Posted by: patenttranslator | May 8, 2013

Computer-Assisted Tools (CATs) Provide New Employment Opportunities for Zombie Translators

I found the following message a few days ago on one of the “translation portals” where translators are asked to compete among themselves by bidding on projects and providing their best [read: rock bottom] prices.

 Dear Translator,

At the present moment we are looking for translators who can translate/review PATENT materials from JAPANESE to ENGLISH.

We have the following requirements for this work.

Translator Requirements

Mandatory:

1.         Native-level proficiency in ENGLISH

2.         At least 5 years of professional PATENT translation/review experience

3.         Bachelors degree [sic] or equivalent

4.         Contact with target-language speakers on a very frequent and regular basis

5.         Willingness to use Our Agency’s translation tool, as well as Our Agency’s dictionaries [bolding added by mad patent translator].

A closer look at the mandatory requirements tells me that only one of these five requirements is really mandatory.

So let us take a closer look at the requirements.

1.         Native-level proficiency in ENGLISH

What is that? Most people who I call zombie translators, who grew up speaking another language than English and live in countries where English is a foreign language, are firmly convinced that they are perfectly fluent in English.

And in comparison to people around them who speak no English at all, they definitely are!

The problem is, they are usually perfectly fluent only in a hilarious version of this language – also known as the most useful language in the world at this point in human history – namely BAD ENGLISH.

If this requirement is evaluated based on the exacting standards of the same person who does not know that the proper spelling for the requirement in item 3 is bachelor’s degree rather than “bachelors degree”, the chances are that a zombie translator whose English is not completely ridiculous will pass the muster in this case just fine, with flying colors, no problemo.

2.         At least 5 years of professional PATENT translation/review experience

OK, that sounds like a criterion that makes sense. But if I say that I have been translating patents for 5 years …. who is going to prove me wrong? And if I did in fact translate or attempted to translate a few patents over the last 5 years, in addition to translating mostly “not patents”, I would still qualify, would I not?

3.         “Bachelors degree” or equivalent

This criterion does make sense. Education is really important if you want to be a good translator, in particular, in my opinion, if you want to translate patents.

But what is an equivalent of a “bachelors degree”? Well, probably just about anything, as far as I can tell. The life experience of a 60-year-old parking lot attendant or bridge toll collector is at least equivalent to a bachelor’s degree, especially when no major (for instance Japanese language or engineering) is specified.

4.         Contact with target-language speakers on a very frequent and regular basis

What the hell does this mean? Does going to a Japanese restaurant twice a week, or having amazing sex with a native Japanese speaker, or with a native English speaker if you happen to be Japanese, on a very frequent and regular basis count?

The way this requirement is formulated, it definitely does.

5.         Willingness to use Our Agency’s translation tool, as well as Our Agency’s dictionaries

We have finally come to the crux of the matter.

This is clearly the only conditio sine qua non in the list of 5 mandatory requirements because it is not open to a subjective evaluation of a person who may or may not be really qualified to evaluate the credentials of a would-be translator, and also because it cannot be faked. You either use the Computer-Assisted Tool, or you do not qualify.

Conversely, if you are willing to use their CAT, you are very likely to pass the other 4 requirements.

And here is why [an enticing promise found on the website of the agency]:

“Our Agency’s “translation memory” tool”  ….  “will save [you, the customer] between 20-70 percent in translation cost and time, depending on the amount of repetitive text.”

This means that translators who can be forced to use this proprietary tool, so generously and selflessly supplied by the translation agency, will be also forced to automatically provide a discount for “repetitive text” of between 20 to 70 percent to the agency.

If you are a zombie translator who cannot find work because you have no experience, or because you don’t really know English that well, or Japanese for that matter, I would encourage you to apply for this position.

As long as you are willing to accept the CAT in the translation agency’s bag of tricks, you will probably pass the test.

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Responses

  1. […] I found the following message a few days ago on one of the "translation portals" where translators are asked to compete among themselves by biding on projects and providing their best [read: rock b…  […]

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  2. Please be fair, Steve.

    As I said once that nobody would like to be named zombie translator, those veteran translators like myself and Kevin Lossner who use CAT tools are surely not pleased to be taken for zombie translators just because we use tools to ease our workflow.

    Even in patent translations, there are repetitions and recurrent sentence patterns that can be converted to some unified stylistically palatable patterns that enhance readability. Terms can be automatically checked up and replaced to ease the workflow, what was conventionally done by looking up in some dictionaries or searching in the Web by the translator. The mechanical works are now left to CAT tools and machine translation engines. But the real decisions on the correctness depend on the translator. Without language knowledge and long term translation experience, the translation quality is not to be assured.

    Besides, isn’t it a larceny to charge those reptitions or slightly different sentence patterns one’s normal rate?

