Posted by: patenttranslator | February 7, 2015

Post-Processing of Machine Translations, the New Money Maker of “the Translation Industry”

 

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.
Mark Twain

Translators are supposed to be, almost by definition, intelligent and educated people.

After all, they must know at least two languages and many of them know more languages than just two, while so many people can barely speak one language, including quite a few heads of state.

Some translators have graduate degrees in languages, and sometime they have degrees in other subjects that generally pay much better than translating, such as law or medicine. I don’t know why would such people choose to become translators, unless they are convinced that this is something that they were born to do. In my case, at least I have a good excuse – life experience has shown me that translating or managing translations is the only thing that I can do well enough to get paid for it.

But intelligent and educated people are not necessarily terribly smart, and many translators provide a perfect example of this interesting fact.

Exhibit A: How could translation agencies get away with the monstrosity that they call “fuzzy matches”?

This is an ingenious concept that was clearly designed by brokers, namely translation agencies who sell translations originally created by other people, called translators, in order to minimize what a service broker pays to the service provider and to maximize the profit. Is the lower cost in this case going to be passed on to the customer? Do most customers even have the same software that would make it possible for them to determine the extent of these “fuzzy matches”? What do you think? I think that in most cases, they have no idea about the clever machinations in the background.

The entire concept of fuzzy matches is entirely illegitimate, deceitful and extremely dishonest, and its purpose, mentioned above, is completely transparent. Is there is a legitimate reason to give a client a discount when large portion of texts are repeated in a translation? Yes, in some cases, although it is very doubtful that for example the lawyer who created the text that is being translated gave the client a break on the price because large portions of a legal template were simply copied into a contract.

Is my accountant going to give me a discount for “fuzzy matches” based on a software package that I can force him to buy because every year, he simply copies the same template with the same words in it and only changes the numbers that I supply to him every year to prepare my tax return? If I even mentioned something like that to him, he would quite justifiably think that I have gone completely insane, not just slightly mad as some patent translators tend to do.

Even when a discount is warranted, the decision to give a discount and to what extent should be up to the actual service provider. This is not something that should be determined by a software package that is sold to gullible translators and then skillfully operated by a broker to maximize broker’s profit.

I do sometime slightly discount my translations, for example when two long, similar patents are filed by the same company, if a long description of “prior art” is simply copied in the second patent application. But whether or not I will give a discount is completely up to me, not up to a broker armed with software, or up to the whim of a customer.

We know that translations are not about words. If they were about the translation variable called words, machines equipped with nifty software packages would surely have replaced translators by now because machines can translate words much faster than humans, in almost unlimited numbers. The problem is, translations are about a different variable called “meaning”, and while the variable called “words” can be easily calculated, multiplied, or deleted and manipulated almost at will, there is no way to calculate or multiply the variable called “meaning” with a machine. You can only delete, distort and destroy meaning with a machine because machines are very good at distorting and destroying the real meaning of words that only a human being can understand. Only a human brain can determine this variable, as machines can only understand the meaning that has been pre-programmed into them by humans.

Exhibit B: Reanimation of the dead detritus left by machine translation for humans to pick over it during “post-processing” of machine translations.

After the translating community fell for the hoax of “fuzzy matches” and other atrocities brought to us courtesy of certain cats o’ nine tails and perpetrated by translation agencies on translators, Exhibit B is now presented as further evidence of a new hoax that is being perpetrated on the translating community as I am writing these words.

Will translators fall for this trick just like that they fell for the hoax of “fuzzy matches?”

It is hard to tell at this point. Agencies certainly did a good hatchet job on the translating community with certain CAT features, so convenient for the agencies. First, they promised translators that if they bought and used a predetermined CAT as instructed, instead of being able to translate a mere two or three thousand words a day, they would easily be able to translate well in excess of ten thousand words and thus double or triple their income. That sounded so good, how could translators possibly resist, even though the price of this wonderful tool was quite steep! Once credulous translators did as asked, they were hit with requests for obligatory discounts for various kinds of “matches” and other scandalous schemes designed to reduce the compensation for translators in order to increase the compensation for the brokers.

Not all translators fell for this trick. Some managed to retain their independence, even those who work mostly for translation agencies, because not every agency is built on the shylockian principle of wringing as much blood as possible from everything and anything as long as there is a buck in it. Some agencies are run by professionals who are not out to cheat translators out of their money. In fact, whether an agency requires the use of a prescribed tool along with obligatory discounts is a very good indication of what kind of translation agency it is.

But many translators certainly did fall for the trick and then came to bitterly regret what they have done once they realized that they have unwittingly (or should I say invitingly?) contributed in this manner to stagnating or decreased rates per word, while the demands for translation volume per unit of time are going through the roof.

