Posted by: patenttranslator | May 13, 2014

Another Article in the ATA Chronicle for Translators with an IQ Below 70


I am talking about an article by Enas Ibrahim, who has been a project manager for a translation agency since 2008 and who is also a translator from Arabic, titled “11 Tips for Freelance Translators from a Project Manager”. It was published on pp. 12 – 13 in the May 2014 issue of the ATA (American Translators Association) Chronicle magazine.

Here are the 11 helpful tips for clueless translators, each of which is bolded in the article and then followed by a short explanatory paragraph for translators who may be particularly dense or mentally challenged.

1. It is absolutely OK to say “no” if you are uncomfortable with the subject matter of the document or the delivery date/time.

2. Read the work order every time you receive one.

3. Examine the source files as soon as you receive them.

4. Always use the files you received with the work order and not the files that you were sent to you with initial inquiry detailing the assignment.

5. Ask as many questions as you feel necessary.

6. Please check the work order to make sure you understand what you are expected to deliver, including the acceptable file format.

7. Please make sure that the invoice number is not a duplicate.

8. Do not forget to include your company name on the invoice.

9. Include the project manager’s name on the invoice.

10. Include your address on every invoice if you are asking to be paid by check.

11. Include all of your payment methods, if you have more than one, on the invoice and indicate which one you prefer.

The concluding paragraph reads:

“These are just some general guidelines, but other companies have other preferences. It is usually okay to check with you project manager if you have any doubts concerning anything related to an assignment.”

(Oh, so can we look forward to more general guidelines for important things that obtuse and slothful translators need to keep in mind from another project manager of another translation agency in the next issue of the ATA Chronicle)?


Each of these helpful tips makes sense, and I am sure that some translators sometime forget to include on their invoice information that should be there.

For example, once I typed the wrong number for my bank account number on the invoice (somehow I managed to skip one digit) and instead of waiting 30 days to be paid, which is a very long time already, I had to wait an additional month before the money finally arrived.

Needless to say, I was cursing my own carelessness and stupidity for the whole additional four weeks.

As I was scanning the article – and most of the time I only scan articles in the ATA Chronicle because most of the time I can’t find much in it that would be worth a more careful reading – I was asking myself: Who is the target readership for this esteemed monthly magazine which bills itself as “The Voice of Interpreters and Translators”?

Probably not experienced translators who are generally smart enough to create an invoice without these helpful tips, because most people who are smart enough to tie their shoelaces on their own and brush their teeth without any instructions (Don’t forget to put toothpaste on your toothbrush!) will probably need no reassurance that it is OK to say no to a job that one is not qualified to do, or admonishments that one should read the work order, look at the files, include one’s address on the invoice, etc.

Things like that would be kind of obvious even to persons of average or slightly below-average intelligence, such as person who have an IQ of about 70 or even slightly less.

But evidently not to members of the American Translators Association who find similar articles offering advice to slightly retarded ATA Members in their Chronicle just about every month.

Although these 11 stern Admonishments (and why 11 when there are only Ten (10) Commandments in the Bible?) to wayward and mentally challenged translators do make sense, the one piece of advice in the article that should be taken with a big grain of salt is “Ask as many questions as you feel necessary”. I almost never ask any questions, even if I have them, because project managers usually don’t know much about anything and there is no need to make them even more nervous than they are already. Typically, they don’t even know for sure what is in the text for translation because it is usually in a language that they don’t understand.

So the article is clearly aimed at translators who are mildly retarded, which seems to be the target audience for the ATA Chronicle magazine.

I have noticed that some things have improved, from my perspective, at the ATA recently.

For example, as of last year, I think, translators can take the ATA’s own accreditation test while typing on a computer’s keyboard, although for the last 5 decades or so they had to write their translations by hand. Which is really not that bad considering that the Catholic church finally allowed the mass to be celebrated in other languages than Latin (which nobody could understand, often not even the person who was doing the speaking in Latin) for more than 15 centuries.

The ATA is clearly more open to change than the Catholic church has been so far!

Also, the search function on the ATA database enabling potential clients to look for suitable translators has been redesigned and greatly simplified so that it is now accessible even to potential clients who may not be project managers of translation agencies, including possibly also direct clients.

But articles like this, articles that talk down to translators as if they were slightly retarded and obstinate children, make my blood boil.

Dear ATA, we translators are typically not total morons. Some of us are so smart that we even know two or more languages. Sometime we may forget to put something on our invoice, but cases like that can be easily remedied with a short e-mail. (Or would that be too much to ask from a project manager)?

If the ATA Chronicle really wants to be The Voice of Interpreters and Translators, instead of publishing articles that seem to be aimed at people who probably can’t figure out how to tie their own shoelaces in the morning, it could try writing about things that interpreters and translators with an IQ above 70 might be also interested in reading.


