Posted by: patenttranslator | November 16, 2012

How To Tell That You Are A Zombie Translator – 10 Telltale Signs of Zombies Translating Among Us

They live and translate among us. We pity them, we ridicule them, we fear them. But have you ever considered 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 even know that they are zombies. That is why I took upon myself the sad but necessary task of compiling 10 signs of zombieism among translators, namely to help zombie translators in early stages of zombieism to recognize that they may be already afflicted with one or more symptoms of this dreadful plague.

Sign No. 1. If you translate into a language or languages that you don’t really know that well. It is not impossible to translate into your non-native language. But it is very difficult to do it well. St. Jerome, the patron saint of human translators, realized this simple fact 800 years ago, moved to Rome as a young man to learn Latin and started translating into Latin only after a few decades. By that time, his Latin was really good, and in some respect he probably knew it better than many native speakers of that language because he knew other languages as well. So if you want to translate into French and your native language is not French, move to France for a few decades before you start translating into that language. After all, France still has some good things to offer, such as cheese, bread, and wine. And so do a few other countries (I am using France only as an example). Remember, you can probably continue translating well into your eighties as St. Jerome did, so you should have plenty of time to translate into any language you pick once you have become truly fluent in that language.

Sign No. 2. If you translate from a language or languages that you don’t really know that well. This often means a language such as Chinese or Japanese, which takes decades to learn if you are not a native speaker of this language. The best thing to do again is move to the country where the language that you are interested in is spoken and live there for a few years, or at least study the language for several years first, if possible at a university. Preferably, you should both study your foreign language at a university and then live in a country where that foreign language is spoken. But zombie translators think that if they know a few hundred characters, they can already translate Chinese or Japanese, clearly because their brain no longer works properly.

Sign No. 3. If you translate subjects that you don’t really understand at all. Zombie translators typically specialize in anything and everything, from finances and economics to medicine and biochemistry, as well as nuclear reactor safety procedures and oil rig blowout prevention manuals. Since they don’t know anything about anything, they don’t even realize that you have to know something first before you can become a translator.

Sign No. 4. If you use Trados although nobody is forcing you to do so and you actually like it. You just spent 800 dollars for that? And you will have to buy “an upgrade” next year so that translation agencies could then pay you 50% less for “fuzzy matches” and 85% less for “full matches”? Obviously, this is more than your typical case of masochism. Something terrible must have happened to you and you can no longer trust your brain. Zombieism is slowly beginning to seep into your blood and soon it will take over your body and soul.

Sign No. 5. If you translate or say that you can translate more than 10 thousand words a day because you know how to use expertly Trados or another CAT tool. A human translator can barely proofread 10 thousand words, let alone translate such a huge chunk of text in a single day. The CAT is in your brain and in your blood now and you have become a member of the zombie tribe. That is why you don’t even realize that what you call a translation is a CAT-processed detritus.

Sign No. 6. If you blithely translate everything with Google Translate, Microsoft Translator or another machine translation tool and then try to “edit it” and claim that it is a translation. Human translators use machine translations just like any other resource, such as dictionaries. Zombies think that machine translation can be actually edited so that it would look like a real translation.

Sign No. 7. If you buy lists of translation agencies from peddlers of expensive and useless lists and send your resume to hundreds or thousands of agencies who absolutely don’t want to hear from zombies like you. It is one thing to send your resume to agencies who have a link on their websites for resumes from translators. But to pay for expensive and useless lists that zombie translators buy from peddlers of expensive and useless lists, and then send your particulars to thousands of companies who detest having to delete hundreds of resumes from zombies like you from their e-mail is another telling sign that your brain has been turned to zombie mush. I understand that a new service is available now that will send zombie resumes for a fee to as many translation agencies that don’t want to receive them as possible, so that zombie translators can concentrate on doing whatever it is that zombie translators do in their spare time.

Sign No. 8. If you firmly believe that Google Translate or another machine translation tool will soon make human translators redundant. It is one thing to believe something like that if you are not a translator. Non-translators, also known as civilians, are entitled to believe anything they want. Since they don’t know anything about translation, they have every right to firmly believe that human translators will be soon rendered unnecessary, just like children have every right to believe that a magician can conjure a rabbit out of his hat because they just saw him do that with their own eyes. Adults understand how these magic tricks work, and translators understand how machine translation works. But zombie translators don’t understand much about anything as I already said.

Sign No. 9. If you your resume emphasizes that you have “high-speed Internet” as a major strength of yours. As opposed to what, “low-speed Internet”? Nobody is using dial-up anymore. Everybody and their grandmother has been using “high-speed Internet” for more than a decade, but zombie translators have not realized it yet.