The new scheme, relatively new since it has been aimed at the translating community already for several years, is the great, innovative tool of machine translation. We are told that editing of machine translations is just another cool tool in our tool box, a tool and a skill that translators need to acquire to be able to compete in the translation market.

Machine translation is an excellent tool and most translators are probably using it by now. I certainly use it when it is available. Because most relatively recent patent applications that I translate, whether it is from Japanese, German, French, Russian, Czech, Slovak or Polish, can be machine-translated with a few clicks on the Japan Patent Office, WIPO (World Intellectual Property Office) and EPO (European Patent Office), I automatically print out a machine translation and look at it before I start translating and while I am translating, especially during the initial stage.

Although the technical terms supplied by the machine are obviously not always reliable, machine translations do help with terminology research, and they also help me to avoid skipping a sentence or two in highly repetitive paragraphs, a common mistake of human translators that machines are unlikely to make.

But I happen to know that trying to edit machine translation would be counterproductive, as it would be even more time consuming than translating from scratch, especially with languages such as Japanese. Even more importantly, if we let a machine dictate the translation to a human being and the human being is only asked to “fix” and “clean up” the pseudo-sentences supplied by a machine that has no understanding of the real meaning of the original text, the result will be always inferior to a real translation created in the brain of a skilled and experienced translator, even if it may look like the real thing. Moreover, the result is also likely to contain a percentage of complete mistranslations flying under the radar of a person who has been turned from a real translator into a “post-processor”. This person is no longer an independent and highly skilled artisan. Instead, her job now resembles quite closely the job of a school janitor who is pushing around a vacuum cleaner, picking up garbage and sweeping the floor.

That does not seem to matter to people who are trying to sell post-editing of machine translations as an inexpensive solution to the conundrum of machine translations, namely the fact that these things are not really translations, only suggestions of sentences generated by hardware and software based on algorithms, suggestions of sentences that must be often completely retranslated because otherwise they would make no sense. And of course, sometime they make make perfect sense and be completely wrong.

None of that matters to the “translation industry” because the point of the exercise is to do away with the profession of a human translator and replace it by another profession called “post-processor”. Very high requirements are placed on the translating profession if we are talking about translations of highly complicated texts in any of the fields in which human translators are specializing at this point of development of human knowledge, knowledge that has been acquired over many centuries by human beings, requirements for post-processors would be much lower.

Unlike real translators, post-processors do not necessarily need to know that much about anything. And since just about anything can be quickly found on the Internet, even a partial knowledge of a foreign language should be acceptable (as long as the post-processor accepts a low hourly wage combined with a high minimum hourly output).

The new, very useful skill that translators are enthusiastically encouraged by a certain segment of “the translation industry” can thus be also described as the skill to dig your own grave.

I could be wrong, but I have a feeling that this time around, most translators will not fall for the new hoax of post-editing of machine translations. There are so many people on this planet who are desperate to make some money, and some can translate, or think that they can translate. These are the people who are now being trained by “the translation industry” to dig a grave in which most of the translating profession is to be laid to rest for all eternity.

I could be wrong, but I do have a feeling that the scheme is not going to work and that translating will survive as a real profession. I believe that most translators, those who specialize in translations that are too important to be left to machines and janitors pushing around vacuum cleaners and brooms, will be doing just fine for another century, or two, at least.

The real question is: Given the inherent inferiority of the resulting product, is the concept of the machine post-processing profession economically viable, and if it is economically viable, how long can such a pseudo-profession last? While post-processors may have no choice but to accept being fed peanuts for their mind-numbing drudgery, the brokers will definitely not be happy with peanuts. This question can be only answered by translators themselves. Are they going to cooperate with “the translation industry” in their own demise? They can cooperate if they think that such cooperation will make it possible for them to survive these turbulent times.

But it is also in their power to refuse to dig their own grave if they realize that they were  born to translate, not to “post-process” garbage that has been left for them by machines.

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Responses

  1. So true about fuzzy matches &MT! I don’t accept jobs anymore if they have more than a few fuzzy matches or I ask for my full rate, because fuzzies usually take longer to rework than just to translate from scratch. And as for post-editing, I fell for that early in my translation career and also stopped doing that because it is unbelievably frustrating, mind-numbing work, and it also dawned on me that I was undermining my own profession by patching up low-cost, low-quality products.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “… fuzzies usually take longer to rework than just to translate from scratch.”

