Posted by: patenttranslator | July 10, 2014

The Tumult and Turmoil in the Translation Industry


The “translation industry” (hereinafter “the Industry”) has been in tumult and turmoil for more than a decade now. When one compares the situation today to what was “normal and expected” 20 or 25 years ago, the difference is breathtaking.

Breathtaking, sad, and discouraging.

Translators are definitely living in interesting times, as per a purported Chinese curse (“May you live in interesting times”), which is in fact an English proverb rather than an evil curse from the Orient since according to Wikipedia, the closest Chinese saying would be:”宁为太平犬,莫作乱离人” (níng wéi tàipíng quǎn, mò zuòluàn lí rén) which means “better to live as a dog in an era of peace than a man in times of trouble.”

Nobody is really talking about what is happening in the Industry, at least not officially, if you discount a few mad bloggers such as myself and heated discussions on discussion groups of translators. And translators are reaping the harvest of a decade of official silence and indifference. As one commenter on my blog (Shai) put it, ” …. many professional translation practitioners are now paying the cost of a decade of silence and indifference as a result of the activity of many charlatans/opportunists who established a narrative that many buyers were exposed to.”

If you read the ATA (American Translators Association) Chronicle, nothing untoward is happening in the Industry. In a typical ATA article, translators will receive for example copious advice from a translation agency operator on how to prepare a perfect invoice that meets with her approval, or on how to “better integrate” machine translation (MT) and computer assisted tools (CATs) into our daily work. The rest of the magazine is filled with advertisements from the NSA and companies selling indispensable tools such as Trados.

Oh, and we are often also told, in the ATA Chronicle, but also on blogs of translators, that “customers have come to expect discounts for fuzzy matches”.

Which is a lie. I have been working mostly for direct clients since the early nineties and not once was I asked by a customer for a discount based on advanced level mathematics courtesy of a CAT. Some customers may in fact do that, but most only know about four-legged CATs called Blackie, Fluffy, and Tiger. But translators definitely are asked all the time for discounts based on a weird concept of what is known in the Industry as “fuzzy matches” and “full matches”. As another commenter (Peter) on my blog put it, “so-called CAT tools are the biggest hoax ever perpetrated on the translation community.”

Although you could also say that wage theft is not such an outlandish  concept, depending on your perspective. It has certainly been practiced for centuries and it is now more popular then ever.

What has been happening in the industry for at least the last decade is a concentrated effort to harness and leverage technology and combine it with modern business management methods to maximize the profits of translation agencies at the expense of translators.

While a decade or two ago, most translation agencies were trying to identify highly educated and experienced translators and keep them busy working on their team by paying them handsome rates because the good reputation and loyalty of  the customers of the agency depended on the skills of its translators, the new management method sees translators more as easily replaceable, low skill workers, comparable to burger flippers at McDonalds who are invariably paid minimum wage.

The hunt is on for the cheapest translator who can in theory do the work of an experienced and highly qualified translator, but for a fraction of what such a translator would be charging. This is again a sincere and flattering imitation of the corporate business model.

Large corporations found out a long time ago that the cheapest workers can be found in third world countries. That is why they first moved their factories back in the eighties and nineties to Mexico, then more recently from Mexico to China, and now, as the Chinese giant is rising and demanding better pay, they are looking for a new territory where labor is plentiful and where it could be even cheaper.

Where will they go next? Vietnam and the People’s Republic of North Korea look good at this point.

Translation agencies, large and small, but especially large, are thus imitating the corporate model that is based on squeezing as much work for as little money as possible from workers who in this case are sometime called translators.

I used the word “sometime” because one of the new promising technologies is “crowd sourcing”, also called “clown sourcing” by translators, an innovative technique and technology that renders translators completely unnecessary. Why use expensive translators who have completely unnecessarily studied for years or decades languages and various complicated subjects such as chemistry, medicine or law when you can instead send in the clowns who are much cheaper?

Based on the concept of “crowdsourced translation”, anybody who has some knowledge of a second language can be a translator, and translating can be done easily even by a dude sitting on his throne in the bathroom, pecking away on his cell phone. People like that would deliver even higher profits than the cheapest translators anywhere in the world since they could be probably talked into working for free.

Or if not for free, than at least as cheaply as possible. Here is how one commenter (Shai again) describes the business structure in the brave new world of modern translation agencies:

“Contrary to common belief, not all agencies are working with end clients; there are a lot of hand-downs and some agencies mainly serve bigger agencies. Those at the top funnel the work in, pass it down to a regional agency, who in turn pass it down to a local/”single-language” agency, who might even pass it down to another agency before it reaches the “translator” who will actually to the translation part of the work.

These are the broker types of agencies who have taken over large parts of the low bulk market. in the last decade or so. While anyone can easily declare themselves to be a translator, it is even easier to declare oneself an “agency”. At least when one is calling oneself a translator, one should be able to produce something that looks like a translation (and I’m not even talking about pure frauds who don’t know any second language and just use Google Translate for that), whereas to become an agency, one doesn’t need anything more than a cheap laptop. One can then use free services, or setup a cheap website and the agency is good to go. This gave rise to the bedroom/dorm room/kitchen table brokers who use the Internet and bidding platforms to directly compete with the independent translators for work coming through agencies (while exploiting the fact that so many translators prefer to hide).

The result of this inefficient structure is that even if the end client has paid $0.30, $0.40, and even $0.50 per word, after the chain of brokers has taken their cut, the client gets a $0.05 worth of core service. The rest goes to fund the brokers’ overhead and bonuses, apartments with a view, and business litigation.

When working with an intermediate, it is not about how much one is willing to pay and the quality of service one seeks, ultimately it is all about how much the intermediates pay and what quality of service they are structured to offer.”

The logical result of this tumult and turmoil is a constant pressure on rates that many translation agencies are willing to pay to translators, especially agencies following to corporate business model, which would probably include all large translation agencies.
The market segment that I was just describing in my post is also referred to by some translators as the bulk translation market. This is where most beginning translators start, and some will stay there forever.

But there is also a premium translation market, which is where translators and translation agencies who want to survive these tumultuous times, translators and translation agencies who strive to offer quality that is based on education, experience, expertise and dedication to the best possible level of service, need to be.

It does not take a genius to see that economic survival in the bulk translation market will be increasingly more and more difficult, if not impossible. And if that is where you still are, you too may soon be roadkill.


  1. Another masterpiece on the true state of affairs in our industry. Must run now, to distribute this WIDELY….


  2. Thank you.


  3. Steve,

    Keep in mind that you repeatedly laughed at me for insisting that the current situation was coming soon. If MT didn’t exist at its current level, this would not be happening. No “decade of silence or indifference” from me.

    CAT translating/editing for 5 to 7 cents a word is not going away. This is the new business model if you can’t find direct clients.

    7 cents a word isn’t good at all, but it would still be around $50,000 a year, which is the average salary in the U.S.


  4. Best kick that nasty habit of reading the Chronicle — it’s apt to give a body dyspepsia, ague, and all sorts of distress, including an awful pain where the good Lord split ‘ya.

    BTW, I have only been asked to give a discount for “matches” by an agency once in quite a few years, and even then I didn’t make out too badly on the invoice. I guess I’m just lucky.


  5. @Zenner

    You mean you don’t find those ATA articles about how to prepare invoices (or how to walk by putting one foot in front of the other foot) extremely helpful?


  6. Oh, how I wish that it was only silence and indifference that caused these problems, Steve/Shai. I’m all for being gentle, kind and considerate, but it’s difficult to escape the sense that many highly intelligent, well-educated colleagues fail to understand or deliberately ignore the part they are playing in allowing the ‘industry’ to dominate and destroy the ‘profession’, simply by agreeing to work for them as free-lancers. They are joining ‘their teams’ as casual employees, available at a moment’s notice when needed, and willing to work for competitive piecework rates (read sweatshop rates) at whatever terms offered.
    I understand that my fellow MBAs in the US who subscribe to Milton Friedman’s view of economics, describe this as a ‘flexible’ and ‘competitive’ workforce 🙂

    I usually respond to an invitation to fill in an application form for the ‘privilege’ of joining ‘their team’ with a standard reply:

    Dear Xxxxx,

    Thank you for your invitation.

