucho de una traducción automática, como he explicado, por ejemplo, en esta entrada. […]


  20. […] series of posts in which I compare translators to zombies, such as Attacks of Zombies Are Unrelenting in a Horrible Economy are also very popular. It’s not a problem to call translators zombies, or really anything you […]


  21. […] чей перевод лишь немного лучше машинного (см. этот пост) потребовались бы услуги (3, 4, до 10) тысяч переводчиков […]


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