Posted by: patenttranslator | May 5, 2013

I Prefer Dogs But I Have Nothing Against CATs Per Se (I Only Hate How They Are Being Used)

 

Regular readers of my silly blog will know that my heart has been recently broken when my son took his dog Lucy away from me and moved with her to California. Yes, I have a thing for dogs. Lucy was the sixth dog whose company I was able enjoy so far during my own lifetime (the other five dogs have in the meantime gone on to happy hunting grounds in the sky).

I admire how dogs tamed and trained humans to do everything for them, including picking up their poop, by pretending to be too stupid to clean after themselves or learn how to use the damn toilet.

But just because I never had a cat does not mean that I have something against cats. I just like dogs better. I think they are more fun. And just because I don’t use CATs does not mean that I harbor an irrational hatred of Computer-Assisted Translation tools, as some commenters on my blog have erroneously claimed.

I don’t hate CATs, I just don’t use them because I don’t find them very useful in my line of work (patent translation). I am sure that these tools are very suitable for some types of translation. In a moment of weakness I even downloaded a free trial copy of Wordfast and looked at it for about 5 minutes before I decided that trying to learn it would be a monumental waste of my time.

But I do hate what these tools are doing to our profession. In other words, I hate how these tools are being used by some people, by which I mean translation agencies.

Some translation agencies will only work with translators who use the same tools that they are using, often, but not always, Trados. This means that they care more about which software the translator is using than about how good this translator is. It makes very good sense from their perspective, because translators who use a certain tool can be better controlled, forced to use the terms that the agency thinks are appropriate (because they were used on a previous occasion) and to charge very little if anything for repeated occurrences of the same words (so called “full matches” or “fuzzy matches”).

This approach may be valid when it is applied to repeated updates of printer or software manuals, but you are likely to massacre quite a few patent translations when this principle is universally applied to patents.

Every now and then I need to find a new translator when a client who usually sends me patents in languages that I translate myself (Japanese, German, French, Russian, etc.) asks me to translate a patent in a language that I don’t know. I usually go to the ATA database and find a couple of prospective translators within a few minutes, as I did just two days ago.

Invariably, I am surprised how little these translators charge as I was just two days ago. Because I charge a somewhat higher rate for languages that I can’t translate myself, my profit margin is usually quite high on these translations because most translators, even the highly educated and experienced ones, charge only what I was charging when I was still working only for translation agencies more than 20 years ago.

So my conclusion is that while it appears that translation rates being paid to translators have been (on the surface) frozen for the last 20 years, in reality they are much lower now because prices of everything else: fuel, food, healthcare, housing, etc., have been increased dramatically.

If on top of that translators are also asked to provide fabulous discounts for repeated portions of the text, this means that with all these wonderful tools that are supposed to be of assistance with translation, translators now make considerably less than they used to 20 years ago, taking into account inflation.

I also hate how CATs are turning people who used to call themselves freelance translators into mere word merchants.  They are no longer considered freelancers who can determine how much they will charge for their work. They simply supply word units, so that some of these units are purchased at full cost, while other words units are heavily discounted.

The amount of the discount per the word unit is no longer determined by the translator when it is predetermined by a software tool.

I see this as an attempt at enslavement of translators. The decision whether to provide a discount, and how much of a discount, if any, should be provided, must be with the translator, not with a software program which is used by a middleman inserted between the translator and the customer.

Some  agencies may pass the discounts extracted from translators on to the customer, some may give the customer a much smaller discount than what they are able to wring out from the translator, and obviously, quite a few will keep all of the extra profit for themselves.

The number of words, lines, or pages, is just a simple quantifier that is traditionally used in the translation industry instead of an hourly rate, which is typically used by other freelance professionals such as website designers, graphic artists, private detectives, etc.

I believe that CATs have been exerting a downward pressure on translation rates for quite some time because many translation agencies now believe that most or all translators now use these tools, and most or all translators will automatically agree to obligatory discounts. Just about every week I receive a translation job offer from an agency specifying the exact percentage of “full matches” and “fuzzy matches” ahead of time.

Since I am in a position to ignore these offers of heavily discounted work, I simply ignore them.

