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.