Posted by: patenttranslator | October 24, 2012

Who Should Control the Translation Market and with What Tools?

Most posts on my blog have a relatively short lifespan. People read them for a few days or weeks and after that, somebody may be sent once in a while to an old post on my blog by Google. That’s about it.

But some of my posts do have a staying power and live for quite a while. The most successful post that I have written in terms of eyeball exposure was “Translation Dementia (TD) – What It Is and How to Recognize the Signs”. I wrote it in April of this year and as of now it had about 10,500 views. When it was new, 2,423 people viewed it in a single day, which is a record for me so far. Even at this point, hundreds of people view it every month.

I am not that surprised by its popularity because quite a few people told me in comments and in person that they found this post to be an accurate and funny description of themselves or people they know. Muses must have been kissing me (modestly, on my forehead) when I was identifying this relatively new neurodegenerative disorder affecting so many translators.

But  I am somewhat surprised by the continuing popularity of another post I wrote more than 2 years ago in July of  2010, which I called “Friends Don’t Let Friends Use Trados or Any Other Translation Memory Tools”. In fact, this post, which unlike my post about TD is not really meant to be funny, is now more popular than when it was new. Here is a summary of the views of the post since I published it:

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Total
2010 103 30 77 46 37 54 347
2011 74 65 74 51 55 47 47 41 68 39 52 39 652
2012 60 72 117 111 125 93 97 128 123 119 1,045

It is clear to me that translators continue to be interested in this subject. And for good reason. Allow me to draw a parallel here between genetically modified food and computer assisted translation (CAT), namely translations which were processed with CAT tools such as Trados.

Because large corporations rule at this point my country without even a single timid sign of opposition from Democrats or Republicans, we don’t even have the right to know which food that we are eating ourselves and feeding our children has been modified with genetic engineering. Laws in 50 other countries, including EC countries and Russia, stipulate that genetically modified food must be identified as such. The law in the United States stipulates at this time that food must not be identified as such.

Why do they want to keep us uninformed? Take a wild guess.

That is why voters in California have on the ballot Proposition 37 which aims to reverse this sad state of affairs. I don’t really care whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney will be the next president because I don’t see any meaningful difference between them. But I am really curious whether Proposition 37 in California will pass. If it does not pass, it will mean to me that unlike people in 50 other countries, people in California are so dumb (because have been brainwashed by hundreds of commercials on TV from corporations like Monsanto) that they don’t even want to have the power to control the food they eat and feed their children.

If voters in California fail to wrestle control over this issue back from Monsanto, well, do they control anything at all at this point?

I see similarities between the efforts of agricultural behemoths which force farmers to sign agreements prohibiting them from storing and using their own seeds to cultivate their own products rather than genetically modified seeds sold to farmers by Monsanto, and the efforts on the part of some translation agencies to control translators such as myself through contracts designed to force “freelance translators” to use specific computer assisted translation tools, usually Trados.

The reason for this is the same as in the case of Monsanto – to maximize the profit at all costs. Just because an agency pays a fraction for “fuzzy matches” in your translation does not mean that they pass on the savings to the customer. Most of the time they probably don’t.

I don’t really know whether and to what extent genetically modified food is harmful to people who eat it. But I do have a bad feeling about it, and since it could be harmful, this information should not be withheld from consumers in a democratic country.

From the feedback that I’ve had to my posts about CATs, I think that computer assisted translation tools are probably very useful for some types of translations, for example for translating highly repetitive manuals, although I do believe that these tools are basically useless to patent translators like me.

Translation agencies are now trying to control through their contracts with translators ownership of the terminology (intellectual property) used by the translators in their translations, which is stored in memory tools that the translators are forced to use.

The comparison to Monsanto’s ownership of seeds that must be purchased over and over again by farmers who fell for the promise of greater yields is in my opinion not too farfetched.

I think that if translators fail to exercise control over whether they decide on their own which computer assisted tools, if any, they want to use, and agree to accept only a fraction of their normal rate for “matches” and “fuzzy matches” identified by a software package that they are forced to use, they will be exploited to no ends by translation agencies who will control the translation market the way companies like Monsanto are at this point ruthlessly controlling the food market in India, the United States and other countries.


  1. You may find this 30 minutes video, aptly named “Seeds of Freedom”, interesting and complementary to your comparison:

    Where do you get the energy (and time) to post so much? Keep it up, your posts are interesting and I feel in kinship with many of them.


  2. I don’t know why I feel compelled to do the things that I do.

    Perhaps I do it out of a feeling of kinship as you put it.

    Thanks for sending the clip. I saw it a few years ago on Free Speech TV.


  3. […] Most posts on my blog have a relatively short lifespan. People read them for a few days or weeks and after that, somebody may be sent once in a while to an old post on my blog by Google. That&#8217…  […]


  4. […] Allow me to draw a parallel here between genetically modified food and computer assisted translations (CAT), namely translation which were processed with CAT tools such as Trados. Because large corporations rule at this …  […]


  5. While I do disagree with you here and there about CAT tools, I need to say this is another nice post and raises some valid points. CAT tools are just that, tools. They are not the be-all-end-all of translation business, but somehow we have got to the point where 99.9% of translation agencies propose to their customers that this is the case. And sometimes the arguments and the even the tools themselves are “abused” to make more profit at the expense of quality. It is the translators and customers that lose. it does not have to be like that, but I am afraid sometimes it is.

