Posted by: patenttranslator | June 6, 2014

A Short List of the Main Differences Between Translators and Nanolators


Modern translation industry, if we want to call it that, has created a brand new type of translator.

Compared to translators who work in the new environment created by the translation industry in the 21st century, independent translators who were practicing their profession only a decade or two ago were incredibly talented and gifted craftsmen and craftswomen whose talent and hard work was recognized and justly rewarded by their customers. In other words, compared to the breed of translators that is being cultivated by the translation industry in the 21st century, they were giants.

I already came up with several names on my blog for the new type of translator created by the translation industry, by which I mean the corporate type of translation agency. I called them subprime translators and zombie translators, and now I am calling them also nanolators.

The term nano, which means one billionth (10-9) of a meter, is now used in the word nanorobot for tiny little machines designed to perform repeatedly simple specific tasks. Although this technology is still at the research stage, nanorobots could be used for a wide range of applications as machines on a molecular scale that can build and repair tiny electrical circuits, or they could be used in medicine as tiny robots coursing with blood through your veins and dispensing medications inside your body to attack only specified cells in order to dissolve plaques and cure diseases such as diabetes or cancer.

A single nanorobot is unimportant and virtually worthless because there are so many of them, indistinguishable from each other. In fact, some prototypes of nanorobots can be taught to self-replicate and then destroy themselves if they become damaged. But thousands or millions of these tiny semi-intelligent machines would be very valuable if they could be trained to perform a task that needs to be done, such as how to attack and destroy kidney stones without damaging the surrounding healthy tissue.

Owners of such semi-intelligent nanorobots will be able to make a fortune.

As will owners of obedient nanolators in the so-called translation industry.

So what are the differences between a real translator and a nanolator? Hmmmm, let me see if I can create a handy checklist of seven characterizing features of nanolatized translators, or nanolators.

1. Obedient nanolators always sign every and any agreement as is.

No matter how long, incredibly unfair and demeaning a so-called “Non-Disclosure Agreement” (NDA) may be, nanolators understand and accept as an unavoidable reality that they are perceived as tiny, semi-intelligent workers by their owners. They would not dream of crossing out the most dangerous passages from such contracts, which are these days between 3 to 7 thousand words long, such as clauses that specify that nanolators simply don’t need to be paid for their work if their owners “are not fully satisfied with the translation”, or that they will have to pay the legal costs should an owner decide to sue a hapless nanolator. It would never dawn on them that they can prepare their own contract that would be more fair to both parties, or that they can even refuse to sign anything. This is something that only a translator capable of independent thinking could think of, not a nanolator.

2. Obedient nanolators are willing and eager to accept the place assigned to them in so-called “workflow systems”.

These are clever automated systems designed by the owners of nanolators to keep them in their place. This means among other things that instead of preparing their own invoices, nanolators log into (very convenient!) software that will process their humble requests for payment for their insignificant nanolating.

This obviously also means that unlike translators who prepare their own invoices with their own payment terms, nanolators must meekly accept any and all conditions imposed on them by their owners, such as when they are allowed to access the invoice receiving system. They must also spend long hours downloading and uploading files and read long instructions, which will differ depending on the preferences of a specific owner and on the task at hand, while this is something translators whose time is valuable don’t have to deal with. Nanolators know that their own time is virtually worthless and thus they have accepted this unavoidable reality.

3. Unlike translators, nanolators do not insist on setting their own rates.

Instead, they allow their owners, and nanolators have many owners, not just one, to throw a pitiful rate at a whole bunch of nanolators frantically trying to underbid each other on blind auction sites to land a job, basically any job at any rate. As multiple owners of multiple nanolators keep throwing lower and lower rate offers at crowds of nanolators congregating on multiple blind auction sites, the rates being offered, already very low, tend to keep drifting further in the downward direction, so that it is not impossible that nanolators will be soon expected to pay to their owners for the privilege of working instead of being paid for their work.

It is so much fun when the owners watch nanolators trying to underbid each other on these blind auction sites and then read their bitter complaints about the unfairness of it all on social media. Only female wrestling, a popular sport in which two scantily dressed females are cursing and fighting each other in a ring, preferably while slipping in mud and throwing mud at each other, comes close in entertainment value.

4. Nanolators are willing and eager to become semi-human post-processors of machine translations.

This is a relatively new technique in the so-called translation business, which is based on the concept that the detritus left after a series of clever algorithms is done “translating” a text in a foreign language, human nanobots can attack the diseased portions of the sentences and “clean them up” so that the final product would look like a real translation, just like nanobots in medical industry will one day soon be attacking cancerous cells, kidney stones, and plaque covering hardened arteries.

Based on this ingenious concept, nanolators are paid a small hourly fee for this “post-processing” work while they will be obviously required to “edit” quite a few thousands of words per hour if they want to earn anything at all.

5. Nanolators have no choice but to eagerly agree to discounts for word counts according to prescribed formulas of computer-aided translation tools.

Some translators use computer-aided translation tools (CATs) such as Trados, which is the most commonly used and by far the most hated CAT, because they find them useful, while some don’t use them because they find them useless for their particular type of translation.

However, all nanolators are required to use these tools, usually Trados, although some are ordered to use a tool designated by owners of nanolators because this will then make it possible for these owners to specify what percentage of agreed upon rate, if any, will be paid for what is known in the industry as “fuzzy matches” and “full matches”, i.e. similar or identical words or phrases used in the translation. Once a nanolator agrees to such an arrangement, the rate is filtered through several obligatory discounts imposed on the nanolator by the all-knowing CAT, which means that the original rate, low as it was, is now even lower and largely symbolic.

6. Nanolators are happy to wait 60 or 90 days to get paid.

While most workers, such as plumbers or car mechanics, are generally paid when the job is done, or on the first or fifteenth of the month if they are employees, and translators and other freelance workers are generally paid within a month, nanolators understand that they are so insignificant, easily replaceable and generally not really worthy even the paltry amounts that they are being paid after months of waiting for their translations that they will gladly wait for 2 or 3 months, sometime even longer, to get paid for their unimportant work.

7. Nanolators would never even dream of looking for their own direct clients.

Nanolators understand that the world is justly divided by divine law between owners of nanolators who have the power to dictate the terms of the deal, and little nanolators who have no power whatsoever.

That is why nanolators would not even dream of trying to find direct clients for themselves. While translators who are able to insist on their own terms, such as how much and when they will be paid, often work only for direct clients, or sometime for direct clients and for translation agencies if these agencies agree to their terms, nanolators are perfectly happy to take all of the abuse that their owners are perfectly happy to dish out in exchange for a little bit of work and a little bit of money, which is usually received after several months.

Nanolators know their place in the food chain and they know that any attempt to change the status quo would be futile. After all, they have been designed and trained by their owners in the translation industry to perform a few simple tasks and nothing else.

Just like nanobots are designed and trained by their owners in the medical industry to perform a few simple tasks and nothing else, nanolators are trained to concentrate all of their energy on simple translating tasks without worrying about who are the people who are in fact paying for these translations, and whether it might be possible to work for a direct client instead of a nanolator owner.

Even if a thought like that might cross their mind from time to time, it would be so much work of the kind that they are not designed and trained for to pursue such an unattainable goal that nanolators will instead happily put up with all of the abuse of their owners, until they are too exhausted and replaced by a new model of nanolators who will be even cheaper and work even harder under stricter and and more demanding rules designed for them by the owners of a new and improved nanolator model.


  1. As an MBA and recovered capitalist, I cannot deny my admiration for the rapid growth and commercial success of translation ‘industry’ entrepreneurs.

    Their swift and ruthless exploitation of thousands of naive translators and translation clients is quite breathtaking, even against the background of recent crapitalistic excesses by the Wall Street banking casino.

    Of course, their success has little or nothing to do with translating, any more than paracetamol sales in supermarkets has to do with the practice of medicine.

    Thanks for your brutal but succinct analogy, Steve.


  2. “Their swift and ruthless exploitation of thousands of naive translators and translation clients is quite breathtaking, even against the background of recent crapitalistic excesses by the Wall Street banking casino.”

    I see a connection there. Small parasites, such as big translation agencies, see how the big parasites, such as Wall Street Banks, are making out like the bandits that they are, so they start naturally imitating the Big Boys’ methods in order to squeeze out as much money out of everything and everybody, including translators.

    I think that we are heading toward an implosion somewhere down the line.

    But I would like to keep my silly blog focused on translation as much as possible.


  3. They are also exploiting their clients (ignorance).
    In today’s world (that I like to refer to as the middle ages of the digital era) where technology is believed by many to be both magic and alchemy, and in a wider social context serves as a new religion (or at least a cult), people just choose, trained to, or surrender to believe that all problems can be solved if only the right kind of technology will be applied.

    There is nothing furthest from the truth.
    Technology is just a tool, and today we have too many irresponsible humans running around wielding tools.

    When those outfits harness the perception about technology to solve the semi-artificial problem that they invented to justify their existence, they know perfectly well that both their clients and nanolators will be powerless to resist, at least the type of clients and nanolators they target.
    “Well, if you use a [insert a generic marketing blub here] technology, this can obviously only mean that I’m getting an efficient, cost-effective, and quality guaranteed solution for my problem”, thinks the clueless client (that at least uses this though process to convince themselves that they have a justification for buying low except for being greedy). “Well, if you use a technology, you clearly have an advantage over me, the mere mortal” responds the soon to be nanolator, “Any resistance is futile, and as such if you can’t beat them, join them”, continue the nanolators to barging against themselves.

    This is another difference between translators and nanolators. Translators are professional. They know and respect their work and its importance in the market, and even more so, chose to become one (although for various reasons). Nanolators, on the other hand, share the same contempt to the profession as those corporate agencies, and some clients, and probably became “translators” out of all the wrong reasons: as an income supplement, as a last resort, or for any other reason that makes them just as greedy (although with far less leverage, therefore the pittance they get). This also means that they are completely indifferent to their work and its consequences, and will cut all the corners that they only can to increase their productivity because for them volume drives money, and as such is the only goal. Quality, trust, ethics? Get serious, will you?


  4. “In today’s world (that I like to refer to as the middle ages of the digital era) where technology is believed by many to be both magic and alchemy, and in a wider social context serves as a new religion (or at least a cult), people just choose, are trained to, or surrender to believe that all problems can be solved if only the right kind of technology will be applied.”

    This is amazing.

    I hope you will write a guest post for my silly blog one day.


    • Planning to, and have an idea about a topic.
      Several things got me a little side tracked lately, but I will get to it at some not-so-distant-point


  5. I’ll believe it when I see it.:-)


  6. Steve,

    It seems like you are already a half-nanolator.

    I wonder how many other professions are out there where the veterens spit on young and less experienced workers as you three do.

    Does spitting on the less experienced make you feel better?


  7. @ Nate

    It looks like the new term nanolator is already catching on to great displeasure of nanolators and their owners.


    But we are not spitting on them, just asking them to look at themselves in the mirror.


  8. Steve, as usual your observations are spot on and entertaining into the bargain. One thing I have noticed is the absence in any of your blogs that talk about working for direct clients of any mention of inherent problems in getting paid by unknowns. Risky if you live in the same country, even more so if you don’t. With a direct client the translator has no recourse to “name & shame”, black lists, etc. on translator websites beforehand to verify payment practices and no leverage to obtain what is owing once a job is completed but payment is not forthcoming. Seems to me this is a central aspect.


  9. Steve,

    Can you name any other profession where the older, more experienced spit on the younger, less experienced? What other 60 year old profesionals get their jollies from calling the lesser experienced, zombies, nanos, etc?

    Could it be, old man, that the reason you are ranting about this every third post is because you have to compete with the unwashed in the 21st century?

    Just curious…


  10. @Nate

    The problem is, you are the one who is spitting because you can’t present a cogent counter-argument.


  11. @Elisabeth

    It is much more likely that a translator will be stiffed by an agency than by a direct client. It has happened to me about half a dozen times so far in 27 years, and each time it was an agency.

    When I am asked to do a job by a party that I know absolutely nothing about, I ask for an advance payment (from 30 to 50%, depending on how large the job is) before I start translating, and the rest before I deliver the translation.

    If the client is unwilling to do that, the chances are that there is something wrong with the client. Unlike translation agencies, most direct clients are used to having to pay a deposit for what they order, and the balance on delivery. That is also how other freelance professionals work, such as artists or web designers. If you don’t know anything about the client, you have to try to minimize the risk.

    Last week I had a client who lived in different country and who I knew nothing about.

    I asked for 700 dollars in advance and 700 on delivery for translating a long patent for him.

    And that is how he paid me, he was very happy with the translation and told me in his e-mail that he was looking forward to working with me again.

    If the new client is for example a law firm, or a patent department of a major company, I just bill them with my usual payment terms of 30 days.

    Sometime they pay late, but unlike translation agencies, they never stiffed me so far.

    So anyway, this is how I do it.


  12. Steve,

    I guess you can’t or won’t answer my question: In which other profession do many experienced heap scorn on the lesser experienced?

    It is a myth that there is a great divide between translators who charge higher amounts and those who charge lower amounts. I know J>E patent translators who charge different amounts. For example, one charges 15 cents per word while the other charges 10 to 12 cents per word and a third charges 20 cents per word. All three have had nonstop work for many years while you said a while back that your J>E side dried up to the point where you were relying on G>E patent work. Are you therefore a J>E nanolator? Are those charging 10 and 15 yen nanolators because they apparently charge less than you but not the 6 or 7 yen rate?

    Do you really think only lower end translators are signing the long NADs? Do you really think higher end translators are always setting their own rates? Do you really think higher end translators have many direct clients?

    Shai Nave’s comments are as funny as yours: the lower end translators want income and/or are greedy for wanting to work while presumably he translates for the nobleness of the job.


  13. @Nate

    Finally, a pretty good attempt at a counter-argument. A nice change after all this “spitting”.

    But I can’t answer your question because I don’t accept the premise of your question. I don’t heap scorn on the “lesser experienced”. On the contrary, I try to show the new pitfalls in our noble profession, courtesy of the modern type of predatory translation agencies, to the less experienced translators so that they could avoid them.

    I only heap scorn on slaves because they need to finally wake up and face reality.

    And don’t be so envious of higher rates – you can get them too if you can find direct customers.

    Good luck.


  14. Who is Nate?
    His detailed knowledge of the rates charged by various specialist translators has me confused.
    Come on Nate, identify yourself so that we may give your comments the consideration they possibly deserve.


  15. I think that he is an old, anonymous troll living in Japan who used to try to convince me that MT is sooo goood already that all human translators will be turned into MT post-processors any time now. This was about 4 years ago.

    He used to call himself Jeb and now he is Nate.

    He used to get an incredible amount of pleasure from the concept of a future in which there are no human translators left, only post-processors, who would presumably be working for people like him.

    So now he is bravely defending the honor of nanolators.

    Every now and then I have troll here who is defending the honor of somebody that I mention in a disparaging manner. These anonymous trolls always try to put in my mouth things that I did not say, such as “you called her stupid”, because that is how they fight their silly battles. They can be fun sometime, but playing along is mostly a waste of time. I prefer to talk to decent and honest people who have something to say to me.

    I was going to let him know that I recognized his transparently obnoxious style combined with his trademark grammatical mistakes in English (although he must be a native English speaker) in my next response to him. It would have been fun, but you kind of spoiled it for me, Louis.

    But don’t worry about it, it’s OK. It is basically a waste of time trying to talk to people like that. He is not exactly a great thinker, probably a nanolator owner, or an aspiring nanolator owner.

    I will not talk to him anymore, but you go ahead if you want to waste your time in this manner.

    (He will probably deny that Nate used to be Jeb since obviously I cannot prove it).


  16. The ball’s in his/her court.
    I don’t like wasting my time corresponding with anonymous contributors (anonynanolators?)


  17. I’m not anonymous. Jeb is my older twin brother by just under two minutes.

    Steve doesn’t want to talk to me, which is his prerogative. Louisvr thinks I’m, wasting his time.

    OK, Steve thinks I’m not a great thinker, which is probably true. My degrees are only in mathematics, physics and a PhD in economics. No philosophy “great thinker” here. I admit that.

    I am positive that after living in Japan 15 years, I run circles around Steve’s written and spoken Japanese.
    He is a nanolator , who doesn’t want to admit it.

    But none of you have answered my questions.


  18. This is a such a great article that I’d like to ask for your permission to translate it into Spanish and share it with all our Spanish speaking colleagues in my personal blog.


  19. Hi Daltry:

    You have my permission. Please send me a link to the translation.


  20. […] considered easily replaceable, cheap hired help (Kevin Lossner calls them HAMPSTeRs, I call them nanolators, among other choice titles), not as highly educated and highly valued professionals who must be […]


  21. I am sorry, I haven’t taken time to read through all the comments, so there might be someone already having said this already.

    I think, you try to help people, who are not able to help themselves.

    I don’t see though, why this comes so disrespectful with so much hate against translators, who have no business or marketing skills to understand, how to work under better conditions?

    Translating and running a business are two different things.

    In my opinion, this is one reason, why agencies were born.

    Your points are valid but only by stating them you haven’t done a thing, just spitted on people. Is that, what you wanted?

    Just to mention one point, you discuss: do you have any idea, how hard it is in Italy to find anyone – direct client, agency – who pays in time at all (even if in time means 120 days after the end of the month, in which you delivered the job.). Don’t tell me: stop working for them, because turning your back is not a solution, I think. And please don’t come with the ridiculous EU regulation, which I should pay the clients attention to, which maximized the payment terms in 30 days. I found no solution for this problem. I send my request of 30 days, argue with the agency/client, if they say 60-90-120, I tell them my points, and even if they say they will try their best, I know from the beginning that I won’t be paid earlier.

    I am in the process of becoming someone, who you wouldn’t call nanolator, but it took me time and some good, valuable advise from valuable people: I started going to conferences, became member in important organizations, and first of all participated on marketing and business schools.

    Translators, who you talk about certainly won’t ruin YOUR business, but only by calling them by names – nanolators – your article doesn’t seem complete to me. Premise: if you wanted to help with it.


  22. @Kishajnalka

    When somebody calls me disrespectful, it usually means that what I am saying in my post hit a nerve.

    In other words, it usually means that what I am saying is true.


  23. […] ***they habitually overwork their highly skilled employees, pay poverty wages on a “perma-lancing… […]


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