But I have a feeling that many translators have already accepted these discounts as necessary, without even realizing that their acceptance of this new status quo means that they have now lost control over how much they can charge if this determination is made for them by a software program in the hands of a middleman.


Responses

  1. […] Regular readers of my silly blog will know that my heart has been recently broken when my son took his dog Lucy away from me and moved with her to California. Yes, I have a thing for dogs. Lucy was…  […]

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  2. We eschew the use of CAT tools. They are taking the profession for a ride, up a blind-alley and diminish the value of the work. It is a very simple fact that a specific word in one language may have a number of variants translations in another language and this is obviously impossible for machine translation to deal with.
    One extreme example is snow in Eskimo, a much debated topic over the centuries, which is discussed in this article in January of this year in the Washington “There really are 50 Eskimo words for ‘snow’”: http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-01-14/national/36344037_1_eskimo-words-snow-inuit
    What the heck is a CAT tool going to make of that?!:)

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  3. I think that CATs are very good tools for some types of translations, for example updates of manuals.

    But they are not very suitable for my purposes.

    And the problem is that even translators who don’t use them are may be expected to provided discount based on what a CAT dragged in, as I wrote in the second post linked above.

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  4. “I don’t hate CATs, I just don’t use them because I don’t find them very useful in my line of work (patent translation). I am sure that these tools are very suitable for some types of translation.”

    Well, Steve, I believe that you don’t hate CATs. Did I tell you the story of a patent translator I learned when he was working at SDL back in the earlier years when SDL didn’t buy out Trados? That translator told me that he was exited when he started using SDLX, the proprietary tool of SDL, for patent translation. The consistency of terms was guaranteed, the typing and copy-pasting works were saved. His production jumped up, so that he earned double so much as he had been doing. I lost contact to him since a while to learn more about how he feels about nowaday’s CATs. However, I review patent translations from time to time and I know CATs facilitate patent translations, too.

    When I translate advertisements, CATs cannot be of any use. But when I translate technical manuals and user guides, they help a lot. My different clients specify different CATs as their tools and they buy me the licenses. The discounts base on fuzzy matches do have some good reasons, though I don’t think I would be able to convince you. (Besides, I don’t need to convince you. You won’t use them, anyway.) All that I can say is that those tools save me and my regular manual clients’ internal reviewers a lot of time in revising repetitive expressions across several manuals. Even “Crados” eases the workload and the workflow, when it does not crashes, which happens much seldom nowadays.

    You see, you wouldn’t mind to get paid 25% of your rate for 100% matches or repetitions and 40% of your rate for 95%~99% at all, if your rate is high enough (say, 28 euro cents). Who decides on the discounts? It’s you and the client together. You don’t need to offer or accept the discounts. Neither does the client. So, it’s fair enough. I wouldn’t insist upon “my discount” for this or that client. A translator shall be smart enough not to make his clients feel stupid, right?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I posted this to my it-en colleagues Digest last week, and it provoked so much response, and your blog is so pertinent, that I thought I’d post it here too.
    Dear Ex Colleagues,
    “Ex” because this year I have concluded that working as a translator in my language combination is no longer viable, for all the reasons you have all mentioned and a few more as well – so I have opted out of this particular rat race and emphatically wouldn’t advise anyone to spend time and money training for it as a way to earn a living. Sincerely, Elizabeth (an ATA certified and Proz.com certified it-en translator who enjoyed her craft, never missed a deadline, had satisfied clients, bought and learned how to use CAT software and chase up payment, spent time and money attending relevant conferences, pow-wows and specialization workshops, placed first, second and 4th in industry-wide translation contests, has considerable published material, accepted lower rates than when she started out 20+ yrs ago, etc. etc.).

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    • I don’t know what to say except that I hope you have another source of income in addition to income from freelance translation.

      One thing, though: If you are doing all the things that everybody is telling you to do and it does not seem to be working, is it not an indication that at least some of the activities you described (“bought and learned how to use CAT software and chase up payment, spent time and money attending relevant conferences, pow-wows and specialization workshops, placed first, second and 4th in industry-wide translation contests, has considerable published material, accepted lower rates than when she started out 20+ yrs ago, etc. etc.)” are a part of the trap that should be avoided by translators who don’t want to work for peanuts?

      “Avoided, how?” you may ask.

