Posted by: patenttranslator | October 22, 2014

There Are Many Ways to Commit Suicide, But Post-Processing of Machine Translations Would Be a Horrible Way To Go

There are many ways to commit suicide, but all of them (shooting or hanging yourself, cutting your veins with a razor, or even taking a lot of pills) are pretty painful. That is why assisted suicide is now available for a price to ease the pain for those would prefer to check out from this valley of tears in some countries, (for example in Switzerland, or here in US in Oregon), because sometime living with an excruciating pain or a disease that robs us of our memory or cognitive abilities may be worse than death.

Suicide also exists in nature as a part of life under certain circumstances: salmon must return from the ocean, which is rich in nutrients, and swim upstream in a river to the spawning grounds only to die there in an environment that is poor in nutrients.

Perhaps this is how nature prevents overabundance of certain species of fish.

Societies also sometime commit suicide at a certain point in history. The suicide of democratic society is happening right in front of our eyes: when everybody is being secretly watched 24/7 in violation of existing laws, most importantly the Constitution, democracy is committing suicide and nobody seems to give it much thought, least of all the politicians who took a solemn oath to protect the Constitution.

Perhaps this is how human societies eventually die so that they could be regenerated and replaced by something that works better for most humans, rather than just for a few kings or billionaires.

It is also possible for an entire occupation to commit suicide.

In the classic American movie from 1946 “It’s a Wonderful Life”, a complicated, troubled but basically honest and likeable banker played by Jimmy Stewart is thinking of committing suicide and in one version of his life on the screen he actually does it by jumping into a freezing, cold river … only to be saved by an elderly, chubby guardian angel for another version of his on-screen life in black and white. Because this suitably uplifting and honesty celebrating movie is played every year around Thanksgiving and Christmas here on TV, I saw parts of it maybe four or five times already. I never finish it because I know how it ends, but some scenes I watch over and over again.

Unfortunately, honest bankers in this and many other countries have committed suicide en masse when they were bailed out by the taxpayers after their dishonest schemes unraveled in 2008 as a result of the mortgage crisis, a crisis that was caused by the greed and rampant illegality of rich bankers.

Although the great majority of the voters were very strongly against the bailout of the financial industry, that was irrelevant and the voters were as usual completely impotent. The big banks were given money at interest rates close to zero, money that was taken from the taxpayers, and the banks then turned around and lent the same money to cash-hungry people who were trying to survive in an economy that was ruined by the same bankers at rates that were at least 20 times higher.

Not a bad business model when it comes to profitability. But when it comes to morality …. one can see why Jesus decided to overturn moneychangers’ tables in the temple (Mathew, 21:12).

And that is how our great, capitalist financial system was saved. While socialism is a dirty word in this country, the bailout of the Western financial system in 2008 is a textbook example of how socialism was practiced for decades in East block countries – before the economies of these countries collapsed as a result of too many bailouts.

So as far as Joe the citizen is concerned, an honest banker of the type played by Jimmy Stewart in the film from 1946 no longer exists, it is only a distant memory of a dream from a bygone era, a dream that is revived on the TV screens in an old movie once or twice a year. In real life, if the bankers create another crisis by stealing too much money again, they know that the politicians will bail them out again.


Another profession that may be about to commit suicide is the translating profession. Not because translators are as dishonest and powerful as the bankers – quite the opposite.

Most translators generally do not make a lot of money, and they have very little power over anything. But if they fall for the latest scheme of some of our “translation industry leaders”, they will have no power whatsoever, not even the power to determine how much they should be paid for their work, and they will make even less money, probably much less money, than they are making now because they will no longer even exist as translators.

Translators already fell for the first hoax that was perpetrated on the translating community by “the translation industry” in the last decade. Many translators, although by no means all of them, believed the promises that Computer Assisted Translation (CAT) tools would make it possible for them to increase their productivity by a factor of 2, or 3, or more, and spent hundreds of dollars and Euros (I am told that Trados costs 800 dollars) for these tools. Once they started using them, they were told by many (although by no means all) translation agencies that from now on, they would only be paid a fraction of their usual rate, or nothing in some cases, for what in the industry parlance is referred to as “repeat words”, “fuzzy matches” and “full matches” determined by the CAT tools.