Sign No. 10. If you are willing to wait 60 to 90 days or even longer to be paid for what you call translation. Zombies can survive for extended periods of time without any food at all, until they finally find some nourishment, usually in the form of dead bodies. Zombie translators can wait for as long as it takes to get paid, because unlike human translators, zombies can survive on a few dollars a day as the undead don’t seem to have bills that must be paid within a couple of weeks.


As I have been lurking on various online discussion groups of translators, I realized that there are some signs of zombieism that I did not include in my list of zombie translator signs and symptoms. I am adding one more such a sign for the moment below, and I am open to other suggestions.

Sign No. 11. If you bill the client much less than what was originally agreed upon in order to ingratiate yourself to the client, for instance by giving a huge discount for “repetitions”, although such a discount is not really warranted, you are probably a zombie translator. This is similar to what is called “Stockholm syndrome”, a psychological status occurring in hostages who eagerly identify with the interests of their captors. It is in the interest of the translator to earn a decent living, but zombie translators suffering from the translator’s version of Stockholm syndrome typically don’t understand this simple truth.


  1. Very useful – made me feel much less of a zombie translator. I must confess to capital sin number 10 (more mouldy bread than dead bodies, in my case) and didn’t know about number 7 (the lists sale, not the mass sending of CVs).

    So, hoping to work until I die, there should be time to get rid of any trace of zombieness in me 🙂


  2. “So, hoping to work until I die, there should be time to get rid of any trace of zombieness in me :-)”

    I wish you good luck, Graça, but have you ever seen a movie in which a zombie went back to being a normal person? 🙂


    • I don’t watch horror movies since I watched Night of the Living Dead (the original one) by accident many years ago. But I know life can be stranger than fiction so, who knows? Maybe the mouldy bread will help 🙂

      Keep them coming – it’ll make me a better (if not a normal) person/translator.


      • @Graça

        You should try “I Am Legend” with Will Smith.

        There might still be hope for zombies based on what happens in that film.


  3. So true. I scored 2 out of 10.


  4. Well-said! Glad to have confirmation that I am definitely not a zombie 🙂


  5. […] They live and translate among us. We pity them, we ridicule them, we fear them. But have you ever considered that you yourself may be one of them, that you too may be slowly becoming a zombie trans…  […]


  6. #9… to be fair, I have seen a few job adverts where they ask you to confirm that you have a fast, reliable internet connection. Not everyone lives in a 1st world country with brilliant telecommunication services, so in some cases I think it would be appropriate to emphasize a good connection.


  7. Not everyone lives in a 1st world country, and Internet speeds in United States, for example, are inferior to what you can get for much less money in many European countries.

    But I noticed that most zombie translators advertise “high-speed Internet” in their junk e-mails, regardless of where they live, which is why I thought I should include this particular characteristic.


  8. […] They live and translate among us. We pity them, we ridicule them, we fear them. But have you ever considered that you yourself may be one of them, that you too may be slowly becoming a zombie trans…  […]


  9. Ooh… 1/10. I almost got away, but No.10 got me. 90 days is too much, but I do have clients who pay me after 60 days. It’s not ideal, but I deal with it.


  10. […] They live and translate among us. We pity them, we ridicule them, we fear them. But have you ever considered that you yourself may be one of them, that you too may be slowly becoming a zombie trans…  […]


  11. It seems that many of us have the same problem with No.10.

    I wrote an email to a client two weeks ago telling her that I will not issue an invoice for the only job done for her in October and will issue an invoice only when the payments for jobs sum up to a certain amount.

    There are some reasons why I propose this to the client. Firstly, I have been working with her since many many years and there has never been a problem with payments. Secondly, she has been paying me well and has even raised my rates 3 times in the past 6 years. Thirdly, I don’t want to issue invoices in small amounts – that was why I proposed her some years ago that I should be issuing invoices monthly. Fourthly, monthly amounts are averagely small and there was only one job in October for one of our regular end clients. So, why not issue an invoice with a bigger total for the jobs done in 1, 2 or 3 months?

    The client is of course a very special one. I won’t do the same with any others. Yet, is it a sign of Zombieism?

    You see, Steve, some of our “clients” are our good old translation colleagues. As I see it, it depends on the relationship between the translator and the client to decide on the methods of payments. For instance, some good old translation colleagues of other language pairs would ask me to assist them with some researches in Chinese and I wouldn’t ask them to pay me in advance or immediately upon delivery. The methods of payments are always decided with mutual agreement and understanding as well as good will. Anyone who aims at taking advantage of others is sooner than later out of my network.

    Since my freelancing, there has been no single unpaid invoice, although I’ve refused to issue 2 invoices that amount to less than 18 Euro and I’ve quitted the relations to those 2 companies long since.

    I don’t think my slight problem with No.10 is a sign of Zombieism.


  12. If you don’t want to bother with issuing of invoices for small amounts, it is not a sign of zombieisms as long as this is not how you normally do business, I think.