    The matter with fuzzy matches and CAT tools is a matter of negotiation. If one’s usual rate is reasonable – say, US$0.20~0.40 – it doesn’t matter that one accept 25% of one’s usual rate (that would be, US$0.05~0.10) for repetitions or 100% matches.

    I am now working with a website designer and a team of texters on a website localization project. They provide the layout and texts and I translate the texts into Chinese. There are heavy repetitions and similar patterns, so that they accept my usual rate and calculate the rates for fuzzy matches to yield a budget of 72% of the whole website from my usual rate. It looks like 28% discount, but the final budget is fair enough to bring me an income equivalent to an hourly rate of US$200~300.

    Why shall a veteran translator decline such a lucrative job? To avoid being called a zombie translator? No, I won’t let go such an opportunity to earn some easy money.

    It would be too stupid of a translator to decline rates of fuzzy matches based on his usual rate and insists upon the larceny of his usual rate for repetitions and matches of similar sentence patterns or to prefer a lower usual rate instead of applying a higher usual rate for discounts taken by fuzzy matches.

    The choice is always the translator’s and the translation quality is of the translator’s, aren’t they?

    If the use of CAT tools degrades the quality, the clients are smart enough not to accept our high usual rates, on which the rates for fuzzy matches are calculated. Should the overall quality be degraded, the clients would go for translators with lower usual rates. That simple, right?

    That’s what I call “balance of power.” The clients have their choice and we translators have our choice. All we have to do is to find the balance, the point where all parties are satisfied moneywise and intellectually, even when there is an agency or several inbetween.

    Both you and me can fake a few languages, but I don’t translate into any other languages than my own native one, so as to keep the balance as well as I can. Any natives can sic my German or English, but not many can sic my Chinese. Even some TV stations in Taiwan come to me for final versions of dubbing scripts and editors of magazines come to me for making sure the to-be-published drafts are stylistically and contentwise correct.

    A translator cannot be omniscient or omnipotent. He needs people of other talents to find solutions for problems that are not in his fields. This is why I socialize with people of different cultures, languages and talents. This is why I admire a lot of translation colleagues for they are reasonable people, like this one:

    http://lespilesintermediaires.blogspot.tw/2013/05/la-traductrice-et-les-internets.html

    Translators learn from each other to avoid falling victims of Translator’s Bullfrog Disease.

    As I said befor, it isn’t always good, good translators against bad, bad agencies. There are such translators and agencies and such other ones. They are not always zombies and zombie farmers, even when they agree with fuzzy matches. I am glad that I know how to identify them for mutual benefits.

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  3. To me it is sad, Wenjer, that the concept of a translator who simply refuses to be forced to provide obligatory discounts is unthinkable to you.

    And since as far as I can tell, you have not addressed any of the issues in my post, I have nothing to discuss with you.

    Let me end with this quote:

    “There is nothing to fear except the persistent refusal to find out the truth, the persistent refusal to analyze the causes of happenings.”

    Dorothy Thompson, an American journalist in a time when there were still journalists in America, 1893-1961.

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  4. Every translator has an absolute right to refuse obligatory discounts. It is thinkable to me and I do pretty often, especially when “impersonating” potential clients find my base rate scary.

    BTW, CAT tools stands for Computer Assisted Translation tools and not all people agree with them.

    The issues in your post are absolute viewpoints and they are not intended to be addressed and/or discussed. I accept them as they are and enjoy the music of your choice as always.

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  5. “Every translator has an absolute right to refuse obligatory discounts”… Yes, and obviously to lose the job by doing so. Every translator also has an absolute right to stop eating, and so does every seamstress in every sweatshop in Bangladesh.

    “The issues in your post are absolute viewpoints and they are not intended to be addressed and/or discussed.” … Yes, if you have nothing to say about them.

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    • Honestly, what do you care about the seamstresses in the sweatshops in Bangladesh or China?

      They are like like those translators who offer you invarible surprisng low rates that you find laughable. Even the highly educated and experienced ones, charge only what you were charging when you were still working only for translation agencies more than 20 years ago, as you stated in your last blog post.

      And you and someone else would like to know my scary regular rate? Well, it is so scary that it would be a larceny if my clients didn’t apply rates for fuzzy matches.

      “The issues in your post are absolute viewpoints and they are not intended to be addressed and/or discussed.” … Yes, if you have nothing to say about them.

      Correctly, I have nothing to say about them and other translation colleagues would have their own viewpoints and stay silent on them. They know that a reasonable long term business relationship cannot be established on unfair practices, so that they eventually accept rates of fuzzy matches which are based on their regular rates and which leads to a power balance. Business as usual.

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      • “Honestly, what do you care about the seamstresses in the sweatshops in Bangladesh or China?”

        Well, something must be wrong with me because I do care about seamstresses in sweatshops in Bangladesh.