  1. Another devilishly good piece . .Rather than enumerate my own travails with ATA, allow me to recommend very highly the advocacy and research work being done by IAPTI (International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters), an organization that treats its members as sophisticated and accomplished professionals. IAPTI’s explicit prime objective is protection of freelance translators from the forces today that are undermining our commercial viability and lowering the proficiency standards that prevail in our industry.


  2. Thanks, Lucille.

    I am even thinking of going to the next IAPTI conference in Athens.


  3. I had similar feelings when looking at this article… (I was also asking myself if there was a need to have 11 points instead of 10, with 2 and 6 somewhat overlapping each other.)

    By the way, Steve, have you ever had a chance to examine the Bulletin of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (UK)? I find it far more diverse and inspirational than the Chronicle.


  4. No, I have never seen it.

    Can I read it on the Internet?


    • I’m afraid it is not officially published online (no sample issue), but you can find some individual articles via Google when looking for ITI Bulletin.

      Nonetheless it can be ordered also by non-ITI members, see here if you are interested:


  5. “With a circulation of 3000 and readership of more than three times that, the ITI Bulletin is a well-known and respected voice in the translation and interpreting industry.”

    Pretty impressive.

    They have almost as many readers as my blog which has about 15 thousand views a month at this point.


  6. Thanks for giving me a giggle this afternoon. Glad once again that we have people like you speaking up and mentioning how you feel. 🙂 It would be nice to have the Chronicle be a little more academic.


  7. Thanks for giggling.


  8. Alas, Steve, those 11 points probably need repetition for many “ProZians”, protozoans and other stages of the translation evolutionary chain. At least they are not radioactive and toxic like some other “advice” I’ve read.

    The ATA is not alone in failing to serve the needs of its members who have graduated from diapers. I’ve seen enough newbie nonsense on the private site of the BDĂś, for example, that I simply can’t look at the boards without a stiff drink first. Along with the sophisticated exchanges with peers, you’ll find yet another post asking how to write a VAT invoice for Switzerland or Papua New Guinea, how to write an invoice at all and what to put on it and the inevitable “why does my Trados not work?” which reminds me of the old question about the toilet habits of forest-dwelling bears.

    To avoid utter madness in professional associations, it is useful to seek places where the noise level is just a bit lower 🙂


  9. Kevin Lossner, always the supreme contrarian!

    But seriously, the people you are referring to are not really translators (although they may think so).

    And on front jacket of every issue of the ATA Chronicle it says in big letters:
    “The Voice of Interpreters and Translators”, not “The Voice of Clueless Newbies”.


    • Ha, ha, ha!

      Steve, not every “translator” is one of the semi-retired ones like us. There was a proud Japanese translator getting into trouble with one of my clients. I had to write a proper invoice for her to solve the problem by the end. There are quite a lot of those clueless newbies at the site Kevin mentioned. Well, the site lives on them.

      As to ATA, the association isn’t too bad at all. The 11 tips do make sense, if you work as an agency/PM and receive frequently flawed invoices from translators who are otherwise perfectly all right as translators.


      • “As to ATA, the association isn’t too bad at all.”

        Agreed, but it could be certainly better than it is, which is why every now and then, I write something about it on my blog from the viewpoint of this ATA member.

        If we don’t tell them what we think about the articles in their magazine, they may never realize that this is not exactly the kind of things that we want to read about.


  10. Not sure how much good the list will do, but I’m sure the PM has seen violations of it many times by otherwise intelligent people. One PM split a doc between two of us. The other translator (quite intelligent) asked me some questions after finishing the draft that I knew referred to my part but not the other part. Turned out the other translator had drafted my part by mistake… And had to get busy to draft the right part before the deadline! This was not a PM error, although once in a big job for another agency the same thing happened (again, we discovered it from queries that I mysteriously already knew how to answer), but that was a PM error. The agency paid both of us.

    Another time a PM had been negotiating with his client for a job for me. He sent a PO but not in a separate message (as he usually did), so from the message I had thought he was still waiting for word about it. I hadn’t noticed the attachment (often I see attachments that are just for graphical junk in the message template). A week before the original deadline, he fortunately asked about how things were going. I responded, “On what?”… I asked him why he hadn’t been worried when the signed PO hadn’t been faxed back to him as usual (which I always dutifully did), and he said I was almost the only person who did that, the rest ignored the clear instructions to do so… I guess he wasn’t worried that he hadn’t even received a casual OK from me.

    Another client (I had bid on a job via ProZ) casually asked the day after his deadline when the file was coming. I had heard nothing from him via e-mail and had no record of the fax he sent (including the doc to be translated). I just assumed someone else got the job, since people on ProZ hardly ever acknowledge unsuccessful bids. He obviously hadn’t heard anything back from me, either, but was unworried! Fortunately, we were able to get an extension.

