So we have managed to survive 2014, yet another year that was full of uncertainties and mostly unfulfilled expectations in an economy that has been “recovering” mostly based only on official statistics. The truth is that mostly the ruling class, looking down on us scornfully from their safely protected perch (above law) in the top 0.1 percent of high earners, has fully recovered from the carnage of 2007 and 2008 (after we were ordered to bail out the gamblers and gangsters by handing our money over to them).
Nevertheless, I think that congratulations are in order. It probably could have been much worse. We are still here to fight another day. Let’s welcome 2015 with a grateful heart and an open mind.
2015 will be my 28th year in business as an independent, self-employed translator. During the first 5 years or so, I was working almost exclusively for translation agencies, but since about the early nineties I have been gradually adding direct clients to my agency clients so that my translation business at this point consists of the three components listed below in order of importance:
1. Direct clients, mostly patent law firms and patent law departments of various companies and corporations. These are my best clients.
2. Translation agencies – although I work for relatively few agencies, a couple of them send me work frequently, one of them several times a week.
When I criticize the practices of some translation agencies in my posts, I am referring to the relatively new type of incredibly greedy and ruthless corporate business entities. Specialized translation agencies, run by language professionals who in fact know something about languages and translations, as opposes to knowing only how to buy and sell them, belong to a completely different category.
3. I also gradually became a specialized translation agency.
When some of my clients started ordering translations from languages that I cannot translate myself, instead of saying “No, I don’t do that” to them, which I think would be criminally stupid, I started looking high and low to find qualified and experienced translators for these projects. Several of these projects that I am managing in this manner (always with the same translators who thus became ideal translators for these projects) have been continuing for quite a few years.
Although I call my blog Diary of a Mad Patent Translator, I consider myself a perfectly sane person, although I do sometime get HOPPING MAD at the insanities encountered so frequently in my profession. That is the reason for the identifying line of my blog.
There are many insanities that translators have to put up with or try to fight them in what is called the translation industry, which at this point has really nothing to do with translation as craft.
From my viewpoint, it is insane that what is called the translation industry is doing all it can to shift the emphasis away from the education, qualifications and experience of translators who are in fact responsible for excellent, mediocre or poor quality of their translations and place it instead squarely on intangible and illusory technical and managerial replacements for these qualifications and experience, which were incidentally made out of whole cloth by what is called the translation industry.
But I am sure that most of these insanities will continue also in the year 2015 and beyond, and new ones will probably be invented. From the viewpoint of what is called the translation industry, it is perfectly sane to attempt to simply replace educated, experienced and qualified translators who often live in countries with a high cost of living and high taxes with much more obedient, even subservient, and most importantly much, much cheaper translators who often live in countries where the cost of labor is very low.
From the viewpoint of a translation agency based in New York, London, or Paris, it makes perfect sense to outsource a complicated project to another translation agency, which may be located for example in Moldova or Egypt, and which may then still be sub-sub-subcontracted and ultimately handled by yet another agency for example in India.
That is why one of the novel managerial techniques of what is called the translation industry is the modern practice of sub-sub-subcontracting, very popular among large translation agencies.
My e-mail box is frequently bombarded by messages from GALA (Globalization and Localization Association) exhorting me to “Think India!” because in India, China and quite a few other countries, translators can be hired for a fraction of what their counterparts who live a little closer to New York, London, or Paris would need to charge to simply make ends meet.
“Think India!” really means “Think maximum profits, ignore common sense!”
Common sense tells me that people who can translate patents and legal briefs from complicated languages such as Japanese, Chinese, or Korean, but also from German, Russian and French, do not live in India. A lot of smart people live in India, they all need to make a living and many of them may be very good translators, but they are probably not very good when it comes to translating patents from these languages to English.
(Although, who knows what the situation will look like in 10, 20 or 30 years.)
Common sense tells me that ISO certification of a translation, a really weird concept that is much touted by what is called the translation industry, is no guarantee of quality whatsoever. It may be a good marketing gimmick attracting gullible clients, but the only guarantee of the quality of a translation is the competence of the translator. As one commenter on my blog put it (thank you Shai), ISO certification of translation is simply automation of incompetence.
Common sense tells me that post-processing of machine translations will also be a very popular concept in 2015 and in the coming years in what is called the translation industry. If this technique could work, which is again based on denying the importance of the human translator in the translation process as translators are now replaced by “post-processors” who are supposed to merely “assist the computer”, it would result in very high profits for translation agencies. Unfortunately for the industry, the fact is that it can only result in exceedingly poor quality of the resulting post-processed “product”.
Fortunately for the industry, it may take a few years before corporate managers start catching on that they are damaging their company’s interests with substandard translations, and there is a lot of money that can be made in the meantime in this manner in what is called the translation industry.
From the viewpoint of a client who needs very good translations of highly complicated texts, for example in the field of intellectual property, the mechanized output obtained from an unthinking machine, even if it is then processed by slave-like humans who can no longer be called translators, will always be substandard and for the most part unusable.
But common sense also tells me all of these techniques, as well as adding to the arsenal of some translation agencies “cloud workers”, i.e. uncountable quantities of ephemeral (possibly non-existent?) human beings who are supposed to be translating or post-processing machine-translated detritus on their tablets or cell phones for free or for next to nothing, will also be quite the rage in what is called the translation industry in 2015.
Boy oh boy, if only these things could work, they could generate so much additional profit for translation agencies! How can they possibly resist the urge to give it a try?
It is pretty clear to me that they will keep trying all of these tricks and inventing new ones also in 2015 and beyond.
By doing so, they will be continuing the segmentation of translation services into a type of service that emphasizes quick and inventive solutions conjured up from a bag of tricks, and the traditional type of service that emphasizes the competence of the translator, which can be only attained through education, talent, and many years of practice.
By doing so, they will be also creating ideal conditions for competition in a vibrant, small business marketplace for the traditional type of translation service that instead of offering automated incompetence (ISO certification), machine detritus and debris post-processed and cleaned up by subservient humans assisting machines, or translation produced by unknown and unknowable individuals who seem to reside in a cloud, provide the real thing: translations that are crafted by talented and highly experienced translators who may be specializing only in a few fields, but who do very good work because they know their field and their languages.
I believe that there will be a lot of work for both of these types of translation services also in the year 2015 and beyond.
The so called translation industry will probably be doing quite well because the need for translation of enormous amounts of information, as quickly and as cheaply as possible, even if the quality is questionable, will continue until machines can be used to safely replace human translators – which is going to happen approximately at the point in time when intergalactic teleportation of humans (“Scotty, beam me up!”) becomes a reality.
But until that time, there will be also a lot of work for translation services that instead of being based on an innovative bag of tricks of business entities that are driven mostly by greed offer translations crafted by educated and highly experienced, specialized translators who often find it impossible to work for the modern version of what is called the translation industry.
And that is the kind of service that I hope to continue providing in the year 2015 and beyond.