Posted by: patenttranslator | November 24, 2014

Should I Renew My Membership in the ATA (American Translators Association) for Next Year?


It would make it the 28th year – man, that is such a long time!!! The fact is, this is the first time that I am seriously wondering whether it still makes sense paying them about 200 dollars a year …. for what?

I did pay them a lot of money over the years mostly because I used to believe in the ATA.

In any case, I believed that it was better to have the ATA than nothing. I wrote several articles for the ATA Chronicle about 10 years ago, and I was mildly surprised when they published them in spite of my anti-corporate-agency streak (only a mild one, I tried to control myself back then).

I was also one of the authors of the Patent Translators Handbook which was published by the ATA in 2007. I did all of that in my free time without any compensation, of course, because I thought that I was doing something useful, although some of it was obviously crass self-promotion. But every time when I receive a new copy of the ATA Chronicle, as I did today, the only real benefit of ATA membership for me, I just keep turning the pages looking for something worth reading and I consider myself lucky if I find a single article in it that I am interested in reading.

Lots of ads from SDL Trados, every translator’s favorite computer memory tool. Lots of offers of job openings for translators with the National Security Agency, every translator’s dream job. Lots of cute graphics taking up half a page. Not a lot of interesting articles.

That thing is definitely not worth two hundred dollars a year.

Maybe the problem is that after almost three decades, I finally outgrew this organization as it seems to be more and more geared only toward people who those of us who already are translators, or at least who have been translating for a while, refer to as “newbies”.

Just look at the promotional video from the last ATA Conference. Newbies, newbies, newbies …. and buddies. Tool bar with vendors of tools – here’s your chance to buy SDL Trados if you don’t have it yet – and we’ll give you a great discount if you buy it right now!

Or I could do yoga right there at the conference, or something that looks like yoga. They seem to be calling it “chikan” (probably Chi Kung in Chinese) in the video, which incidentally means “groper” in Japanese. I remember “chikans” groping petrified Japanese “office ladies” in crowded metro trains from the time when I used to ride the metro to work in Tokyo in mid eighties, one and half hour each way.

The fact is, I hate yoga or anything that even remotely looks like yoga. I tried it once in Prague, I think it was in 1979, to please my then-girlfriend who was crazy about yoga. She used to stand on her head for 15 minutes to get the right amount of blood circulating through her brain. Her face was flushed and looked so lovely after the exercise! But when she saw the expression on my face after my first session where there were only two men among something like 30 women (I found the environment quite stressful and intimidating), she wisely never mentioned yoga to me again. Standing on her head like that must have been really good for her brain.

Or I could do a Latin dance called Zumba at the same conference for translators. How exciting! Maybe that’s what I need to break the tedium of my unfulfilled life of a lonesome translator. They even showed a couple of guys with a moderate beer punch in the video not to discourage male translators from attending the next conference, I suppose. A guy with SDL Trados sign around his neck describes “Zumba” experience thusly:”I zig when I am supposed to zag, and I zag when I am supposed to zig”.

Lot of invaluable information for translators, both about Trados and zigging and zagging.

Towards the end there is a “brainstorm networking session” about a fictional guy called Ernesto, (wasn’t there an Ernesto in Sesame Street too? Maybe they should go with Cookie Monster at the next conference, he was by far my favorite), who has a big problem because he can’t finish a translation on time? OMG, that sounds so interesting!

And they end the highly educational video with this joke “What do you call a fish without an eye?” (It’s fsh – OMG, that’s so funny)!

No mention of a single issue that translators who are not necessarily newbies might be interested in throughout the entire video. Judging from that fact that things like corporatization of the so called translation business, predatory agencies, commodification of translation, pressure on rates from machine translation, “fuzzy matches” and “repeat words”, competition of near-slave labor from third world countries …. none of that was even hinted at in the video, these subjects probably did not exactly feature prominently in the discussions.

After watching the video, I am glad that I did not go.

The only other benefit of ATA membership is that you get listed in the ATA database of translators. Most years I used to get a few small translation jobs from that listing, but I cannot remember a single job coming from the ATA database this year. I did get some offers, but only from agencies that wanted me to take a test or some such nonsense. So I did not bother replying. In any case, since only translation agencies know about this database, it is really only useful for translators who aspire no higher than to work only on the translation agency plantation until they die of old age or starvation, whichever comes first.

I have noticed that many if not most old timers that I met over the years in this country were not ATA members. Being an ATA member does not seem to be a very cool designation if you are an experienced translator, with some exceptions. Some hate the organization for reasons that I can understand, some for reasons that I don’t quite understand, and some just gradually gave up on it.

Maybe it’s finally time for me as well to say goodbye to the ATA after 27 years, especially since being listed in their database is unlikely to have any effect on my income. But I am not sure yet what I will do, that is why I wrote this post to see what other people think. Old habits die hard and inertia is the most powerful force in the universe. I think I have until the end of January of next year to send or not to send in my 200 dollars. It’s like enrolling in Medicare or Social Security, if you miss a year, you can just reenroll next year if you want to.

What do you think I should do? Is the ATA still relevant to translators who are no longer newbies and/or who don’t necessary want to be buddies to translator newbies?

If you let me know what you think, I promise that I will consider your advice very carefully, provided that it is offered sincerely, with good intentions, and with no malice in heart and mind, either towards me, or towards the American Translators Association.


  1. I face the same dilemma (with AUSIT) every year, Steve.

    In my view, the role of a professional institute/association is simply this: “to protect and advance the professional interests of its members, (and by extension their clients).

    Any objective assessment of the performance of our institute, and from what I gather is the case for most associations, suggests that it has presided over the serious and ongoing decline of the profession and the interests of its members and their clients (to the benefit of corporate intermediaries).

    In the end, I always decide to renew my membership because I feel that ‘being inside the tent p*ssing out’ may be a better option than the other way around, but I do so with a vague feeling of being foolish.

    I believe the poor performance of our institute is a lack of understanding about its fundamental mission and a lack of skills and confidence in successfully pursuing the realisation of such a mission.
    For example: I had a hard time convincing my colleagues that corporations have no place in a professional institute. Luckily we did not yet have any corporate members at the time that the membership decided to include this option in the rules, and I think I may have succeeded in changing their mind.

    In our case, Australian corporate agencies formed their own association last year, and believe it or not, the founding president of their association who is the CEO of a major agency, is also a highly regarded, long-standing member of our institute and was by overwhelming acclaim awarded a life membership last month! Obviously no potential conflict of interest was perceived.

    “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”
    ― Albert Einstein

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi louisvr, I see this post is almost 3 years old and wonder if you are still a member of AUSIT. I have also been agonising over whether to renew my AUSIT membership until I come to your post. I eventually decided to allow my AUSIT membership to lapse because I really cannot see any value in it for me, not that I’m not serious in practising as a freelance translator (I obtained NAATI advanced translator accreditation for that purpose), but this bureaucratic organization has nothing to offer to people in my situation, it seems more geared towards educators who need just another project. I will keep an eye out for a group that suits serious practitioners, but I doubt if it exists as the industry is in such a state that it is difficult to support serious freelance practitioners.


  2. OK, thanks, Louis.

    That’s one vote for staying in the ATA so far.


    • Steve your name has been familiar for a long time. As I don’t live in the US, my only benefit of my ATA membership is the exposure I get from the directory. I also enjoy the Conference though I missed a few for reasons of being busy too far away. By now you should be over 60; with over 20 years of membership your yearly spending is reduced by taking Life membership. Also the time you spent writing all this is probably already worth more than USD 200.


      • What is life membership?

        Somebody mentioned it once but I don’t know what it means.

        Is it a socialistic plot and ploy to destroy our great and shiny capitalist way of life, like Social Security?


  3. This is hysterical because I am the guy that zigs when I’m supposed to zag! If I had a SDL Trados sign around my neck, I wasn’t aware of it. I am an interpreter not a translator. That out of the way, I love to read your ridiculously long blog. Many of the things you speak about also apply to Interpreting agencies.
    I’m not trying to self-promote on your blog, but I have also written about problems in the ATA. Here is a link for you to look at and see my concerns.
    Everything you are saying is true. I can’t argue with it because they are my concerns. Ok, so truth is I am less interested in Translator concerns and more interested in interpreter concerns. Nevertheless, ATA needs to be giving serious attention to our concerns. It also needs to grow up a little. I do believe that it is always important to welcome in newbies, but I think it is more important to satisfy the needs of respected, long standing, experienced members that bring credibility to the organization.
    I do think that some things are changing for the better but will take a while to manifest itself. At this moment the ATA Chronicle needs a lot of help. I am on a taskforce that is presently interviewing people to see what can be done to improve the Chronicle. Would you be interested in allowing me to interview you? Also I welcome a deeper discussion on this entire topic. The funny thing is that I am working hard right now to gain beneficial information. ATA is a collaborative organization, so even if I feel strongly about something, I can and already have been shot down like an ugly buck tooth nerd with a bad pickup line.
    After 27 years, my guess is that you have observed the trends of the organization over years and have a pretty realistic idea of what to expect in the future from it. Whatever you decide to do, I’m sure it will be the right decision for you. So would you be willing to speak with me over Skype or phone?


  4. Hi Jeff, I’m glad you like my long posts.

    “So would you be willing to speak with me over Skype or phone?”

    Sure, why not. But could you answer my question? Do you agree with Louis that it might be better for me to stay in the ATA tent, as he put it?

    Every vote counts on my blog.


  5. I think yes. In business I like to review what I’m doing and see what works and what doesn’t. I don’t like to do things that waste my time unless it has to do with bacon and delicious beer. If it isn’t working for me, I consider it a waste and discontinue the activity. Right now I am willing to give ATA a try. I might reevaluate that in a few years. You have 27 years as a member which is why it is hard for me to recommend my yes to you. This is like a pre-pubescent boy trying to give dating advice to a grandfather. No offense meant, I’m not trying to call you old.


  6. @Jeff

    Ok, thanks, 2 votes for staying so far.


  7. I knew not to renew my ATA membership after spending a few months in the ATA’s ‘mentoring’ program for ‘newbies,’ only to be coached, during that period, primarily on how to build a higher profile at ProZ, where word rates offered in my language pair ranged between US $0.02 and $0.08. To supplement the essentially unpaid work I was supposed to relish through agencies listing at ProZ, I was advised to trawl for business through my local Rotary-type clubs and the like (though there isn’t a soul who uses my language pair regularly within thousands of miles from where I live). When these strategies flopped, the ATA mentoring program suggested that I needed to think more positively, and encouraged me to sign up at a New Age website where I could share and process my feelings of failure, etc. . .When I provided honest feedback to ATA about the mentoring experience it had provided, I never heard a syllable back. Instead, I got the annual solicitation to renew membership, which I promptly deleted permanently (:^).

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks Lucille, so that’s one vote for leaving the ATA so far.

    The mentoring program you are describing might have worked on a newbie, but you don’t look and you don’t sound like a newbie.

    As some of us remember from Latin classes, “Quod licet Iovi, non licet Bovi”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So kind of you, wise Patenttranslator; and indeed, I was probably not the most appropriate mentee for an ATA mentoring program. What I needed was a segway between a career as an in-house government agency translator and the world of private freelancing. So yes, I came to ATA experienced in one side of the profession, but a primer in how to navigate unfavorable and daily-worsening market conditions was something I sorely needed, but didn’t receive. I ultimately got some excellent informal guidance from wonderful and welcoming colleagues at IAPTI, but have yet to face down adverse market forces with success.. .Perhaps there is no fix for what is happening to translation freelancing, these days, but ATA would go a long way towards earning the trust of new members if it based its programs on market realities, rather than outdated bromides. . .

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Behind the veneer of cynicism I noticed, there are some valid concerns. I think you have already made up your mind, so I won’t try to persuade you either way.

    I outgrew the newbie phase many years ago (I have more than 20 years under my belt as a full-time translator). I think the best and more lasting efforts to change things are the ones that happen inside an organization, not imposed from outside. So, if you are serious about changing things, start from the inside.

    Running a professional organization takes volunteers and a certain skin thickness, not to mention a great deal of extroversion. There are many of our colleagues who are actually introverts (or closet introverts), so those well-intentioned tips or advice to market or promote our so-called business fall in deaf ears.

    I don’t see my paid membership to ATA as some sort of investment per se but as a necessary cost of doing business, even though I don’t consider myself a businessperson, entrepreneur, or language marketeer. Half of the things happening with ATA I don’t like, but what choice do I have? Abandon ship? Complain ad nauseam? Or actually suggesting workable, small-step solutions? I like to rock the boat and I devote part of my free time to puncture the inflated expectations and egos hovering around.

    So, stick around if you want, but make some interesting, thought-provoking suggestions, take the initiative, don’t just grouse about stuff.


  10. “I think you have already made up your mind, so I won’t try to persuade you either way.”

    No, I have not made up my mind yet, and I am not sure whether you are saying that I should stay, or that I should go.

    “Half of the things happening with ATA I don’t like, but what choice do I have? Abandon ship? Complain ad nauseam?”

    I disagree with this part. We all have choices, and to abandon ship is clearly one of them. That’s why I wrote this post. Complaining is better than being quiet ad nauseam about things that you don’t like, although complaining and then trying to do something about it is still better.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Oh by the way, now I am really self conscious about my moderate beer punch! I definately have to go on a diet and do more Zumba now! Probably need to see a therapist for emotIonal issues as well.


  12. Oh, I wasn’t talking about you, you seem in pretty good shape.

    I was talking about the other guys.

    (Shrinks are expensive and they don’t really help anyway).


  13. If the investment has no effect on your income, it’s a worthless investment. For me it has been worthless and I won’t renew my membership this year.


    • Thanks, Tom, for your opinion.

      It wouldn’t be a totally worthless investment, even if I didn’t get any business from it, if it was money spent for a good thing in the long run, but that is precisely the question, isn’t it?


  14. I had a great time at the conference this year, and I was wishing I would finally meet you in person, madpatenttranslator. I’ve been a member for 3 years, and for me it’s worth it. It doesn’t sound like you are getting much out of it anymore, Steve. But my vote is for you not to leave because then you won’t give me the chuckles when I need them while tearing the latest ATA article to shreds.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Jesse, for your opinion.

      So are you still a newbie? If you are still a newbie, the ATA is the place to be – for you, but not so much for old dogs like me.

      However, we could easily meet some place else. You know, the ATA is not the world and there is a translators’ conference held somewhere in the world about every couple of month.

      Since going to Europe, Canada, South America or Australia would be tax deductible for me if I find a conference some place where I want to go anyway, we may yet meet in a place like that


      • No, I wouldn’t consider myself a newbie anymore, Steve. I live in Mexico and will be at the St. Jerome Annual Translators Conference that takes place in conjunction with the International Guadalajara Book Fair (FIL) this weekend! It’s Spanish English so I’m afraid that’s a bit off your radar.
        Getting back to ATA, I went to some good sessions, one called Mastering the Challenges of a Direct-Client Portfolio. I think that after many years though, anything gets tiring really. Especially all the natter regarding agencies.

        Liked by 1 person

  15. If I were you, I wouldn’t leave ATA.


    • Thank you, Ehsan.

      The votes to stay seem to have it for the moment.


  16. I think the 6-minute video is a shout-out about the flashiest parts of the conference. I’m sure there was more in-depth content in the presentations themselves.
    However, I agree with you, Steve, that most translators’ conferences are all about rates, marketing and advice for newbies.

    Since you are open to crossing the pond, check out Mediterranean Editors and Translators, an association of language professionals who work into or with English. At their meeting near Madrid last month there were no rants about agencies. No rate debates. Just high quality content from oldies to oldies (no offence meant; I’m an oldie myself). It was peer-to-peer sharing at its best.

    Kevin Lossner was bowled over by what he saw and learnt:

    Liked by 1 person

  17. @Emma

    There is nothing wrong with complaints about agencies and information about rates and marketing.

    I appreciate your tip about Mediterranean Translators and Editors, but my question to you is: Should I leave or should I stay in the ATA?

    Care to weigh in with your opinion?


  18. Steve, if you have the energy, I think you should stay in and help steer the ATA in the direction you think it should be going.


  19. OK, thanks, Emma.


  20. If you are a high profile and long-term member, the ATA should be interested in both hearing from you and in channeling your comments into action (whether in agreement or in challenge). Questions

    Have you been surveyed for suggestions regarding the organization’s development? If yes, did they follow up in a timely and constructive manner to your concerns?

    Have you used the resources of the organization to yourself develop tracks for more seasoned translation professionals? If not, would you be willing to invest the time to help the organization meet these needs?

    Because industry newbies need connections, ask yourself if this is the organization that you’d like to support to achieve these goals. Will it weaken the organization’s goals in this regard if you and other veterans disappear?

    Can you otherwise contribute to the organization or specify a track for your membership donation?

    I am in the leave camp if your basic position is that the organization neither serves you nor the industry well, and if you believe that there is no listening happening among the organization’s leadership. Recognizing that work associations have a diverse base means catering to diverse needs. If that’s not what they are doing, perhaps some other group is.


  21. @TLCOLES
    I am a low-profile, long-term member.

    “I am in the leave camp if your basic position is that the organization neither serves you nor the industry well, and if you believe that there is no listening happening among the organization’s leadership. Recognizing that work associations have a diverse base means catering to diverse needs. If that’s not what they are doing, perhaps some other group is.”

    A very good summary of what I think is going on.

    Will keep it in mind.


  22. One way of looking at it, is that many of the institutes/associations have rather naively served the ‘industry’ well. Unfortunately, it has inadvertently come at the expense of the ‘profession’.

    The question therefore depends on whether translating is your occupation/profession, or your business.

    In case you are wondering, Steve, I regard you as having a professional practice, not a business buying and selling the work of others.

    I gather that you take personal responsibility for the work you deliver, even when it has been produced by a colleague.
    I also suspect you treat those who do work for you with the respect due a professional colleague.


  23. “I also suspect you treat those who do work for you with the respect due a professional colleague.”

    Of course. I have a great deal or respect for people who can do what I am doing because I understand how complicated and demanding our job is most of the time. Most of the time I translate myself, although that may change at some point.

    There is a school of thought among some translators who consider what translation agencies do as inherently devious, unhealthy and predatory.

    I could not agree more. An agency that treats translators fairly and with respect, pays them well and on time is God’s gift to translators.

    Unfortunately, there seem to be fewer and fewer of them these days. But I would not be surprised if customers started slowly defecting from the the corporate translation agency model to return to the traditional, small, specialized agency model.

    I believe that this is the best way for them to make sure that they get the value that they expect for their money.


    • I hope you are right, Steve, but I suspect that the smaller agencies will be forced to (or will choose to) ‘compete’ with the larger ones on price.

      For the quality end of the market, I think you may be right in that there may be a gradual return to the “traditional, small, specialized agency model”, owned by a well-qualified, experienced professional who takes personal responsibility for the quality of the work delivered.

      IOW, the differentiation of the ‘profession’ from the ‘industry’. What is needed, is a brand (like CPA) to distinguish one from the other, so that a potential client can make an informed choice. Oddly enough, the client will probably find that he/she is better off qua price as well.


    • “An agency that treats translators fairly and with respect, pays them well and on time is God’s gift to translators.”

      Agencies do not pay translators, Steve. It’s our clients who pay. I can’t help laughing when a translator says, “The agencies pay me and take care of me, God bless them! ” Laughing bitterly.

      Well, agencies could actually be quite useful. They could make good secretaries helping us with everyday banalities. First of all, however, we should teach them some home truths, such as: a secretary is not the boss, a database of names is not personnel, and megalomania is not charisma, although it may take this magical disguise.

      “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”
      by Susan Cain (Author):

      Liked by 1 person

  24. “For example: I had a hard time convincing my colleagues that corporations have no place in a professional institute. Luckily we did not yet have any corporate members at the time that the membership decided to include this option in the rules, and I think I may have succeeded in changing their mind.”

    So do I understand you correctly that the Australian association of translators is for individual translators only, as the name says, and agencies are not free to join it, except if it is an individual who is also a translator?

    This is not the case in the ATA, unfortunately.


  25. That’s right, our ‘association’ is the “Australian Institute of Interpreters and Translators ” (AUSIT), and as behoves a professional institute, only ‘duly qualified’ individuals are accepted as members (although there is still work to be done in this respect).
    The recent, ill-advised attempt to establish a special membership category for corporations, was probably motivated by the temptation of more financial support, just like your politicians :-).

    One common problem with many associations is that their focus changes from trying to accomplish their fundamental mission (which is hard), to trying to be successful at more practical goals like organising gab-fests or recruiting members (which is easier, though often only temporary when new members realise that their basic needs are not being met).

    It’s an old adage, but a valid one: “If you do not have a plan, you become part of someone else’s plan”.

    One of our membership requirements is a professional accreditation from either the Australian Authority for the Accreditation of Translators and Interpreters (NAATI), which involves a three-hour written exam set and assessed by an accredited colleague, or a qualification as a translator/interpreter from a recognized training institute. A corporation cannot meet either of these requirement any more than being available for execution in the US 🙂

    I measure the performance of our/a professional institute by how much or how little it protects and advances my professional interests, not by how much fun it is to get together from time-to-time, or whether it is active in areas that do meet the above-mentioned two criteria.

    BTW, my Master’s thesis dealt with the strategic aspects of (industry) associations, so it’s a field of special interest for me.


  26. As and agency owner it is very difficult to write these checks each year to the ATA, ALC, ELIA, and ACTFL. The one I like to write is to the ASTM as it seems to be working toward a positive direction. Unfortunately, our clients like to see these memberships listed as part of our professional affiliations on RFP responses. We are members more for marketing than anything else, however, many of my fellow agency owners are bowing out more and more of from these organizations. I am still hesitant, but the if the costs out weigh the repercussions than I am forced to keep writing those checks.


  27. Thanks, Melissa.

    I assume you would would be inclined not to continue the membership if you were me because during 27 years, none of my direct customers ever asked me whether I was a member of ATA.

    I don’t know whether patent law firms even know that such an organization exists.

    I do remember that I was asked a few times a long time ago whether I was ATA-certified by a couple of translation agencies, but I also remember that I got the job anyway when I said that I wasn’t.


  28. Steve, it seems that we are similar. We don’t believe in free will…

    Anyway, the only reason a translator with 27 years under his belt would pay $200 a year to be in a club (that is all it is for experienced translators) is to feel that he “belongs”. This has been going on for, oh, around 5,000 years.

    Time to pull the plug and spend the $200 drinking a fine wine (or beer) with friends over Thanksgiving.

    Liked by 2 people

  29. Yes, Steve, I say no and we are considering cancelling our memberships for next year as well. We already have done this with non-language groups that return nothing. I keep thinking that if I hold on that client will come from these memberships, but alas nothing arrives. The one that has helped the most is the state certification for small business status. It allows me to compete for set asides for women, minority business RFPs. This certification is very inexpensive as well. Thanks for giving me the courage to jump off the cliff with you! 🙂 I agree, go drink wine instead!

    Liked by 2 people

  30. “Thanks for giving me the courage to jump off the cliff with you! 🙂 I agree, go drink wine instead!”

    I think I’ll go for liquor.

    It’s Thanksgiving tomorrow and my son said I should try Jameson Irish whiskey.

    Liked by 1 person

  31. I an in Lyon right now, so I am going drink a bit of brandy to celebrate while I am away. Enjoy the holiday!

    Liked by 1 person

  32. I can only answer your question for myself, and not for you. I’m a translator with 26 years of experience (though for much of that time translation was my side gig, not my primary). And I will continue my ATA membership next year.

    I would say that 95% of what I get out of ATA, I get at the conferences. Mainly, that is contact with others in the profession. Because of my attendance there, I now have legions of trusted colleagues, and I am happy to meet more folks each year. I have collaborated on jobs with some of them, asked questions of many of them, and referred work to many of them (and they to me – probably my #1 source of new clients). Clients are always appreciative when I can refer another translator for a job I can’t take. I also enjoy attending the sessions – there are of course some duds, but they are quite interesting and often practically useful as well. And last, attending the conference helps me better feel the pulse of the profession writ large (one segment of it, at least).

    If you are judging the conference based on the video, you are missing most of the good stuff IMHO. I didn’t attend any of the things they highlighted in the video except the opening session…but I had a fantastic conference experience. The educational sessions I went to this year were really top-notch, and of course none of those are on the video. (I would have gone to the brainstorming session, but I had a conflict. It sounded like it worked pretty well and was definitely more interactive and thought-provoking than the standard speed networking session, which it was designed to replace.) I’m not sure who the audience for the video was, honestly.

    If I didn’t attend conferences, I would be more on the fence about my membership. I think it indicates at least a modicum of professional seriousness to be a member of a professional organization. For some, certification is a benefit, and I still consider getting certified myself (though for the moment having passed the US Dept of State translation exam seems to have proven a sufficient credential). Like you, I find the Chronicle largely uninteresting. However, the newsletter of the Slavic Language Division (SlavFile) is well worth my time…the Medical Division newsletter also sometimes has interesting stuff.

    I also am pleased that the ATA board has heard our pleas to put more emphasis on public education and public relations, and seems to be moving back in that direction. I definitely felt that having ATA and our profession put forward in the news media on a regular basis was a definite benefit of membership.

    So, for me, the answer is to stay. But your mileage may vary.

    Liked by 1 person

  33. Thank you, Jen, for your detailed answer.

    The votes seem to be split about 50/50 for or against staying in ATA at this point.

    I haven’t gone to an ATA conference since it was held in San Francisco, in 1998, I think. I agree that meeting other people and being able to talk to them at a conference is a major benefit. However, as far as I know, you don’t have to be an ATA member for that. You can just go and pay a slightly higher registration fee.

    The problem for me with the ATA conferences is that they are so expensive that whenever I was considering whether I should go to an ATA conference or on my regular trip to Europe, Europe won each time since it does not cost that much more. That is the main reason why I have been only to 1 ATA conference in 27 years.

    I also agree that unlike the Chronicle, the SlavFile is interesting – I even wrote for it myself a couple of articles many years ago.

    One thing jumped out at me from your response right away: If you have been an ATA member for 26 years and you are still “considering whether you need to be ATA-certified”, then it would seem to me that you don’t need that.

    You said that ATA conferences are your #1 resource for new clients. My question to you would be, what was the percentage of direct clients who were among these new clients, as opposed to translation agencies?

    Thanks again for your detailed response, I really appreciate it.


    • Re: certification – true, but translation is my primary gig now, whereas it wasn’t before, and I am looking for ways to expand my client portfolio. Certification is more widely recognized than the DOS exam, and the folks I know who got certified got more client traffic as a result.

      Re: new clients direct vs. agency – about half and half, I would guess. I don’t have anything against working for agencies provided they are GOOD agencies. They are out there…but indeed sorting the wheat from the chaff can be very time-consuming. That’s where referrals from colleagues can be quite helpful. Note that the conferences themselves are not my #1 source for new clients – but the colleagues I have gotten to know at conferences are.

      (As an aside: I have just started getting some direct clients for translation work [I have long had them for writing/editing work], and I definitely want to ramp up that part of my business more. I suppose they can prove more lucrative, but I like them better primarily because I just like the direct interaction more.)

      One intangible thing I get from conferences is a lot of social interaction with like-minded souls and a sense of community, which help me get through the rest of the year when I’m just working in my basement. I do miss having coworkers.

      Liked by 1 person

  34. @Jenn

    Thanks again for your answers.


  35. I have an on and off again relationship with the ATA. In my early years (pre-Internet), it was a valuable source of information and my sole connection to other translators (I also had two articles published – one about the then new invention of dictionaries on CD-Rom and one from 1994 suggesting the introduction of a mentor program [in which I mentioned nothing about signing up for new age classes…]). Five years later, I wasn’t getting anything out of it any more and I did not renew.

    Then I rejoined in 2000 when the conference came to Florida. A few years later, I again cancelled my membership because it seemed too agency-oriented and agency-business oriented rather than translator business oriented. Then, in 2009, I joined again when I saw stuff like this that seemed to suggest that the ATA was finally doing something to actually support the industry:

    Click to access whitehouse_letter_oct2_2009.pdf

    and this:

    Click to access linkedIn_2009.pdf

    Sadly, this attitude seemed to fade away, I also never got any contacts from the ATA directory (which seems like it’s very hard to find – perhaps because the ATA also has agencies as members, they don’t want clients contacting us directly?), and the ATA chronicle never seemed to deal with anything having to do with actual translation, but just CAT tools and marketing).

    (As an aside, that article you mentioned, Steve, about the National Security Agency, had a serious error for years where the Arabic text in the middle of the screen was incorrectly written with the letters separated – in Arabic, the letters are also connected like our cursive writing – quite a serious mistake for a government agency advertising for translators. I am happy to report, however, that this mistake has been corrected).

    The conference is coming to Miami in 2015, I shall attend as a non-member and decide whether or not to join again.


    • Thanks, Jeff.

      “I again cancelled my membership because it seemed too agency-oriented”

      This is in my opinion the main problem with the ATA. Unless and until this problem is resolved, the ATA will remain mainly an association for translation agencies who can fish in it for cheaper and cheaper talent as if it were a shallow pond.

      The way it works now, it should be renamed ATA(&T), as in Association of Translation Agencies (&Translators).

      I understand in other countries only people who actually translate, i.e. really are translators and not only monolingual brokers, are allowed to join an association of translators, for instance in Australia or in Germany.

      Liked by 1 person

  36. Definitely cut the umbilical cord. You’ll never miss it; I haven’t, having discontinued membership several years ago for the many reasons you so unerringly described, plus the fact that, living in Europe, I also had to deal with currency fluctuations between the dollar and the euro.


  37. Thanks, Elisabeth.

    I really like the word “unerringly”. Nobody said that about me yet.

    Liked by 1 person

  38. Ditch ’em. I’ve never been a member of a translators’ association, and it doesn’t seem to have held me back.


  39. Thanks, Rob.

    You contribution is vote number 50 (although half of the comments are my responses) and the “no” votes seem to have it for the time being.


  40. Steve, go for old folks membership for $100, you are ATA member for more than 20 years and as you are also old enough (I presume – smile), you are eligible, just ask for old geezers rate, I got it immediately, and it also gives you full voting privileges (smile)


  41. With your good resume you will have surely enough new customer contacts to make $100 money well spend. I am getting at least couple of good jobs from their directory every year. It also allows me to bitch about ATA and their silly way they run it on ATA Linkedin site, which is fun.


  42. Thanks, Radek, I did not know that senior discount was an option for me and I will keep it in mind.

    When I go to get a haircut, in some shops they charge me automatically a reduced rate for seniors, in some shops they ask me whether I am a senior, and in some shops they charge me automatically full rate.

    If they ask, I always lie about my age (I am not of senior citizen age yet, but I probably look it) to save three bucks.

    In this case I would not have to lie to save a hundred dollars.


  43. […] So Hard to Catch Your Own Typos Terminology Talk with Gabriele Sauberer, Director-TermNet Should I Renew My Membership in the ATA for Next Year? First Time at the Language Show Live? Some Tips for You! Website Language Support: What’s the […]


  44. […] received about 30 comments in response to my soul-searching post about whether I should stay in the ATA which I published on my blog at the end of November 2014. The division between the “Yes” votes and “No” votes was about […]


  45. […] American Translators Association, which will be held between November 4-7, 2015 in Miami, Florida, continues to ignore these fundamental problems and concentrates again mostly on “newbies and b… to help create a new generation of young, obedient translators, perfect for the so-called […]


  46. Hi Steve,

    I came upon your blog post because I was searching for feedback about the Network Brainstorming session at last year’s conference. As a member of the ATA Business Practices Committee, I helped to organize that event, and actually wrote that specific scenario. The objective of the event is to provide attendees with the opportunity to meet other translators. As you will have read in the comments above, networking is one of the top reasons for attendance. Many people find networking events to be daunting, and the sheer number of participants at ATA can make it intimidating for even the most extroverted translator. Providing participants an activity–in this case, discussing common business problems–is a way to help break the ice. It’s also a bit more relevant than your typical icebreaker (Google “ice breaker activity” and you’ll quickly see what I’m talking about). You’re right that Ernesto’s dilemma was a rather simple one. We provided a mix of “easy” and complex dilemmas covering a wide range of issues that translators and interpreters encounter in their work. As for the name Ernesto, we used a variety of names in our scenarios, including: Neymar, Momo, Kemal, Mariella, Michel, Anna, Jeanetta, Bharat, Sanjay, Mario, Ryan, Franz, Emily, Simon, Wei, Jane, Alexandru, Ritesh, Ilya, Tilda, Nathalie, and Alex. ATA’s membership is incredibly diverse. I made a point to include names from around the world to reflect that diversity. We cannot all be Johns, Janes or Steves. Finally, I’d like to extend an invitation to you to help us with this year’s event. We’re writing up the scenarios now, and it would be excellent to have one that draws upon your decades of experience as a patent translator.


    • Hi May:

      Thanks for your comment.

      I will think about it.

      But you realize that I will probably come up with something subversive, right?


  47. Steve, if you are over 60 and if you are ATA member over 20 years, you are eligible for $100 per year lifetime membership, which brings me about a dozen qualified phone calls per year and some result in decent jobs.
    For $100 it is a reasonably good deal. Otherwise I think ATA and its accreditations and activities are mostly targeted to newbees and are irrelevant for those who are not.


    • I know. Next year I will do that.


      • I believe if you call them now and ask them to change it, they may do that and credit the rest of what you paid this year toward the next year – in fact if you renewed via phone, ask them why they did not tell you about it. The only problem may be that I do not know if they require uninterrupted membership, which I had.


      • It will be 20 years that I have been a member only next year. I ignored ATA for the first 10 years.


      • Time flies. I hired a lawyer to force them to stop discrimination against associate members 20 years ago. They still discriminate, but more subtly and mainly against newbees, but it is not my problem anymore. I do not care, as every good deed gets justly punished soon or later. I paid my dues.


  48. “I do not care, as every good deed gets justly punished soon or later. ”

    Ha, ha, ha, that’s true, for sure.

    As you said, Radek, ATA membership is not really worth $190, but it is probably still worth about $100.

    So I look forward to renewing my membership for $100 next year.

    Onward and upward!


  49. […] with cute babies greedily, joyfully and incessantly hugging each other is in my opinion a good one. As I wrote in a previous post almost four years ago, the central team of that promotional video clip from a previous ATA conference emphasized creating […]


  50. I strongly believe that the ATA has lost its north. It has turned from a professional association into a business that offers nothing relevant to its members. They give a certification test hardly anybody pass, they charge for the the test, for the revision, and most of the time you end up taking the test again because the grade depends on the eye of the beholder. They refrain from establishing decent rates to serve as guidelines for translators because they “defend” both the interest of translators and translation companies, which most of the time charge customers impressive fees and pay translators a few pennies. The webinars and courses it offers are extremely expensive and most of the time are not what you actually expect. I think it is about time we give thought to establishing a new translators association that gives our profession the prestige it deserves.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Unfortunately, I have to agree with you. I am no longer a member.


    • Hi Lillian, I have to clarify something in your comment. ATA refrains from establishing rate guidelines not because it is acting in the interest of translation companies, but because it is strictly banned from doing so by US antitrust law. ATA got into legal trouble in the 1990s as the result of a compensation survey (not even a recommendation of rates! just a survey! but it was construed as recommending rates) and since then has been meticulous about enforcing this. For more info and background on this, read here:


      • In other words, the ATA has done nothing for translators as it has been working diligiently enforcing policies favorable to agencies since the 1990s. The question of whether this is by design or a stupid faux pas three decades ago is irrelevant.

        Translator, help yourself. Don’t expect ATA to protect you from the agencies, let alone from the government.

        I should have quit the association decades ago … but better late then never.


  51. My point is that ATA is considerably hamstrung by US law and is not legally allowed to “establish decent rates to serve as guidelines”, which Lillian had suggested they do. Unions can do that…non-US-based associations can do that…but not a US-based association. This is not about a “faux pas”, but rather about the association incurring substantive (and expensive!) legal liability. You don’t have to agree with the tenets of the law – US antitrust law is notoriously sticky and convoluted, and one could argue overly restrictive – but it’s what we’ve got. And the provisions of the law that ATA tangled with in the 1990s are still very much in effect today.

    That said, you are entirely correct that ATA is generally not in the business of “protecting translators from agencies”. If that’s what you are looking for, then you are right to look elsewhere. I do still get things from my ATA membership, primarily the annual conference and associated networking opportunities, and the occasional client obtained through my listing in the directory. So for now, it’s worth it for me to stay in. But every person has their own calculus on this, obviously.

    Rather than starting another association, though, as Lillian suggests, it sounds like what you are really looking for is a union that would advocate on behalf of freelance translators. There was something called the Translators and Interpreters Guild (a subset of the Communication Workers of America union), but it has since morphed into the Interpreters Guild of America and seems focused solely on interpreters these days. There’s not much advocating happening on behalf of translators, from what I can see.


    • I know, the idea of an association of translators that would actively work to protect them from predatory agencies is something that must sound completely ridiculous to you (as indicated in your comment by quotation marks,) since the ATA has been doing the exact opposite of that for decades now. Fortunately for me, I am not an ATA member anymore, which means that I am free to talk about any subject on my blog, including rates, in accordance with the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, affording me freedom of speech.


      • I seem to have antagonized you. That was not my intent. I will bow out of this discussion and wish you well.


      • Antogonized me? Such a strong language. You have not antagonized me, but the ATA sure did.


  52. Reality Czech: Price for full ATA membership sucks and does not make sense. But if you are member for more than 20 years and you are over sixty, you can become a lifelong member or whatever they call it and it cost only $100 or something like this, which for me makes sense, because it pays with 1-2 jobs I get because of it. BTW – I am the guy, who in late 1990’s hired an expensive lawyer, who wrote a threatening letter to ATA to stop discriminating against associate members and as they learned hard way before to be carefull, they changed the bylaws withing 3 months. (smile)


    • At this point I have such a low opinion of the ATA that I would not be a member even if they paid me for it. ATA is completely useless to translators who want to work for direct customers – in more than 30 years I have never been contacted by a direct customer courtesy of the ATA database when I still was a member. They don’t even know that ATA exists.


      • I hear you Steve, and I do not like ATA either, but my experience with new customers via ATA database is a bit different, maybe my info in ATA database better attracts clients.


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