    Anyway, you would be surprised how often slipups like this happen when people get casual about double-checking the job etc. or just get busy. It really doesn’t have to do with lack of intelligence. Stuff happens. Once I even sent the wrong invoice (different job, different client) to a client, who was very puzzled. Not as puzzled as the PM who received my notes file rather than an installment of a rush job! (I have now trained myself to always open the attachment to double-check before hitting send). I prefer dealing with PMs who do get a little obsessed confirming the details of a job, especially since I don’t trust cyberspace. I’ve had mail delayed or dropped into a cyber black hole too often. After one delightful ISP upgrade, we were even all getting other people’s mail for a while. I tell clients to text me if they don’t see a prompt response to e-mail or are missing a file expected by a certain time. Once when some worm hit the net, it took several hours and several resends to several addresses to get an urgent file to a panicked PM.


  11. Yes, stuff happens, and although bad things often happen because a project manager screws up something of for other reasons which are beyond the translator’s control, it is usually the translator who is blamed for everything.

    “Shoot the translator first and don’t even bother asking questions later” is unfortunately the golden rule in many translation agencies these days.

    That is one reason why the article in the ATA Chronicle made me so mad that I felt the need to write a post about it.

    The motto of ATA Chronicle, prominently displayed on the cover of the ATA Chronicle, is “The Voice of Interpreters and Translators”. But since they keep publishing articles that are so clearly agency-centric, probably without even realizing it, “The Voice of Translation Agencies” would be a more appropriate motto in my opinion.


  12. I have my own way of dealing with the Chronicle: I don’t even do more that briefly glance through it, since most of it doesn’t relate to my concerns at all. The notices about official Association business sometimes need some attention, but I never bother with the articles. What always amused me were the dictionary reviews, the column on questions about difficult passages, and the humor column. Do they still have those? I haven’t really looked at the last couple of issues.


  13. Sorry not to identify myself, but my WordPress account insists on being anonymous.

    Jon Johanning, ATA certified Japanese>English


  14. Yep, they still have those, and I don’t read them either.


  15. Another enjoyable read, Steve.

    This reminds me of the oh-so-present empty “blog” articles that agencies and other organizations put on their blog for SEO purposes, and this is probably the case here in general. A combination of lack of quality content to publish, a way to jump on the “self-help” trend that is still sweeping the world, and a way for a translator and/or agency to get their name out there.
    This is also inline with the many condescending seminars, blog posts, etc. that are being held and published for the purpose of training newcomers on the principles of the corporate agency model.

    There is nothing more superficial, forced, and generic than those top-whatever-lists.

    I don’t mind beginners questions so much, but I do mind BegginerZ questions. The difference is that beginners have done their due diligence and usually ask for a proper professional advice from more experienced colleagues, sometimes even just as a mean of introducing themselves; while BegginerZ keep asking the same ClueleZ questions about the most basic and/or inappropriate things that were either answered a million times before (they fail to comprehend the function of the search button in their forum of choice), have no community value whatsoever, or much more appropriate for their accountant, lawyer, etc. (the fact that they are asking legal or financial questions on a public “global” forum only goes to show how “professional” they are).


  16. […] of Translation & Interpreting in United Kingdom, probably because after reading a post in which I criticized an article in the American Translators Association’s magazine The ATA Chronicle, he wanted to induce (provoke?) me into comparing these two publications for […]


  17. Interesting read, Steve. You say these tips are no-brainers, but they are perfect for newcomers. Having coordinated the former ITI Orientation Course for newcomers to the profession (now Starting Up as a Freelance Translator for several years, I was always having to explain that yes, it is OK to say no to a job, and yes, it is OK to negotiate on the delivery date.

    Perhaps the article should have been titled ’11 Tips for **New** Freelance Translators…’?


  18. More than one translator commented on my blog that they are so tired of these articles (one of them called them crap) for “newcomers”.

    And so am I.


  19. Here is another gem of an article ( This time with a little twist, it is not just some random elementary tips for the Cluelez, this one – and its like – are actually a bit more vile because their purpose is not just PR/SEO, but also to tame translators into becoming an obedient Nanolator to be used by the corporate translation agency model.

    The web and the general translation space are filled with those, and I think that we should call them out as much as we can (it is tiring, so tiring) when we see one, if only for the sake of the less experienced yet aspiring professionals that can easily fall into those traps carefully setup for them in many of the common digital places translators come to for advice.


  20. At the end he says “never assume”, but does not finish the sentence, i.e. does not specify what should not be assumed.

    So I will finish it for him.

    Never assume that the project manager has any understanding of the language or the subject in question.

    It has been my experience over the last 27 years that most of them simply don’t know anything about anything.


  21. True, but you probably meant PM and not translator 🙂 (please feel free to delete this comment if indeed so, as it doesn’t carry any value).


  22. Right.


  23. […] ATA (American Translators Association) Chronicle has been publishing articles celebrating the progress of post processing of machine translation for many years now. Not once has it published an article that would question the premise behind the […]


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