Posted by: patenttranslator | May 17, 2014

Comments of a Veteran Translator on Corporatization of Translation


Some of the comments that I receive on my blog from translators contain more information in them than a dozen of posts written by yours truly.

The comments below were originally submitted by Jim Shipp, a veteran Russian to English translator, as a reaction to my post Friends Don’t Let Friends Use Trados or Other Translation Memory Tools.

I am publishing the comments here with his permission as a full blog post in the hope that young translators will realize that many of the relatively recent developments in the so-called “translation industry” are very harmful to the quality of the translations, to us, the translators,  as well as to the clients (by which I mean the people who are paying for the translations, not the translation agencies).

Seven Comments on Corporatization of Translation by Jim Shipp

1. CAT Tools

So-called CAT tools are the biggest hoax ever perpetrated on the translation community. They are expensive to obtain and maintain, difficult to learn, and cumbersome to use. They make the translator’s task more difficult and diminish the quality of the final product, as well as its value. They cannot perform essential Internet research, work with scanned documents, or manipulate graphics. They are not intuitive, as a translator must be. They are demeaning to the translator as a human being.

2. Circular Translation

So-called circular translation is a process wherein a completed translation comes back to the translator, sometimes weeks after its submittal, so the translator can “edit the editor”. The translator is expected to halt paying translation work and perform this non-translation task free of charge. Once a translation containing my best effort leaves my desk, it is up to the client, the client’s editor, the end client, and the end client’s editor to make any changes in it. I am eager to learn and I always appreciate feedback on my work, but it is not my job as a translator to do perform this task for you.

3. Workflow Systems

The advent of so-called workflow systems has begun to impact my work. The client sets up an internal system whereby you are expected to download source documents, then upload target documents and invoices, effectively shifting document control functions to the translator for no extra pay. First of all, you end up with an entire Rolodex full of user IDs and passwords for the various workflow systems of different clients. Secondly, what could possibly be easier than the original time-tested system: You e-mail me a source document, I e-mail you a target document, and you mail me a check.

3. Deadlines

If the client agrees to an impossible end client deadline, that is not my problem. I already work from 5:00 a.m. till 7:00 p.m., seven days a week, 365 days a year, sometimes longer. I generate at least 4,000 premium words a day. I am not willing to do more than that for any amount of money and you cannot seek to shame me into doing it.

4. Editing

An extremely disturbing trend in the translation industry is the editing of source>target documents by target>source translators. This is impermissible. If, say, an E>R translator was qualified to edit R>E work, he or she would then be an R>E translator. If they are not competent to translate it, they are certainly not competent to edit it. Who would you most trust to repair your car … a mechanic or a counter clerk at an auto parts store?

5. Payment

Newly emerging clients keep trying to get me to work by the source word. This is like paying a carpenter for the wood he uses rather than the house he builds. I must be paid for the words I actually produce, not the words from which I produce them. I will not sustain a 35% loss of pay because you have made a source word deal with your client.

Some clients are on a 45- or 60-day pay cycle. This is ridiculous. They want their translations “yesterday”, then expect me to wait as much as two months to get paid. All my creditors are on a 30-day cycle, so I must be as well. I allow 30 days for payment, plus 5 days mail time. This is far more reasonable than the deadlines I am given. Quid pro quo.

6. Translator-Client Relations

The client is buying the translator’s product. The translator is the vendor. As such, the transaction terms belong to the translator. You don’t buy a TV or a refrigerator, then tell the seller how you intend to pay for it. The same thing is true of a translation. Translators are not employees, but independent contractors. The lack of benefits and the existence of heavy tax bills prove this. Do not let a “customer” bully you in your own “store”.

7. In Closing

I have been a paid professional translator for 46 years. I have championed translator rights for almost half a century. I helped found the only true translators’ union in the country (which has foundered due to lack of community support, but continues to breathe). If you want me to keep quiet about the dignity and integrity of translators, I’m sorry, but you’ll have to wait a few more years until I shuffle off to that Great Translatorium in the sky.




  1. Every thing has a down side or up side depending on the angle, even the perfect moment…


  2. Interesting bit about charging by the target word, for my language combination (ES>EN) there are going to be less English words, but some translators are still charging by the source word. I charge for words translated as well but also know that clients want a quote based on the source doc and may not have the time or will to be educated about what is going on.

    I liked the analogy about the mechanic and auto parts store clerk.


  3. The way I see it, it does not really matter whether one charges for source or target word count, as long as the different word count result in different languages is taken into account ahead of time so that the translator is not shortchanged.

