Let’s face it, many translators are not exactly carefree, happy-go-lucky dudes and dudettes, eternally optimistic and blithely unconcerned about the future.
For the most part they are very serious and rather somber individuals, who often wear the typical “translator’ s scowl” on their faces because they are highly distrustful of the dangerous world around them (and who might have a propensity to wallowing in their misery).
And with good reason. Our existence, professionally speaking, is being existentially attacked on so many fronts these days that most non-translators think that we will become extinguished any day now as a result of machine translation, as they believe that the intelligence that we are trying to sell to our customers, namely “human intelligence”, is no match for artificial intelligence, which is much faster, more reliable, and virtually free.
So what are the main existential problems that translators enjoy being afraid of at the beginning of the twenty first century?
Here is a short list of some of the concerns of modern translators.
1. Machine Translation Will Soon Wipe Human Translators Off The Face of the Earth
Since so many people believe that our days are numbered, this is a truism that in fact must be true. We are living in the twilight of human translation and there is nothing we can do about it, except perhaps to lower our rates to next to nothing.
2. Our Competition in Third World Countries Will Soon Destroy Us
Since Zombie translators in third world countries can live on the equivalent of the salary of a seamstress in Bangladesh, how can translators in Western countries possibly compete with them? There is basically nothing we can do about this, except perhaps to lower our rates to next to nothing per 100 words.
3. Cheap Translation Agencies Will Soon Drive Our Rates to Next to Nothing
This is something that may be happening right in front of our eyes. Every day I receive e-mails from translation agencies in countries such as China, India and Egypt, often working as subcontractors of large and small translation agencies in Europe or United States, offering me to work for them for 12 Euros or 15 dollars per hour, in 15-minute increments, to proofread work done by Zombie translators for next to nothing in third world countries. For comparison, the patent lawyers that I work for also charge for their work in increments of 15 minutes, except that they typically charge 395 dollars per hour.
4. Computer Memory Tools Like Trados Will Soon Reduce Our Rates to Next to Nothing
This is something that might have happened already. When authorized resellers and translation agencies were selling the concept of the new, fabulous productivity enhancing computer memory tools a decade or so ago, they were promising that we would be able to translate 10 thousand words a day once we start using these tools. For some reason they forgot to mention that the remuneration for our work could be cut by 90 percent based on computerized matches of “reused” words as counted by these fabulous, productivity enhancing tools.
5. Big Translation Agencies Are Constantly Demanding Lower Rates from Translators
The director of one such translation agency, affectionately referred to among translators as “The Pig Turd”, sent to all translators working for him a short, sincerely worded note asking all of them to take an obligatory pay cut. The note said that “the rates that we are currently paying you are not viable in this very competitive market place”. When translators who obediently lowered their rates to offer more realistic rates for their work to their favorite translation agency found out from newspapers that the director of the company took home a discretionary bonus of £1.68 million, they must have felt immensely gratified that their sacrifice made it possible for the translation agency to stay “viable in this very competitive market place”.
6. Blind Auctions on Translation Portals Such as Proz and Translators Cafe Will Soon Reduce Our Rates to Next to Nothing
This is something that is happening as I am writing my inspirational posts on my silly blog. There can be only one logical result of an arrangement in which large numbers of invisible, far-flung translators are asked to bid anonymously on a single job: rock bottom rates being paid to translators who agree to participate in these blind auctions.
7. Bad Payers, Non-Payers and Scammers Are As Plentiful in the “Translation Business” as Mushrooms in a Bohemian Forest after Rain in September
Just because a translator delivered an impeccably worded and formatted translation on time does not mean that he or she will be paid on time, or at all.
Translators often have to wait for payment from their customers for more than a month, sometime 2 or 3 months. And if they are not careful, they may not be paid for their work at all because the so called translation business is full of very inventive scammers and cheaters. That is why translators need to carefully follow ever growing lists of blacklisted non-payers and scammers who keep changing their names.
These seven existential threats, which like the seven deadly sins or seven biblical plagues do make our life difficult, have resulted in a new disease called “translator’s dementia”, quite common among translators.
And yet, there are translators who enjoy their creative occupation, who make a very good living, and who are not concerned about the seven plagues described above.
How is that possible, you might ask?
Well, instead of accepting the rules of the marketplace described above, some translators reject the nightmarish version of the marketplace imposed on them by people who make money from their work, and instead create their own marketplace that is governed by their own rules. Of course, this can be only achieved by constantly looking for and finding customers who appreciate their work, who pay good rates and on time, while ignoring those who think that we all have to play by rules designed to make translators as powerless and miserable as possible.
It is not easy to do create your own business model, different and largely independent and insulated from what what so many translators seem to be willing to accept, but considering that the alternative to doing so is living miserably ever after, it is probably something that is well worth doing.