    We are all forced to wait a long time for payment once in a while.

    An Australian law firm let me wait 3 months to get paid last year. But I will never work for them again.

    I am glad that my silly post caused some soul searching among translators.

    Check the link to these comments to a discussion on Proz.


    • I clicked the link and found something interesting: there are some objections to No.3 and No.4.

      For me, No.3 is certainly a sign of Zombieism. A translator might be asked to translate something of which he knows (while a zombie wouldn’t know) that he has absolutely no idea, but he would decline such jobs or take on such jobs with some research (when the subject matter is interesting and the pay is good enough, so that he can be good enough to deliver a good enough translation).

      No.4 can be an interesting topic for further discussion. Some people would believe that you don’t have any idea about CATs. Take a read of the following blog post that was eloquently written by Gabriele Zöttl, who has insights in CATs: (I am translating it for Chinese colleagues at the moment.)

      Would your next blog post be about the arguments for and against CATs? That would be nice, methink.

      Kevin Lossner is pretty familiar with CATs (or as Jeromobot calls them, TEnTs, for Translation Environment Tools). They could have something to say about CATs in general (or some CAT in specific).


  13. […] They live and translate among us. We pity them, we ridicule them, we fear them. But have you ever considered that you yourself may be one of them, that you too may be slowly becoming a zombie translator?  […]


  14. St Augustine, the patron saint of translators? Really? Has good old St Jerome been booted out?


    • Thank you, Doreen.

      Finally somebody noticed.

      Mea culpa, maxima mea culpa.


  15. VOLLTREFFER!!! Excellent, Steve – the best diagnostic guideline I’ve seen so far for what is becoming an epidemic.

    @Wenjer: I’ve been promising Steve for a while that I’ll write a pro-TEnT guest post to convince him that he is mistaken about the value of such tools for patent translation, but I don’t objections to his diagnosis of the symptoms listed here….


    • “I’ve been promising Steve for a while that I’ll write a pro-TEnT guest post to convince him that he is mistaken”

      Promises, promises ….


    • @Kevin: I don’t mean that you would have any objection to Steve’s diagnosis. I mean that people would believe that he doesn’t have any idea about TEnTs while we know he has a conventional way to work on patent applications, as he described some time ago.

      Quite a few patent translators take advantage of TEnTs. While TEnTs make no sense to some types of tranlation, it does make sense to patent translation. That was why I referred to Gabriele’s blog post concerning this subject matter.

      It would be very nice if you write a pro-TEnT guest post specifically to convince this mad patent translator.


  16. “Quite a few patent translators take advantage of TEnTs.”

    And quite a few don’t, whatever that abbreviation means.

    40% of translators don’t use any CATs.
    I’ve got nothing against CATs. It’s just that I prefer dogs.

    (See also arguments in the post in German below originally linked by you).


    • When it does make sense, Gabriele uses a CAT, too. The misuse and abuse of CATs result from not knowing when, how and why they are in use.

      I think the reason why you loath CATs is rather the abuse than the misuse. (That’s why I refer to Gabriele’s post.)


      • I don’t loath CATs. I just think that they are mostly worthless to people like me and many people agree with me because many translators don’t use them either.

        I may start using them at some point, but for patent translation they are not needed.


      • OK, I understan your good way of translating.

        For some others, CATs may be a kind of toys or a sign of saying “abuse me.” It depends, I guess.


  17. El otro día me encontré con esta muy acertada publicación acerca de los 10 signos que nos permiten detectar a un traductor zombie que, como dicen en la madre patria, “no tiene desperdicio”. Sin embargo, hay otro signo no abordado en la lista en cuestión y que para mi gusto es un síntoma muy frecuente pero poco analizado. Me refiero a la tendencia de muchos estudiantes de traducción, traductores noveles y otros no tanto, a creer que existen “traducciones oficiales” para todo y que su labor en la vida es encontrarlas en alguna parte, principalmente Internet. Mi impresión es que existe un temor exacerbado a traducir algo con palabras propias, pues pensamos que si alguien tradujo lo mismo antes, pues esa será entonces la traducción “asentada, aceptada y oficial”. Si bien puede ser cierto para nombres de organismos internacionales y casos similares, no podemos limitar nuestra labor a meros zombies que recorren la red en busca de la traducción hecha por otro. Ese es a mi juicio un síntoma claro de la zombificación. Lamentablemente, me parece que no son pocos los profesores que estimulan esta conducta, quizás a causa de su propia inseguridad. Pero claro, no digo que no haya que consultar y que tengamos libertad de traducir todo “a nuestra pinta”, sino que debe haber un punto de equilibrio entre las dos tendencias.
    Marcha Zombie Santiago 2011


  18. […] concepts (topics like Translator’s Dementia, the distinction between Subprime Translators and Zombie Translators, and of course how much translators can make these days), I will do my utmost to triple the […]