    For example, if you want to charge for a translation from English to German, then a higher rate should be offered to the translator to reflect the fact that the word count in German is significantly lower than in English due to frequent compound nouns in German.

    I generally have to initially explain this to clients (patent law firms) who for example have a document in MS Word in German and ask me for a price quote based on the word count.

    I wrote about this in one post already, don’t remember which one. French has typically a slightly higher word count than English (mostly because the French really like to use a lot of words), English has typically a higher word count than Russian and other Slavic languages (mostly because you don’t need as many prepositions and there are no articles in Slavic languages, with the exception of Bulgarian), German has a much lower word count than English, 2 Japanese characters correspond approximately to 1 English words (although a lot will depend on the subject matter and the style of the document), etc.

    It is a whole complicated science when it comes to different word counts in different languages.


  4. I must be a glutton for punishment Steve as I actually do enjoy (yes, enjoy!) getting to grips with the CAT tools TRADOS and memoQ. I also enjoy creating my own glossaries and term bases to use in them. I don’t think it is a simple matter of ‘CAT tools bad’, although they can undoubtedly be used for nefarious ends (fuzzy matches etc.). We will agree to disagree, as I know you will not be seeing my side on this one. Best, Jane


  5. “So-called CAT tools are the biggest hoax ever perpetrated on the translation community”.

    I fully agree with this sentence. It says in 14 words what I have been trying to say in about 14 posts so far.


    • I am having a nice time right now, aligning documents to create new translation memories and update my vocabulary etc. I do not feel this is at all ‘demeaning’ to me ‘as a human being’. Maybe you/Jim feel I am being demeaned, but I do not.

      I do not whole-heartedly support CAT tools, but nor do I absolutely refute them.

      I can use them for my benefit and not be abused by them.

      So why should this be a problem/bone of contention? You point blank don’t like anything about them – fine. I find certain things about them useful – also fine.


  6. Here is the demeaning part (from a contract for a prospective job that I did not sign):

    “With this E-Mail we would also like to let you know that our Trados matches are:
    TRADOS Payment:
    0-74% 100,00%
    75-94% 50,00%
    95-99% 25,00%
    100% 0,00%
    Repetitions 20,00%
    They are calculated automatically do to the way our payment system is set up.
    * 100% matches will only be paid when the PM asks the external reviser/agency in writing to check and/or modify them. In this case 100% matches will be paid at 25% of p. word rate.
    If you have any further queries, please do not hesitate in contacting me.
    Kind Regards,

    Vendor Manager”

    Once you allow an agency to determine how much they will pay you based on “matches”, your actual rate is largely symbolic.

    Many translation agencies, especially the large ones, are these days engaged in this fraud, and many translators let them get away with it.


    • Correct, that side of CAT tool use is undeniably demeaning to all concerned – it makes the translator feel as if they are scrabbling for pennies (which indeed they are). I feel it also demeans the agencies – I mean, what self-respecting person would split hairs (or percentages of word rates) to that degree. Nobody comes out well in that kind of relationship, ethically speaking.

      My point here is that there is another side to them (CAT tools), and it is possible to ‘use’ them for terminology work, glossary organization and, yes, actual translation work and not be ‘used’ by them.


  7. “My point here is that there is another side to them (CAT tools), and it is possible to ‘use’ them for terminology work, glossary organization and, yes, actual translation work and not be ‘used’ by them.”

    I agree with that.

    Although I am not using any CATs because I don’t find them useful for my type of work, especially since most of the time I translate PDF files, it is possible that I will start using them at some point.

    But I do think that CATs have done a lot of damage to translators and that, as Jim put it, they have been the biggest hoax perpetrated on the translators by the “translation industry”.


    • Woah, Steve, did you really just say “it is possible that I will start using them at some point”? 🙂 I must have imagined that, surely?

      Thanks for a very interesting post and discussion. It is my curse/gift to always see both sides of just about everything. Best, Jane


  8. Woah, Steve, did you really just say “it is possible that I will start using them at some point”?

    Yes, but only if you are willing to learn Japanese.

    Each of us should do something really radical.


  9. All of Jim’s points are valid and a serious concern. However, they are symptoms, rather than the disease. The disease is catastrophic imbalance of bargaining power between agencies and translators.

    Most of this imbalance is the result of an asymmetry of knowledge, where the agency has all the knowledge about a project/client/market, and the translator has only as much as he or she is being told by the agency, not all of which is necessarily the truth (our budget ….).

    Given symmetry of knowledge is a fundamental assumption of a ‘free market’ commercial relationship, it follows that the relationship between agencies and translators is far from the ‘free market’ relationship that is pretended by agencies who refer to us as vendors (it is not Pareto optimal or efficient – look it up :-).
    So much for the technical jargon.

