The most terrifying words in the English language are “I am from the government and I am here to help you”, Ronald Reagan, circa 1980.
This is one of the funniest and most effective quotes of Ronald Reagan, because there is obviously a lot of truth in it. The great communicator had quite a few such quotes in his folksy repertoire in his day. He used this particular clever sentence among other things to help to dismantle a modicum of control that people like you and me used to have through their elected representatives over how modern corporations are dominating and defining our lives. He of course later had plenty of help in this respect from Bill Clinton, another communicator par excellence, who was so sincerely and deeply “feeling our pain” that he helped to get rid of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999 – a law that made it clear that the taxpayers were on the hook to cover the losses of their neighborhood banks, but not the losses of the casino style Wall Street banks. This then made it possible for Wall Street bankers to plunge the whole world into a series of financial and economic crises, which is still very much the current situation in most countries more than 7 years later.
Wall Street bankers made out like the bandits that they are as they were bailed out thanks to the new laws once their fraudulent schemes stopped working because all of the money that they could steal was already stolen, while millions of people lost their jobs, their houses and savings for their retirement as the pensions plans sold to them by the big banks lost their value.
But my blog is supposed to be about translation issues, so I will try to write mostly about translation.
I already said what I think about the futility of universal “translation standards” in this post a few weeks ago. From what I have seen so far, I believe that attempts to design a standard that would ensure a high quality of translation are mostly transparent attempts at self-serving marketing.
But as I found out from a recent article in the ATA (American Translators Association) Chronicle by David C. Rumsey, an ATA director who serves on the ATA’s Standards Committee, “Whether we like it or not, translation standards are coming our way”.
I also found out from this and other materials that there are already many translation standards in existence which “the translation industry” is trying to throw at customers hoping that one of them will finally turn into a useful marketing gimmick.
These indispensable standards for quality in translation include (but are not limited to, as a patent lawyer would put it in a patent claim formulation of a new inventive step): EN15038, created by the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) in 2006, Active Standard ASTM F2575, a US standard for translation providers, available from the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), while another standard currently being developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), is called IS 17100. Also, in addition to the EN-15038 European Quality Standard, there is also the ISO 9000 series standard of the International Organization for Standardization, the Italian UNI 10754 standard, the German DIN 2345 Standard, Austrian standards Önorm D 1200 and Önorm D 1201, Canadian CAN CGSB121.10 standard, and I am sure that quite a few other ones are already being developed, from Denmark and Norway to Mongolia and Papua New Guinea.
In a familiar tone, David C. Rumsey’s article states that: …. “standards are actually here to help you – whether you are an individual translator working with an end client or a large multinational. They are intended to clarify the translation process for all parties involved: the translator, the agency, and the buyer” (emphasis added by Mad Patent Translator).
I did not realize that translators desperately need to have the translation process clarified to them by one of these selfless, learned translation standard committees, did you?
So I will try to clarify how I see them.
If you take a closer look at all of these standards, they are mostly developed to convince customers that only “the translation industry” (i.e. the relative small segment of translation industry represented by translation agencies) adheres to “best practices”, for example by using a “separate reviser” for every translation, preferably in several steps (the more steps, at least on paper or website propaganda, the better) and having each reviser sign off on the quality of the translation, which is something that individual translators, who based on this ingenious method are merely relatively unimportant peons engaged in the initial rough translation process during the first stage of one of the dozen mysterious quality standards, are unlikely to do.
As I wrote in my post about the so called “four-eyes principle”, this particular principle is likely to work only under certain predefined circumstances, which in fact means that it usually does not work at all, because the “separate reviser” is typically an underpaid CC (Clueless Coordinator) working for the agency, or an equally underpaid beginning translator who is willing to work for peanuts to gain valuable experience.
Personally, I don’t see great future for translation standards. Clients are not stupid. They can see through marketing propaganda.
One commenter on my blog this week put it best:”Few end clients believe marketing propaganda, because it is just that. They might be convinced the first time around, but if burned, they are unlikely to return to agencies providing poor translations and/or service.”
To which I would only add, once burned, clients are unlikely to return to a translation agency, regardless of which “quality standards”, “certificate of compliance” and “quality edits” and how many “layers of control” it swears by.
Here is my self-serving advice to clients who want to achieve the best possible quality standard in translation in 3 simple steps:
1. Stay away from translation agencies and their marketing gimmicks. Instead, try to find a freelance translator who in your opinion is really good based on his or her last translation. This will probably take a few tries.
2. Keep sending your translations to this individual translator. If you do that, this lucky translator will eventually learn everything that he or she needs to know to do a very good job for you just about every time. Translators are not magicians, they sometime make mistakes. But if you work with an individual translator instead of a translation agency, you can always call or e-mail this person directly any time and let him or her know if something is wrong. With an agency …. it’s not that simple. They like to keep the translators under deep cover because if the clients knew who the translators were … what is there to prevent them from cutting out the middleman?
3. Treat your translators as valued professionals, which basically means three things: pay them a decent rate, don’t give them impossible deadlines, and pay your bills on time (at least most of the time).
That’s it. You have successfully created a hand-crafted quality standard specially designed for your particular translation needs, a quality standard that can’t be beat. And unlike the EN15038 standard, the ASTM F2575 standard, the IS 17100 standard, the ISO 9000 standard, the UNI 10754 standard, the DIN 2345 standard, the D 1200 and D 1201 standards, as well as the CAN CGSB121.10 and other ingenious and absolutely indispensable standards still in the pipeline, this standard is no marketing gimmick.