I receive e-mails like this from agencies periodically. Last week I received it twice or three times, I am not sure now. I was talking on the phone to a friend who also translates Japanese: he also received it, and he also ignored it.
I have several good reasons to ignore such e-mails. For one thing, this one was from an agency that I stopped working for more than a decade ago because I did not like the way it was treating me.
The project managers would routinely and on purpose underestimate the word count to cajole me into accepting a job over the weekend, which then turned out to be 6 thousand words instead of the mere 3 thousand that I did accept.
So they would simply lie to me to get the job done. Repeatedly. Who cares about a poor translator who is tearing his hair out in desperation? If the job is not finished on time, it will be my fault and I will not be paid a dime.
This agency used to be OK when it was just starting out about 20 years ago. But the bigger it got, the more onerous its demands and the more devious and inconsiderate its practices became.
After somebody with a British accent called on a Saturday morning at 5 AM asking me whether I can take on a long French chemical patent for delivery by Monday, I’ve had it with their reckless disregard for my well-being. Never accepted a single job from them after that rude awakening on Saturday morning. But apparently, somebody working for the same agency knows that I am still here, translating Japanese and other languages.
This type of translation: 5 million words by Tuesday – and I am only slightly exaggerating, I think the e-mail said that it was 5 million words in 3 weeks – is in fact a perfect fit for the new type of the corporate agency structure.
In the old days, by which I mean more than 20 years ago, no agency would accept such a job order because it would be impossible to ensure even a minimum level of quality. And the customer would have no choice but to listen to reason.
But quality is no longer important. Speed is. Speed and profit.
We are living in a new age of technological miracles and the “translation business” has been changed profoundly by new technology, resulting in demands for ever greater speed and ever higher profits. Anybody with a perfunctory knowledge of how to connect a PC to Internet can start a translation agency, and anybody with a perfunctory knowledge of two languages can call himself a translator.
There are thousands of outfits out there calling themselves “translation agencies”, or better yet, “LSPs”, and possibly millions of people calling themselves “translators”. Many of these agencies don’t know much about languages, and often the same could be said also about the translators.
Modern translation agencies these days love jobs with impossible deadlines because if they get them done, and somehow, they do get them done, they stand to make a lot of money very quickly. And that is the reason why they are in business: to make a lot of money as quickly as possible!
Since there are thousands of people calling themselves translators on this planet, why not use as many of those who have no choice but to work for a miniscule rate to get such an impossible job done?
The new type of modern translation agency uses translators as modern researchers use tiny, self-propelled machines called nanobots for various applications in medicine and industry. The purpose of millions of nanobots, who are self-replicating and have a certain amount of autonomy, may be to devour and thus eradicate a certain disease.
The purpose of hundreds of nano-translators working on a 5-million-word job is to devour 5 million words in a certain language and somehow transfer them during this process into another language.
Nano-translators (nanolators?) too are self-propelled and they too are allowed a certain amount of autonomy. Unfortunately, they are not self-replicating. But fortunately, translations agencies are self-replicating! The guy who e-mailed me on behalf of a large American agency was in fact working for some other agency based in Europe.
Before a chain of events is set into motion whereby thousands of nano-translators (or should I start using the word nanolators?) are unleashed on 5 million words like bacteria on a rotting carcass, two or three brokers often spring into action as middlemen channeling the work to hungry nanolators.
Everybody in this parasitic chain makes profit, while the smallest profit goes to the translator at the end of the chain, and the highest profit obviously goes to the mighty agency at the beginning of the chain.
Nanobots are self-propelled machines who are not able to think for themselves, but who do have a certain amount of autonomy. Nanolators, also known as translators, are also allowed a certain amount of autonomy, but very little, about as much as nanobots.
One of the offers to become one of the dozens of nanolators attempting to devour the 5-million-word job and somehow convert it during the process from Japanese into English came with two “Independent Contract Agreements” that I would have to sign first if I wanted become one of the countless nanolators. The longer one had over 3,000 words, and among these words was an article titled “Prohibition Regarding the Use of Google Translate or Other Tools”, according to which the self-propelled nanolators must agree not to transmit any files to external or web-based software (such as Google Translate).
The reason for this prohibition to use machine translation stated in the contract was the potential for breach of confidentiality, but I wonder if this was the main reason for such a prohibition.
After all, if one can use machine translation to translate millions of words from one language into another and then quickly edit them so that they would make some sense, you don’t really need to be able to know two languages.
One language would be enough. Or possibly even half a language, if you can run the text through a machine translation program first. So the prohibition to use Google Translate, which I understand is now becoming a fairly common clause in “Independent Contract Agreements” a certain type of translation agency is now making thousands of nanolators sign, is probably the only criterion designed to guarantee, in addition to confidentiality, also that the thousands of nanolators in the database of modern translation agencies are in fact translators who know at least to some extent at least one and half language.