    There is also the simpler and more damaging problem in the agency/translator relationship that we all recognise. The ‘bully factor’.
    As long as we continue to act as cowards and victims, we will continue to be bullied into accepting the imposition of unreasonable fees and terms by agencies.

    To start with, we habitually use the nomenclature imposed on us by the agencies (hire instead of engage, rates per word for fees, being paid instead of charging, vendors/contractors instead of professional translators, etc. ad infinitum if your read translator comments almost anywhere. Even in the article above and in the comments, I see references to how much/little we are being paid, rather than how much we charge. This has to stop.

    If you are interested in the details of my re4asoning, read of my blog on the subject at:


  10. “To start with, we habitually use the nomenclature imposed on us by the agencies (hire instead of engage, rates per word for fees, being paid instead of charging, vendors/contractors instead of professional translators, etc. ad infinitum if your read translator comments almost anywhere”

    Words are just words. The word “engage”, for example, is simply used much in this context in the English language, is it? Using different words may help to open the eyes of some people (for example I refuse to call agencies “LSPs”), but other than that, it is probably not going to do much.

    I am interested in your advice to charge by the project instead of by the word. Based on what unit? Or are you saying that service providers should not charge for services based on comparable units that are understandable to their clients, such as words or hours?


  11. […] Some of the comments that I receive on my blog from translators have more information in them than a dozen of posts written by yours truly. The comments below were originally submitted by Ji…  […]


  12. Steve, it’s not the CAT tools that damage the translators but rather the translators damaging themselves by adopting an employee mentality and accepting ridiculous business practices. I often hear that someone has been “forced” to use Tool X or to accept some ludicrous rate or discount scheme. That is all pure nonsense. There are plenty of translators who use these tools and accept no unreasonable practices of this sort. The real discussion should focus on whether these tools contribute to productivity or not and what technical/productivity advantages or risks are encountered in their use. Stupid business practices are a separate matter best left to coaches and therapists.

    As for PDFs, I don’t see how that is relevant to the issue of CAT tools. What do you suppose the source format of many patents I do is? Or many other documents for that matter. The fact that most translators are clueless about proper OCR for CAT tool usage and are further confused and lead to disaster by the endless repetition of bad advice for dealing with PDFs is once again a separate matter. And “PDF import” options in CAT tools are a destructive and time-wasting fraud best ignored for all but the simplest cases (which will never apply to patents). The body count for poverty cultists damaging themselves pursuing free or dirt cheap, no-thinking-required conversion options is high, but there are straightforward, sober options that can be helpful whether you use CAT tools or not. It’s just not worth talking about this publicly most of the time, because too much confusion ensues with a horde of zombies offering further solutions that cost nothing or very little and offer no usable results for the complex documents I deal with.


  13. “As for PDFs, I don’t see how that is relevant to the issue of CAT tools.”

    Only because you chose to remain blind, Kevin.

    Even if I wanted to use a CAT (which I don’t), the fact that I would have to first convert a PDF copy of for instance a Japanese Court Decision or a Utility Model renders the CAT automatically useless because there is simply no OCR software capable of converting the format of these documents correctly.

    Even documents written in Latin alphabet are very hard to convert unless they are perfectly legible, which they often are not.

    This conversion is such a waste of time that it is better and faster to simply not bother with it.

    But let me stress again, I have nothing against CATs per se. I just don’t understand people who have something against translators who prefer not to use them because they found them useless for their purposes.

    Don’t you think that if I thought that it would make sense for me to use them, I am probably smart enough to learn one of these wonderful tools?


    • I convert German PDFs all the time quickly and accurately. But for the last few years many filings are available as XMLs. But once again, I don’t see the problem. I spend a bit of time on conversions if necessary and charge for that. Then I translate with the CAT tool where I can avoid a lot of drudge work by applying automated QA procedures to checking my terminology and reference numbers. This has worked fine for me for 14 years, so once again, I fail to understand what the issue w/ PDF and a CAT tool is supposed to be. I just blindly charge the client for any extra hassles.


  14. “But once again, I don’t see the problem.”

    Why can’t you just admit that this is a problem, Kevin? It would make your overall argument seem more reasonable.

    Maybe it’s not a problem with the kind of files and languages that you handle, but trust me, it is a huge problem for me, and probably for most people as well.

    I could never bill my clients enough to compensate for the huge loss of time, even if I dared to do so.