When I wrote a post in July of 2009 titled “Friends Don’t Let Friends Use Trados or Any Other Memory Tools”, only 103 people saw it, and by the end of 2009 it still had only 347 views. But after 2012, this became one of my more popular posts, several thousand people read it now every year and the total number of views of this old but not forgotten post will probably go well over 10,000 this year.

So maybe, just maybe, people are finally beginning to understand that all of this talk about higher productivity levels that would lead to higher incomes for translators was really just a smoke screen for an ingenious attempt by the “translation industry” to achieve greater profitability by slashing the fees paid to translators – without necessarily passing to the clients of translation agencies any of the savings achieved at the expense of the reimbursement for the work of human workers called translators.

But when some translators agreed to be controlled by the CAT tools instead of just using these tools (that they themselves have to buy!) for legitimate purposes, and only if they felt like it, this was not really a suicide for these translators – only the equivalent of shooting yourself in the foot. When you shoot yourself in the foot, out of carelessness and stupidity, you may be limping around for a while, but you will probably live if you learn that it is not a good idea to play with a loaded gun.

The second scheme, called “post-processing of machine translations”, is likely to be much more deadly to the translating community, because this tool was designed by our beloved “translation industry leaders” to simply kill off the translating profession and replace it by a new type of workers called post-processors of machine translations.

The word “post-processor” evokes in me the image of a processing line in cold halls of meat processing plants where workers in dirty white coats and nets on their hair, usually illegal immigrants, slash and cut to smaller pieces carcasses of slaughtered animals.

The nature of the work of post-processors who work on the detritus created by algorithms stored in machines that is generally referred to as machine translation would not require the use of sharp knives, nor would it require the use of a sharp brain, based on the design of this new profession.

Anybody who has or claims to have some knowledge of a foreign language would qualify as a post-processor because as far as the designers of this new profession are concerned, most of the work has already been done by the machine. The compensation for this activity, which is comparable to basic computer data entry, would thus be commensurate with the low skill set level required, and much of this post processing work would be done in third world countries to maximize the profitability of the economic model for the owners of these enterprises.

Should real translators agree to cooperate en masse with this interpretation of what their profession is or should be in the future, an entire occupation would be wiped out and replaced by new, post-processing human robots.

What a horrible way to go.

The post-processing design of human-assisted post-translation of what machines armed with software regurgitate when they are done analyzing communication between humans will inevitably generate very poor quality of translation, if we can still call it that. But “translation industry leaders” know that, and they are ready to attack this problem by offering lower prices for this product, significantly lower than what customers have to pay for human translations. There will still be plenty of profit left for them given how little the post-processing human robots will be paid.

Can this scheme work?

Yes, I believe so. In some translation fields, where “the translation industry” is already using or trying to use “cloud workers” (also called “clown workers”), a similar concept is already being implemented. The clown workers are not really translators, they don’t need to have attained a certain level of education and specialization, as long as they say that they “know a foreign language”, and as long as they are ready and willing to work for peanuts.

There should be plenty of clown workers like that on this planet! There are over seven billion people living on planet Earth and about half of them are starving. Let’s send in the clowns and get rid of translators!

But I do not believe that the post-processing design can possibly work in specialized translation fields, such as my field of patent translation.

Trying to apply this simplified model of what used to be called human translation to patent translation would result in a lot of garbage that can no longer be called translation.

When I translate a patent application, which is something that I have been doing for almost three decades, I generally always print out a machine translation if it is available. But I basically use it only as a dictionary, not a translation. A real translation must take into account a number of things that machines don’t understand.

For example, since most patents already have an English summary prepared by humans who sometime knew what they were doing, and sometime did not, I have to try to use the terms already existing in these summaries because these are the terms that my clients use to communicate with patent lawyers who may live in different countries and speak different languages.

But the most important thing to understand is that machine translation is not really a translation; just a suggestion made by a dumb machine. Google Translate sometime makes very good suggestions because it picks a similar translation, originally produced by a human translator, if it is available in its huge database. But because even Google Translate has absolutely no understanding of the meaning of the text, it will often generate hilarious mistranslation. These are easy to spot, but more subtle mistranslations can be very difficult to detect.

The concept of post-processing of machine translation is thus based on a faulty premise because it is almost always faster to translate anything, or at least complicated and highly specialized texts, by human translators from scratch. Post-processing is a just a scheme designed to get around the problem of high cost of human translation.

The scheme may work, to a limited extent, on very simple, repetitive, relatively unimportant texts that still need to be translated, regardless of how “unimportant” they are.

But it is not going to work for example in the field of patent translation where companies may be fighting out awesome battles in court for years to come, battles that may be in the end determined by a slightly different nuance of a technical term used in a patent application.

The key to surviving the coming wave of professional suicides, figuratively speaking, among translators who will decide to switch professions, ditch their old profession and become “post-processors” of output that was generated by machines is thus clear – specialization in highly complex texts, which even our “translation industry leaders” are likely to leave to highly educated, highly experienced and highly qualified human translators – unless they are much dumber than I thought.


  1. Too many words on the topic of whom industry leaders assign post-trsl processing and not a single word on what right they have to assign
    to independent contractors.


  2. Then why don’t you do it, Rennie?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m doing my little part, and guess it would be good if a productive blogger like you was helping.


  3. What’s going to happen when pressure from low-priced competitors overseas, pressure to lower rates in conjunction with CAT tools that may or may not save us some time (after we spend all kinds of time and effort learning how to use them), pressure to lower rates in general, pressure to post-edit machine translations, and other practices employed by those who sub-contract to us in order to lower rates and shorten timeframes – what’s going to happen when these pressures cause a mass exodus from the profession? What’s going to happen when so many of us leave that there aren’t enough highly-trained professionals to meet demand?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. @Wendy

    The prices of translations performed by highly qualified specialists who have not left the field will go up?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Your post has been prophetic. I have just received an email from SDL Language Solutions (the Trados people) promoting a course in post-editing machine translation, with certificate, for “translators who wish to add post-editing to their translation productivity skills”.


    • SDL’s freelancers:
      “I’ve been working for SDL since 1998.”
      “We have been working with SDL since about 1995.”, etc.

      This kind of long-term relationship is illegal. If you don’t know why, read on:

      “… that serve to give employers all the benefits of having employees, without the responsibilities that go along with actually having real live full-time employees”

      “Unions say such arrangements enable companies to exercise control over wages and working conditions but escape responsibility when workers have problems or demands.”

      “(In semi-related news, an appeals court in California just ruled that thousands of FedEx drivers are legally employees, not independent contractors.)”


  6. An excellent post!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. “Your post has been prophetic.”

    I have my moments.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I do use CAT toosl for my own personal clients, and so far it has increased my productivity and in no way did I reduce my rates. So in fact I’m making more money becasue I can work faster and reuse my translations. The problem is working with agencies that do not respect the translator’s conditions, so if this is the case just say NO! But do not blame on CAT tools. If wisely used they can help a lot!!! Postediting is another issue. Do not like it at all, so I simply do not accept those jobs.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. “I do use CAT tools for my own personal clients, and so far it has increased my productivity and in no way did I reduce my rates. So in fact I’m making more money because I can work faster and reuse my translations.”

    Good for you.

    Unfortunately, translation agencies used CAT tools to lower the rates that are being paid to translators, both to those who use these tools, and to those who refuse to use them as I am documenting in my old post from 2009 linked in this post.


  10. “Unfortunately, translation agencies used …”

    Edit: Translation agencies abused … 🙂 Lorena is right to critisize your luddite approach to CATs. The key word is abuse. Agencies abuse not only machines. They abuse translators, and ultimately, they abuse our Clients.

    No company has the right to ABUSE anything or anybody.

    First thing, when it’s is registered, a company has to define its productive power in a clear and unambiguous way. In no way can a one-man-show company, for instance, claim services in multiple languages. Neither can a company of 3, 4 or 7, as is the case most often. A company can only claim as many languages, as its staff commands. Staff! Not anonymous, hidden, top-secret “team members” scattered around the globe.

    Here’s an example of good practices:
    “Translation Centre for the Bodies of the European Union
    – has just over 200 staff members (including around 100 translators);
    – has small language teams: 4 – 9 in-house translators per language;
    – offers not only translation, but also modification, editing, revision, linguistic consulting, terminology projects and term lists;
    – outsources around 60% of the work to freelance translators, most of whom are selected through public calls for tenders;
    All translations provided by external contractors are evaluated by in-house translators in order to guarantee the quality required by the Centre’s clients.”

    Click to access Brochure_CdT.pdf


  11. Lately I have been receiving several e-mails asking if I will agree to do accept MpT (machine pseudo translation). Why do they care how I complete the translation as long as the end product is good? Why do they care whether or not I even use the MpT output they provide?

    None of them ever bother to mention that what they are really after in most cases is a way to pay me less under the inaccurate theory that processing MpT output is somehow easier. I always respond that they can send me any file they want if what they are after is terminology consistency, but that I will not be charging any less. Strange that I never hear from them again.


    • “Why do they care how I complete the translation as long as the end product is good?”

      Please, check your national legislation. In my country, the contractual relationship an agency may enter into with an independent contractor (a freelancer or a translator-owner of a firm), is so formulated in our legislation that the Contractor (the translator) has the full discretion to decide how s/he will do the assigned job – that’s why we are called independent contractors after all, aren’t we? All the Client may ask for, according to our legislation, is the result (a good end product delivered in good time). In contrast, a relationship, involving control or management on the part of the Client over the Contractor’s work process, is considered to be an Employer-Employee relationship. So, in case one complains, the Labor Inspection may declare so-called pretended contract of employment and take legal action against the the pretended client.


  12. @Jeff

    It would seem that what they are after is not consistent terminology.


  13. Another thing that rarely gets mentioned is that these poorly paid “post MpT editors” are not going to have the time to do anything other than just read through the pseudo-translation without comparing it to the source text, looking for anything that is grammatically incorrect or that does not make logical sense. The source text could say “Under no circumstances should you press the big red button” and the closest MpT match found on the internet turns up “By all means you should always press the big red button” and the “editor” skips right over this – sounds good – next segment…


    • “Another thing that rarely gets mentioned is that these poorly paid “post MpT editors” are not going to have the time to do anything other than just read through the pseudo-translation without comparing it to the source text, looking for anything that is grammatically incorrect or that does not make logical sense. The source text could say “Under no circumstances should you press the big red button” and the closest MpT match found on the internet turns up “By all means you should always press the big red button” and the “editor” skips right over this – sounds good – next segment…”

      three times thumbs up for the astute remark! 🙂 We have noticed that Google Translate loves to play the trick of “negative turned into positive” and vice versa. Is it posible that a bug was intentionally set? That could be really dangerous, e.g. with technical translations.


  14. @Jeff

    So many people now have experience with machine translation that most people understand that machine translation is not really translation.

    I don’t have to explain this simple fact to non-translators anymore.

    Once more people experience post-processed machine translation, they will understand that post-processed machine translation is not really translation either, although it may look more like real translation.

    During the process when customers of translation agencies are getting to know what post-processed machine translation is, agencies using post-processing can either make a lot of money, or lose a lot of money.

    I think it will be ultimately the latter because they will be losing their customers.


  15. Some agencies have essentially been doing the same thing by using cheaper translators with no real knowledge of the subject area and then try to hire more expensive translators (who do know the field) as editors. I just tell them I don’t edit for agencies, or give them cardiac arrest by quoting my rates for editing. They assume editing is far less labor-intensive than it is, at least for technical areas where everything needs to be checked. I also tell them that it is more cost-effective to hire me as the translator and then hire a general translator as the editor to check for obvious non-technical areas. But then they need to let me look at it and accept/reject changes, because such editors routinely make huge mistakes when they mess with my technical terms and phrasing. Some editors are really good about leaving such things alone, but too many think they can trust a dictionary or their ordinary-language skills and disaster ensues.

    I just reject post machine translation work entirely, but I’ve seen translations by human translators that are even worse.

    I use Wordfast but don’t use agency TMs- they are riddled with errors and the style mish-mash is a big problem. I won’t provide a segmented (uncleaned) translation for Russian>English because I use an old, non-standard lower ascii Cyrillic font that is Microsoft-proof (I use AppleScript to change standard fonts to mine if needed), although they can pay me to to an alignment in Excel. I go by my time records to decide how to discount for serious repetition in an ongoing project. Either I offer to do it by the hour, or I offer a fee for true repeated segments (100% match) that will still give me my expected hourly rate. Usually I don’t discount the first time through a document, but can negotiate a discount for very similar documents that really do let me recycle my prior work on the project and save me enough time. I would advise not giving “match” based discounts for anything less than 100% since they are likely to take as much time as new material to alter. It’s just another way to do an hourly-based fee, but you have to pay attention to your time required.

    Liked by 2 people


    Liked by 1 person

  17. Amazing article Steve! Post-editing of machine translation is a dead-end of our industry. I once worked on En-Ru PEMT job for Ebay. Never laughed so hard in my entire life. I’ve collected some “gems” just to remind myself every now and then that machine will never replace human-powered translations. Not in the next 100 years. I even created a template that I use when another client asks me about PEMT:

    Liked by 1 person

  18. @Dmitry

    While I obviously agree with everything you say, whether post-editing of machine translation can result in something that is of comparable quality to real human translation is irrelevant to our dear leaders in the “translation industry”.

    To them the only questions worth pondering are these two main issues:
    1. whether money can be made by using this scheme,
    2. whether the customers will actually pay money for this.

    If the answer to these three questions is “yes”, then post-editing of machine translation is an absolutely brilliant concept and all they need to figure out is how to maximize their profit.


    • Sad, but true Steve. Translation is a business. And like in every other type of business, “industry leaders” do everything to maximize profits. Including the usage of questionable schemes like PEMT. I don’t blame them for that. They saw an opportunity and they’re using it. The real problem here are linguists who agree to participate in such projects.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. One other thought: when a bad human or machine translation is edited, the result really should be edited again by someone else. The bad translation can easily cause mistakes by the editor, because it can send him or her down paths otherwise avoided. So machine translation is more likely to cause errors and cost more to really fix. Definitely editing a bad translation can take longer than just tossing it away and translating again.


  20. I just watched this video about a skype MT interpreting session.

    It made me wonder if in the future, companies will try to save money by hiring someone not to interpret, but to monitor the machine interpretations to make sure no real meaning is lost and to correct the totally incomprehensible bits (either simultaneously by typing on the screen like in a court room setting (in which case the data could be automatically fed right to the court reporter) – or afterwards for a published video).

    Of course, no seasoned interpreter would accept, but new interpreters looking for work may be willing to give it a go.

    They would have to come up with some new title for this position and cost for interpretation would go down because the MIME – “machine interpretation monitoring engineer” could be located anywhere in the world.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. @Jeff

    The rich keep trying to save money by removing humans from the production process and replacing them by cheaper humans or by machines so that the people on the top of the food chain could be paying themselves higher and higher salaries and dividends.

    Nobody seems to be worried that once the humans who used to be well fed are hungry enough, instead of working for peanuts while “assisting machines”, they could turn against the 0.01% of the overlords, get rid of them and rearrange the entire food chain.

    But then again, nobody expected the storming of the Bastille either.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. […] I have been writing about this latest gold rush concept of the “translation industry” also in many posts on my blog, such as in Post-Processing of Machine Translations, the New Money Maker of “the Translation Industry” or in There Are Many Ways to Commit Suicide, But Post-Processing of Machine Translations Would Be a Horrib…. […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: