Posted by: patenttranslator | January 16, 2015

For Better Or Worse Still an ATA (American Translators Association) Member in 2015


I received about 30 comments in response to my soul-searching post about whether I should stay in the ATA published on my blog at the end of November 2014. The division between the “Yes” votes and “No” votes was about 40/60.

Some people were telling me that I should stick around and try to help to change the direction of the association to help to create an association of, by and for translators.

The association does need to change if it wants to be worthy of its name. The way it functions now, it should change its name to ATA&t (“ASSOCIATION OF TRANSLATION AGENCIES & translators)”.

The anti-translator and pro-“translation business” slant of the ATA is clear and undeniable. In just about every issue of the ATA Chronicle, somebody, often a former translator who is now running an agency or working as a “translator trainer” (is that similar to a dog trainer?) is exhorting translators to “learn new valuable skills” by “integrating machine translation technology and other valuable, cutting edge translation technologies into their workflow”.

Translators who believe that translation is product of human brain and not of some tools and who do not want to become slave-like robots processing garbage generated by hardware and software called “machine translation” are called “luddites”, neo-luddites” and worse.

There is a big difference between using tools such as CATs or machine translation for our own purposes, and allowing other people to use these new tools to control us with these tools. I am a frequent user of machine translation. Most translators are using it now, especially GoogleTranslate and in my case databases and machine translation functions available on the Japan Patent Office website, European Patent Office website and World Intellectual Property Organization Website, because machine translation software is quickly replacing dictionaries. But I am absolutely not interested in “learning a new skill” involving processing of texts translated by machines, and I pity poor souls who may be trying to earn a living in this manner.

If you want to call me digital neo-luddite because I will not let you control me with your digital tools, go ahead, but I hope you won’t mind if I call you a digital neo-fascist.

So I was not surprised that some commenters were saying “ditch’em, Steve!”, while several commenters who happened to be veteran translators were sharing their unhappiness with the way the ATA is run.

By mid December I pretty much decided to ditch’em. Although I think that the ATA is still a useful organization to translators, it is useful mostly to newbies. Its main mission is to create a shallow pool where talented beginning translators can be easily scooped up at bargain prices by translation agencies looking for cheap, obedient and pliant labor.

The ATA database of translators, skillfully hidden from the prying eyes of search engines, is used by translation agencies (direct clients have no idea that it exists because the ATA does not publicize its existence to direct clients) the way an experienced dog trainer must be going through a fresh litter of new puppies to find talented, obedient and highly trainable dog material.

Which is why many old dogs such as myself eventually quit in frustration.

But then one clever commenter said in December that there was no need to pay them 200 dollars for membership (in reality it is 190 dollars, not 200 dollars) if I am over 60 years of age, which I am, and if I have been a member continuously for 20 years, which I thought I was.

I don’t know how it works in other countries, but senior citizens have a lot of special privileges here in United States. If you look old enough, you get 3 dollars off your haircut at most barber shops, maybe because there is usually much less hair to deal with anyway, many restaurants have discounts for older folks, as do hotels, car rental companies and other commercial establishments.

Plus, senior citizens are not at the mercy of the deadly private health insurance mafia as they can enroll in a publicly funded health insurance system called Medicare which is not expensive and actually works. This is by far the biggest advantage older people have here and it is a crying shame that their children and grandchildren have to pay for this system for all of their working life and wait until they turn 65 to be able to see a doctor in this country without having to take out a second mortgage.

But I’d better get back to the issue of my membership in the ATA.

So after sifting through the advice on my blog (and I would like to thank again all people who kindly left a comment), at the beginning of January I decided to heed the sage advice of one reader of my block and instead of not renewing my membership, I sent the ATA a check for a hundred dollars with check marks in the boxes indicating that I am a senior citizen-translator who has been a disgruntled but faithful member for more than 20 years.

Although the ATA was not really worth 190 dollars a year to me, I figured that it probably still might be worth about a hundred bucks a year. Unless you are a total beginner, in which case the Chronicle is definitely a useful resource for you, the 11 yearly issues of the ATA Chronicle are worth about 20 dollars to somebody like myself, 25 dollars tops, and a listing in the ATA directory of translators could be worth about 75 dollar for reasons mentioned above.

I only got one job from that directory in 2014, it was a minimum job for 40 dollars, and at first the agency had to gall to ask me to do it for free.

But it turned out that I was not really an ATA member when I started translating full time in 1987. Somebody from the ATA called me last week and told me very politely that they could not find me in their records prior to 1998, which means that I would not be eligible for the reduced rate until 2018.

I told the polite lady rather rudely that they are probably mistaken, because at first I thought so, and that she can just tear up my check because the membership was not worth more than a hundred dollars to me. She seemed taken aback a bit, but I must say that she kept her cool and was polite to me to the end.

After I hung up on the ATA lady, I realized that their records are probably correct and that I must be mistaken. I did become a member of a translators’ association when I started translating in San Francisco in 1987, but it was the NCTA (Northern California Translators Association), not the ATA.

I quit the NCTA in protest over their anti-democratic policies in 2010 as I wrote in this post.

I now remember that I did resist becoming an member ATA for the first eleven years of my career because I happened to know and admire several veteran translators in San Francisco back in the eighties who were much older than me, whose opinion I valued, and who had basically the same opinion of the ATA even back then that I am now expressing in this blog post.

But then I decided to join anyway when the ATA Conference was held in 1998 in San Francisco. I either got a discounted membership fee for paying the conference fee or the other way round. Can’t remember which way it was, but I am pretty sure I got a discount back then.

So why is he still a member, you may be asking yourself, if the ATA refused to give him a discount and like most Americans he does not seem to be willing to pay for anything unless he gets some kind of a fake discount first?

Well, it so happened that a new translation agency found my listing in the ATA directory of translators a few days ago and the guy agreed to my rate without haggling and sent me a patent for translation which will pay for the membership fee more than four times.

So, I have to admit that the ATA database is not completely useless if you also work for agencies, and that is why I reversed my decision and decided to pay them another 190 dollars for another year.

It may not sound very realistic, but I am also hoping that the ATA Chronicle will be finally worth somewhere between 35 to 40 dollars this year. It would be major progress for the magazine.

In any case, since I will be still receiving the ATA Chronicle almost monthly for at least another year, you will probably be able to read about what I think the magazine is worth to me in 2015 in a couple of posts on this blog.


  1. Actually, there is increasing dissatisfaction with the Chronicle among members, including the fact that money is being wasted by printing it when it could circulate just as well online (rumor has it that there are hardly any translators using typewriters these days), and also some grumbling about its rather soporific content.

    However, I continue to maintain that the ATA, apart from the Chronicle, has quite a bit of value for at least some old-timers (including me) as well as new members of the profession, and that it is not run by a secret cabal of translation companies who are trying to turn everyone into MT post-fixer-uppers. I have not yet seen any convincing evidence that this is the case.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “I have not yet seen any convincing evidence that this is the case.”

    And your first name is not even Thomas.

    What you said in your comment is a funny caricature of my criticism of the ATA, but the criticism is valid. ATA does not represent people like me, it does not serve the interests of people like me, and the only reason why I am still in it is that once in a while I get a job from the ATA database.

    ATA needs to change.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Steve,
    I hope you are not still getting the print copy of the Chronicle! That’s one thing that is really wasting money I hear. Anyhow I did want to tell you that there was a great article in the Chronicle the other day by Holly Behl about an awesome law dictionary that will soon be online and updated periodically. And of course, I also think it’s worth it to be in the directory. I’ll stay tuned for 2015’s SV ATA Report. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Being a member of an organization does have its perks in terms of networking. However, translators and interpreters have a choice on staying in an organization based on whether or not they can grow in it, and what they can contribute to it as well. On a side note, being a member of an organization should not prevent translators to lose their identity as an individual who is a professional and dedicated to provide the best in the industry.


  5. […] I don’t use any advertising anymore. I have my business website and I am listed in the ATA database of translators, which still works as I write in this post. I also strategically place key words into my silly blog […]


  6. Perhaps you will like TranslationGizmo. It aims to capture the nuance more with technology.


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