  15. 1. What is “so-called” about them? And no, they are not a hoax (sic). People are under no obligation to accept T&Cs they don’t like. PDFs are an irritant to “most people”, not a problem. Like Kevin, I say how much extra will be charged for frigging about with a PDF, and 90% of the time, editable files appear as if by magic.

    2. After sales service? Built into the price charged?

    3. I agree, a royal pain in the arse. Refuse to use them. Others do.

    3. (sic) Yup, I have noticed a little more pressure on deadlines of late. If I can do it, I agree; if I can’t, I don’t. Same as anything else, really. I blame those fiends using speech recognition to translate the equivalent of War And Peace before breakfast and then harping on about it on social media 🙂

    4. A “trend” that has passed me by. I haven’t noticed any real change since I started.

    5. Earnings per hour (per day, really) are my yardstick. I couldn’t give a stuff if the client prefers to calculate it by source word, target word, or the number of vowels or capital Ys in the text. If your earnings take a 35% hit because the units used to calculate those earnings change, then revise your high school math(s) and charge accordingly.

    6. Schoolboy error, really, comparing B2C transactions with B2B practices. The person who dictates the terms is always the one with the most power in the relationship (read: freedom of choice to go elsewhere to do business). It is not determined by the role played in terms of buyer or seller.


  16. 1. “PDFs are an irritant to “most people”, not a problem. Like Kevin, I say how much extra will be charged for frigging about with a PDF, and 90% of the time, editable files appear as if by magic.”

    That’s because, just like Kevin, you convert languages that are based on Latin script as opposed for example to languages based on Chinese characters.

    I just finished translating a Japanese agreement. The original document was a PDF in a tiny font, but clearly legible. I tried to convert it twice to MS Word (this makes it easier to search for legal terms in context online), once with PDF converter and once with my Samsung printer’s converter. There were many mistakes in just about every sentence in both conversions because if even one stroke in a complicated character is misread by the software, the result will be erroneous.

    And this was a highly legible document, the only problem with it was a small font.

    PDF conversion is not just an irritant to me, it is a major problem.

    2. “Schoolboy error”?

    Wouldn’t you have to say that compared to somebody who has been translating for 47 years, you are the schoolboy, Charlie?

    Maybe you should try to listen more carefully to what old farts like us are saying to schoolboys like you.


    • Steve, my comments regarding PDF were actually intended with respect to your work with European languages. You have mentioned before that Japanese is quieter lately and you are doing more German to English like I do. With regard to the Asian languages, I wouldn’t presume to comment. I have dealt with them only on paper. So when I say I don’t see the problem, I am referring to German, Czech, etc.


      • Unfortunately, there is much less Japanese than just a few years ago, but I still translate more Japanese than any other languages.


  17. 1, The nub and crux there was the earlier assertion that it’s a problem for “most people”. You’ve explained it’s a problem for you. I see no reason not to accept it’s a problem for most people working out of Japanese – I believe what you say on that subject; I know nothing about it. I dispute that it is a problem for “most” translators in general, simply because of the relative volumes concerned.

    2. That would be a schoolboy error in the sense of an error typical of a schoolboy, not an error made by one. Perhaps it’s a bit of British vernacular. It’s commonly used in sporting contexts, to describe sub-optimal performance by grown men. Even the most experienced can make comments betraying a lack of analysis. 14-hours days can’t leave much time for thinking 🙂


  18. 1. I agree, it is not a problem for most people when you are “most people”.

    2. Thank you for the language lesson in British English.

    Much obliged.


  19. […] Some of the comments that I receive on my blog from translators contain more information in them than a dozen of posts written by yours truly. The comments below were originally submitted by…  […]


  20. […] Computer memory tools are the only element in this arsenal of mighty machine guns aimed at translators that some, or perhaps many, translators in fact find useful, unlike Mad Patent Translator. OK, I will admit, they probably are useful for certain kinds of translations, although they are useless for my purposes as I have written many times on this blog. But let’s look at what the insistence of some translation agencies on hefty discounts for “full matches”, “fuzzy matches” and other absurdities have done to the rates that so many translators are paid these days. I have to agree with another veteran translator who called CATs “the biggest hoax ever perpetrated on the translation industry”. […]


  21. […] Kevin S. Hendzel Workshop review: ‘The Translation Business Profession and its Future’ Comments of a Veteran Translator on Corporatization of Translation In the head of bilinguals and interpreters: neurolinguistic aspects Make Friends…Not Contacts: 10 […]


  22. […] are so enamored of these tools, I also agree with the opinion of a guest blogger who called them “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the translation community” on this […]


  23. […] guest post by James F. Shipp, who also published on this blog post titled Comments of a Veteran Translator on Corporatization of Translation in May of […]


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