      Exactly. Their sole purpose is to stiff the translator and make more illegitimate profit for the agency.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Marie, your experience that even high fuzzy matches take longer to translate and maintain text consistency is widely shared among experienced colleagues. A decade ago there were still user manuals sent for translation where much of the text remained the same, with perhaps only a product’s name changed, but that sort of job disappeared to Chindia long ago. With the sort of patent texts I do now, fuzzy matches do help me keep the translation consistent, but in no way do they speed my work. If I were billing by the time required, such translations might well cost significantly more.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Exactly! Fuzzy matches do help with consistency, so that makes them terminology tools, not time-savers. I don’t charge extra for making sure I use the client’s preferred terminology, but providing fuzzy matches is most certainly not a logical argument for lowering the translator’s rate, quite the opposite.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Well, you can always say “No”. 🙂

    Fuzzy matches usually take too much time to revise and double-check and proofread at the end, so I don’t offer discounts for them. I’ll discount for exact matches sometimes if I think there will be real time saved, but generally never on the first time through a document type in a project and usually in return for a more leisurely deadline. The matches have to be within the document or with my own prior work on the project, since I will not use anyone else’s TM. The very first time I used Wordfast and agreed to an exact match discount for the next batch of docs, I was burned when the agency overwrote my correct additions to the project TM with the other translator’s incorrect additions for similar documents. So everything that I knew I had translated correctly was coming up wrong as an exact match. Translator #2 had also done another type of doc on the project which was assigned to me in the second batch – full of 100% matches with the joint TM, but again completely wrong and I had to translate it from scratch because Translator #2’s work was unsalvageable. I cannot overemphasize how really really wrong it was. The agency didn’t realize it because it sounded like good English to them, since they didn’t know anything about chemistry and drug manufacturing. Plus I wasted time trying to explain all the errors, since I mistakenly thought a rogue editor in the agency had destroyed my original work but only later figured out it was due to Translator #2 being entirely out of T2’s depth (another example of a non-techie who was convinced that technical work was easy even with no knowledge of the subject). Never again! I did guilt-trip the agency into paying me more for the second batch, but it was actually a test for them with a new client and I’m sure they lost the ongoing job due to the gross errors of T2.

    Since I keep track of time, sometimes I discount after finalizing the translation if it seems appropriate, but never promise to do so. There can be too many problems to solve in a document, and I can’t tell ahead of time. We need some repetition to compensate for such research time. Sometimes I offer an hourly fee with cap at my normal full translation fee.

    But fuzzies definitely don’t really warrant a discount most of the time in my work (chemistry and physics). Other translation areas may find a benefit in the discount scheme, though. The bottom line is $/hour, not cents per word. I hear that computer programming translation, for example, can benefit from such discounts while still yielding a very high $/hour for the translator.

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    • “There can be too many problems to solve in a document, and I can’t tell ahead of time. We need some repetition to compensate for such research time”

      Indeed. That is another reason why the entire concept of “matches”, and “fuzzy matches” in particular, is entirely illegitimate.

      Like

  3. “translation agencies who sell translations originally created by other people, called translators”
    You mean, translation agencies who claim copyright ownership over translations originally created by anonymous translators?

    “What do you think? I think that in most cases, they have no idea about the clever machinations in the background.”
    Agree. Mind though that what you call clever machinations might be referred to your own practices as well, Steve. Can’t forget your caustic response to my “unhealthy” interest in the names of “your” translators. You replied I could get them only if I bought your business. Remember?

    “it is very doubtful that for example the lawyer who created the text that is being translated gave the client a break on the price because large portions of a legal template were simply copied into a contract.

    Is my accountant going to give me a discount for “fuzzy matches” based on a software package that I can force him to buy because every year, he simply copies the same template with the same words in it and only changes the numbers that I supply to him every year to prepare my tax return? If I even mentioned something like that to him, he would quite justifiably think that I have gone completely insane, not just slightly mad as some patent translators tend to do.”

    3 times thumbs up for your astute observation!

    “gullible translators”
    They’re not gullible, they’re oppressed, so most of them will leave this wretched job as soon as they can get a better one. Fresh gullibles will take their place… and so it goes.

    “well in excess of ten words”
    Edit: “well in excess of ten thousand words”

    “I could be wrong, but I have a feeling that this time around, most translators will not fall for the new hoax of post-editing of machine translations.”
    There’s nothing wrong in post-editing when done by qualified professionals for real clients without any brokers in between, and not by anonymous “people desperate to make some money who think they can translate.”

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  4. 1. Thank you for correcting my typo. I could hire a full-time proofreader to catch my typos (if I could afford it).

    2. “Can’t forget your caustic response to my “unhealthy” interest in the names of “your” translators. You replied I could get them only if I bought your business. Remember?”

    I don’t recall calling it unhealthy. But why should I share with anybody information about my beloved money makers?

    Finders keepers.