    Your e-mail indicates that I may be eligible to work for you, and I regret that I must disappoint you in this regard. I already have regular employment as an independent, professional translator in my own private practice.

    If, on the other hand, you and your clients wish to use my services as a professional translator of Dutch or Flemish into English, I will be happy to receive and consider your enquiries. My professional details are readily available on the internet, at,,, and other forums.

    My fees and charges, like yours, depend on the nature of the services you ask me to provide, as well as a number of other factors that affect my costs, such as the nature of the material, urgency, exchange rates, etc.

    When requesting my professional services, please provide the documents that need to be translated, together with a clear outline of your client’s instructions and expectations.

    Once analysed, and provided I am available and competent in the area of expertise required, I will be happy to provide a firm quotation of my fee and terms of service.

    With kind regards

    This is obviously not a useful marketing strategy for securing agency work :-).
    However, if more (all) of our ‘professional’ colleagues take a similar stand, things will change fast and dramatically.
    Contrary to what most translators seem to believe (by simply accepting what their are told by intermediaries, who have an obvious interest in making them believe this, and the way the market has been rigged through ProZ et al), independent research among translation agencies consistently shows a “shortage of qualified language specialists”
    (for example:

    Your reference to ATA articles painfully reminded me that our institute recently decided to invite ‘corporate members’ to join the institute (“we are all part of the same industry and should work together” – and we need the money)!
    I faced considerable difficulties when trying to convince ‘the management’ that this is inconsistent with what a ‘professional institute’ is all about (after all, a professional, by definition, is always a person, except in the US perhaps, where corporations appear to be persons/people as well :-).

    I also pointed out that it is obviously contrary to the commercial, professional and strategic interests of the professional members of the institute, and by extension their clients, in the long term.


    • LouisVR: Your standard response to agency solicitations should be canonized as a declaration of the freelancer’s human dignity. Did you know that IAPTI (International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters) categorically refuses membership to agencies, and derives all its operating funds from fees collected only from individual translators? IAPTI is also on the leading edge of measuring the effects of agency price dumping on the industry. . .I joined IAPTI last year after giving up entirely on ATA ever joining the 21st Century. . .By way of example: I was part of an official ATA mentoring program for a while, and the only concrete advice I ever received from my mentor was to hang out constantly on, and beg for work from agencies posting, there, at the usual price-dumped agency rates (which, in my language pair (Arabic/English) never exceeded about U.S. $0.08/word, and usually fell far, far below that).


    • I like your reply, Louis.

      There are many reasons for why translators work with the “industry”. Not all translators are equal. But one big reason is indifference and passiveness which create an information gap.

      It is the power of suggestion and perception. Many “agencies” in the industry are just opportunistic bunch who have nothing to with translation. However, they think that if they are a self-declared overnight agency – they deserve their cut for “getting the client” (a bigger agency) and if they get low rates, then this is what it is, and translators must align.

      Translators hold much of the same idea. If someone calling themselves an agency contacts them and offers them low rate, many automatically think that if this low rate is what the almighty agency offers, then this is probably what the market forces dictate and they must adapt. They fail to understand the market structure as well as other things. Lack of knowledge or acquiring the wrong kind of knowledge (i.e. propaganda) is at the base of the industry.

      Then there are the frauds, scammers, and clients who couldn’t care less about their content – but I’m not referring to them.


  7. “Your reference to ATA articles painfully reminded me that our institute recently decided to invite ‘corporate members’ to join the institute (“we are all part of the same industry and should work together” – and we need the money)!”

    Sounds like it may be time to dump your institute and join an organization that represents translators instead … if there is one.

    Perhaps IAPTI might qualify.


    • @ Steve “if there is one”.
      IAPTI certainly seems better than the average, however, I get the impression that they represent anyone who has ‘worked’ as an interpreter or translator for 4 years. Strategically speaking, this may set the lowest common denominator at an unacceptable level, and does not project the right message (of strict setting and monitoring of professional standards) to potential clients.
      I will be happy to be convinced otherwise.


      • “IAPTI certainly seems better than the average, however, I get the impression that they represent anyone who has ‘worked’ as an interpreter or translator for 4 years. Strategically speaking, this may set the lowest common denominator at an unacceptable level, and does not project the right message (of strict setting and monitoring of professional standards) to potential clients.”

        If you want to be a member of the American Translators Association in good standing, all you need to do is pay them a yearly membership fee which is about 200 dollars now.

        I wonder whether my dog Lucy could be an ATA member too if I paid 200 dollars on her behalf. She is actually kind of trilingual. When I tell her “Casey-chan no o-mocha wa doko deska? (Where is Casey’s toy?), she always goes and brings the red rubber toy to prove to us that she knows Japanese.


  8. “So-called CAT tools are the biggest hoax ever perpetrated on the translation community?” Really? Don’t use them if you don’t like them, but this statement is ludicrous. I find them to be quite useful for technical translation. They have improved my productivity and even quality. I don’t like the discounts either but I’m more interested in my revenue per billable hour. My target is 100 dollars/hour and sometimes I reach it, sometimes I don’t. This rate is hardly comparable to burger flipping.


  9. @Tapani

    Just so you know, I reach a better rate, probably because I am not forced to use your beloved CAT.


  10. @Steve

    Good for you, whatever works for you. I am happy with my tools. I just find terms like “hoax” unhelpful in this discussion.


    • “I just find terms like “hoax” unhelpful in this discussion.”

      I find calling a spade a spade very helpful.


  11. It was not my term. A translator who has been translating professionally since the seventies used the word hoax.

    But I’m afraid I have to agree with him.

    Although you may be one of the lucky ones who make more thanks to your tool, the said truth is that the overall result of CATs was that agencies used them to lower the rates that they now pay to translators, even to those who do not use these tools.

    It that sense, it certainly is a hoax.


    • I get so tired of the Pollyannas who so regularly brag about how much they are earning, using one tool or another, or applying one special talent or another, to the end of establishing fabulously lucrative translation practices. This kind of cheerleading is quite typical from the halls of ATA, and it has also graced the posts at numerous social media sites at which successful translators purport to give great advice to “newbies.”

      For a community of linguists, we seem to be unusually ignorant of the OBVIOUS fact that not all language pairs command the same demand and the same prices, and that WHERE one lives, coupled with the languages one uses, are almost 100% determinative of whether a freelancer will ever be able to command a living wage. Patenttranslator has written about this here and in prior posts, but the cheerleaders persist.

      When I recently asked colleagues at a translators’ Facebook site to be more careful when promising new translators lucrative careers if only the newbies will maintain nice websites and write polite notes to clients, I was blasted. When I called this kind of groundless, across-the-board cheerleading a form of unethical false advertisement that paid no attention to the realities on the ground for MOST new translators (especially those working in the U.S. in the languages of developing countries), I was all but kicked off the site (and opted to leave on my own).

      I’m all for mutual encouragement, but when bragging about ISOLATED cases of success turns into advice for the masses, I believe that an ethical boundary has been crossed. For those who cannot help themselves, and who need, for their own self-gratification, to tell others that if they are simply good enough and work hard enough, they’ll succeed as freelance translators, the time has come to do a little FACT-CHECKING.


  12. @ Lucille You’re too kind 🙂
    After a long and careful study of what unbiased facts are available (which is not much), I have come to the view that many of our problems stem from the way translators represent themselves.
    Oddly enough for our profession, it is the terminology we use; chief amongst them ‘free-lancer’ and ‘rates per word’. The former depicts us as ‘self-employed and HIRED to work for different companies on particular assignments’, the latter as being paid ‘piecework rates’ like sweatshop workers.
    I’ve talked about this in more detail on my blog:


  13. @Lucille: I don”t mean to brag to anyone. My current rates reflect subject matter expertise, a rare language pair, and 11 years of hard work as a translator (plus 15 years as a bench scientist). Naturally a newcomer cannot make as much.

    @Steve: I used to do patent translations too, before they changed the EU patent law (London Agreement). They were very lucrative and I miss them. But many of my current projects would simply not be available if I didn’t use CAT tools – for example: projects including large InDesign files. These often are technical manuals that can be hundreds of pages long.

    @Louis: your link doesn’t seem to work, it asks for username and password.


  14. @ Tapani: sorry, wrong URL:
    Can you please identify yourself?


  15. @Louis: thank you, this link works.

    My full name is Tapani Ronni. You didn’t give your full name here either, it is apparently Louis Vorstermans based on your website. Pleased to e-meet you.

    As for your article, I agree that translation is highly skilled profession. I have no problem, however, calling what I sell as services, albeit highly skilled ones. Lawyers sell legal services, as far as I can see. They can just charge much more. There are many reasons, one of which being that they form guilds and restrict entry into their profession.


    • Lawyers don’t sell legal services, Tapani, they ‘practise law’. Hence the word legal practice. They do not refer to themselves as free-lancers, small business operators or vendors (of legal services); they do not charge a piecework rate (per word/page), but as professionals, they charge a fee based on time spent (in their opinion rather than yours) and the complexity of the work involved.


  16. I know Japanese to English patent translators who are getting between 15 and 20 cents a word and there work is non stop. No down time since they started around 1998 – 2002 except for the 3 week vacations they take. They work for direct clients, so why can’t other J>E translators?

    Agency rates will not increase, and I think will settle at around 4 to 5 yen per word. Translators won’t be able to form guilds as doctors and lawyers can in part because of technology and in part because they have powerful lobbies that translators could never form.

    Yet because of technology, lawyers and doctors are also in trouble. Many law jobs have disappeared due to Google type search programs. High paid specialists like radiologists will also face the power of Watson and will likely have to compete with Indian radiologists within a few years. I know a radiologist who laughed at this in 2007 but today is not happy at all.

    The internet and much more powerful computers will level almost all playing fields in the 2020s.

    The good news is that J>E translators will still get high paying work as interpreters. I already know to Westerners who have switched from translation to interpreting and consulting.


  17. @ Tapani – How many lawyers do you know who refer to themselves as ‘freelance lawyers/legal service providers’? How many charge a rate per word and give you a discount for any contract clauses they have used before?
    How many would take their instructions from an agency (illegal in most countries)?
    It takes knowledge of the profession, experience, and courage to do well as a self-employed professional.
    The first and the last seem to be missing among many of our colleagues, and experience appears to be repetitive and in a very narrow band (like my golf; a lot of practice at doing it incorrectly :-).
    What’s missing in our profession, is a mentoring stage for aspiring (and well-qualified) language professionals by experienced and successful colleagues.


  18. […] The "translation industry" (hereinafter "the Industry") has been in tumult and turmoil for more than a decade now. When one compares the situation today to what was "normal and expected" 20 …  […]


  19. “What’s missing in our profession, is a mentoring stage for aspiring (and well-qualified) language professionals by experienced and successful colleagues.”

    That’s why God created blogs, right?

    As the new International translation of the Genesis says (or should say): …. the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep … and then God created blogs.

    Incidentally, I agree with most of what you are saying here, but using different words is not going to change much unless translators also start act differently.


    • Quite, but it has to start somewhere in order to change the existing paradigm. Apart from a cataclysmic event, words are really the only way we can get people to start thinking about options and alternatives.
      BTW, I hope lawyers, politicians and advertising agencies are not reading your blog, I’d hate to think that they would be forced give up and find honest work 🙂


      • Allow me, LouisVR, to lend my dual perspective, as an attorney who currently works primarily as a linguist (specifically, as a translator and language teacher):

        I would be the first to argue that great translators bring a real gift, and, in many cases, massive amounts of training, to their endeavor.

        Having trained in both professions, though, I cannot honestly compare the rigor of the basic professional law education (minimum of 3 post-graduate years), qualification by bar examinations that run for several days in length, and the typically extensive period of apprenticeship in law practice, to the preparation that is adequate for getting started in the translation industry.

        I think you’ve implied that it would be more honest for lawyers to charge by the word (as if generating text were the primary objective of law practice), but if you look at what lawyers actually do, on a daily basis (voluminous research, analysis, drafting, writing, live appearances in tribunals and negotiating rooms, and compliance with court rules and professional regulating entities), their activities stack up quite impressively, I would say, against many other professions, and for attorneys to charge by the word would be inappropriate on many, many counts.

        Questions of rigor apart, I must respectfully disagree with your position that that the translation profession, for example, is more honest and ethical than is the legal profession. There are scoundrels and paragons in both, and there are probably great minds (and not-so-great minds) in both.


      • @ Lucille – I’m afraid you may have misinterpreted my tongue-in-cheek comments about lawyers and ….
        “I think you’ve implied that it would be more honest for lawyers to charge by the word (as if generating text were the primary objective of law …”

        In fact, I intended to convey quite the opposite, i.e. that we are the silly ones charging by the word. After all, we translate meaning, not words, and often have to do a fair bit of research to ensure that the correct meaning is conveyed.

        I also wanted to respond to Steve’s comment about ‘different words not changing anything….’. Lawyers, politicians and advertising agencies know that the choice of words can make all the difference in what a listener hears (wants to hear), and how he or she responds to it.

        It is often said that ‘perceptions are reality’. I know from experience that in the world of commerce, this is all too true.

        If are to be regarded and treated (and paid) as professionals, we need to project a professional image. In my view, calling ourselves freelancers is a fundamental mistake, because it creates the impression that we ‘will carry a lance for anybody who offers a wage’, i.e. that we are casual workers waiting for someone to ‘hire’ us for a project at piecework rates (like fruit pickers :-), and that it’s up to the hirer (warlord) to determine the wage, the conditions, the timing, etc. The current state of the profession bears this out.


  20. Mentoring is important. ATA has started a mentoring program and I have mentored one beginner and I am currently mentoring another. It’s very rewarding for everyone.

    I think translation sector has so many agencies because they’re convenient for end clients. An example: a pharma company launches a new drug in 26 different markets world wide. Would it rather seek out 26 individual translators or farm the process out to an agency? I think the answer is obvious.

    Your model of working would require working only (or mostly) for direct clients. Right now that’s not my goal as I don’t have enough flexibility in my schedule. Also, I’m pretty happy with my current income at this point in my life (small kids etc.).


    • As I suggested to ATA, when I graduated from its mentoring program, it is ludicrous to make business suggestions to mentees (or to any others one might wish to guide) based on generalizations that will simply NEVER apply across different language pairs. To wit, fabulous successes translating across Japanese and English in the computer gaming industry, for example, bear no relationship to the experience of someone like me (and there are many like me), who lives in the U.S. and works across Arabic and English primarily in law materials (I am also an attorney). I would venture the same for the successes experienced by individuals living in multi-lingual hubs in Western Europe, who work across the various languages that characterize their hubs. Their experience is nothing like that of many, many other freelancers living elsewhere, and using languages that are essentially non-local.

      The only 2 substantive pieces of advice I ever received through ATA mentoring was 1) bid relentlessly for ProZ-posted jobs, regardless of what they pay, in hopes of moving “up” eventually, and 2) hang out at local chamber of commerce events in hopes of snagging “local” clients. Since my language pair is Arabic/English, and I live/work in the Central Plains of the U.S., both these pieces of advice were misguided (to put it nicely). Competing with Middle East-based translators for ProZ jobs offering US $0.03/word was a recipe for instant failure, and seeking direct clients in my locality, in which the only major international trade derives from the local Honda plant where Japanese is in high demand, would have been worse than a waste of time.

      When these pieces of advice proved moribund, I was counseled to give up on translating, and start “teaching” at ProZ, in hopes of gaining enough recognition to be able, later, to compete more successfully for the 3-cent jobs. By way of context, I am a federally certified translator, in my pair, with thousands of hours (5 full-time years of government employment) of experience translating and training others to translate in my pair, and so my skills compare favorably to those who command 3 cents after learning a little English and hanging out a shingle for “Arabic>English Translation.”

      So with all due respect, ATA has not yet proven to me, at least, that it has its finger on the pulse of our industry. (:^)

      The commenters here who insist that all is well in our industry because they happen, for the moment, to be surviving undeniable industry trends, do not really advance the discussion. Anecdotal successes against the background of a trend that is being assiduously documented by patenttranslator, IAPTI, and economists who study this sort of trend as it affects multiple industries, are simply that: Isolated cases that do not prove any point at all. I would love to be able to say that my particular inability to command sustainable rates was merely anecdotal, and therefore of no consequence, but the numbers of translators leaving the industry as a result of dramatic downward price pressures prove otherwise. I learned, the other day, that ATA recently lost over 200 of its members over the period of one year. I am currently in the process of getting documentation for this, but it was conveyed to me by a source I consider to be impeccably in the know.


  21. “…using different words is not going to change much unless translators also start act differently.”

    The only possible slight hope of any change at all is if all high end translators only translated for direct clients. But who is a high end translator is open for debate.

    Indians have been charging low rates for almost 15 years. This spread to high end translators who at times needed work. But if high end, then why the need to drop down from 15 to 25 yen per word to 5 to 7 yen per word?

    Translators can’t form unions in an internet age so there are three options:
    1. work for low rate agencies
    2. find direct clients
    3. exit the profession


  22. I can’t resist sending greetings from our Black and Fluffy Young Cat Tiger and crave your indulgence in regard to a post that will say nothing at all about translation except that, as you know, cats are called kočky in Czech. In addition there are 3 other cats that we like to fool ourselves are “our’s” whom we also love and care for though of course we don’t expect anything more from them in return than that they DON’T make a huge mess, DO eat all their food and indulge us, at least occasionally, by deigning to permit us to stroke them from time-to-time or once-in-a-while demanding in no uncertain manner to be indulged with some delicious gourmet treat. They spend almost all their time out-of-doors and have access to quite a large area, some of it wild and overgrown and their concept of reciprocity is to bring their dead mice, or sometimes just their skeletons for our approval. Despite their genetic unpredictability they very seldom fail to hear – and respond to – the summons for breakfast and dinner however :). Recently we have a regular new uninvited guest who we know is a two-timer because we know his other nearby regular hangout though we don’t personally know his other sponsors. Because of his long pink snout my partner Vlad’ka identifies him as čumak which does means snout or nose. His weapons of seduction are his thinness and his undemanding demeanour and quite surprisingly, having survived a lot of hissing and quite a number of swipes from the rest of the gang, he seems to have won them over and has even been permitted by them to start coming indoors to eat without the occurrence of any major conniptions .
    I shall try to ensure that I don’t get lured in some manner to write – especially at such length – about our 3 dogs who do manage to co-exist with the cats and vice versa.. Meanwhile we send warm greetings from our Royal City of Kutná Hora, the seat of Kings in the Middle Ages and one of the most important sources of silver in the Czech lands, as I’m certain that you already know, and to any other readers who have had the patience to read thus far who will be hearing about KH – also the home of our translation enterprise that we have the chutzpah to name 1st. Class Translation – for the first time. For the sake of completeness I’ll identify that we translate Czech and Slovak and French to English and because of our comple-mentary knowledge and skills and experience we have been able to stay ahead in the translation game – though I’m being threatened right now that if don’t get back to work PDQ my guts will be used for garters, or something along those lines. So ¡Hasta la vista! for now


  23. […] In a typical ATA article, translators will receive for example copious advice from a translation agency operator on how to prepare our invoices, or on how to “better integrate machine translation (MT) and computer assisted tools …  […]


  24. “Translation agencies, large and small, but especially large, are thus imitating the corporate model…”

    I don’t think that they imitate, they are the corporate model.
    I don’t know how it was two decades ago, but from what I learned and understand, in the past ‘agencies’ were an organic extension of ‘translators’, i.e. successful translators who got too much work, had the flair for getting client, who after years of working as translators find that they like the client interactions more, etc. established professional practices/ Armed with their knowledge and connections with colleague within the profession, established professional practices that promote a win-win-win situation. Of course, charlatans and low-ballers always existed, but an “agency” was more likely to be a professional practice than not.

    Then there is the corporate business model. These outfits are not run nor managed by professional translation practitioners. They are managed by ‘businesspersons’ or ‘managers’ whose job and career is to be a businessperson or manager. Today they are managing translation, tomorrow something completely different. In best case scenario they have a superficial understanding of the “industry”, but this doesn’t matter anyway because they come equipped and employ the same techniques, tools and approach to “management” regardless. The issue, as I see it, has evolved because there is no barrier to becoming an agency. Simple as that. Coupled with the penetration and rise of the internet, anyone who thinks that translation is “easy money” due to the demand but cannot translate themselves, went to do the next best thing: Start an agency.
    Sadly enough, those running these bedroom/dorm room/kitchen table agencies are usually not people with real managerial or business skills, nor with any respect or understanding of the profession. They enter the market through the same gateways as independent translators and compete with them on the same opportunities, only sans any professional skills, resources, or knowledge, they automatically compete on price alone. This gradually created the very inefficient and unsustainable market structure that we see today.

    Anyone can call themselves a translator, but it is even easier to declare oneself as an agency.


  25. If only the ATA would produce funny, viral videos warning about the dangers of using machine translation, showing how some clients pay .30 a word and watching the chain as the documents get passed from one company to another, until the person actually doing the translation gets only .05, etc. The secret is letting the public know that a well-designed website alone does not equal a competent translation agency. There should also be an agency-rating system (rated by clients, not translators).


  26. The ATA as it exist today cannot do that because it is run by agencies who profit from similar schemes, that is why the ATA Chronicle is full of propaganda pushing these schemes as “translation technology”.


  27. And I fear there is yet another bad phenomenon now developing as a result of the takeover of an entity like ATA by agencies: The emergence of the “translation business coach.” When I was a mentee in ATA’s mentoring program for new entrants into the industry, the fora that I would frequent were apparently being lurked by “coaches” who claimed that anyone could do well financially in today’s translation climate simply by hiring their services and learning how to maximize use of the rate-dump sites, etc. . .Not to hire such a coach was described as tantamount to not caring about one’s professional survival. I made the mistake of preliminarily engaging with one such coach (an inveterate translator of European languages), and when I signaled that I would not go through with a coaching contract, I was rebuked and belittled for my lack of ambition. So beware not only the agencies, but also the secondary industries being generated by their abuses.


    • Very good point, and it applies globally I think.

      Personally, I would recommend to be very careful with any type of coaching, dig deep to see what credentials and authority the person has to call him or herself a coach, and even then won’t follow any advice blindly. There amount of self-proclaimed coaches out there in recent years rivals (or even trumps) that of self-proclaimed translators and agencies.

      More generally, this is the topic of information versus knowledge. I wrote about it a little in my latest blog article (apologies for the self-plugging; not my motive here). There is no manual to success, not in translation and not anywhere else. It is not a universally applicable 1-2-3 process that one should follow to reach a guaranteed success – it is usually just a superficial information, sometimes even a bad advice; basically, a chatter. It is just information, and information can be manipulated. Knowledge (as in insights and experienced-based advice), on the other hand, is a (invaluable) tool, a compass even, and it is cannot be “coached”, it needs to be learned and experienced.


      • Wonderful distinction, Shai. . Information v. wisdom. . .


  28. Hi, Steve. Can I translate this article for the benefit of my fellow Polish translators in a Facebook group?


  29. @Lukegos

    Yes, please do, and please send me a link. I translate Polish too.
    I wonder, how does one say “roadkill” in Polish?


  30. Well done Steve and Shai. I’ve been trying to convey the message about the increasingly long chain of brokers to my colleagues for years. Try querying anything in the source text and see how long (days, if ever) it takes for a reply to come back. It is also worth mentioning the fake addresses (e.g. service offices at prestigious addresses in London) and phone numbers that are commonly used. Anyone can buy a phone number in London, Paris or New York (take your pick) and run a “translation agency” from a smartphone anywhere on this planet. If people still need proof to believe this perhaps one of us should put it to the test 😉

    Liked by 2 people

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