        From now on, I will not buy clothing made in Bangladesh until I hear that conditions there have improved.

        And I actually believe that many people, perhaps millions, are likely to do precisely that.

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      • “And I actually believe that many people, perhaps millions, are likely to do precisely that.”

        You bet, millions of people do it.

        And I am glad that I don’t have the problem of having to choose between “Made in Taiwan” and “Made in Bangladesh.” Taiwanese products are just as reasonably priced as my translation services which are always X language into Chinese and never ever once a larceny, for I do accept discounts for repetition based on fuzzy matches as millions of translators on this globe do.

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      • Eigentlich ist es mir zu albern geworden, Steve.

        Es ist dein Blog. Du kannst und darfst alles behaupten. Ich halte schon meine Klappe, wie die anderen immer getan haben.

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  6. The ultimate victim in all this is not only the hard working translator but the client! Clients trust a translation agency sometimes more than they trust an individual when, in reality, the opposite would serve them better.

    There are some very ethical translation agencies (translation intermediaries) out there. Unfortunately, the bulk of them are good at marketing and have great legal advisors who are compensated handsomely. In order to afford their sales representatives, staff and legal counsel these agencies do not raise the rates to the client but squeeze it from the translator with some smart people out there going to google translate, fixing it and submitting it as a translation no matter how awful the result is!

    It would be very easy to say the client gets what they deserve, but I do not think that is true. I think some clients are misled by the promises made by these “translation farms”.

    Whether a CAT tool is used and what discounts are applied should be up to the translator, and while a CAT tool might be useful in providing you a two column document grid to ensure you do not forget to translate any sentences, those who are forced to accept discounts for “fuzzy matches” (sentences with a few similar words in them) but not accurate) eventually start caring less about quality and submit quite a mechanized translation. It might be okay into English where it is alright to use the same term over and over, but it does not work too well into Romance Languages as they require the use of more synonyms in order to avoid redundant repetitions of the same term.

    Some of our colleagues are forced to work for very low rates or risk not having any work at all, they are not “zombie translators” but “exploited translators”. Let’s not victimize the victims any further.

    All translators should devote some time to develop direct clients and enlightening them about the “Art of translation”.

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  7. Thanks for your comment, Michelle.

    Two points:

    1. I am not against all agencies, only against the bad ones, i.e. for example those agencies that would like to use CATs to depress the rates being paid to translators, which usually (but not always) means the big agencies.

    2. I am not for or against CATs.

    I think that they are very useful for certain types of translations, and pretty useless or counterproductive for other types of translations. Since the patents that I translate are usually provided as PDF files which are often very difficult to convert, and since I translate patents from a number of languages, including Japanese, German, French, Russian, Czech, etc., to English, it would be just too much of a hassle for me to try to use them.

    And I don’t like hassle.

    I have my own way of translating, which works for me best. But just because it is working for me does not necessarily mean that other people should be using it too. We are all unique intellectuals, and as the old Latin proverb says “Quod licet Iovi non licet bovi”.

    I think that it is arrogant to assume that everybody should be using CATs, and also that it shows ignorance: there are many translators who just like me do not use them, for a number of reasons.

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  8. http://www.proz.com/forum/money_matters/248650-article_on_patenttranslators_blog.html

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  9. Hi Steve, in regard to your post I will once again repeat my position vis-à-vis CATs, in that they are useful tools which greatly contribute to your productivity, so why not use them. Only I use them much as you have sometimes advocated for MT or Google translation, merely as a tool, internal to my processes. Definitely not as a basis for pricing. I have never delivered a translation based on the use of a TM or CAT, I only use it for my own productivity or control, since I don’t work with repetitive texts. The whole concept of 100% matches, fuzzy matches etc just throws me off, and in this I fully concur with you. Also I wanted to tell you that you had me in stitches with your point 4.
    In closing, I would like to point out a typo that may have slipped you by: at the beginning of your post, you stated: “…where translators are asked to compete among themselves by BIDING on projects…”. It should of course be “BIDDING” since they are offering their services and not biding their time, LOL.

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  10. Thank you so much, Nelida, for correcting my typo.

    I never had anyone in stitches before to my knowledge.

    It is a strange feeling.

    I must go back and correct the typo right away.

    Hope you won’t find too many typos in the last masterpiece that I just posted.