      The way Alexander untied the Gordian knot … by cutting it, would be my answer.

      And of course, every one of us would have a different way to do that, depending on our language combinations and many other factors.

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  6. My CAT tool gives you a place to easily access those 50 words for snow.

    If you think CATs are only for repetitive work like manuals, you haven’t tried Déjà Vu. You may have no use for it if you usually have those “50 words for snow” at the tip of your tongue (I use dictation) and typing fingers, but I find myself otherwise looking up the same words in thesauri over and over, or searching desperately for the great way I rendered a turn of phrase a few weeks ago.

    My Italian source texts are mostly prose with a lot of very technical terms I’ve researched over the years, often mixed with very flowery language. DVX2 makes it so easy to look up words and phrases from work I’ve done previously, and supplies a range of choices on the fly. It is extremely helpful for terminology consistency and changes as well. I can quickly look up ALL instances of a term in ALL the files of a project, either to make sure I am consistent, or, vice versa, to make sure I am NOT using the same term over and over, when it is not always the best choice or simply too repetitive.

    When I want to (also) make available a range of thesaurus-like choices, I put them all in one term entry (which I can improve on the fly) instead of separately, which would take up too much screen space in the “autosearch” area.

    I can’t imagine working without DV by now. (I don’t do patents, but I can’t imagine doing them without DV’s help.)

    It is MY tool, not my clients’ tool, and the more I work the better it gets, personalized based on my subjects and writing style. It speeds things up, definitely a plus, but mostly it helps me do better work.

    In the case of very close matches, dictating (Dragon) helps prevent the temptation of sticking too closely to what is offered, when this isn’t desirable. For less purely technical work, I always re-edit in Word.

    If you are one of those lucky people who has no problem remembering 50 words for snow and 50 ways to describe its effects, you probably won’t find so many advantages in a well-designed CAT tool as I do, but please know they are not all the same. Some are far more suited and helpful for non-repetitive texts than others.

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  7. @Wenjer and Maureen

    The more I more I think about the reasons people who use CATs give as to why I should do that same, the more I am becoming convinced that it makes much more sense for me to stay away from them in my translation field.

    Which is not to say that these tools are not suitable for some types of translations.

    But in any case, my post was about the detrimental influence of these tools on translation rates, not about the usefulness of CATs per se as I said in the title of the post.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Well, I understand it well that CATs are not for you. I guess Kevin Lossner understands it, too. That’s why he hasn’t kept his promise to write something about it at yours.

    I’ve done an update of of 32 manuals from 3 pm to 9 pm. And I am not talking about the usefulness of a CAT. I am talking about the decision to grant discounts in accordance. When you make 20 folds of what you normally make a day, you just feel bad to keep all the profit for yourself. I know the end client and I know the agency appointed for the coordination this time. It should be that I am secured with the acknowledgement of the end client that I shall take advantages of the appointed coordinator. I don’t want him feel stupid working with me. Even the appointed reviewer has his share, so that the business can go on as usual.

    You see, Steve, everyone has his own way of seeing the same matter. There is nothing absolute. I understand the way you see the detrimental influence of CATs. However, even on this there are many ways to see the matter. As said, I would feel very bad if I found myself making any of my clients and those who work with me on the jobs of the clients look or feel stupid. That would be the detrimental influence on me.

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  9. “I’ve done an update of of 32 manuals from 3 pm to 9 pm. And I am not talking about the usefulness of a CAT. I am talking about the decision to grant discounts in accordance. When you make 20 folds of what you normally make a day, you just feel bad to keep all the profit for yourself. ”

    In other words, instead of translating, you were mostly copying, pasting and editing.

    For that kind of work it would be obviously a larceny to charge your usual per word rate. You can either charge by hour, or use CAT-based rates for this kind of work.

    The problem is that agencies demand CAT-based rates from all translators and for all kinds of translations, not just for copying, pasting and editing, but also for real translations if some segments are repeated.

    Mind you, most people don’t translate updates of manuals.

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  10. “In other words, instead of translating, you were mostly copying, pasting and editing.”

    No, I wasn’t copying and pasting. Instead of copying and pasting as some translators proudly doing by themselves, I did something else, including editing, and let the CAT do the brainless work for me.

