Posted by: patenttranslator | July 14, 2014

The Bulk Translation Market Just Got Even Bulkier

 

“URGENT!

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Fill out the form to get started translating and receive other money making opportunities!”

[From a website promising translation work to people who “can speak English and another language”]

I often talk in my posts about the sad situation in the “translation industry”. You don’t really have to know anything about foreign languages to run a translation agency. In fact, if you look at the background of the people who are running large translation agencies, many if not most of the “leaders in the translation industry”, at least those whose first language is English, are proudly monolingual brokers.

If you asked them whether the knowledge of what it is that they happen to be selling is a requirement to be a “leader in the translation industry”, this is what would probably think, although they would not say it in so many words:”Foreign languages are for the dumb worker bees who have no choice but to work for us, we are smart entrepreneurs and bold innovators. We don’t need no stinkin’ languages!”

A car salesman who cannot drive a car would be a major anomaly in the car selling business. It might make selling cars to customers difficult. A certain familiarity with the product, in addition to the certain je ne sais quoi that every salesman needs, is a given in the car selling profession.

Things are different in the translation selling profession. Many if not most of the salesmen and saleswomen in this line or work would be completely clueless about another language than their own.

But even these boldly monolingual salesmen and saleswomen of translations may eventually learn a few things about foreign languages. For instance, they might eventually learn the word count in English is about 20% higher than the word count in German due to numerous compound nouns in German, or that 2 Japanese characters, including kanji, hiragana and katakana, usually equal one English word, if they sell the honey that is produced by their worker bees by the word. Or if they don’t want to waste their genius on learning something about the product that they are selling, they might hire a few multilingual people to help with the management of translation projects – at the lowest paid positions, of course!

But a new breed of intrepid translation selling entrepreneurs is now entering the noble profession of translation brokers. These people not only realized that you don’t really have to know anything about foreign languages to sell translations, they even go one step further. They promise to be able to provide well paid work for people who really don’t need to know much about languages (or anything else) either as long as they “can speak a foreign language”. If you click on the link and enter your e-mail (a fictional one will do), you will be treated to several stories of anonymous translators (they will show you inspiring pictures, but no names) who make from 92 to 128 thousand dollars translating at home.

You too can make this kind of money, the blurb says, in the comfort of your home, if you “can speak a foreign language”. All you have to do is pay them 72 dollars to access a database of companies that can’t wait to start sending you highly profitable translation work.

But wait, that’s not all. There is a special sale on, today and only today you can become a member for 36 dollars! So why wait? Start making a six figure income right now!

Anything goes in the bulk translation market, and this is just another layer of the same market. Let’s try to identify some of the layers exerting downward pressure on translation fees in the bulk translation market.

1. Translation agencies in Chindia, but also for example in some countries in Europe, have been hammering the rates paid to translators for more than a decade now. There are countries where one can live on a few dollars a day. Why not base rates paid to translators worldwide on what one needs to survive in these countries? The textile industry has been doing exactly that for decades. A few hundred seamstresses have died horrible deaths, burnt to crisp in fires or buried under rubble, but the profits are absolutely worth it.

2. Blind translation auction sites online have been depressing translation rates for about the same period of time. When dozens of translators compete for the same job offered by an anonymous source (anonymous because the rates are so low that the agency might be ashamed to reveal its name) by trying to underbid each other, the rates are not much better than Chindian rates.

3. Many translation agencies are trying to acquire new customers by falsely promising them “technological solutions” such as machine translation or computer-assisted translation tools that will help them “save a great deal of money” on translation, or completely eliminate the need for expensive human translators. These technical solutions do save money – to customers who don’t mind receiving garbage instead of real translations.

4. New enterprises are being started (with other people’s capital), based on the idea that anybody who “knows another language” can start working for a new “translation platform” on the Internet and translate from home on a laptop or even on a smart phone, for example while sitting in the bathroom. What an ingenious multitasking concept … n’est-ce pas???? It must have been invented by a compulsive iPhone user (albeit clearly a monolingual one). The people who start these projects are not really crazy – after all, it’s not their money. Before the inevitable collapse of the enterprise, there is a good chance that a lot of the original capital invested by “angel investors” will remain in their pockets.

I could probably come up with more examples if my mind worked better this morning (or maybe you can). People are incredibly gullible these days when it comes to scams for selling translations and anything to do with foreign languages, which seems to be especially true about English-speaking countries where most people know very little about foreign languages.

As I wrote in another post two years ago, there is a company advertising something called “Pimsleur approach to learning languages as a revolutionary new method for learning a language, any language, in 10 short days and without really trying. The advertisements say among other things that our brains are “wired to learn a language in 10 days” and all we have to do is “activate this wired part of our brain”, which is something that somebody called Dr. Pimsleur figured out years ago to come up with a revolutionary new method to learn a language, any language, in 10 short days and without really trying. Selling this miraculous language learning method must be a very profitable business because I see it advertised on the Internet constantly.

***************

So does the bulk of the bulk translation market weigh heavily upon the shoulders of this patent translator, you might ask? Hmmmm …… no, because it really has nothing to do with my work.

Last week I was translating a long legal brief from German, 14 thousand words. It was full of long, impenetrable German sentences in which one German patent lawyer was destroying (and thus showing off his brilliance) the technical and legal argument of another patent lawyer representing the opposition in a lawsuit over very complicated details of data transmission between mobile stations and base stations.

The technical part was easy for me, the legal part was more challenging. But at this point, after 27 years of almost daily practice, I can handle both parts of a complex legal and technical argument in German, Japanese, or French.

I am starting this week so far with two Japanese patents about optical systems using old liquid crystal technology. I haven’t started translating yet, but this kind of thing is usually a piece of cake for me.

I don’t know what other subjects the week will bring, but I am looking forward to it. The bulk translation market probably does exert some influence even on translators who have been working in their particular niche markets for many years, but this influence is mostly indirect and temporary.

After the dust has settled, highly specialized translators will still be here, long after most of the layers in the structure of parasitic and ignorant brokers, who seem to know so much about how to make money, and yet they don’t even know how to spell the past participle of the verb “pay”, has been erased from memory by the passage of time.

 

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Responses

  1. Hey, you know, the Army has just about perfected a smartphone app that will enable you to have a real bilingual conversation! As long as what you want to say is “Hands up!” and you don’t care what your conversation partner says in reply. Happy days are here.

    Like

  2. That should be very handy in combat situations.

    Are they still working on a smartphone application that would finally find those weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, or have they given up on that already now that we have won the war?

    Like

  3. Steve, you wrote: “The bulk translation market probably does exert some influence even on translators who have been working in their particular niche markets for many years, but this influence is mostly indirect and temporary.

    After the dust has settled, highly specialized translators will still be here,…”

    1) In which year do you expect the dust will settle? I presume that you are keeping in mind that the power of Watson will be available for Indian translators in just three or four years.

    2) If finding direct Japanese clients is so easy for experienced translators, then why isn’t everyone doing that now? I’ve been surprised by how many 30 year J>E veterans are still working for agencies.

    3) Why do you care so much about the low end market and the so called “nanolators”? You say that “it [ very low rates] really has nothing to do with my work” yet you’ve been blogging on it several times a month, a big increase from last year.

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  4. The bulk market is almost a movement. It crosses professions and can be found almost everywhere. This is just a large-scale and glorified Classifieds taken to another level. As long as I can remember writing, translation, design were targeted as the bait of those get money easily and conveniently for using the skills (that you think) you already have. The incentive is not the work, it is the promise of easy money. To succeed, you need the bait to look real. No one will fall into the trap of promising easy money for performing a surgery while sitting on the toilet, but writing, typing, designing? Well, don’t mind if I do, I do know these things.

    I have been asked more than once if Google Translate has yet to drive me out of business. I politely answer that Google Translate and I don’t do the same thing and don’t offer the same service. Once I’ve even got into a debate with someone who knows nothing about translation, but because he works in High Tech (probably scrubbing the floor of the bullpen) thinks he knows everything, who claimed how language technology is superior to human and how “his” company and “his” (he leads neither) use Google Translate and get near perfect results. He pretty much attacked our profession without even understanding how dumb he sounds to anyone who knows something about translation and technology. Anyway, he didn’t let go although I tried to change the subject (really no point in debating with idiots), and after I really had it with this guy I called him an idiot, which he took exception of, and claimed that my aggression just proves that his claims have merit.

    Next time he will ask me if “So, are you still working as a translator?” (it was in a family gathering so chances are that I will see him again at some point), I will answer “Yes. Are you still an idiot?”
    For me this sums up pretty well the general quality of discussion around technology and translation.

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  5. “So, are you still working as a translator?” (it was in a family gathering so chances are that I will see him again at some point), I will answer “Yes. Are you still an idiot?”

    This is a very good answer, although I would generally not recommend it, except when dealing with an extremely stupid and vain person who needs to be brought down a peg or two.

    After all, it’s not really the fault of civilians (non-translators, generally public) that they are constantly exposed to the propaganda of the “translation industry”.

    So I would be a little bit more gently with them. But not with somebody who falsely claims to understand translation issues.

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    • Of course. I didn’t mean that this is how we should answer or talk with other people, especially laymen. I just meant that this answer sums up for me the general level and quality of discussion around many of the claims of translation technology developers, crowd sourcing, and the “human translation automation” startups.

      I agree that this is not the fault of non-translators; as I’ve commented in another article on this blog, in my very humble opinion, the narrative shifting has a lot to do with the decade long silence of indifference of translators and their alleged professional associations. There is no vacuum in business. When you retreat from something, someone else will fill that gap and claim ownership.

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  6. […] Many translation agencies are trying to acquire new customers by falsely promising them “technological solutions” such as machine translation or computer-assisted translation tools that will help them “save a great deal of …  […]

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  7. It’s true, the rates have gone down while the competition has increased a lot in the past years but quality will always be paid one way or the other. I truely understand your frustration but on the other hand a company or individual that has had results in the past and offered quality translations should never worry and they will always gain new customers through the word of mouth.

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  8. […] work of a translation project manager (3) The life and work of a translation project manager (4) The Bulk Translation Market Just Got Even Bulkier 5 July 2014: Business Skills Workshop in Bristol Translation Studies MSc: a student’s […]

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