  19. […] They live and translate among us. We pity them, we ridicule them, we fear them. But have you ever considered that you yourself may be one of them, that you too may be slowly becoming a zombie trans…  […]


  20. […] While Zombie Lane’s sin was of a technical nature, Lost Bubble is the fruit of either machine translation or of a zombie translator. […]


  21. “No. 4: If you use Trados although nobody is forcing you to do so and you actually like it.”
    Ha! ha! I publicly confessed to borderline zombification in a guest post here a couple of days ago:

    Borderline, because I did not spend 800 dollars, but less than 500; borderline because I negotiated positively recently with an agency to retain the percentages they already pay me for the various categories of matches (agency had proposed slashing percentages); and borderline, because I still do not translate segment for segment, and delight in the resultant garbled mess stored in the agency’s TM thereby.

    Do you think my immune system has been compromised? 🙂


    • Oh, well, it’s me. Many translators like Trados. Don’t pay any attention to what I say – that’s why I called the blog Diary of a Mad Patent Translator.

      But even at less than 500 dollars, I think it’s a major ripoff, and fortunately, I don’t need to buy it.


  22. […]             If at least 6 of these characteristics are applicable to your “LSP” or “translation agency”, you are working for a zombie farm and the chances are that even if you have not been fully zombified yet, it is only a matter of time before an efficient zombification program will turn you into a full-fledged zombie. […]


  23. Hey just wanted to give you a quick heads up. The words in your content seem
    to be running off the screen in Firefox. I’m not sure if this is a formatting issue or something to do with internet browser compatibility but I thought I’d post to let you know.
    The design and style look great though! Hope you get the
    problem solved soon. Kudos


    • Thanks.

      I don’t know how to fix it.

      I tried to reformat it, but it looked even worse because MS word formatting does not seem to be translated well into the WordPress format.


  24. Very nice article. Could not agree with the author more. Amusing and sharp. I ask for your kind permission to translate the article into Russian and to repost it on my webpage.
    Thank you for the pleasure I got reading it!


  25. You have my permission, Polyglot.

    One of my posts about zombie translators is already translated int Russian:


    • Thank you, Steve. I will drop you a link as soon as the translated article is posted.


  26. If they you are an inexperienced newbie with little translation abilities and produce garbage translations for $0.03 per word and employed by companies like Fox Translate (now called because of so many bad customer reviews — note they found a way to buy good reviews for their new website), and (like rev and onehourtranslation) they have to lie about where they are really located and have “virtual offices”/imaginary offices everywhere in the world then you must be a zombi translator.


  27. […] I proofread very carefully les chef-d’oeuvres of translators who work for me, but I have not proofread anything for a translation agency in more than 20 years. I prefer to translate, and the rates are too low anyway. The fact is that most of the time, the proofreader is either a newbie translator who does not understand what his job is about, a  subprime translator (I explained this category in this post), or a zombie translator (see my explanation of the term here). […]


  28. I am going to be heretical here and say I disagree with point six about machine translations versus real translations. Machine translations are originally real translations, for example large corpuses of multilingual UN documents, chopped up into pieces and made available through an interface. So for some kinds of texts, say standard legal contracts for everyday things, the machine translation will just conveniently link you to an expert translation done by someone else. And when, as certainly does happen, the machine translation is rubbish, it has at least arranged the text for you into the correct number of sentences and paragraphs. The mistake people make is to think that editing machine translation is easy. It can be, and once in a blue moon you will get a translation that requires no editing at all. But in the real world you have to go in and correct all the mistakes, often writing manual translations of whole paragraphs. But this is still much quicker than writing your own translation out from scratch, and is in my opinion more likely to give good results (if done by someone like me who knows how to do it properly) than the stupid TM-based systems that have become the industry norm. Also as MT improves, I think it is inevitable that more and more people will use it more and more of the time. It is zombification in a way, it’s true.


  29. […] be called “knowledge workers”. I call them all kinds of things: subprime translators, zombie translators, or worker bees (when I am feeling generous toward these poor […]


  30. […] this short paragraph and return by email Article about forensic speech analysis & new magazine 10 Tell-Tale Signs of Zombies Translating Among Us 20 holiday gift ideas for writers – and translators, too! Vivre avec un traducteur : le […]


  31. Reblogged this on oktrans and commented:
    I find this information quite interesting and I like its humorous undertone.


  32. […] is to have the whole thing basically retranslated by a human translator who possesses a human brain (as opposed to zombie translators whose brains are atrophied), they are trying to turn human translators into what they call “machine translation […]


  33. Reblogged this on Doryroro's Blog.


  34. Great one! cheered me up on a rainy day. I may become a ghost, lost amongst the fierce competence and go thin and translucent, I may not become a self-brain-eating zombie. I have met many of them and haven’t get infected 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: