Posted by: patenttranslator | June 28, 2014

Why Do Certain People Keep Telling Translators That They Must Increase Their Productivity?

 

Translators are often exposed to messages, sometime clearly stated, sometime subliminal, “to increase their productivity” by using various nifty “translation technology tools”. We are told that if for example we start using voice recognition software (such as Dragon Naturally Speaking), or start post-editing chunks of text that were “translated” by software, or using this or that CAT (computer-assisted translation tool), we will become much more efficient and make more money because we will double or triple our translating speed.

Is this really true? Well, the bit about using post-editing of machine translation to increase your translating speed is obviously nonsense. As I wrote about it in my last post and many other posts, I am not going to waste more time on this subject in this post.

Although I myself never tried voice recognition software, several translators who are using it have only or mostly positive things to say about it. But the interesting thing is, most of them only started using it when they had no other choice when frequent and repetitive typing resulted in carpal tunnel syndrome.

As most readers of my blog know, I am not a proponent of CATs and I will probably never start using these tools either. Although I do think that they must be suitable for some types of translations because many (but by no means all) translators 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 blog.

Translators who refuse to adopt the latest slew of “translation technology tools” are often ridiculed as silly technology haters. Is that really what those of us who are not exactly early adopters of latest technical “aids” are, just because we believe in old-fashioned translating methods that are based on specialization and constant learning about the subjects that we are translating, a methodology that has been used successfully since the times of St. Jerome about 1,500 years ago, instead of believing that the miracle of technology will miraculously double or triple our translating speed?

Consider the Source

The first thing that I would like to say in response to such characterizations of translators who refuse to jump on the bandwagon would be: Always consider the source! Who are the people who call us technology haters because we are not buying this or that nifty tool that would be so great for every translator? Who do they represent and why are they saying what they are saying?

They generally represent the corporate wing of what for lack of a better name is called “the translation industry”. This is the same translation industry that first sold translators on the notion that they will be able to easily translate ten thousand words a day, instead of only two or three thousand, if they start using Trados. And once enough translators fell into the trap, the same “translation industry” introduced new handy notions called “full matches” and “fuzzy matches” which are widely used in order to extract huge discounts from translators when the same or similar words are repeated in the text.

Most of these translation technology evangelists, if you will (although I think that translation technology propagandists would be a more appropriate title), are not really translators and many of them have only a rudimentary understanding of what translation is really about. Most of them run translation agencies, or they sell tools or services to the translation industry, including expert analyses of present and future business trends, a highly profitable science that has been practiced in ancient Rome by people called “haruspeces” who  were able to divine future from entrails of sacrificially slaughtered animals. (I think it was Cicero who famously said that he could not understand why a haruspex does not laugh when he sees another haruspex).

While it is in the interest of the “translation industry” to make translators work faster, it is not in the interest of the same industry to help them to make more money because the more money a translator makes, the less is left over for the brokers.

And although they like to call themselves “Language Services Providers (LSPs), the translation industry is an industry of middlemen and brokers. That is the real reason why they came up with the acronym LSP in the hope that it would over time replace the more honest term “translation agency”.

Different Translators Work Differently

What works for one person very well may not work at all for somebody else. We are all different people, with different strengths and weaknesses and different inclinations. Some of us translate only from one language and mostly in a relatively narrow field, some of us translate from several languages and in a number of fields. Some people work best in the morning, and some can pull an all-nighter when necessary.

How we work and what tools we use is really nobody’s business. People who try to tell a translator what CAT must be used are not really interested in the particular expertise and skills of that translator, they are just looking for an obedient worker bee.

I don’t tell the plumber what kind of wrench he should use to fix my leaking kitchen sink, and he would probably get really mad at me if I did. I just want him to fix it at a reasonable price. The result is what counts, I leave the choice of the tools up to the professionals.

Some people work very fast and some are not that fast. But just like it is a bad idea to demand that a certain set of tools should be used by every translator, it is also a bad idea to expect the same standardized method with a standardized output, measured in words, will be best for every translator.

Instead of Trying to Increase Your Speed with a New Tool, Try to Increase Your Rate

I know, something like that is easier said than done. But it can be done. It can be done because the translation market is so incredibly fragmented. While it is very difficult to ask for more money for the same work from the same customer, it may work with another customer, especially when a new customer is an end client rather than an agency.

It is also a fact that different translation agencies pay very different rates. Those that try to dictate to translators exactly how they should do their work, including what kind of tools they should be using, generally pay the lowest rates because they don’t see translators as professionals who deserve to be paid accordingly, but mostly as easily replaceable help that should be naturally as cheap as possible.

It makes sense to work instead for those who are much more interested in our education, experience and expertise rather than in what kind of technical tool we are using because people like that generally also pay much better rates.

Don’t tell me what tools I should be using. What tools I am or I am not using as a translator is nobody’s business.

The second part of the clearly stated or subliminal messages telling us that we should double our translating speed with this or that tool, which is never included in these messages, not even subliminally, is that if we in fact do double our speed, the people who are trying to sell us on this or that tool will insist on paying us half as much for our work as they used to and on keeping the profit from the increase in our productivity for themselves.

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Responses

  1. Possibly the finest post I’ve read, so far, on this already superb blog. I know that the “LSPs” are winning the battle to degrade quality (and professional fees) in our industry when translators whom I know to be scholars and top professionals start buying in to CAT. For the life of me, I’ve never encountered a single project in which use of translation memories, in particular, would enhance the quality, or even the production speed, of the endeavor. And yes, it hurts to be called a Luddite, as a result, when my avoidance of CAT is a conscious decision based solely on my inability to fathom how quality cannot be degraded through CAT. I will repost this blog post far and wide.

    Like

  2. @Lucille

    Thank you so much for helping to spread the Gospel of mad patent translator!

    Like

  3. Hello, great article!
    Did you accidentally add the word “not” in the following sentence or did I miss the point?

    ” And once enough translators fell into the trap, the same “translation industry” introduced new handy notions called “full matches” and “fuzzy matches” which are widely used not in order to extract huge discounts from translators when the same or similar words are repeated in the text.”

    Like

  4. @Tanya

    Thanks for commenting and noticing the typo.

    Like

  5. “I don’t tell the plumber what kind of wrench he should use…………”

    Yep, a clear case of the tail wagging the dog.
    For once, tail docking would be appropriate 🙂

    Thanks for a great article, Steve.

    Like

  6. This is an excellent article and I agree with every single word in it. I also don’t see how can a CAT tool make translation of a highly-specialized text more efficient. The best it can do is find the things that have already been translated.

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  7. “The best it can do is find the things that have already been translated.”

    So can Google Desktop and my dog Lucy when she’s in a good mood.

    Like

    • Oh my, only just read your reply, thank you very much, that certainly encourages me to get a dog and an assistant in one:-). On a more serious note, when I get requests for very urgent translations nobody asks me what kind of CAT/dog tools do I use :-).

      Like

  8. Here is an example of just one of the uses of a CAT: CLIENTS: 3 different international law firms. DOCUMENTS: rebuttals to financial police regarding alleged transfer pricing irregularities. The three firms prefer different terminology for the same term in the source language, and different partners within a firm have personal preferences as well. Translator creates translation memories and glossaries for each firm and each individual partner, in the CAT of choice. Years go by, there are briefs, rebuttals, appeals, etc. for ongoing court cases and so on. The CAT’s TMs / glossaries help manage the terminology and keep it consistent in each single document and for each firm. Definitely worth the cost and learning curve time.

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  9. @Elisabeth:

    I am not saying that CATs are useless for all purposes, or to you specifically.

    I am just saying that:

    1. they are now being misused, criminally misused, in my opinion, because what the agencies are now doing with the concept of “full matches” and “fuzzy matches” is basically fraud, by the “translation industry”, and

    2. they are useless to many translators, such as those who commented on this post, and myself.

    I too work for lawyers and the lawyers that I work for want to know how I would translate certain complicated terms rather than what some tool tells me to use.

    The would not presume to tell me what tools I should use for my translations, only translation agencies do that.

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  10. I think CAT tools may be useful in some type of work but aren’t being useful because they’re being misused – out of ignorance (on the translators side, myself included, but also on the clients side) and out of greed (on the clients side).

    I know very good and truly professional translators who use CAT tools and are quite happy with it. I don’t know CAT tools well enough to have an opinion based on my own experience. But I trust the opinion of those translators. So I believe CAT tools are probably a good thing being used in a terribly wrong way for terribly wrong reasons.

    Many years ago, in a conference about translation, I heard a Jesuit priest who translated mostly from Latin and (old) Greek saying he did all is work handwritten and using a pencil. I found that simply marvellous – and I’m not being ironic.

    For me it’s a story that shows that different translators and different types of translations will always require different tools. Sometimes a mere pencil 🙂

    Thanks, Steve, for another great post. Also, your choice of videos seems to be more and more ‘in tune’ with what you write.

    Like

  11. “Thanks, Steve, for another great post. Also, your choice of videos seems to be more and more ‘in tune’ with what you write.”

    Thanks for your comment, Graça.

    I would like to say that the videos that I use are always in tune with what I write, although sometime probably only in my head.

    They are meant to evoke different reactions in different people, just like poetry, or paintings, or photographs, sometime even negative reactions, but the way I see it, that’s the beauty of it.

    Like

  12. Different things evoke different things for different people (now here’s a sentence any good translator would be proud of). Or maybe I’m just paying more attention lately.

    In any case, thank you.

    Like

  13. Ever notice that if agencies want the translator to use CAT, they are greedy but if a translator asks for higher rates then they are not? Have any of you ever heard of supply, demand and equilibrium?

    Like

  14. […] Translators are often exposed to messages, sometime clearly stated, sometime subliminal, “to increase their productivity” by using various nifty "translation technology tools". We are told t…  […]

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