    I do not subscribe to your ethical norm that says that working as a translation agency is somehow wrong and dishonest. I do a lot of work that the translators who work for me would not want to do and are not qualified to do, such as marketing, coordinating, proofreading (in several languages) and editing, and usually paying the translators before i get paid by the client.

    I don’t think that the translators who work for me begrudge me the profit that I make from their work, just like I don’t begrudge translation agencies who profit from my work, as long as they treat me right.

    Translation agencies do very useful work, it’s the shylockian corporation agency model of the “translation industry” that I am railing against.

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  5. “But why should I share with anybody information about my beloved money makers?”

    This is the only way to prove you don’t use cheap, low-qualified translators. You see, I’m strongly against translators’ anonymity. If you really care for your clients you will readily share with them information about your fellow translators (not “your beloved money makers”!) who, in their turn, will readily share information with everyone about their qualification and experience by placing a short presentation on a modest internet site. As simple as that.

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  6. If my clients ask me, I do share this information with them. I do so on occasion when the translator needs to sign a translation accuracy statement.

    But I would not share this information with you because you are not my client, or with any other non-client, unless it is a friend who is also running a translation business and willing to do the same for me, which I have also done on occasion.

    That’s what I meant.

    Like

  7. As always, very accurate and witty observations, Steve.

    One of the underlying issue is that at some point the technology was started to be used against the profession by unscrupulous commoditizing brokers who used it, and still do, as a way to present themselves as modern era Robin Hoods who exposed the greedy and evil translators for what they are, and mainly do so by leaking pieces of misleading, out-of-context information about translation supporting technology as some kind of strategic secret. Alas, they neglected to mention how the savings are not always passed to the end clients and the differences are mainly pocketed by the brokers.
    As I always say, it is never about how much you (the client) pay for the translation, it is all about how the brokers you hired (or the broker they hired) pays for the work.

    About a decade ago the world was obsessed with multitasking. Entire doctrine was built around it, including all the software, hardware, literature, and “studies” to support the snake-oil marketing machine. People were led to believe that they are inferior if they prefer to focus on a single task at a time. The marketing was very similar to the one used with MpT, such as “those who develop the skills and use the aids to become multitaskers, will soon be replaced by those who do”; “in today’s hectic business environment everything is need urgently and the only way to keep up is to increase the productivity by becoming a multitasker, etc.”. Heck, even the Windows operating system jumped the bandwagon and claimed to be a mulitasking enabled environment (which it was from its inception long before multitasking became a buzzword). Those who claimed it is a huge money-making ploy and warned about its psychological damages were called Luddites and other insults.

    A few years later, multitasking was no longer a “thing”. ADHD on the other hand became quite common. After a few more years, multitasking is just another technical term mainly describing how a computer can run several tasks, and real studies clearly chart and point to the harmful effects the concept of human multitasking have on the human brain, and the damage it did.

    I see a lot of similarity between multitaksing and MpT as marketed by some translation commoditizers, both in term of the potential damages: mentally, physically, and from a business perspective, as well as in the way they are being “marketed” to the unsuspecting public.

    Like

  8. @ Shai

    In science fiction movies and novels, robots and artificial intelligence want to destroy all of humanity in order to rule a world without humans, or subjugate humans to create a world in which unsuspecting humans are mere slaves of machines (for instance the film series The Matrix in which Keanu Reeves is fighting multitudes of machines who look like identical humans).

    In real life, greedy humans use robots and artificial intelligence to destroy humanity little by little every day in order to derive maximum profits from humans turned into slaves.

    Like

    • They do, but most do it in a way that eventually will be their demise. Unfortunately, in the process and its aftermath they cause harm and grief to innocent(-ish) bystanders.

      Like

  9. […] The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why. Mark Twain Translators are supposed to be, almost by definition, intelligent and educated peop…  […]

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  10. The issue of post-MT editing has become very pertinent in my work recently. To put it plainly, not only do clients want me to post-edit rather than translate, they also want me to give them significant discounts as the MT seems to them to be some form of “help” to my translation.

    Obviously, and for all the reasons you state, it does not help.

    Here’s how I’m handling it: I’ve compared the amount of time required to translate a project from scratch to the amount of time it takes to post-edit MT, and offered to work on the MT for commensurately higher rates. I’ve lost one client this way, retained several others.

    Hopefully, the hideous quality engendered by MT even after post-editing will make this particular trend vanish back into the dust sooner, rather than later.

    Liked by 1 person

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  12. […] 10/02/2015 Post-Processing of Machine Translations, the New Money Maker of “the Translation Industry&#822… by Steve Vitek (Diary of a Mad Patent Translator) […]

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  13. […] to be an opinion that most translators share. As I commented on my silly blog here, here and here, all the other articles published in the ATA Chronicle were written by cheerleaders with commercial […]

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