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  11. Guess you meant “you won’t find”…. ? 🙂 Cheers

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  12. I do scientific translation (chemistry, pharmaceutical, biotech, physics). I do use an old Wordfast 4.22 in my ancient Word processor Word 98/mac just as an alternative way to keep track of my old work. Search-in-context is useful to me because it pulls up words and phrases in a single file, showing all the relevant source/target segments from old work. I used to use a 3-column table (source, target, notes) and a good disk search program. I still use a search program on another computer kept up to date for web surfing etc. (side by side with my old workhorse), which is often faster than Wordfast. Sometimes I just use Wordfast for parts of the translation (typing the source bits I need to think about or want to get into my TM). I often do OCR and then proofread/format the hardcopy source so I can easily search the text and separate the work of formatting the text (and reading fuzzy teeny print) from the translation work. If this step is enough of a pain (difficult formatting that changes frequently), I charge for the setup time. I also like to use Wordfast because it’s physically easier for me to look at the source on top and type the translation below it. I also can put the PDF below the Word window, but Wordfast really is easier for me.

    But I don’t discount for Trados-generated repetitions. I will work by the hour for very repetitive texts, but set the cap high so I don’t get burned by problems lurking in the new parts or by the time it takes to pick up small differences. I’m a fast typist and physically typing the draft is only a small part of the job. I do a lot of thinking while typing, proofreading takes a long time regardless in my areas, and research time is unpredictable. The important measure is actually time, not words or lines. If I can make a good guess about the amount of time I might save due to repeats (with or without Wordfast), I can offer a discount for that particular job. But I won’t lock myself into anything based on Trados analysis.

    I won’t even use anyone else’s TM except for reference on very project-specific terms and always tell project managers that I reserve the right to deviate from such a TM when it is wrong (as is often the case). The same holds for project glossaries or prior work they want me to match. If it’s wrong, I refuse to match it… I’ve lost a lot of jobs as a result. PMs don’t like hearing that the prior work is junk (“But it was translated by a SPECIALIST!”). PMs also tend to have an unrealistic idea about the time it takes to revise a previous translation riddled with errors “But it should only take an hour!” ). Or the time required to do any translation, for that matter. I have a high job minimum (equal to my fee for 1000 words) which regularly stuns PMs. But it represents only 3.3 hrs at my hourly fee (which isn’t high) and it’s rare that any job in my areas will take less time than that. One patent abstract (100 Russian words) took four or five hours to sort out. I had to read the entire patent (it was highly technical, about a semiconductor device) and some related material to verify all the key terminology.

    Anyway- time is the important thing. I like Wordfast as an internal tool, on my own terms, but the Trados obsession has definitely caused a lot of harm. A related problem is some agencies’ insistence on receiving an uncleaned file (source/target segments). I know they want me to do the hard part (a correct initial translation) so future work can be handed over to someone without my knowledge and background who will work cheaper because they don’t worry about anything. They always could have done this in the past, of course, but TM programs make it deceptively easy even though (like dictionaries) TMs are dangerous in the hands of the incompetent. So the end client will get work that is correct in spots close enough to my original work but wildly wrong for new material. As a result, every time I hand over my uncleaned file, I’m likely to lose future work and therefore lose the chance to leverage my own prior work.

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  13. “I like Wordfast as an internal tool, on my own terms, but the Trados obsession has definitely caused a lot of harm. A related problem is some agencies’ insistence on receiving an uncleaned file (source/target segments). I know they want me to do the hard part (a correct initial translation) so future work can be handed over to someone without my knowledge and background who will work cheaper because they don’t worry about anything. They always could have done this in the past, of course, but TM programs make it deceptively easy even though (like dictionaries) TMs are dangerous in the hands of the incompetent. So the end client will get work that is correct in spots close enough to my original work but wildly wrong for new material. As a result, every time I hand over my uncleaned file, I’m likely to lose future work and therefore lose the chance to leverage my own prior work.”

    Thanks for your comment, Cathy.

    These are aspects of how TMs are used by agencies that I have never even considered.

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  14. While it’s always flattering to be quoted and called a reasonable person by Wenjer Leuschel (hello!), I have to say I’m extremely skeptical about CAT tools myself (the article quoted by Wenjer has to do with using the Internet as a way of getting in touch with experts of all kinds around the world, quite a different thing).

    Having used one CAT tool only for about a year, as part of my current employment (I stopped being a freelancer about a year ago), I have to say I haven’t changed my mind about it. If I go back to being a freelance translator in the future (which I seriously consider in the middle run), I’ll probably stop using CAT tools altogether and I’m actually kind of looking forward to that day…

    (Also, I have to say, Steve, your blogposts about CAT tools are the ones I enjoy the most! 🙂 )

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  15. Thank you so much for your moral support.

    I keep saying that there are many translators out there in the trenches of the real world who don’t use CATs at all, and this for some reason makes the CAT people really angry at me to the point where they start calling me uniformed, Luddite and worse.

    Hey, CAT people, I don’t mind that you use them dumb tools!

    I just hope that at some point you will find it in your heart to live with the notion that some translators don’t like them, don’t need them, and don’t use them.

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  16. […] I found the following message a few days ago on one of the "translation portals" where translators are asked to compete among themselves by biding on projects and providing their best [read: rock b…  […]

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