    “For that kind of work it would be obviously a larceny to charge your usual per word rate. You can either charge by hour, or use CAT-based rates for this kind of work.”

    Lawyers and other freelancers charge by hour. Why not translators? When the hourly income can be converted into CAT-based rates, why not charge by CAT-based rates?

    “Mind you, most people don’t translate updates of manuals.”

    Mind you, Steve, I was updating manuals that have been translated, edited and updated 4x a year in all these years since I stop streetwalking at translation portals.

    Translators translate and machines copy/paste. It would be a waste and shame to let high value translators do the jobs machines can do.

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  11. BTW, you wrote, “it would be obviously a larceny to charge your usual per word rate.”

    Exactly, that is why it is charge CAT-based rate which is in turn based on my usual rate. And my usual rate is high enough to bear a CAT-based rate of 25% for the repetitions and 100% matches to yield an income of satisfaction for a career translator.

    Exactly, that is why people agree with fuzzy matches above 70% or 85%, depending on the nature of the kind of translation.

    You see, translators are not stupid at all and the agencies as well as the clients are neither. There shall be mutual agreements. Either party declines a deal, there won’t the deal. And the result of “either… or” has to be respected.

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  12. Steve, what I am writing above is not to contra you view points, rather to explain different view angels of the matter of fuzzy matches.

    You see, the manuals I have been updating were originally translated or partially translated by me from scratch. There were problems in the initial translations that were pointed out by the end users of those products manufacturered by the end client and sold through the representation of the end client in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macao as well as in China. That was why they decided to appoint me to work with their Marketing and Technical Departments for Chinese translation of their manuals in the year of 2008. For this purpose, they even appointed some employees, people who work at Marketing and/or Technical Departments, as internal reviewers for my translations and updates. This is to assure the quality of the final user manuals, maintenance manuals and marketing materials.

    The decision for me was not an easy one at all, becaue I am not charging peanuts as they knew from the very beginning. I won’t charge less than what you, Valerij, Chris or Kevin would charge as usual rates. However, as you pointed out, it would be a larceny if a translator charges according his usual rate for updates of anything that he has translated and made sure of the quality, I accept the rates for fuzzy matches that were negotiated with the end client and the appointed coordinators.

    So, fuzzy matches has nothing to do with fuzzy logic at all, but fuzzy matches make sense in our business, at least to avoid bad feelings. The coordinators, i.e., the agencies in between, are also satified with the arrangement. Even the internal as well as external reviewers (sometimes when necessary) are taken care of, too. Everybody is happy to work on the jobs of the end client. Nobody feels being left in disadvantages.

    The matter with CAT tools is not about robbing from poor translators, but about a system of coping with bulk translations while keeping terminological and stylistic consistency. When translating advertisements and marketing materials, the tools do not have much use to identify repetitions and fuzzy matches, but they help to maintain terminological consistency, so that those materials are usually not charged with fuzzy rates.

    There are 4 such end clients, on whose jobs I work with agencies (as coordinators of different languages) or directly with their translation departments, and they all use CATs, though different tools – Trados, Transit or their proprietary tools. The 5th client is still in preparation and will launch the first project by the end of this year. With these 5 clients, I don’t need to look for new clients whoh provide only sporadic translation jobs. However, I take on jobs from agency clients, too, when I have some spare time to do smaller jobs as a translator or as an external project manager or coordinator.

    As I said, it is not always about “good, good translators” against “bad, bad agencies.” It is rather about honesty, mutual respect and fairness. These are not empty words as some really evil ones use to deceive clueless translators. Translators shall recognise the practical use of these principles by what their business partners display in their dealings. Signs of greed and fear are always easy to identify.

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  13. […] tweets in April 2013 You’re Literally Up in Arms About ‘Literally’? Seriously? I Prefer Dogs But I Have Nothing Against CATs Per Se Literary Translation Events in Norwich and London Language and words in the news – 11th May, 2013 […]

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  14. […] by the corporate translation agency model in order to survive, including in particular low rates, discounts for “full and fuzzy matches and repetitions” based on translation memory tools, extremely restrictive, unfair and demeaning contracts called […]

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  15. ce billet est simple et très utile je trouve, merci

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