    Looking at the kind of technical documents and materials floating around in my line of work, using CAT tools make a whole lot of sense. I won’t go into it there, but there is a tremendous amount of information being repeated and recreated over and over for different manual revisions and slightly different purposes. In my domain, I see CAT tools and translation memories as an absolute must from the point of view of translator, the customer and the service provider. (Yep, all three of them.) Translating the same warnings and technical specifications again and again over a span of three years just provides little or no added value for anyone. As a translator (which I was full-time for six years), I’d rather make use of the tools to reuse my work and concentrate on what really needs my attention. As a customer, I’d like to reduce costs for retranslating content that was only slightly modified or edited. And as a service provider, I see it as my obligation to look after my customers’ best interests.

    One of the issues here is that (more often that you’d think) companies buying translations or “translation services” are not educated enough and the people made responsible for managing the whole unfortunate affair do not have the knowledge and competence required. They really don’t. It’s like government officials buying ICT systems and services. Even flaky arguments can pass by and be taken for granted when you do not understand (and fail to acknowledge and confess) that you do not really know and understand the business you are supposed to get involved in. Whatever the “consultant” or salesperson is telling you is then taken for granted.

    So, the question of who should control the translation market is a good one. My feeling is that at the moment the “large multilingual vendors” drown out the voices of the many. Unlike most small translation agencies and freelance translators, these companies are very good at speaking to companies and reaching out to their customers’ decision-makers (who then fail to ask the right questions). I am not sure if that is going to change anytime soon. At least blogs like your at least provide critical perspectives and are easily available for those who look for information.


  6. Upon reading the above comment, and reconsidering the subject line of this post, I can’t help but ask myself and you, why should anyone CONTROL the market? It’s when we agree to any form of large scale control that things get out of hand – at least for the freelance translator in our case (and the seeds in your analogy).

    I suggest that we do not advertise a need for control of this market that already has more casualties than beneficiaries.


    • It’s not that anyone SHOULD control the market. The fact just is that a freelancer going against a multinational LSP is like an independent gas station owner (are there any anymore) going up against a mutlinational oil giant. The market is already controlled to the benefit of those who hold the reins as far as money and communication goes.

      But things really do go around in cycles. While machine translation is a big buzz term right now, I think that at some point there will be a backlash. I actually think that is already happening, but the message shouted by language professionals and linguists jsut often does not get past the LSP’s. And that’s a major problem in the “language industry” and the reason why I am calling for more transparency. The voices of the translators only truly matter on the market if the end-customers hear them.


  7. I think that in an ideal world, it would be a give and take between the customers and the translators.

    When there is not enough work, the customers would have more power, and when there are not enough qualified people to do the work, the translators could use the opportunity to make more money.

    What is instead happening is that the the business is mostly controlled by brokers, to the detriment of translators and their customers.

    And most of the brokers who try to control everything understand foreign languages and translation issues about as well as the fake interpreter in the clip at the end of my post.


  8. Hi Steve, great post. I really don’t think that ANYBODY should CONTROL the translation market, but that it should, in the spirit of free enterprise, be ‘regulated’ (not ‘controlled’) by the law of supply and demand, as all other economic activities mostly are; and as you rightly say, Steve, this should be so in an ideal world. Trouble is, it’s not an ideal world…. As for myself, I do make use of a CAT tool (not TRADOS, and I refuse to go with the flow and buckle under the dictatorship of agencies, so-called LSPs) but I use it exclusively for my own productivity – I don’t do technical translations – and have never made use of another translator’s TM or granted discounts on the basis of repetitions, fuzzies or what have you. How could I, when I myself often disagree with, or modify previous translations of my own?
    You have drawn an interesting parallel with the genetically altered foods, and I think that most educated consumers (and of a certain age, I am afraid) are able to compare nowadays’ tomatoes or strawberries, for instance, to what we used to eat as children, and judge what is probably altered or not. Likewise, educated clients should be able to judge what they are fed by the LSPs as the genuine article, but the sorry reality is that so very few are (educated, I mean).
    I greatly admire your persistence and ingenuity in writing, and your ability to instill a smile or two in our days with your videos (I had already seen Cat Tate’s video, but it never fails to make me laugh out loud). You help us to keep matters in perspective and that in itself is a vast achievement!


  9. “I think that most educated consumers (and of a certain age, I am afraid) are able to compare nowadays’ tomatoes or strawberries, for instance, to what we used to eat as children, and judge what is probably altered or not”

    Very good observation.

    Tomatoes and strawberries bought in supermarkets don’t taste at all like the tomatoes and strawberries that we used to eat as children. Most people must have noticed by now. But I wonder how many people will make the connection between the washed out taste of fruits and vegetables and genetic engineering.

    One reasons why there are no labels on frankenfood in this country must be precisely to prevent us from making this connection.

    If we don’t change the laws that are designed to keep us stupid, our children will no longer know what real tomatoes and strawberries should taste like.

    Is that the kind of world we want? I hope not.

    And if a new translation model that is based on words processed and regurgitated with CATs and on machine translations edited by human hamsters, this “efficient” new translation model will only serve to create a new tower of Babel where nobody understands anything anymore, although everything has been efficiently (translation: inexpensively) translated with the latest technology by post-editing hamsters formerly known as translators.

    Is that the kind of world they want? Probably yes, because they (I am referring now to people who want to make money from this new model) don’t give a damn as long as they make a lot of money.


  10. “One reasons why there are no labels on frankenfood in this country must be precisely to prevent us from making this connection.”

    Steve, do you remember the film “Soylent Green” of 1973?

    That would be the ultimate “frankenfood” that people would be enjoying if they were to be kept stupid for another decade.

    And there are already quite a few translations produced “efficiently” by crowdsourced MT-wheel-treading hamsters around:

    Praise for the wizard tongue and, of course, creating a billion-dollar market! What a wonderful world for those who don’t mind that “Soylent Green is people!”


  11. […] Who Should Control the Translation Market and with What Tools? ( […]


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